Tag Archives: brain functioning

Blog 43: Love & Anxiety, why Pleasure and Enjoyment matter!

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Adventure – healthy Pleasure

I thought we would take a break from harder topics today and think about something we love, Pleasure and Enjoyment! These these 2 concepts, while related topics, they are not the same thing. Though many of us assume that Pleasure absolutely leads to Enjoyment, this is not always true. Today, we will talk about the difference between Pleasure and Enjoyment and what this difference means to our bodies and Nervous systems, and how this difference deeply impacts our ability to either rest in love, or to flail in the chaotic sea of anxiety.

Let’s start with Pleasure! As I have recounted in prior blogs, healthy Pleasure is the best antidote to chronic stress and high anxiety. I wish more of us lived and experienced healthy Pleasure on a regular basis, if we did, this country would be a very different place. However, my experience as a human/therapist is that most of us do not experience healthy pleasure on a regular basis. America is a country that craves Pleasure, our advertisements are full of promised Pleasures, but we seem to have a difficult relationship between our desire for pleasure and our experiencing of Pleasure. Most people I know are craving Pleasure but enjoying very little of it.
TV Advertising extolls the joys of being rich, driving great cars, eating tasty (often junk) food, drinking beer and other alcohol, and having tons of sex with hot men/women, etc. While these options may seem pleasurable, why do they often bring so little Pleasure? Why do so many people get addicted to alcohol, food, more money, and sex, just to name a few of our advertised Pleasures?  My hypothesis to these questions does not come from a place of judging Pleasure or thinking it is bad and dangerous. My Mennonite heritage used to cause me to fear Pleasure. But those days are over, I have not been a Mennonite for a very long time, and I have learned how critical it is that I have plenty of healthy Pleasure in my life. My hypothesis comes from living, experimenting, and my observations of humanity.

We experience so little Pleasure because many of the things advertised to bring us Pleasure are either not healthy in certain situations/amounts, or are not actually pleasure, but a gateway to addiction. We all know that alcoholism often begins with social drinking or partying in high school/ college. It seems fun and a harmless pastime, a Pleasure even. But anyone who has lived with a human struggling with the weight of alcoholism can tell you there is NO pleasure in any drink they take. An alcoholic now drinks because they have to and because they cannot quit. What began as a Pleasure has become their Master.

Pornography is another example. AAMFT’s website states that 12 million people struggle with sexual addiction, which usually includes the use of pornography and a majority are now addicted to the use of it. (If you think you are not addicted to it, try to stop viewing it for good and you will know the truth.) It is known that pornography has caused many problems in relationships and that it causes people to become sexually attracted too an unreal human body (airbrushed men and women). Pornography is an example of how a healthy Pleasure, sexuality and the beauty of a human body, can become tainted and unhealthy because it has become an addiction. Addictions are often healthy Pleasures miss used, or run amok. Humans can become addicted to booze, drugs, food, work, sex, exercise, etc. So my hypothesis is that healthy Pleasure is often different from TV advertised Pleasures, and a healthy Pleasure is usually not something we are addicted to.

I make this connections because a healthy Pleasure is something we are able to ENJOY! Craving Pleasure is very different from Enjoying Pleasure. Many humans are not even enjoying the Pleasure they do have, but they are craving more Pleasure, so they run from experience to experience, from sexual partner to sexual partner, from new car to another new car, from one type of pornography to another. Desperately craving Pleasure but finding little enjoyment therein.

I repeat, Pleasure is a wonderful gift, we need Pleasure as humans to balance out all the stress and work we experience in life and relationships. Since American’s over-work compared to many other developed countries, it is no wonder we are a Nation that struggles with many addictions. But the Pleasures we need are healthy Pleasures and those we can Enjoy!  Many of us are adding healthy pleasures to our lives but not enjoying them either. Pleasure and enjoyment are not the same thing!

I have learned this truism over the years. I have had lots of healthy (and some unhealthy) Pleasure in my life but I have spent years not enjoying much of it. This happened because I was not living in my body, or living in the present moment, actually experiencing that Pleasure.  Instead, I was living in my head and in my thoughts. I was adding to my to-do list, or planning for the future, or regretting the past, etc., instead of actually feeling the Pleasure I was experiencing in that moment. If you are not in the present moment and living in your body (aware of your body sensations) you will not experience much Pleasure. This is not a hypothesis but a fact borne out by the last 10 years of research and study of the human body.

In closing I have found that most people agree walking on a beach, vacations, a loving relationship, warm baths, being in nature, eating a lovely meal with friends, sharing a great bottle of wine, a good workout or adventure, sports, art, creating, writing, etc., are all healthy Pleasures.  I will not try to suggest I know what your healthy Pleasures are, but I would suggest you find out and make yourself a list.  If you are currently not allowing yourself to experience your Pleasures ask why not. People who have enough play, rest and healthy Pleasure tend to experience less stress, less struggle with addiction, and more enjoyment in life. And, finally, when indulging in your Pleasure try your best to ENJOY it. After all this is why we really crave Pleasure, we want to enjoy our lives!

To learn more about pleasure and health, click this link.  Steps to perfect health, practice pleasure.

Going deeper:

1: What were your formative messages around Pleasure in general? Was healthy Pleasure modeled for you by your parents/caregivers.

2: Do you Enjoy your Pleasure? Can you resonate with the concept of having Pleasure but not Enjoying it? What attitudes or actions can you take to slow down and become aware of your life and your body so that you can actually experience your Pleasures on a regular basis?

 

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Blog 42: Anger & Anxiety # 3-Healthy Anger finally!

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Fight or flight- African Style

Today is the final blog about Anger & Anxiety, at least for now. One final way Anger and Anxiety are linked is that the strong fear of someone being Angry with us, scares the pee out of many of us humans. Unfortunately Anger can be, and often is, used unhealthily to control and manipulate others due to how uncomfortable most humans feel when someone is angry with them. Fear of loved one’s Anger causes great anxiety and often a loss of our sense of self. This is evidenced by how many people placate their angry family member(s), rather than firmly standing their ground and asking for what they really want. Some of my clients are living with an often explosive and angry family member. These clients live in chronic anxiety anticipating the upcoming explosion. The fact that anger’s eruption is somewhat unpredictable just makes the anxiety worse. Many humans would rather temporarily placate, and let go of what we desire, to avoid experiencing the blast of rage that may occur if we stand up for those desires.

I have lived with the fear of Anger a good portion of my life. In the past I lived with an angry family member (who was terribly treated and had a good reason for the anger, but not much control over it.) I have also feared friends and coworkers being angry with me. AND, what has caused even greater problems, I have feared and been blind to my own Anger. It has taken lots of work, with wise and professional support, for me to make peace with Anger and to stop fearing it. I have had to accept my own Anger, and the fact that at times, I can be an angry person. (Which wreaks havoc with my own image of my goodness). Breaking up with the need to be terminally nice, was a related issue, but one I will save for different blog. However, the journey has been well worth the struggle and living on the side of healthy Anger and the acceptance of this strong emotion has brought me great joy and much healthier relationships.

What I have found is that living in fear, and especially, ignorance of our own Anger is a harmful place to be. Unresolved and unaddressed anger leaks out and causes great harm and often, we can get caught in ruts of bitterness and resentment. Both of which cause irreparable harm to our bodies and relationships. I recently have been re-reading old journals and I came across a passage I wrote a while ago when I was really wrestling with my own unhealthy expressions of Anger. Though it is old material, I will include a small portion as it will illustrate my point about the need for healthy Anger better than just giving factual content.

Journal Entry: “Wow, what a journey this has been. Please continue to let the words and concepts of honesty and healing settle deeply into my soul, transcending and traversing any areas of blockage, confusion, or stuck buried resentment or bitterness. I want none of these now, they are not helpful to me, nor are they worthy of me.  For resentment and bitterness are at the core postures of helplessness and victimhood. They are knee-jerk responses that can come after experiencing being harmed, hurt or betrayed, but when I am not willing to deal with or confront the damaging influence. So the energy of angry pain, instead of being worked out through appropriate conflict coming from confrontation and the energetic attempts to make events feel fair and right to both of our body’s and beings, leaks out into stagnant pools of resentment and bitterness. This stuck energy swirls round and round but goes nowhere. These emotions are often a trap of self-pity, and fear of the energetic needs of real human relationships, which are messy & beautiful, harmonious & fractured, joyful & sad. There are seasons in every deep relationships. But resentment and bitterness keep the relationships stuck in dank cold water. The usual  warmth of connection, companionship & sexuality significantly decreased or absent all together.”  END OF ENTRY

Why talk about Anger anyway? Anger is a universal human emotion that often gets a bad rap, mostly because when humans are angry it is very hard to rationally make choices that improve the situation that is causing Anger in the first place. When we are very angry, our net-cortex is mostly off-line. Many times Angry energy causes people to act badly and use Anger for power and control, dominance, etc. No one likes to be scared so we give angry people a wide berth. But Anger is an important aspect of our humanity and an emotion we really need to pay attention to and learn how to properly express if we want to live a healthy and happy existence.

Anger is a good and important emotion. Humans need to be able to experience and express Anger in order to lead healthy lives. Anger is that strong message from our bodies that we feel threatened, that we have been, or are about to be, harmed or hurt. A healthy relationship to our own Anger allows us to perceive the “threat” early on. That allows the anger “energy” to help us say “NO”, or to set a boundary, or worst case, fight back to protect our lives. Allowing yourself to connect to your Anger in a potentially dangerous situation can save your life.

This actually happened to a friend of mine. In her early 20’s she was in a dangerous area late at night and 2 men tried to kidnap her. The driver stayed in the car while the other man tried to drag her into the back seat. Her Anger became her best ally. She felt a surge of adrenaline and rage, and she fought back with such powerful angry energy that she beat her assailant up and yanked out hunks of his hair. The other man drove off in terror, he was so frightened by her rage. (Imagine of the Amazon warrior woman archetype here.) So her ability to access her Anger was her best friend that night.

So in closing, don’t be afraid of your own Anger. It is an important emotion and one that allows us to be fully human. Even the Bible (written over  2000 years ago) has a saying, “Be angry but do not sin.” Practice allowing healthy Anger expression when needed vs. letting it leak out in other ways. Or keeping it inside and poisoning our own bodies.  As always, I am eager to here how it goes. Please write and share about your own journey with Anger!

Going Deeper

1.) Can you describe a time when you felt and expressed your own anger in a healthy and appropriate manner? How did it go? Who are the people who are more open to allowing your healthy expression of any emotion? If you have no one who can do this or very few, adding some new emotionally healthy friendships may be a great idea.

2.) How is your boundary system? In your daily life, how does anger and boundaries interact, if they do at all? Are you able to say NO, and hold your position even if the other person gets angry with you?

Love & Anxiety-Blog 26: Nike, the Serenity Prayer, and Stress Physiology!

Part 1 – Nike

The focus of the past few blogs was on how to flip our bodies out of threat physiology back into an embodied sense of safety and joy. One of the benefits my clients receive after engaging in somatic therapy is the experience of returning to feeling fully Alive in body and soul; rather than just existing, feeling persistent anxiety and worry.

Today’s blog focuses on another way to shift out of stress or threat physiology, but it’s more of a way of living than a tool. So, what does Nike and the Serenity Prayer have to do with stress physiology? Quite a bit it turns out. Today let’s start with Nike, more specifically, their famous marketing slogan — “JUST DO IT,” (JDI moving forward). What a great concept! We admire and respect athletes. Those who get up off the couch and just run that race, or just swim that heat, etc. It is not a coincidence, people who exercise strenuously on a regular basis are healthier and have better mood stability, than those who do not. There are many reasons for this including, improved heart-rate variability, rushing endorphins, and limbic system resonance, just to name a few.

But today’s blog is about the main reason why JDI matters in relation to our physiology. When it comes to attempting to recover from a trauma(s), stressful situations, or persistent daily anxiety, most of us don’t JDI. In threat and overwhelm mode, we are usually doing nothing about the issues that scare us, or even life in general. Some of us may worry, but that does not help! From an Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) perspective, just doing something can mean the difference between life or death, safety or danger. If a tiger is chasing you, JDI means, run like hell to save yourself because if you don’t JDI, you will be food for the tiger. While we don’t have literal tigers chasing us in North America, we fear plenty of “paper” tigers such as; illness, job loss, financial woes, divorce, relational betrayals, struggling children, etc.

JDI positively and directly impacts the ANS. Imagine with me a large invisible light switch planted right in the middle of your body. It is either ON or OFF, there is no other setting. This switch is a metaphor for action and self-efficacy. When it comes to stress, or life and death situations, in order to survive and thrive, we need that switch to stay in the ON position. ON in the ANS represents I CAN! I can run, I can fight, I can get away, I can JDI, in order to begin to resolve this situation.

Of course then, the OFF position epitomizes I CAN’T! I am helpless in the face of this situation and I don’t know what to do. People who live with their switch mostly in the OFF position tend to freeze and numb out when it comes to stress and problems, they are not living JDI. People who live mostly in ON position still experience anxiety, as well as stress and danger. However, they have an embodied knowledge of self empowerment, so they know that they will do what it takes to get back to safety. Therefore, they experience less trauma and anxiety. They know they can do whatever is needed to survive.

The good news is that JDI physiology, keeps that switch in the ON position. Doing something, rather than collapsing in fear and worry, allows your body to move toward the experience of empowerment and a sense of safety. This could include going for a walk, making that difficult phone call, asking for support, confronting someone, etc. If your switch is mostly OFF, start doing something, anything, on a regular basis and see how differently you feel. Self-efficacy has been shown in studies to be one the best antidotes to recovery from trauma, illness, anxiety, and consistent stressors. Self-efficacy is defined as the ability to effect whatever is your desired outcome. Another dictionary defined self-efficacy as potency and power! Other words for JDI!

In a few days, I will post part two, but meanwhile this week, check in with your body when in situations that are uncomfortable to you. Try to notice the position of your metaphorical switch. If it is OFF, practice trying self-efficacy instead of helpless, angry worry. I  will leave you with a statement I came up with years ago while doing my own somatic healing work for my body. “You are only helpless until you realize that you are NOT!”

JDI - African Style
JDI – African Style

Going Deeper:

1.) What is your reaction to this blog? Does it resonate or is there inner resistance? What is your reaction to JDI? Sometimes it is easier to stay in a stance of helplessness and blaming others for our misery. But what happens when you focus upon trying to find even the smallest step you could take moving forward?

2.) What is your internal response to my final statement! It sounds simple but it is a profound truth. I encourage you to meditate on this phrase this week and see what comes up for you, mentally and somatically.

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, I am starting another round at the end of April. Life is too short to be afraid!

Love & Anxiety in a wrestling match for supremacy

Love & Anxiety – Part 2

As discussed last week, love can cause anxiety or calm anxiety, so how do we get love to consistently perform the latter miracle, rather than experiencing the former fright? To do this it helps to understand a bit about the nature of the 3 main systems of the amazing human brain. I will list them for my fellow visual learners.

1. Primitive/Reptilian-brain stem; this is responsible for avoiding any hazards or danger. It is also where the automatic processes originate including the famous fight or flight responses.

2. Mammalian/Limbic system, this is responsible for approaching rewards/goals, including relationships, career moves, long-term goals and love.

3. Cerebral Cortex; allows us to affiliate and attach to other human beings.

These 3 work nicely together, but in very different modes depending on whether we feel safe or feel threatened by any kind of danger. When we feel safe and loved, we don’t need to avoid situations, and we approach rewards and affiliate and attach (love) to others. But when we feel threatened, and especially when anxiety has a death grip on our mind & body, the Reptilian-Avoid system comes online with a vengeance and broadcasts danger messages. The danger signaling, in turn negatively impacts the Approach and Attaching systems. We are more hesitant to approach rewards or attach to others. Danger is a compelling message to our bodies; it turns on our stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline), and acts like a siren on a rescue vehicle. Until the danger is resolved, the signal stays on and we stay primarily in Avoid mode. The drawback, one of many, to being in fairly constant anxiety, is the danger signaling often is very hard to turn off, even when everything in your daily life appears to be fine.

So, to allow love to triumph over our anxiety, we must deliberately focus on turning off the danger signal in the avoid system of the brain. This facilitates movement back into approaching and, especially, attaching to others, with hope and desire. Unless you are in actual danger, a mountain lion pacing the rock above your campsite, imminent car accident, or losing a valued job, home or relationship (emotional events trigger the danger signal as well), your avoid system should be off. Tune in again to read about the tools that have been proven to calm the body down and allow the brain to exit from the dominance of the Avoid system.

Going deeper:

  1. Are you more aware of how love in your life calms anxiety, or how it causes anxiety? If the latter is more often true, journal a bit about why this might be so.
  2. Using the information above, this week try to pay close attention to your daily life and see if you can identify when your danger signal gets turned on.
  3. If you notice that your avoid system is in play most often, feel free to contact me for some free tools to help calm your body down.

To learn how to evict the anxiety in your life, join a Real Life Solutions 3-wk anxiety reduction workshop. Go to http://www.sdtraumatherapy.com for more information. Mention this blog when you sign up and receive a 10% discount! Happy Loving.