Tag Archives: Growth

BLOG 51- Love & Anxiety: Tips for tough situations!

Angry woman

Do you ever experience situations cropping up that you just don’t want to deal with? Situations that feel overwhelming and too much to handle? I would guess everyone knows what I mean because periodically having to deal with difficult situations is a part of being human. But that doesn’t mean we enjoy the process. Is there a better way of getting through these difficult situations? A way that feels positive, empowering, and life-giving, instead of impossible, awful and soul sucking? Yes there is, and it is possible to thrive in difficult situations, not just survive them.

The first step to thriving in challenging circumstances is to listen to the messages your body is telling you about this issue, to ask internally what your body expects, or fears, will occur. As stated in earlier blogs, human bodies use the language of sensations and emotions to communicate to the mind/brain, what is being experienced. So bring to mind that phone call, meeting, or that upcoming confrontation, and see what your body “says” about it. Ask the question about what your body fears with true, open curiosity. In response, you may (hear) feel sensations of heaviness and dread, or a shaky, quivery anxiety, or some confusion and collapse.

After asking your body what it expects, if the sensations are those of fear and dread, try identifying the location in your body where those sensations are the strongest. Discover the fear “zip code” if you will. Ask that place what it is specifically afraid will happen, or how you could be harmed? Sometimes you will hear a realistic fear, such as, “she will be mad at me”, or, “I will have to find another place to live”. But often, in current situations, our deep sensations of dread and fear are connected to earlier ages and experiences, times when we had less power and less ability to stand up for ourselves or to clearly state our needs. So if your body answers with a fear that sounds irrational, then you may be dealing with an earlier time and body state. In that case bringing in some form of support would be advised and helpful. Often we didn’t get enough support early in our lives, and adding it now makes a difference.

Sometimes, simply saying the irrational fear aloud helps us calm down because we can perceive that what we fear most likely will not occur. But if saying it aloud does not dispel the fear, try talking back to the fear gently and compassionately. Tell the fear what positive things you will do to make the situation better. Let your body know what it can realistically expect and how you will move forward even in the challenge. This may sound odd, but the body is a sentient being that does not feel or understand the same things that the mind does.

Just paying attention to the sensations that feel negative (they are not negative) allows most people to move through the feelings and to calm down. Paying attention with compassion will cause them to dissipate. When our Autonomic Nervous System ANS Video is in high Sympathetic charge mode, our bodies are full of fearful sensations and soaked in stress hormones. At that point our Neo-cortex can go off-line and we are left swimming in a sea of survival soup and have little rational ability left. Once the sensations related to fear, confusion, and disempowerment dissipate or are reduced and the Sympathetic charge lessens, your rational mind, the Neo-cortex, will come back on-line and help you to figure out the wisest course of action to take in this difficult circumstance.

Another aspect that makes a big difference in how we navigate challenging situations is our attitude toward the difficult circumstance. When we are full of fearful sensations and our ANS is full of Sympathetic arousal, our attitude is usually a negative one. We think things like, ‘its not fair, why is this happening to me, or everything is against me, I can’t catch a break’, etc.  But when we calm our body down and connect body, heart, and mind in unity to deal with the problem, we are able to perceive a more realistic  and more positive view of the situation. With a positive attitude we can think things like, ‘this will help me grow stronger, it can help me be more forgiving’, etc. We have known for years that hardship has great potential to help a person grow in maturity and wisdom. Although, It can also make people bitter. It depends on that person’s focus.

So the next time you face a difficult circumstance, try these tips. See how integrating your body, mind and heart makes for greater empowerment and a more resilient you in the midst of a difficult challenge.

Going Deeper:

1.) What is your Achilles heel? Are there certain situations that are just really hard for you to handle? What kind of support do you have, or bring in when things feel Sucky?

2.) Do you know your own body’s messages? Do you know what happens inside you when things feel safe? What sensations does your body produce when life gets challenging? If you usually only listen to your mind, trying adding hearing the body message, the more info you have the better you can navigate challenges.

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#39: Love & Anxiety-Contentment at Christmas?

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I have read lots of blogs, books and articles raving about the importance of mindfulness in order to live in a peaceful mind and body, and I agree 100%! But what I would love to read or hear more about is another “state” or attitude, that of Contentment.  Contentment is related to mindfulness but is not exactly a buzzword in our predominately self-focused popular culture.  I was with a friend recently who will remain nameless, so as not to embarrass her and her kids. She spent a small mortgage on her day off to take her sons and their friends to one of those “fun zone” places (where junk food, quarters and over-stimulation reign supreme.) Unfortunately, even after her hours of sacrifice, the only sound heard on the way home was the song of complaint. Complaints about what they didn’t get, and frustration about having to leave “so soon”. There was not one word of gratitude and certainly not a shred of Contentment found in that car.  Not in the kids, or in my friend.  A sense of entitlement and unrealistic expectations often walk hand-in-hand and both kill our ability to feel Contentment. Gratitude and Contentment are not the same concepts but are related, supply energy to each other, and are the Yin to the Yang of entitlement and unrealistic expectations.

Why is Contentment so hard to achieve in our daily existence? There are several reasons besides those noted above. One seems to be, at times humans can mistakenly equate Contentment to stagnation or lack of ambition. The reasoning goes, “if I am content with where I am in life and what I have, how will I grow and improve and get more out of life?” But  Contentment is a great word and a great state to spend time in, dictionary.com defines Contentment as: the state of being contented; satisfaction; ease of mind.  I like that phrase, ease of mind. The last blog was about human restlessness and how it negatively impacts our joy and increases our anxiety levels. Restlessness could be called unease of mind or even dis-ease of mind. Contentment then, is one of the antidotes for getting stuck in restlessness on a regular basis.

Contentment is not stagnation.  You can have goals, dreams, and desires but still live in Contentment on a regular basis. Because Contentment is not about specific outcomes but an overall ease of mind /attitude about life. Contented people usually have fairly realistic expectations (read appropriate) about  life, limits and their place therein. Contentment allows us to experience the overwhelming good that is our daily life without being tainted by seething restlessness or the frustration that comes from comparing our lives with the lives of others we believe are more fortunate.

Here is a fairly simple example. If at age 30 I take up the sport of football, there is very little possibility that I will be drafted by the NFL. I could become a great football player, if I am willing to put in hours of daily practice. But NFL level players usually have been playing football since childhood. If my expectations, or set goals, do not match reality, Contentment will be a hard state to attain. If I expect to be drafted I will be disappointed and discontented. However, If I expect to get really good and enjoy the sport, I have a much better chance of feeling Contentment with my choices and accomplishments.

Sometimes we paint unrealistic pictures in our heads about how life should play out, or even how we should feel on a regular basis. We can get the impression via reality TV, FB posts, movies, songs, etc. that life is one big happy adrenaline rush. We think we ought to feel immense love or excitement or joy 24/7.  Contentment is hard to find when living with those kind of unrealistic expectations.

Life was never intended to provide the same experiences all day long day after day. Let’s use art as an example to stand in for life and the various situations, moods, and sensations we all experience. A beautiful piece of art or a stunning photograph most often is comprised of various “objects”, shapes and colors. A green leaf is lovely, but in the fall when the leaves turn colors and become a  gorgeous palate of oranges, reds, yellows, and browns, that’s when tourists stream into New England to take in the art these multi-hued leaves provide. Very few people come to gawk in the summer when the leaves are only the color green.

Well, real Life is multi-hued as well. If you imagine feelings, events, and sensation as colors, there will be green moments and red moments, and purple moments. There are yellow feelings and pink feelings and black feelings, etc. Life is fluid and flows, it changes and morphs. When we realistically expect and accept there are green/red/blue/purple, etc, moments, we will not be thrown or upset when we don’t feel excitement or happiness all day long. We become more tolerant of the hues that we feel less fondness for but know that we can learn to be with, and learn from them. For example, we can allow ourselves to feel sad for a time which in turn allows us the awareness of how great it feels to experience happiness.

There is another great benefit to experiencing and enjoying life as multi-hued and morphing.  We become better able to sit and allow our own shifting internal states to BE whatever color they are without criticism and judgment. In so doing, we are more able to “tolerate” the shifting states of our friends, neighbors, and loved ones.

So friends the holiday season is upon us and it is easy to get caught in the busyness and the merchandise mucking about foisted upon us hourly via ads and TV networks. But I encourage you to settle inside yourself and find your own state of inner Contentment these next few weeks. Experience how Contentment may shift the energy of the Holiday Season and the family interactions during the many holiday themed events. As always, I would love to know how it goes for you so please let me know via comments.

GOING DEEPER:

1.) What is your knee-jerk reaction to the term Contentment? Is it positive or negative? What beliefs live inside your head and body about contentment? Do these block you from, or move you toward Contentment.

2.) Is my analogy normalizing life as multi-hued art, and not a single state of being, helpful to you? If not, come up with your own analogy or metaphor of life with its various permutations. Which colors/sensations/feelings are you most comfortable living with, and which are uncomfortable to you? Share your answers with your friends and loved ones if you dare.

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Blog 36: Love & anxiety: Get off the Beaten Path!

Way off the beaten path. Children's village, Uganda Africa
Way off the beaten path. Children’s village, Uganda Africa

It may seem odd that I blog about benefits of traveling, right after one praising stillness and becoming internally peaceful. But I have noticed an interesting correlation. After experiencing times of external and internal stillness, being with, and befriending all of my being, including those parts I find harder to love, this practice fills me with renewed energy and desire to risk engaging with Life and novelty. Travel is a wonderful way to do this.

These thoughts are fresh in my mind as I just returned from traveling for the past few weeks. It was  work travel but I still found it engaging and stimulating. I know some personality types find travel and novelty much more enjoyable and stimulating than other personalities. However, we can all occasionally get off the beaten path even if it’s in our own home town.

Humans seem to struggle with the tendency to fall into ruts. At least those of us living in the developed world. We go to the same coffee shop, take the same road to work, sit in the same seats at the conference table or meeting. The familiar is comfortable to our brains. There is a sense of predictability in sameness that can feel like safety. However, there is a cost to being in a rut. Boredom can set in, and it is so much harder to be fully present when we do the same routine daily. Sleepwalking, or just phoning it in, is so easy when we are on autopilot. Living this way for years at a time can cause some people to make unhealthy choices just to feel something new or to offset the deadening sensation of boredom.

Barbara Brown Taylor http://www.barbarabrowntaylor.com talks about this in her wonderful book, “An Altar in the World”, in a chapter on the spiritual practice getting lost. She compares our behavioral ruts to those of dairy cows who walk the same small path back a forth from the barn to the pasture every day. She enthuses about what you can learn about yourself when you are lost, or out of your typical element, and how this can connect us in a sense of shared humanity and Oneness with all things. While it’s easy to notice when we are physically lost, what about when we are emotionally lost? Like after a big unexpected problem, such as an illness, job loss, divorce, etc. From her perspective, the same skills are needed for either kind of lostness. First we must manage our fear and panic, then we locate our existing resources or look for help and support. And, finally we see what this unexpected detour might have to offer. She suggests the loss of control we experience when lost, is well worth the possible gains of greater presence and more self awareness.

I agree with her assessment. That’s one reason I love travel. I find engaging in travel to provide a similar experience to getting lost. Going to a whole new place feels like being lost. We are not sure of all the turns to our destination. (Our GPS, knows but we do not). We need to find new places to fuel our bodies —restaurants or grocery stores — we see things we have never seen before, especially when leaving our own country and entering someone else’s. Here you get to have the experience of being the one butchering their language (unless you are like my friend Margaret who studies the host country’s language before she travels). You are the one who may need to stop and ask for directions, or the one who does not know the local customs or who hands over the wrong brightly colored paper money.

This whole experience of traveling can increase our anxiety levels and for some people this is why they don’t travel. The not-knowing and the possibility of looking foolish is too much for their Nervous System and comfort levels. But even with the increased anxiety, which will usually dissipate quickly if you can just go with the flow, there are so many gifts available in this process. These include; increased resilience, cognitive gains, reversing the coagulation of life caused by chronic sameness (boredom), a better sense of how connected we all are as a human race, and hopefully a dash of humility which tastes bad going down, but is so good for our souls in the long run.

To close I will focus briefly on travel’s gift of increased resilience. What we exercise and work gets stronger, what we don’t atrophies. While most of you have realized this is true of your muscles, from your own experience of exercising, or not exercising. This is also true physiologically. It’s true of our ability to gain increased self-confidence and a greater sense of self-efficacy, which translates to feeling safe in our bodies. Physiological resilience operates just like our muscles, use it or lose it!  Anxiety by its very nature causes most people to narrow their lives and limit their experiences. The more anxious we feel, the more we lose a sense of self-efficacy and safety, and the more we limit and attempt to control our lives. This is moving the wrong direction, away from resiliency and closer to collapse or depression.

Travel is a great way to build the muscle of your physiology and Autonomic Nervous System regulation. The more you “risk” new experiences, not knowing, not being fully in control, and you discover you are fine and in fact feeling more alert and alive than normal, the more your ability to regulate your physiology grows. This translates to increased resiliency. Developmental psychologists have long known that if a child is handed everything he or she desires and never experiences frustration or any minor hardships, that child really struggles to succeed and thrive in adulthood. It’s the very act of being appropriately frustrated and learning how to handle that sensation without a major meltdown, that grows increased resiliency in children. That “muscle” is being developed in them. We are not children anymore, but we all still can benefit from exercising the “muscle” of our ability to tolerate novelty, frustration, uncertainty, and not having things go the way we wanted them to.

I encourage you this week, if you are in a rut, step out of it. Try one of these suggestions. Go to a new coffeeshop, go have a totally new experience, get lost and see how you handle yourself, and/or plan a nice long trip somewhere you have never been. I would love to hear how it goes. 25th comment on this or providing an answer to any of the questions below, gets a Starbucks gift card. 45th comment gets to choose a title and receive credit in blog I create to go with their title.
Going Deeper:

1.) How is your frustration threshold? How do you handle being lost, out of control, or of your usual comfortable element? How does your body respond to novelty? Is there a joy and a sense of vitality, or more of a rush of anxiety and fear? Remember if you can breathe into any uncomfortable situation long enough, it will settle down unless you are in actual danger.

2.) What was your instinctive response to this blog? How much resilience does your ANS have? Are you able to easily bounce back from frustration, disappointment, not getting your way, or not knowing where you are or exactly what to do next? If your resilience is low, never fear, just like your muscles, you can increase it quite quickly if you put in the effort.

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