Tag Archives: emotion

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?

BLOG 41: Anger & Anxiety:Part two- Poems about rage.

Let’s take a break today from all the Left brain activity consisting of helpful facts and materials about Anger and Anxiety. Let us slip over to our Right brains and connect to the subject in the intuitive, feeling, and creative realm.

I find writing poetry a wonderful outlet for creativity (by that way, expressing our creative energies decreases sensations of anxiety), as well as for off-loading excess emotional energy and anxious activation caused by big feeling states.

This first poem was written years ago as I finally became aware of the old Anger still living in my cells and belly, that had been lurking mostly under my conscious awareness. (I bet the people closest to me were aware of it but I was mostly clueless.) So, when the Anger got so big I could no longer smother and ignore it, I became aware of it but had no idea how to express or get rid of it. I felt terrified and constipated by this stuck angry place inside of my body. So I wrote this poem entitled, “Lucky Bastards”.

Lucky Bastards

Rage is cadged, locked tight

in the castle of my heart

the key lost, some years ago

by my careless hands,

more concerned with building

a stage, on which to play a life,

unable to retain, what’s actual, real.

 

Preferring to paint pretty pictures

others praise, to the middle tint

of authentic life, clouded by gray days

and bouts of rage, marring the pretense

of perfection and poise.

 

Princesses can sulk and pout

but rage is beneath them.

It’s the province of paupers and Princes.

I watch as they rant and rage,

perched decorously on my perfect stage

thinking, “those lucky bastards.”

The second poem was also written a long time ago. My early work as a new therapist trying to support abused clients, was one of the catalysts that brought the beginnings of awareness to my own anger. This Anger, left over, from my own early years of being mistreated; at home at times, school bullying, abusive Spiritual leadership, and maltreatment from tyrannical nasty bosses. Not only did I feel my body’s truth, somehow I was still pissed about it all. Now I was also becoming more aware of new Anger arising. Infuriated by hearing the horror stories coming out in my counseling sessions with teenage clients. Many, of whom, were being mistreated and/or not protected by their parents. This poem arose from my body, almost like vomit from the belly. A visceral response to the counseling work with these young women.

“Helpless Rage for a drowning client”

My rage is hidden, shy, sly.

It rises and I turn to look

and it’s already gone

like the view in the rear view mirror.

 

The parents are killing her, I say.

But the Bureaucratic bunglers don’t stop them

everyone looks the other way

and she is drowning in front of my eyes.

I give her a breath of clean air

here and there, but stand aside,

as she thrashes, like a good citizen,

while they murder her by inches,

and hack her soul to bits.

 

I want to stab them, slash them

into ribbons, and feed her their flesh

but it will do no good

nothing does. So I take up

again, my useless vigil

and give her another breath.

By Wanda Brothers

As you could probably tell from the poems, at that point in my life I had not learned yet to healthily experience and express my Anger. These skills did, and are continuing to, come, but it took professional support and years of work.

We will talk more about Anger and Anxiety in the next blog in this series, focusing on a few of the problematic outcomes from refusing to accept, acknowledge and deal with old or current hurt and pain. These outcomes, Anger’s cousins, are called Bitterness and Resentment and they not only make us, and our loved ones, miserable but they cause tremendous anxiety. And finally, we will focus on healthy Anger.

Please send comments that let the rest of us know about your own struggles with Anger and learning how to deal with it in a healthy manner. We can always learn from each other in every aspect of life. It’s one of the things that makes life worth living.

IMG_0531 In a great mother and daughter bond, anger is still allowed.

Going Deeper:

1.)  What is your visceral/body response to either or both of the poems? Now, what are your emotional and mental responses?  Can you relate to the struggle of buried anger?

2.) How do you deal with old hurts and wounds? Most buried Angry/Rage comes from being harmed or betrayed by our loved ones or other humans. Are you able to confront and move on or do you carry old somatic sensations of Anger and pain inside?

Blog 40: Anger & Anxiety- Part 1

In today’s blog we will discuss Anger and Anxiety. Anger is an important emotion experienced by humans of every world culture. However, this strong feeling/emotion is often a tricky feeling to experience and to navigate healthily. We have all seen Anger expressed in unhealthy ways (just watch most action adventure movies) and for this reason Anger has often gotten a bad rap.

We will address healthy Anger in the next blog, but today we will explore how Anger and Anxiety are connected. While it may seem they are opposite emotions — Anger is often experienced as an emotion expanding our energy into the world, and Anxiety as an emotion that contracts us away from the world—they are often linked. So, what is the relationship between Anger and Anxiety?

First off, both Anger and Anxiety are sensations/emotions many of us experience as extremely uncomfortable, and the expression of both emotions are fairly hard to disguise.  Many people experience and express consistent Anxiety as chronic irritation, and may not even understand they are anxious. If you would measure their physiology, (levels of stress hormones and the amount of activation in the Autonomic Nervous Systems—ANS) you find their ANS is agitated and dis-regulated, hence the chronic irritation. If you are feeling happy, content, and life is going well, there is little need to be irritable, is there?

Frankly, Anger is scary for most of us, it is a big, and very powerful sensation and experiencing it can feel like it could swallow us whole. It can be extra difficult for women who are often socialized from babyhood that nice girls don’t get angry. We have often heard angry women being described as that “B” word that has kept many females stuck in the prison of nice. (Yes, I mean Bitch!)  Over the years many a woman has been stopped from angrily voicing her true thoughts and feelings, fearing that label. (Though it seems the new generation of young women are less bothered by it than my generation.) However, voicing our thoughts and feelings is critically important for our emotional and physiological health, as well as for changing things that need to be changed. As the bumper sticker so aptly states, “Well behaved women seldom make history.” I would argue that holds true for men as well. It is often the humans who have behaved against culture norms that have changed our world for the better.

Men often struggle with the emotion of Anger as well. However, often the male struggle is with controlling the expression of Anger, not so much not allowing themselves to feel it. Again, socialization plays a big role in our childhood, as well as our adult, behavior. Generally if you go watch young children at recess, the girls are often giggling and playing together, and the boys are fighting with sticks, or whatever vaguely weapon-shaped objects they can find. It’s our gender differences showing up in our play. Our brain wiring, hormonal systems and socialization are vastly different from that of the opposite sex. If we can understand that and work with those differences instead of stigmatizing each other, the world would be a kinder place.

So many human beings become automatically Anxious when we experience the emotion of Anger, whether it’s our own Anger or the Anger of someone else directed at us. Anger is not often handled well in workplaces, families, etc. Sometimes people get stuck in Anger and are not be able to discharge it healthily, or may not want to let it go. Anger can be a secondary emotion, coming up repeatedly after we have been hurt by another person. Sometimes after being emotionally wounded, it is easier (and often more pleasant) to feel Anger rather than the underlying hurt or sadness, or the helplessness to do anything about the pain of betrayal. Feeling Anger is correlated emotionally with the threat of harm, being stuck in Anger often keeps our bodies stuck in threat physiology, which causes physiological anxiety just by its very nature.

We will explore more about Anger and Anxiety and talk about healthy Anger in part 2 of this blog.  In closing, I encourage my readers to be curious about your own relationship to Anger. How does Anger impact your life, your health, and your relationships? I would love to hear any thoughts people are willing to share.

Angry woman
Frustrated and angry-A big emotion

Going Deeper

1.) What do you think or feel when you read about Anger? Do you have a healthy relationship to your own Anger? What about to your loved one’s Anger? Do you express anger directly, or do you let it leak out in other ways that are less frightening but still cause great damage? (I.e. the silent treatment, passive aggressive behaviors, etc.)

2.) How does your body respond to Anger in general? How does it react to other’s Anger? Do you retract, or do you desire to fight back and defend yourself?

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 #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 #15: “To feel or not to feel….

At the end of last week’s blog, I mentioned that emotions begin as physiological events and not as emotional contracts and I promised to share more. I am not saying that we don’t experience emotions as mental constructs, but that the physiological change in the body comes first. Our then minds realize, ‘oh I am really angry, or, I am depressed’.  

To clarify this a bit more, let’s talk about language. The mind’s language is of course, words! As noted in the above examples. However, our body has its own language and speaks to us, but we often do not hear or even try to listen. The body’s language is Sensation.  Perhaps you have heard these phrases:feeling things in our guts; that pit in the middle of my stomach; or, the tightness in my chest, etc. Less often, we may be aware of a lightness in our hearts, a warm expansiveness in our chests, etc. This is the language of the body. It buzzes, constricts, contracts, chills, warms, opens, expands, just to name a few of the body’s words.

The reasons we are often unaware of, or completely ignore our body’s messages, is we have forgotten this language. We deem those messages irrelevant to our busy grown up lives. Somewhere between elementary school and high school, most humans cease listening to their bodies and begin to live in their heads. Our culture and our role models (adults) usually reinforce the message that our mind is the master and carrier of the most important information. Often it is our poets; musicians, film directors, artists, creative types, etc., who are the holdouts staying connected to both languages, which is one reason we adore them so.

If a person lives in her mind a majority of the time, she will have trouble really experiencing her emotions because she is not truly inhabiting her body. Until the sensations get soooo big, she can’t ignore them anymore. This is one reason why people who spend lots of time in their heads obsessing and worrying, experience high levels of body anxiety. The body is a lot bigger than the mind, especially when it comes to the “negative” emotions. (Not because they are bad, but because they FEEL so bad.) Anger, fear, sadness, when you have tried to tamp them down and ignore them for too long, eventually they will surge out and blow up. When they do, it’s usually a mess. We rant at someone, or go into a deep depression, or have anxiety and panic attacks, to give a few examples. 

Next week I will publish Part two of this blog, sharing more about embodied, present, living and how to more easily deal with our emotional storms. Stay tuned!

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my lovely Aussie friends displaying two powerful emotions -joy and anger

Going Deeper;

1.) What emotions are you comfortable experiencing and which emotions are outlawed from your life? Do you resonate with the information that when we stuff and bury emotions for too long, they burst up and make a mess?

2.) Are you comfortable in your body? Can you listen to its language of sensation? What sensations are you currently most aware of?