Tag Archives: anxiety

Blog 32: Making New Associations: Moving from Pain to Pleasure.

Big fun for Junior, not so much for kitten junior
Big fun for Junior, not so much for kitten junior

Imagine with me a trip to the Middle East where we see a camel driver and her camel. If the human driver is aware of her camel’s limits and needs, they thrive as a team. But if the driver is only doing what works for her and not paying attention to how the camel is doing, she can damage or kill the camel by overworking it.

This visual analogy can be used to describe our mind’s relationship to the body. The mind drives the camel that is our body and often does not pay attention to how the heavy load we are carrying makes us beyond exhausted.  Instead the mind says, “sure we can take one more load” because the mind does not sense the visceral impact of our physical, social and emotional loads like the body does. Many humans drive their bodies past their limits on a regular basis.

Keeping this analogy in mind, we now move to the subject of this blog- moving from choosing painful things to choosing pleasant things. Of all the recent blog posts about moving from one association to another, this one is more complex than you might imagine. Previous blogs spoke about moving from Duty to Joy, from Scarcity to Plenty, from Craving Certainty to Wanting Wonder, and from Faking it to Living Honestly. Underneath all of these prior blog categories, are the foundational and more basic encompassing categories of Pleasure and Pain. All of the previous associations were in some form about moving toward more pleasure in life and getting away from things that feel unpleasant or even cause pain. (At times pain can be a wakeup call that helps us to grow or learn things, but today’s blog is not about that kind of pain, that is a subject for another blog.)

Scientists tell us that even the most basic bacterium are able to move toward what is pleasant and away from what is unpleasant. I am not sure what a bacteria uses as criteria for knowing pleasure, but we humans have several systems that determine pleasure and pain.

The healthy human body is the most accurate pleasure seeking system, constantly moving us from unpleasant sensations/pain to pleasure all the time. My belly is empty. I feel hunger pangs that are unpleasant, so I move toward the kitchen (Eclipse chocolate cafe if I am feeling frisky). I eat, and I now have pleasant feelings. I am tired, my cortisol levels drop. So I feel really sleepy and I go to bed and I wake up feeling rested and that is pleasant. I could go on, but you get the point. Our bodies are constantly trying to move us toward pleasure and pleasantness using our brains, ANS, and our instincts and drives. A healthy body usually has little problem with this natural process. Beloved children are great examples of trying to live in pleasantness 24/7. Partly because their brains are less developed and their minds are less complex than “grownups”, this is easier for them than for us.

In contrast to our bodies, our mind is a tricky beast. The body if healthy and not traumatized will generally move us toward choices that are more pleasant. However, the mind is not that simple and its motivations and desires can be clouded by many factors, such as projections, FOO messages (FOO stands for Family of Origin, not 1/2 the name of a band) cultural mores, others’ demands, mental illness and drugs, etc.
So, let’s talk about our Minds, the more complex system that humans use to determine pleasure or what is painful. The mind and the brain are not fully synonymous terms, even if they are possibly neighbors residing in a duplex condo in our heads. Neuroscientists will admit, no one knows for sure where the mind is located. We do know that much of our lower brain regions (Limbic and Brain Stem) produce subcortical responses, or in layman’s terms, knee jerk responses. The mind is believed to produce our thoughts. The ability to produce thought is connected with consciousness and our ability to be aware of our inner selves and our outer surroundings.

How do our minds sometimes hinder us from automatically choosing pleasure? Our minds can want two, or more, things all at the same time. We can desire to keep that massage appointment to provide our bodies with much needed self-care. AND, at the same time, we can want to say “yes” to the urgent call from PTA President Patty who needs help with the bake sale that is going on the exact same time as your massage appointment. While we may desire to say “yes” to both options, our motivations for the yes differ. The desire for self-care comes from our own body and ANS, which desire to move toward pleasure, while the need to comply with others, almost always comes from our mind’s desire to keep our social network happy, and to look good to our peers. Both are normal human desires, but the first can lead to a healthier life, while the second, eventually leads to burnout and resentment. (Generally woman struggle most with trying to keep their social circles happy. Our socialization and brain wiring are different from that of our male counterparts).

So, how does this connect with the new association of moving toward pleasure? We will move toward whichever motivation in that moment is given the highest priority by our mind, which usually determines what we desire and will go after. At least until we learn to reconnect with the wealth of intuitive, organic, deep wisdom that dwells in our body’s cells and systems. Our bodies know best when it comes to how much energy we have left to give, how much we should load on our proverbial plates, and how much we are living our lives based upon our truest selves and truest desires. Many of us are living out of false selves, behavioural masks we have been wearing because as children they seemed to bring up more acceptance. So now, we can’t imagine not striving for perfection, or not being the best at everything, or not staying in control 24/7. We often listen to our minds and our social programming and the things that pump up our egos. When we make decisions based solely upon these categories, we often miss the body’s messages. Messages such as “when do we get our needs met, we are so tired, we are lonely, we want to lean on someone, we want to be cherished and cared for, etc.”

My encouragement to you is to begin to listen more closely to the calls and desires of your bodies. And, to set your intentions to choose pleasant sensations over painful ones on a regular basis. The research shows repeatedly, the best antidote to stress/anxiety/trauma is healthy pleasure. Take that walk on the beach, or that hot bath, or get that massage, or acupuncture or cranial sacral appointment. Let your friends support you for once, and find the joy in each simple moment. Life is much more than getting our “to do lists” done and looking good to our bosses or neighbours. If you have not belly laughed or felt deep joy in a while, you probably need more self-care and to pay more attention to your body. Your long term health will thank you, and so will your family and friends. Many of us are stressed out, hot messes mostly because we have not been intentionally choosing pleasure, so pain is often our option by default. Practice paying attention to which system makes most of your choices this week, and choose pleasure as often as you can. Let me know how it goes!

Going deeper:

1.) What are your predominate messages about pleasure? What was your Family of Origin’s (FOO) attitude toward pleasure? What are your healthy pleasures? If you don’t know, you really need to find out for the sake of your body.

2.) What is your relationship to pain or painful events?  Are you able to listen to your pain and learn from it? Can you move away from painful sensations toward pleasant ones, or once pain hits are you stuck there for hours?

Part 2: Making New Associations: Moving from Scarcity to Plenty

So I was running on the beach today, listening Def Leppard, like you do, and a song caught my attention, as an good example for our blog today. We are going back to the idea that each one of us has a worldview and that includes our perception of what is “ENOUGH”, and of the concepts of Plenty and Scarcity. Today’s suggested shift is moving from a perception of scarcity to understanding there is Plenty to go around, moving into the life expanding concept of Plenty, instead of being sucked into the fear vortex of Scarcity. This shift can apply to area of our lives, though time and money first come to mind. We can either believe we live in  Plenty and most often experience a sense of grateful generosity, or live in the fear of never having enough. In so doing, struggle with envy, selfishness and the unhappiness that comes with feeling like you won’t be taken care of by the Universe, God, or those you love. (By the way, I know I am dating myself with the Def Leppard reference;)

The song is called “Get Rocked” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBcsCn9QyUQ and it could possibly serve as an anthem for many Americans. The young man only wants to take care of himself and his own pleasure 24/7. In one amusing stanza, his paramour puts classical music on the radio and he nixes it rudely and suggests a “rock”. Unless she is a robot, I bet he got nothing that day. Selfishness is unappealing to most of us, even as we struggle with it. He was stuck in the idea of Scarcity, that there was not enough pleasure in life and he had to push to get his first, all the time. Well, if he had listened to her classical music for a while, perhaps she might have considered his “rock”, of whatever kind he was suggesting!

Being stuck in a Scarcity mentality causes tremendous anxiety, sometimes selfishness, and often misery. When we believe there is not enough (time, money, possessions, friends, lovers, etc.,) our focus is rigidly fixated on not losing what we have. We can get stuck in a loop of trying hard to get more and keep that more in a pile that we can store and protect. A pile that will provide everything we need forever. The misery comes from a sense there will not be enough for us, NOT from the size of our pile! Please take a minute to let that sink in. It is an important understanding. When we mainly focus on what we do not yet have, or look at our pile as if it were insufficient, it is very hard to feel joy and optimism because our Autonomic Nervous System codes not having enough as a survival issue. Hence, focusing on scarcity, brings great anxiety.
Some of the happiest people I know have a rather small pile in comparison to others, however, their pile is not their focus and they live in grateful generosity and lots of joy. I am also honored to know people who have largish piles, but are so generous and open handed, because they are not stuck in Scarcity or fearfully protecting their pile. If you have a deep abiding sense that there is enough for you, and for others, it is hard to scare you. And, you will probably be willing to expand energy to share your pile with those who seem to be in deepest need. I am not suggesting there is no poverty or terrible places of scarcity in the world, but that there are not so many here where we live. And, we can change some of those if we are willing to live differently. To borrow a concept from a recent #Rob Bell kick ass presentation, the Universe is expanding, it keeps making more. People have children, who have more children, trees make apples that make more trees, etc., the Universe is a expanding self-giving reality. When we live with the understanding of Plenty we can change behaviors and conditions that might be causing scarcity for others less fortunate than ourselves. Just to give one example, food production experts have said for years, if Americans would change their habits and eat less red meat, so much more food could be produced. If you read the Omnivore’s Dilemma, http://www.amazon.com/The-Omnivores-Dilemma-Natural-History/dp/1594200823  he makes the claim the earth could produce enough to feed all human beings if we did things differently.

If you are wondering where you fall on this continuum, because it is one, and we can move back and forth throughout our lives, try giving a small treasured possession or some money away. Or do something for someone expecting nothing back for your time and expanded energy. How you feel will help identify for you, where you might fall.

The point is not that we are bad or defective if we are not living with a sense of Plenty most often, but that we are cutting ourselves off from joy, a sense of safety and a well-spring of gratitude that comes from living with a deep realization of how much we already have. I encourage you to try to notice your most predominate association with these concepts this week. I speak from personal, and professional experience as a therapist the past decade and a half, when humans move away from the concept of Scarcity, their anxiety drops substantially.  May this become your experience this week if you feel stuck. You can even use the sensations that come when you have an  experience of scarcity as your reminder to shift your focus back to Plenty and really look at all that you do have and all the good that is currently in your life.

African Sky Vista
African Sky Vista

Going deeper

1.) Which end of the continuum do you fall closest to much of the time? What sensations do you experience in your body with the thoughts of Scarcity or Plenty?

2.) What were your Family of Origin’s (FOO) most common attitude towards the concepts found in this blog? Did your parents’ differ in their examples to you? Remember, more is caught by a child than taught. How we see our folks act, becomes our normative experience. What do you desire to be your predominate attitude? That is what matters the most.

Join a 3 week Anxiety Reduction Workshop held here in San Diego monthly. Call 619-437-1465 for details.

Blog 28: Love & Anxiety, New Associations. Part 1

This past week I got to experience a unique event, a “paddle out” for wonderful Lorton Mitchell. A man in his prime, taken from his family by cancer while he was still so young. For those trapped in the ocean-less midwest, a paddle out is a surfing tradition from Hawaii. When a surfer dies, the community gathers together, jumps on surfboards and paddles out to beyond the breaking waves. There a ceremony is held, one of remembrance and celebration. It’s a solemn ritual and yet some joy leaks in the cracks. Perhaps it’s the magic of ocean water, or the laughter of children, or the safety of being surrounded by loved ones and 100’s of members of the community.

The last blog was about the need to make new associations with old sensations. But making new associations can also occur in conjunction with old belief systems or world views. We can make a new association with the way that we live our lives. Lorton was larger-than-life figure, and the way he lived his life, full of vigor and joy provides an excellent example to emulate as the subject of today’s blog. I want to suggest that those of us who are stuck in busyness, or achievement pandering, or over-scheduled living, need to make a change. We who are stuck in a life dedicated to duty, can make a new choice, a new association. We can to deliberately shift our primary driving force in life from one of Duty to that of JOY.

Imagine with me two large doors in front of you. One is labeled Duty and one is labeled Joy. If I was to offer you a choice of which door’s attitude will most characterize daily life, most of you will pick the Joy door! But if we are really honest about how we live our lives, most of us are unconsciously choosing duty over joy most of the time. One reason why our culture is so full of heart disease, a flood of medications, addictions, obesity and the many other curses of our over-stressed, way too busy modern life.

Ask yourself this question, how much joy to do you experience on a daily basis? Would your family, children, lover, etc., list joyful as one of your predominate traits? Or, are you more focused on what must get done, on checking off lists, keeping ducks in a row, (why ducks, why not cats, they are even harder to control?)

As children, most of us did not struggle through the misery of puberty in order to grow up and turn into a distracted, busy adult who has little or no time for fun. We hoped to grow up and do whatever pleased us, to have fun and to enjoy life. But life’s responsibilities, pressure and stress conspire to turn us into the duty bound creatures that many of us have become. I am not suggesting that life is not challenging, nor that we should throw up our hands and toss responsibility to the wind. There are things that must get done, it is good to be a “high functioning, well-behaved member of society” sometimes, I think? But if our primary focus is on our duty and getting things done, we miss most of the joy that this busy, complicated life has to offer.

Joy is an all body sensation, a vitality affect, and one of the best antidotes to stress and trauma that can be found. If you recall a previous blog where I talked about the two sides of the coin in our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), this blog might make more sense. Joy is the other side of the coin! It is the opposite of stressed and busy, and anxious and traumatized. If you doubt the power and intensity of joy, watch some Youtube videos of babies laughing, or children and puppies (any baby animal really). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L49VXZwfup8 try this one for even just one minute and notice the shift your body experiences inside.Healthy pleasure is a great way to begin to experience more joy in your life. If you have not engaged in self-care or healthy pleasure on a regular basis, it will be hard to live in joy regularly.

While joy and laughter are not the same physiological event, they are related and very connected. The research demonstrates repeatedly that people who laugh often, are happier, and physically healthier and have a more positive outlook on life. Well-parented children laugh much more often than children with lower functioning parents.

This week try to notice your primary outlook on life in terms of duty vs. joy. Which attitude prevails most often in your life? If it is duty, try your best to begin to include choices and situations that bring joy to you. When you feel joy, really notice how it lightens and brightens and enervates your entire body. Let me know how it goes.

Joy, Uganda style.
Joy, Uganda style.

Going deeper:

1;) What is your association with joy? Is it a common experience for you or something you rarely encounter? Who do you know that is often really joyful? If possible, spend more time with them and see how it impacts you. We become most like those with whom we spend the most time.

2.) What is your attitude to duty? If you are one who feels stuck in this place, ask yourself where you learned this? What were your parents’ primary attitudes toward joy and healthy pleasure, another close relative of joy? Are your attitudes similar to your parents or different? Most importantly, are they what you would like them to be?

I invite you to join a 3 week Anxiety Reduction workshop. I provide them in my office as well as at your organization, school, or place of worship. Mention this blog for a 10% discount. Call 619-437-1465 for more information.

Blog 27: Let the fear fall away- Intolerable sensations and addiction.

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Thanks to my tech savvy sister, I  have recently joined twitter! As all new experiences do, it has really stimulated creativity. (Unfortunately, I also felt the rush of anxiety that accompanies the experience of doing something new for the first time.) But I have learned from experience, if you stay focused on the creativity and keep at it, the anxiety will drop away. This was not always the case though, and this rush of anxiety is one reason many people shy away from new experiences, people, situations, and opportunities. If feels so uncomfortable they give in to it and do not move forward.

This was the topic of my tweet today, intolerable sensations and feelings! In previous blogs I have shared how the body communicates in sensation and feelings, not in words. And, how sensations are the precursor to emotions. That tightness in your chest and belly, the cramping of your gut, the buzzing, zinging energy shooting up your core, these are your body’s words and messages. It is your body, trying to tell you how it feels about what you are doing, and what it needs from you to be at peace.

To understand addiction and to break the addictive cycle, you must understand AND listen when your body communicates.  Intolerable sensations drive the cycle of addiction. Addictions do not start out as a full-blown addiction but as an experience you have tried or used that made you feel good. Then you do more of it to feel better, and eventually you must have it, use it, do it, in order to just maintain equilibrium. Now you are addicted! And, you no longer feel the pleasure, you just do it to not feel miserable. That is what sucks about addiction, the pleasure is gone and its all about staying out of pain. So what differentiates people who drink socially for enjoyment but stop at 1 or 2 drinks and someone struggling with alcoholism who needs to start the day with a drink?  There are quite a few reasons, but the one I will focus upon today is the way people interpret big sensations/feelings as an intolerable feeling.

I have worked with trauma and addiction for 15 years now and every person that I have seen who has the courage to fight the addictive cycle is full of intolerable sensations. Their bodies are miserable and those sensations and emotions are so uncomfortable and feel so strong, that the person grabs the food, bottle, porn site, etc., just to get a sense of relief, or to numb out in order to not feel those miserable feelings. And, if you keep doing that, the cycle cannot be broken.

What needs to happen is you must MAKE A NEW ASSOCIATION WITH THAT OLD UPSETTING SENSATION! When you feel that internal misery and everything in you screams for your addiction, you stop and do something else. You try to be with that sensation that feels so awful and listen to it. This is easier to do with support, such as with a body-focused therapist, or in a 12 step program, but it has to be done. Here is a very simple example, when working with clients who struggle with binge eating. When on the verge of a binge, I have them stop and notice the craving sensation, to identify where in the body they most notice it, and to touch that place kindly and ask their body, “What am I really hungry for?”

Making a new association may sound too simple, but I have used this principle countless times to help clients heal from trauma and break their addictive cycles. See www.traumahealing.org or more information or go to my website www.sdtraumatherapy.com and read about Somatic Experiencing.This powerful, research-based modality, heals trauma and breaks addictive cycles. Simply talking about the struggle or addiction does not solve it. You must work with the person’s body and Autonomic Nervous system.

So this week, if you are noticing some unpleasant or seemingly intolerable body sensations, stop and listen to your body as you would to a new lover, spouse, or a beloved child. Try to discern your body’s messages and work on making a new association with the old sensation, i.e. learning. If you struggle with an addiction, you must learn to listen and settle your body instead of reacting and racing back to your old frenemy, the cycle of addiction. Please write and let me know how this works for you!

(If you want shorter blocks of information from me more regularly, please follow my twitter feed, wandabrosSE.)

Going deeper:

1.) Which sensations do you most often experience? Unpleasant, pleasant or neutral sensations? Which sensations and emotions do you find most intolerable, i.e., tension, anxious, shakiness, empty numbness, rage, fear, shame, disgust, etc?

2.) What do you typically do when you feel intolerable sensations? If you have an addiction or are working on developing one, what is your “substance or habit” of choice? Keeping in mind overworking or being on your phone/device constantly is an addiction as well, just not a ingestible one.

3 week anxiety reduction workshops available. Contact my website for more details.  Mentions this blog and receive a 10% discount.

Blog 26- Part 2: Nike, the serenity prayer, and stress physiology!

Part 2 – The Serenity Prayer

Part 1 of this blog addressed Nike’s slogan, “Just Do It” (JDI), and how it beneficially impacts our physiology. Today’s blog will make more sense if you read part 1.

Now that we know the power of JDI, let’s talk about the Serenity Prayer. I will include the short version of this prayer below, just in case you have been living under a large rock for the past 30 years and have not heard it!

“God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference”.

The concepts contained in this prayer are perfect partners with JDI energy to help shift our Nervous Systems out of threat physiology. Knowing when and where to apply our efforts and energy, and where not to, is critical information when it comes to a threat or a perceived danger to our body. Because sometimes there is nothing we can do about certain aspects of a problematic situation. So even if your switch is ON, if it’s an impossible situation to change, you could just get frustrated. Trying to change something over and over without success, makes us feel helpless and impotent.

Knowing what can be changed in a dangerous or stressful situation, is almost as important as having your switch ON. With this knowledge, you will be able to target your JDI correctly and not waste energy or stress on things that are not changeable, such as other people’s choices, your body’s limits, or natural laws, etc. As I said in a previous blog, “sometimes it is less traumatizing to surrender to a situation than to fight it”. So knowing when to let go and when to do something, will determine how successfully you act in a difficult situation. Knowing where to direct your ON energy and JDI, are keys to thriving in life rather than simply surviving it.

Let’s use an example that all Californians can relate to. We have a drastic water shortage here in our lovely state. If each one of us tries to solve the situation all by ourselves, or spends inordinate amounts of time brooding on the problem, we will be stuck in stress physiology for sure. This could also flip our switch to OFF because we feel helpless. However, combining our JDI with the Serenity prayer might look like taking shorter showers, only washing full loads of clothes, watering our golf courses and lawns less often, talking to our friends and neighbors and encouraging them to join us in our efforts, etc. If every Californian made these changes, over time, it would make a big difference, in the problem and inside our bodies.

This week notice how the Serenity prayer beautifully compliments your JDI energy and try applying both concepts to any stressful situations that occur. In what instances does surrender ever feel like serenity to you? Perhaps refusing to get in the same old fight with a spouse or a child, or letting someone cut you off in traffic without losing your mind in rage, etc. Please feel free to share your successes (and attempts) in the comments section.

Fiona connecting with her inner tiger, serenely waiting for the next moment to happen!
Fiona connecting with her inner tiger, serenely waiting for the next moment to happen!

Going Deeper:

1.) Which of the 3 tenets of the Serenity Prayer do you find the most challenging? Do you notice any internal resistances when you read it aloud? Just be with those somatic imprints of resistance this week and see what comes from this practice.

2.) What situations do you find easiest to use your JDI energy, and which situation are easier to surrender to? How does letting go feel to your body and mind? Many of us find that the body handles surrender much differently than the mind does. What is your experience?

3.) Think about the past few weeks. Have you experienced stressful situations? If so, have you been able to JDI? What needs doing depends on the situation, but doing something is much better than collapsing in helplessness, do you agree?

Blog #25: Flipping the coin, how to get out of threat physiology!

To pick up where we left off in the last blog, I suggested we figure out,  ‘what must I do to get out of threat/stress physiology?’ Here are some tools that tune our bodies back into the other side of the “coin,” out of threat physiology, back to calm sense of safety. I will share four tools today. Just for fun and for ease of memorizing, they will all begin with an S.

1.SLOW DOWN: When you find yourself walking too fast, talking too fast, eating too fast, etc., stop for a minute and then begin again slowly. Let your life’s pace be a saunter not a sprint. It makes a big difference in your physiology and to your tensed and braced muscles.

2. SILENCE: If you find yourself talking a blue streak to mask or release your anxiety, stop talking and practice silence. Females tend to try to use a flow of words to reduce anxiety a bit more often than males, but whichever sex you are, if you catch yourself talking non-stop, ask yourself W. A. I. T.? That stands for ‘Why Am I Talking? One of my friends calls this “fire-hosing”, a great description. Silence is calming for most people and allows our nervous systems to settle back down. Extraverts will have a harder time with this tool than Introverts.

3. SHIFT FOCUS: What we focus upon determines how we feel. If you don’t believe me, think back to the last time you worried and remember how bad your body felt. In almost every situation there is some positive element. But because our brains are biased to the negative, we get stuck in the negative and fearful aspects of a situation. When you are stuck in threat mode, deliberately look for the positive aspects of the situation. If that fails, focus on the positive aspects of your life. For example, the ability most of us have to walk, talk, take hot showers, and eat 3 meals per day. There are a myriad of wonderful factors in our everyday lives if we will but look for them, and then allow ourselves to feel gratitude for them. People who have a consistent practice of gratitude are happier and healthier than the general population for this very reason.

4. SELF-AWARENESS (especially of your body’s sensations): This is a simple but effective tool that can help keep your body out of stress physiology, or shift it to safety more quickly. Clients who are able to stay present to their lives and become aware of their body’s sensations as soon as the sensations arise, spend much less time in stress physiology. As I have mentioned in prior blogs, the body speaks in sensations, not words. So when you become aware of that heavy feeling of dread in your belly, or the tightness in your chest, as soon as it occurs, you have a much better chance of quickly shifting those sensations. If you don’t notice them until the sensations of fear and anxiety have been roaming your body for minutes or hours, and have hunkered down inside like soldiers in a foxhole, you can be stuck in them for a long time. The longer a sensation stays in your body underneath your awareness, the stronger it gets. So if you are able to focus on the positive aspects of the situation, or focus on positive hopes for future outcome, you will have more peace within your body.

Using these and many other tools, millions of people have learned how to move from threat physiology back into a sense of grounded safety, our Autonomic Nervous System at rest. Rest and Digest is actually the term used of this state, to denote that the major systems of our body are at rest and we are able to digest our food, liquids and solids. This of course is the opposite of the Fight or Flight system, another term for stress physiology, which stops digestion and puts stress on most of the major systems of the body and impacts, metabolism, respiration, blood flow, heart rate variability, stress hormones, and our muscle/skeletal system as we brace and tense our muscles in preparation for danger.

This week, I encourage you to pick one or two of the tools and try them consistently when you begin to feel stressed. Notice what happens and pay attention to the ones that work best for you. Please let me know how it works out.

Seeing a Lioness without the safety of the jeep, that would put me in threat physiology for a good reason!
Seeing a Lioness without the safety of the jeep, that would put me in threat physiology for a good reason!

GOING DEEPER:

  1. Do you ever practice gratitude? Why or Why not? If you do not, is there anything blocking you from trying this wonderful practice that has so many health benefits?
  2. Which of the tools sound hard or impossible to you and why do you think this is the case? For many people self-awareness can be a challenge. If it is for you, what might you do that could help make this a bit easier for you?

I am still providing 3 week anxiety reduction workshops here in San Diego. If you are interested in 90 minutes of training, 3 weeks in a row. Let me know. I will provide a 10% discount to anyone mentioning this blog! Life is too short to be afraid!

Love & Anxiety #24: Stress Physiology: The other side of the coin.

You know how sometimes life can feel too heavy, like there is just too much going on? Have you been there, recently?  I have lived there the past month. There has been a lot going on recently, including a very ill family member who happens to live 3000 miles away. Distance blocks certain things, but seems to amplify others. Such as the heavy, dense sensation of dread in my chest and belly, as I am made so aware of my own helplessness and inability to make things better, or to protect loved ones from pain.

And, like you I am sure, when my body is in this state of overwhelm, when the heavy dread feels all-consuming, like a dense fog taking over a previously sunny day, I am unable to experience all the good that is still in my life, such as friends, love, health, work, clean water, safety, etc. I want to feel the good, I try to, but in my body it “feels” like this heavy feeling is winning. That it will be my reality forever! There is a physiological reason for this phenomena, the temporary inability to perceive good when we feel threatened or in danger and it comes from the nature of our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).

The metaphor of a coin helps explain this phenomena of our ANS. Like a coin, our physiology has two sides or modes and they are mutually exclusive of each other. In other words, you cannot be in both modes at once. Just like a coin, when you flip it repeatedly you will only get Heads or Tails, not Heads & Tails. In this Universe, with that type of matter, you can only have one or the other.

I am over simplifying a bit, but this is how our ANS works. In the moment, you can either experience heads or tails. You can be feeling safe, calm, and grounded, or be feeling stressed, anxious, and keyed up, i.e., feeling overwhelmed by your life. When the later is occurring, your body and ANS are in threat physiology. In this moment you are preparing to survive the danger you know is coming, or the danger you are looking out for, by worrying and over analyzing. If you care to notice anything besides your frantic, racing mind, most of your body systems are involved in this process. Your heart rate has changed, as well as your respiration and your digestion, to name a few. The body takes survival very seriously and this is why that dread-filled, heavy feeling can seem like a huge monster, (think 1970s movies of Godzilla flattening Japan) threatening your wellbeing. As if it is so powerful, it is impossible to shift it. But it is not impossible, just difficult.

It is important to remember that this feeling is part of being human, so as not to get too freaked out by it, or believe your future will be all pain and fear. Sometimes life is too much, things are too heavy and we feel alone, undone, and pounded down to our knees. When that occurs, it is also important to remember that you will NOT be feeling this way forever, it is a transitory feeling (though for some of us it may seem like a long transit), and there are ways to move out of it. What we need to recall in these moments is that just like that coin has two sides, our physiology does too. We have NOT lost the mode of safety and calm grounding, we are just not currently experiencing it. It is still available to us and we can get back to it. It helps to have that as our intention when we are caught in stress physiology. And, to ask ourselves, ‘what must I do to get back to the other mode of safety?’

It does help to add to our intention to change modes, tools that tune our bodies back into the other side of the “coin,” out of threat physiology, back to calm sense of safety. I will write about some of these in the next blog, so stay tuned. For those who don’t want to wait, if you re-read my past 10 blogs, in each one of them I include one or more research-based, helpful tools.

Up the crick, at least there is a paddle
Up the crick, at least there is a paddle

Going Deeper:

1.) Can you relate to this blog? Do you have times or seasons in your life that feel intolerable, or like they will never end and that you are doomed to feel this miserable forever? If so, can you look back and see you have moved through it? If so, what lessons have you learned from these times?

2.) What situations are most “heavy” for you, or cause you to experience threat or stress physiology? When you are in that place of stress and fear, are you able to recall your other mode of being? If so, what helps you get back to it?

Love & Anxiety #23: The Felt Sense & Anxiety

Today I am introducing the concept of the felt sense and how it relates to our body anxiety, using a “prayer” written by a doctor of Chinese medicine. I can not give credit to him because it was written anonymously. The next blog will flesh out this concept in a more linear fashion, but I think this is a great introduction!

Felt Sense Prayer    

I am the pain in your head, the knot in your stomach, the unspoken grief in your smile.

I am your high blood sugar, your elevated blood pressure, your fear of challenge, your lack of trust.

I am your hot flashes, your cold hands and feet, your agitation and your fatigue.

I am your shortness of breath, your fragile low back, the cramp in your neck, the despair in your sigh.

I am the pressure on your heart, the pain down your arm, your bloated abdomen, your constant hunger.

I am where you hurt, the fear that persists, your sadness of dreams unfulfilled.

I am your symptoms, the causes of your concern, the signs of imbalance, your condition of dis-ease.

 

You tend to disown me, suppress me, ignore me, inflate me, coddle me, condemn me.

I am not coming forth for myself as I am not separate from all that is you.

I come to garner your attention, to enjoin your embrace so I can reveal my secrets.

I have only your best interests at heart as I seek health and wholeness by simply announcing myself.

 

You usually want me to go away immediately, to disappear, to slink back into obscurity.

You mostly are irritated or frightened and many times shocked by my arrival.

From this stance you medicate in order to eradicate me.

Ignoring me, not exploring me, is your preferred response.

More times than not I am only the most recent notes of a long symphony, the most evident branches of roots that have been challenged for seasons.

 

So I implore you, I am a messenger with good news, as disturbing as I can be at times.

I am wanting to guide you back to those tender places in yourself,

the place where you can hold yourself with compassion and honesty.

If you look beyond my appearance you may find that I am a voice from your soul.

Calling to you from places deep within that seek your conscious alignment.

 

I may ask you to alter your diet, get more sleep, exercise regularly, breathe more consciously.

I might encourage you to see a vaster reality and worry less about the day to day fluctuations of life.

I may ask you to explore the bonds and the wounds of your relationships.

I may remind you to be more generous and expansive or to attend to protecting your heart from insult.

I might have you laugh more, spend more time in nature, eat when you are hungry and less  when pained or bored, spend time every day, if only for  a few minutes, being still.

 

Wherever I lead you, my hope is that you will realize that success will not be measured by my eradication, but by the shift in the internal landscape from which I emerge.

 I am your friend, not your enemy.  I have no desire to bring pain and suffering into your life.

I am simply tugging at your sleeve, too long immune to gentle nudges.

I desire for you to allow me to speak to you in a way that enlivens your higher instincts for self care.

My charge is to energize you to listen to me with the sensitive ear and heart

of a mother attending to her precious baby.

You are a being so vast, so complex, with amazing capacities for self-regulation and healing.

Let me be one of the harbingers that lead you to the mysterious core of your being

where insight and wisdom are naturally available when called upon with a sincere heart.  

Lucky from Uganda

Going Deeper:

  1. Can you relate to this prayer, does it resonate with your own body’s messages? If so, what changes might you make to better care for the amazing being that is your body?
  2. What messages does your body send you on a regular basis? Are they pleasant messages, ones of peace, relaxation and joy? Or, are they more often messages about exhaustion, pain, or anxiety? 

#22: Love Leaves Tracks!

Early one morning I was on the beach checking out the surf. I happened to look down and actually notice my surroundings. I saw imprinted in the sand, an abstract work of art consisting of many different bird tracks. There was not a single bird on the beach, but so many bird’s footprints. Just by looking at the unique shape of each track, I could tell what species of bird left them behind. This visual stimulated some thoughts about how things other than birds can leave tracks in the “sand” of my life. Even “intangibles” like Love and Anxiety, especially these two.

When I am deeply loved by another human, it leaves a tangible imprint on my heart and in my life. I was on crutches recently and so many friends offered to help me. Even a few kind strangers opened restaurant doors and carried my coffee. Kind and loving acts change us a little bit each and every time we experience one. Love’s imprint, opens our hearts and allow us to feel the deep goodness of this wonderful life we have been granted.

Some of my readers may be having a hard time right now and do not feel love is available to them. But whether you believe the Source of Love is called God, a Higher Power, or even a benign universe, this world is bathed in love. Strangers donating a kidney to save a life, people building homes for hurricane victims they have never met, parents patiently nurturing crying infants night after night, or even parents rescuing their adult children from yet another big mess! Love leaves footprints. Some of these include; an open heart, delight, expansiveness, peace, joy, trust, safety, a sense that life is good. Love is everywhere, though sometimes we miss it because we are not looking for it.

Often we fail to see the tracks of love in our life, because the tracks fear and anxiety leave seem bigger and more relevant. Anxiety leaves tangible tracks in our life as well. These can include: fear, worry, a self protective stance, doubting our decisions, selfishness, and anger. Because anxiety/fear screams at us internally, it is so easy to only notice the anxiety tracks and move into worry or panic mode. Love and peace are much “quieter” sensations and are easy to miss in the daily stress of our lives. And, since the brain is more interested in negative information than positive information, the anxious tracks catch and hold most of our attention. (See previous blogs is this is new information to you.)

There is a simple, but not easy to practice, antidote to living constantly in stress and worry. Choosing to deliberately refocus our primary attention from the tracks and sensations of anxiety. Honing our focus and attention onto the the tracks love has made and is still making, even in stressful situations. (This is an aspect of mindfulness.) Love is more powerful than fear! This week I encourage you to try this practice, deliberately look for love and away from the anxiety. You will have to do it over and over, but the more you do this, the more you will be able to calm down and see the good, even in hard situations. Love does cast out fear, but we need lots of it!

Going deeper:

1.) When you think of the tracks in the sand of your heart, what comes first to your mind? What specific tracks do you experience with both of these “emotions”?
2.) Who are the people in your life that make the most Love tracks? Do they know how grateful you are to them? Who or what makes the strongest anxiety tracks in your life? What might you do to decrease some of these?
P1040369

#21: Anxiety vs. Self-love

It has been quite some time since I last posted a blog. For a time, life in its many permutations got in the way of writing. Then, I had to deal with a bit of anxiety about beginning again. But my love for sharing this information finally got stronger than my anxiety. so here I am again- practicing Blog # 11. Thank you for your patience.

The last blog discussed accepting our humanness. Today I will up-the-ante and suggest not only accepting, BUT LOVING ourselves. What is your knee-jerk response to this idea? Some readers will yawn because they have mastered this years ago, but some of us really need some movement toward Self-love. We have been taught “to love our own self” means we are selfish or even narcissistic. So let’s break it down a bit today. What does Self-Love look like practically in daily life? And, most importantly for today’s blog, what does that have to do with our anxiety levels?

Quite a lot it turns out! The amount of love you have for yourself has a huge impact on your anxiety levels. Unfortunately, so does the amount of hate/disgust or impatience you wrestle with internally.

Here is how it breaks down. Each one of us has a relationship with ourselves, whether we are aware of it or not. We either treat ourselves with love, respect and dignity, or with anger, disrespect and frustration. An easy means of discerning this, is to monitor your inner voice. Your most consistent self-talk is one of the best indicators of your level of self-love. How do you talk to yourself when you mess up, or are having a bad day? If you are kind and supportive, you probably have a good amount of self love. But, many of us pile on the criticism and disgust when we don’t measure up to our inner expectations. We view our behavior and intentions through harsh and cruel lenses, and sometimes say things internally we might not even say to our worst enemy, and certainly never to our best friends! This punitive, angry voice just amps the level of anxiety we are already experiencing, because the brain processes emotional rejection in the same area as it does with physical pain. When we get rejected from the outside, or the INSIDE, we feel unsafe, unloved and in danger!

On the other hand, a great way to show a human being s/he is secure and safe in the world, is to tangibly love them! To be kind and generous and accepting of them, even when they have a bad day. Being loved is what each one of us craves, whether we will admit it or not. When I know I am deeply loved, my anxieties and worries are pushed into the background, or even out of my awareness. If we all treated ourselves the way we treat our beloved children or our best friends, most of us would experience much more peace and happiness on a regular basis.

To give a cliff-notes explanation for why most of us have a consistent internal voice, either positive or negative- it is connected to the internalization of our early experiences. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internalization. We internalize the predominate ways and attitudes by which we were treated in childhood, and by adulthood we have made them our own. So a critical mother resides in our heads after hearing her frustration year by year. Or, a nurturing positive father “talks” positively internally when we had a bad day. The good news is that this negative internal voice can be turned into a loving and positive one with some awareness and deliberate work. Loving ourselves is a big means of changing this voice.

Try this simple experiment this week if you dare. Every morning as you get ready for the day, look at yourself in the mirror and say aloud, “I love myself period”! (Not only when I succeed or look hot.) Even when you are feeling scared or anxious, or have made a mistake, do it again. Say, ‘I love myself period’! See what happens and let me know. Though it may be hard for some, I encourage all of you to try it for a few weeks and see what a difference it makes.

Going deeper:
1.) What is your automatic reaction to the thought of Loving yourself, Period! If this is an easy concept, think about why that is. If it is a challenging or impossible one, what early experiences have you had with criticism or rejection that are influencing how you view yourself?
2.) What happens when you try this experiment? Does it get easier each day, or more difficult? What reason(s) do you come up with that you are not lovable, period? If so, ask someone who loves you if this reason is true.