Tag Archives: Community

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 #18: Love & Anxiety-Individualism vs. Community

We live in a culture that currently is fairly obsessed with Self and individualism. The old days when the group or community mattered more than the individual seem to be long gone. Other countries still focus on the importance of the family or community, but here in the good ole US of A, we like ourselves. We like to be sure that no one gets in the way of our personal happiness. Here are some typical slogans that you may have heard.

Look out for number 1!

You deserve a break today.

Nice guys (girls) finish last.

He (or She) who dies with the most toys wins.

If you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will.

Be all that you can be.

While it is very important to love and care for ourselves, there is a cost when we cease focusing any of our energy toward the good of the society or culture in which we live. Linsey Lohan, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, and most of the Kardashians, are some examples of what can happen when self-focus runs amok. Some people may be fascinated by the lives of these celebrities and find their escapades amusing, but most parents would not want them used as role models for their young children.

As a professor, a favorite quote I shared with my college students goes like this: “A person wrapped up in themselves makes a very small package.”  Not only have I seen this to be true, a person wrapped up in themselves often also experiences more anxiety. When a majority of the energy and focus in life is directed inward, toward self, ego, possessions, etc., bettering or collecting more of these things becomes the prime concern and top priority. Therefore, you are much more aware of what you have to lose.

Because of the brain’s bias to the negative, (see past blogs for more on this), fear of loss is of much greater interest and much more motivating, than hope of gain. So a consistent fear of the loss of all we have fought to gain, generates internally greater and greater levels of anxiety. To quote Daniel Coleman in Emotional Intelligence”; “When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller.”

Love, on the other hand brings a sense of calmness and security. Being loved and loving is one of the best antidotes we can “ingest” into our hearts and souls against the toxins of anxiety and fearful selfishness. When we focus solely on ourselves, we forget that at the core we are mammals. We are more than an animals, but as mammals, we therefore need our pack to feel safe and secure. People who are focused on the good of their communities and those they love, tend to be happier, and feel more secure and peaceful. They often have more of a sense of intimate connection and purpose. They have a better balance to their focused energy, some going toward self and some going towards the community and loved ones. Studies have shown that people who love and give are much happier overall. There is something fulfilling and rewarding about making a positive difference in other’s lives.

I am not suggesting we stop taking care of ourselves but perhaps taking a look at our lives to see if we are in balance. Is some of my focus going toward bettering the self and some towards bettering others? As a child, attending a Mennonite church I was taught that service to others was all that mattered.  My needs were deemed irrelevant. I later learned the hard way that living without love and care for myself turned me into a burned-out angry mess. Perhaps in your families or religious organizations you have gotten a similar message. Well, as in anything, balance is the key. Love of self is connected directly to the love of other. Most cultures and religions subscribe to some form of the golden rule; “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!” So go out and love this week, love yourself and continue to love those around you.



War orphans from Uganda, they know how to do community, they would not survive otherwise

Going deeper:

  1. As humans we often struggle with extremes, balance seems to come with hard work and experience. In this area are you in balance, or do you tend toward one extreme or the other? Selfishness, or are you a people pleaser with an utter lack of focus on self-love and care?
  2. Whichever side you typically inhabit, this week try to focus a bit more energy into the other side. Notice what impact this has upon your mind, body and soul. If you have been programmed to think that self-love and care is “selfish”, practicing it may be hard for you, but please try. You will feel better.
  3. Those of you who naturally have these two sides in balance, thank you! Please keep being a great example to the rest of us who need a bit of support and a role-model.


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!

Love & Anxiety #6: Stranger Danger!

I saw a nice little tableau acted out before me yesterday on my way home from exercising on the beach. A family was walking toward the beach. Mom, Dad and the oldest son were all clumped together, but straggling behind about 80 feet were two younger sons. One appeared to be age 7, and the other boy, maybe age 5. The 5 year-old had frozen on the sidewalk and refused to budge. The older brother was trying to convince him to move and follow the family. Nothing seemed to be working. Biking by, I heard the older brother urgently whisper, “Willy, come on, there’s a stranger coming.” Sure enough a man was coming up on the sidewalk behind them. By then I passed them, so I don’t know if he moved or is still standing there, but it made me think about relationships, anxiety, attachment, and safety.

One of the reasons love can conquer anxiety is we are “hardwired” to attach to others and be in living in community. We are mammals after all, and mammals are social, pack animals. Though we are much more than animals, we have similar needs. A beloved other, someone from our family/pack, can bring peace and calm to a bad situation. But if a stranger approaches, our anxiety can skyrocket. What happens in our brains? Why the difference?

Once again it helps to understand the 3 brain systems. Our recognition and understanding of the identity of another person, resides in our Cerebral Cortex and in the Limbic systems. So, if we are doing well and feeling safe approaching and attaching, the appearance of a stranger may elicit healthy interest or curiosity. But, if we are in anxious-avoid mode, this will not be the case.

In our Primitive Brain/Brain stem, things appear very differently. It’s almost like being blindfolded. We are not aware of the identity of any person approaching us. Our Cerebral Cortex knows this is Aunt Sally, or the neighbor we enjoy, or the hot, new co-worker from next door. However, the Primitive/brain stem only sorts people into a few categories. I.e., Are they safe, dangerous, do we know them, do we love them, do we hate them, do we want to fight them, or have sex with them, etc. So stranger danger is not a joke to the Primitive Brain.

When we are feeling safe, considering attaching to a new person is natural, even if it that someone is a stranger. Every dear friend we ever had, was at one time a stranger to us. In this mode we are open and curious about the new person. As we engage in a bit of social interaction, all parts of our brains are deciding what we feel about this person. If we enjoy the interaction, we will leave with some positive feelings toward them.

However, if we are in anxiety-avoid mode, or when we have been programmed to “fear the stranger”, we approach any new person with anxiety, skepticism and suspicion. Our ability to see them clearly is clouded by the avoid-system in our primitive brains. Why does this matter? Well, if you join a new company, move to new neighborhood, find a new love, etc., all of these options include meeting and growing some kind of attachment to new human beings. Initially all are strangers to you, but soon to be part of your everyday life.

So, remember this information if you have to get to know some new people with whom you will be spending some time. Be sure you are relaxed and feeling safe and good. Let the Safety-attaching mode be strong in your brain. Then, the avoid system of your brain will not be registering danger signals. This way you have a better chance of really getting to know these people, AND, it will help you make a better first impression. Coming off as aloof, angry, or suspicious, will not endear you to the people who will populate your new life.

Going deeper:

1. What is your most prevalent attitude toward people who you don’t know yet?

2. This week notice what your bodily responses to people who you don’t know? If you feel anxious, try to identify what causes this feeling inside of you. Is it old messages, a prior bad experience, or something else?

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.