Tag Archives: Brain habits

Blog 38: Love & Anxiety-Inner Restlessness

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Do you ever have one of THOSE days? You know, the ones where you feel antsy and so restless? You feel like you are missing out on some goodness, like you should be somewhere else but you don’t know where. You just feel off and full of angst. I had one of those days this past month. I have noticed, these kind of days are more likely to follow a season of big events or experiences, such as after a successful Attachment training weekend, or an important presentation. Right after I have felt “up” and excited about life and my place in it, if a restless day is going to roll in like a storm front, it tends to follow on the backside of the wake caused by  big “high” feeling. And, just like the wake from a big speedboat, those days tend to throw me off balance.

This sensation of restlessness I am convinced is a part of being human, especially now, in our way too stimulating, technologically advanced culture. For me, the restlessness manifests as a gripping tension in my belly and that unsettled feeling that keeps me from resting and settling, even if I sit and try to meditate. The “message” this sensation gives my body is that I am running out of time and that life is passing me by, that others are experiencing the good I am missing. Getting on FaceBook does not help. Since people post experiences of joy and triumph and not losses or failures, it can seem that everyone else is having the time of their lives. Can anyone else relate to this restlessness?

I will out myself and share an example of how restless sensations can distort beauty and reality. I was cycling alone up the bike path on the Strand a few weeks ago. I had been feeling restless all morning but during the ride I settled and became more awake and aware. I began to really be present to the experience. Suddenly, I had such a strong sense that we are all connected, humans, nature, even the caterpillars crawling across the path I was carefully avoiding to so as not to run over them. The sensation was so sweet. I decided to stop, look at the bay, and be open to anymore insights or epiphanies. Less then two minutes later, another cyclist, stopped at the same place and came up behind me and began to engage me in conversation. Instead of connecting, my old nemesis, restlessness, kicked in and I lost presence. I quickly felt antsy and frustrated that this person was “ruining” my experience of sitting with the Oneness and the sense of Divinity in that wonderful sensation I had just lost. I felt like the interruption “cost” me the good of this experience. I know, it’s very funny if you pay attention to life’s invitations, but I was not!  I was paying attention to the restlessness and the sense that I was losing this great experience. I know, crazy town! Here I was presented with an opportunity to deepen the sense of oneness with an actual person, but I totally missed it because I was in my own little world in my head letting the restlessness dictate how I thought things should go. (In case you were wondering, it took about 10 minutes for me to wake back up and notice my ridiculousness.)

This experience highlights one reason I try to not live in the restlessness for a minute longer after I become aware of it. The “inner voice” of the restlessness is so narrowing and self-focused. It tells me I am missing out and that if things would just go differently I would feel better. This will cause me to miss the gift or joy available right in the present moment. Luckily, I have lived long enough to have lots of practice catching the sensation and I know that sometimes you just have to ride out uncomfortable feelings and false beliefs. Sometimes, you have to hold onto your true knowing and just sit until they pass, which they do. This can be especially difficult because restlessness almost always brings along its Significant Other, a big dose of Anxiety!

One of my “cures” for the restlessness is to drop into silence and Being. To slow everything down internally and ask myself some questions. “What is really going on? Is there really any tangible thing I am lacking in this moment”? Usually the answer is no. I realize that silence may be easier for us Introverts. Extraverts can find silence frightening or annoying. So if you are more extraverted maybe your silence is a concentrated short time where you focus on connecting with your own being and the goodness therein. The gift of riding out the restlessness by sitting until it leaves, is a deepening sense of peace and calmness.

Another “antidote” for restlessness is love & connection with my beloved friends. Those wonderful beings who see me clearly and adore me anyway! Thank you to all of you, you know who you are. When the restless sensation hits your body, you could use it as an impetus to reach out and connect personally with someone you love and that loves you. In-person, or at least voice-to-voice, is more physiologically helpful than an email or text. Although any kind of connection is helpful to our body and nervous systems. The process of reaching out and experiencing the synchrony between you and your beloved, opens the door internally for positivity resonance to permeate and “wash” out the unpleasantness of the restless, anxious sensations. Barbara Fredrickson in her stunning book, “Love 2.0” speaks of Love and its “positivity resonance” and how it improves our mood, outlook, physical health and our ANS/physiology.  She speaks of Love as not just what you experience with lovers, friends, and family members, but also as little tiny moments of connection and mirror neuron resonance that can occur all day long. We are not “screwed” in the love lottery if we live alone and have no family living nearby. According to her research, you can experience all the physiologically and health benefits of love all day long in your short encounters with other kind and helpful humans. This can include a stranger on the street, an uber driver, your local barista, etc. I encourage you to check out her book, it’s a revelation and based upon research and neuroscience.

So, please reply and let me know that I am not the only one who experiences restlessness. Please let me know how yours manifests and what you do about it. Have a great week.

GOING DEEPER:

1.) How many of you laughed at my ridiculousness on the bike path? But do you ever have the experience of totally missing what is in the moment in front of you? How do you come back from numbness or lack of presence, or living in dialogue with the to-do-list in you head?

2.) Do you ever experience these restless sensations? If so, how do they manifest in your body? What are the messages they whisper to your mind? How do you ride them out, or what tools do you use that help you recover your equilibrium?

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 #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 #7: Early Lessons Set Comfort with Love.

Love and relationships can be so scary and confusing, especially for those of us who were raised in an environment with any abuse/danger, neglect, or lots of anxiety. Here lies the primary premise of attachment theory: Your early environment sets your attachment style for your future! Thank goodness, that is barring any treatment. There are four types or styles of Attachment. The type we want is Secure Attachment, and three are Insecure Attachments. For more information go to Dianepooleheller.com.

Luckily, thanks to brain plasticity (Google it, it’s a fascinating topic, or reply to me with questions,) we can change our attachment style from any of the insecure styles to Secure attachment, at any age in life. The key is a safe, loving environment and safe, loving people to whom you can attach. Ultimately, learning new lessons about ourselves, about love, and safe relationships.

To explain this to clients I use my concept of a 3-tiered process, tiers that build upon each other and explain how we have been shaped by our early environment and parental attachment styles. It also explains the way we live our lives. In the long run, using this process as adults, we work to change our lives to replace feelings of anxiety with feelings of love. For visual learners, the three tiers and definitions are listed below:

LESSONS: The bottom tier is the foundation. The events we experience in our infancy and throughout our youth, teach us implicit and unspoken lessons or rules regarding the way life works. I.e., ‘If I have an angry and disappointed parent(s), the lesson I learn is, ‘I must be a disappointment and a failure’.

LENSES: This, hopefully, unspoken rule/lesson, becomes a part of my identity and it forms a lens through which I view myself in relation to the outside world. Using the above example, no matter what the situation, I will view myself as a disappointing failure. (Don’t be fooled, we all wear some form of lens, many exist below our conscious awareness. This is why therapy is not usually a speedy process.)

LIFESTYLE: Finally, the top tier is my chosen lifestyle. The lenses I wear, color and shape my view of life and sets my lifestyle-the way I act and live in the world. So, I won’t try new things or I will have tremendous anxiety and an expectation that I will disappoint or fail, even if I do try.

Unfortunately, those early lessons and lenses impact us more deeply than we would like, especially if they were painful. Many of us go to therapy or set goals to change our lifestyles. Sometimes, we try using will power alone, and, often these attempts fail and the old messages are once again reinforced.

Using the tier system as our guide, the key to significant life change, and to changing our attachment style to secure attachment, is to LEARN NEW LESSONS in your current everyday life. Once you learn some new, positive lessons, you will change your lenses through which you view yourself. Finally, changing these two tiers will automatically change your lifestyle. This will be easier than you think because you now have your adult brain and all your life experience and context to help you extract the right lesson from each situation. The need to learn new lessons is one reason why we are always told we need to face our fears or our stuck experiences, in order to move past them. You must have different (positive) experiences to learn the new lessons. Tune in to my next blog where I use the topic of spirituality to talk about learning new lessons.

Going deeper:

What is one or two of the main lessons you learned as a child with regard to relationships? Is this a message you want to keep living by, or is it one that you desire to change?

Identify one lens through which you view the world that differs from the lenses of your spouse or best friend. Journal about that difference and how each of your lenses changes the way both of you interact with the world

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