Saturday, October 14, 2017

Divided attention

Divided attention is really common when we’re stressed. Our attention is split into lots of different threads haphazardly focused in too many areas, which makes us feel really scattered and overwhelmed. It is really important to try and do one thing at a time, as slowly as you can, if possible.

The more stressed we feel, the more stuff we think we need to do to alleviate the stress; we become desperate, urgent and even panicky. But the opposite is in fact true. Know how your system reacts to threat, any threat, no matter how small you think the threat is (or whether you even recognise it as threat), and when you first notice the signs of stress, start doing what you know works or find something that you feel might work and start practising it daily.


You know from experience that minimising or comparing your stress levels and experiences with anyone else doesn’t help, it keeps you stuck, usually in shame, so take your own experience seriously. The only real measurement of stress is how we feel and if you feel bad enough, that’s good enough to do something about it regardless of what anyone else think or feels.

Keep it simple, do only a few things at most and do them daily. You should start to see results, hopefully immediately, but certainly in a few days. But remember, our nervous system takes time to rewire. If you have been steeping in stress hormones for a long time, your system needs time to reorient itself to a new way of being in the world. So as you’re dealing with your stress levels, be as kind to yourself as you can possibly be.

The moments of soothing ourselves, that is, learning to regulate ourselves, hopefully with the help of co-regulation, will join up and become minutes, hours, then days and after a while the days stretch into weeks and so on.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Sympathetic nervous system dominance

Try this script for when you feel stuck in flight or fight (sympathetic nervous system dominance), make sure to customise the script using your words. My next post will be on the freeze response and how it gets stuck. You can find the tapping diagram and procedure for the EFT short cut and basic recipe here. An excellent book on how to use various 'bodyways' for healing is Discovering the Body's Wisdom by Mirka Knaster.

Even though I have this trapped energy in my nervous system and it feels … I completely accept how I feel

Even though this shakiness/nervousness/humming/anxiety feels … and it’s hard to accept how I feel because …

Even though I’m easily overwhelmed and that makes me feel … I acknowledge how I feel

Top of the head: This stress
Eyebrow: Feels ...
Side of the eye: The sensations are …
Under the eye: And they feel …
Under the nose: Can I feel them?
Under the chin: Or do I want to run or fight?
Collar bone: I feel it most … (where do you feel it the strongest in your body?)
Under the arm: I feel it the least … (where does it feel calm, neutral, good? consider doing the pendulation exercise between these two places in your body)

Top of the head: This trapped energy
Eyebrow: In my …
Side of eye: It makes me want to …
Under the eye: And that feels ...
Under the nose: Can I be with 10% of this feeling?
Under the chin: I don’t have to feel 100% of it right now
Collar bone: Can I fully feel 10% of this?
Under the arm: Yes I can

Top of the head: No I can’t
Eyebrow: Maybe I can (consider getting a cushion/pillow and moving your legs on it as if you’re running in order to complete the flight response, or if you feel like fighting, get a cushion/pillow and give it a good bashing, and scream, wail, growl, clench your jaws, whatever feels right)
Side of the eye: This energy
Under the eye: Now feels … (has it changed since you started tapping? If it hasn’t, or it has increased - this is totally normal by the way - tap on how that makes you feel)
Under the nose: Does that feel ok to me?
Under the chin: Can I handle how it makes me feel?
Collar bone: I need to release this trapped energy
Under the arm: And that feels (stand up and shake out your body, or do something else that appeals to you to help you discharge some of the tension in your body, try some of these exercises here and here).

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

16 exercises to soothe anxiety

The 15 exercises below are also available as a pdf download from my website: http://energyandintention.com/exercisestosootheanxiety.pdf

1. 4-7-8 breathing exercise by Dr Andrew Weil.
2. With your thumb or index finger, close your right nostril and breathe through your left nostril, working up to 3 minutes. This activates your parasympathetic nervous system which helps calm you.
3. Keeping your head straight, look up with just your eyes, you can do a circle of 8 or look from left to right in whatever pattern you like, until you feel more calm.
4. Tapping your thymus and/or collarbone continuously, become aware of your exhale, and as you breathe out, purse your lips, which naturally elongates the exhale and activates your parasympathetic nervous system.
5. Put one palm across your forehead, and the other palm on the back of your head, near the base of your neck. Stay in this pose for one or two minutes, then switch hands and continue for another 2 minutes or so. It is easier to do this lying down, your hands and arms don't get as tired. Continue switching hand positions until you find a sense of calm/relief.
6. This exercise is from Linda Graham. When you feel anxious, let your body find the 'opposite' posture. Say for example, you curl up and feel tight and contracted when you're anxious, what would be the `antidote' to that body posture for you? Try moving your body into that position and if it feels right, you can also move in that pose/posture.
7. The collar bone point (kidney and adrenal gland meridian), is a great point to tap when you're feeling anxious. Try tapping on it continuously, you can always combine it with some of the breath exercises above if you like. Ask yourself while you're tapping, what are you fighting? Your feelings, a situation, a person, your anxiety?.
8. Soft palate relaxation from Forward Facing Trauma Therapy by Eric Gentry. Your goal is to locate and then relax the muscles of your soft palate.

  • Sit down comfortably and shift your focus to the muscles along the roof of your mouth. 
  • Release all the tension in this area. 
  • Now expand your focus to include the muscles in your face and jaw. 
  • Release the tension in these muscles too. 
  • Next, with all of these muscles relaxed, silently say the letter ``R'' to yourself and try to gently maintain the subtle arch this creates in the roof of your mouth for five seconds. 
  • Repeat this exercise five times. 
  • Notice the relaxation in your body.

9. Stephen Porges believes tapping on the face (starts at 3mins 32secs) points (eyebrow, side of eye etc.) activates the ventral vagal/social engagement system which calms sympathetic/dorsal dominance.
10. Exercise from Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul by Deepak Chopra.

  • Lie down before you go to sleep at night. 
  • Assume a position flat on your back without a pillow; spread your arms and legs at your side.
  • Draw in a deep, slow breath, then release it through your mouth in a sigh, as freely and naturally as your body wants. Some sighs may be quick, almost like a gasp; others may be as deep as a sob. 
  • You may feel a sense of relief, sadness, grief, elation, or any other emotion. Be aware of the emotions as they arise; you are not just releasing physical tension; you are accessing bodily memories at the same time. 
  • The natural discharge of tension bundles thoughts, feelings, and sensations together, so let them all go at once. 
  • Do this exercise for no more than ten minutes, because it can be intense; allow yourself to fall asleep if your body wants to. That is also part of the discharge process.

11. From Thriving in Chaos by Sandy Dow. Catch yourself when you are saying ``I am anxious''. Reframe it to ``There is a part of me that is anxious''. When you feel a grip of fear, anger, or sadness, be open to accepting a scared and confused part of yourself. Add a message ``Even though a part of me is having a touch time, I accept that part of me''*. This will have a way of separating from the anxiety rather than having it take you over. *You can use this phrase in your tapping.
12. If the anxiety feels just too overwhelming and appears to be in all of your body, try using the pendulation exercise by Peter Levine. This exercise is empowering and hopeful, it is a tangible felt experience of areas in your body which feel neutral, calm and even good, while also being aware of the areas that feel bad and contracted. Pendulating between the two allows you to release traumatic stress
13. From Coping with Trauma-Related Dissociation by Suzette Boon, Kathy Steele & Onno van der Hart.

  1. Notice 3 objects that you see in the room and pay close attention to their details (shape, colour, texture, size, etc.). Make sure you do not hurry through this part of the exercise. Let your eyes linger over each object. Name three characteristics of the object out loud to yourself, for example, ``It's blue. It is big. It is round''.
  2. Notice 3 sounds that you hear in the present (inside or outside of the room). Listen to their quality. Are they loud or soft, constant or intermittent, pleasant or unpleasant? Again, name 3 characteristics of the sound out loud to yourself, for example, ``It is loud, grating and definitely unpleasant''.
  3. Now touch 3 objects close to you and describe out loud to yourself how they feel, for example, rough, smooth, cold, warm, hard or soft, and so forth.
  4. Return to the 3 objects that you have chosen to observe with your eyes. As you notice them, concentrate on the fact that you are here and now with these objects in the present, in this room. Next, notice the sounds and concentrate on the fact that you are here in this room with those sounds. Finally, do the same with the objects you have touched. You can expand this exercise by repeating it several times, 3 items for each sense, then 2 for each sense, then one, and then build up again to 3. You can also add new items to keep your practice fresh.

14. Take a walk, dance, read a book, write down how you feel, have a bath, go to the cinema in the middle of the day, listen to music. Do what brings you a sense of calm, hope and joy.
15. Slow way down. When we're feeling anxious we tend to do everything fast, by slowing everything you do down, from walking to making a cup of tea, to your breath; you will engage your parasympathetic system. Know that it can take 20 to 30 minutes for stress hormones to completely leave your body but you will feel some of the effects of slowing down immediately, like your breath becoming deeper and slower as you put your attention on it.
16. Don't be afraid to do nothing, we often feel a desperate urge to get rid of our anxiety which often makes it worse. Be as kind to yourself as possible.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Parts of the whole

We assume we are a unified, integrated self but the truth is all of us have parts. It is more the exception than the rule that all parts of us will feel the same on any given issue. Most of us have some conflicting parts which is often why we can’t move ahead on a particular issue, but we might not realise that this is the reason why. For example, a part of you wants to give up smoking and another part needs to smoke because it helps with anxiety. It’s not scary when you think of having parts, or subpersonalities, like that, is it?

Like many things in mental health, normal processes are often pathologised, which creates a lot of shame and secrecy. We hear stories of people with multiple personality disorder (now called dissociative identity disorder or DID) and we think “That’s not me” and we go out of our way to prove how normal we are and to distance ourself from any of that weird stuff.

People with DID can have parts who do not remember what one part did, called dissociative amnesia, and it can cause havoc in their life. However, rather than being afraid of this, if we know what’s going on (psychoeducation), we can have understanding and compassion instead. One of the most common reasons for the lack of integration in DID, is the trauma that various parts hold. People with DID have often suffered horrific trauma, particularly early in their life, and dissociation is often the only means of escape from horrible situations. This creates not just spaces but chasms between parts in order to survive the unbearable.


Every single one of us is on the dissociation spectrum, it is just a matter of to what degree. It is really important to normalise dissociation, especially when we are going through traumatic experiences, as it is often the only coping mechanism we have. Problems arise when the divisions that persistent, long term dissociation creates, cause problems for the person and the people around them.

We often think of dissociation as a purely mental or psychological process, but dissociation is also a somatic process, which means it also affects the body. People who have suffered sexual abuse for example, can have parts of their body that they just don’t feel. A more common occurrence for all of us, are difficult sensations arising in our body that overwhelm our capacity to feel them, so we dissociate from them. Short term, this can be a great solution, but long term it causes all sorts of health problems, both physical and psychological.

A good place to start if you want to learn more about parts is Internal Family Systems, developed by psychologist, Richard Schwartz.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Shame

There’s a big difference between believing you did something wrong/bad or that you are wrong/bad. I think healthy shame arises from within, toxic shame comes from outside and we can internalise it, thinking and feeling it defines who we are. Our organism knows how to ‘do’ emotions, they’re hardwired, so why is there such a clamour and rush to get children to know about shame in particular? Do we not trust that they’ll learn what’s right or wrong as they grow?

Toxic shame comes in many forms; the shame of being abused, the shame of being neglected, the shame of not being loved, the shame of not having enough to eat, the shame of not always being able to hide from others finding out … Toxic shame is compounded when it is a family member who does these things to us. If your own parent doesn’t love you or take care of you, what worth do you have? What’s more shaming than that? Many times children are shamed as being from a ‘bad’ family and who wants the shame of belonging to a bad family? This sets up a terrible conflict between a desperate and natural need to belong and the shame of belonging to the ‘wrong’ family.


A so-called harmless and extremely common way of shaming is using shame to discipline a child. Why? Because it works, like a toxic treat. Is there anything more effective than making someone believe that what they did is wrong and that they are wrong for doing it? Toxic shaming is the laziest form of discipline at best and at worst leaves a lasting imprint that makes a person collapse into a diminished, smaller and more compliant form of who they truly are.

One possible outcome of persistent toxic shaming is not being able to be wrong. Being wrong, or taking responsibility for doing/saying something wrong, is just not an option because you feel as if you’re being annihilated if you admit to any wrongdoing. This causes havoc in your life and particularly your relationships, because it’s impossible to be in a relationship with someone who can’t be wrong and doesn't take responsibility.

Shame, like all emotions, is felt in the body and its sensations can be extremely uncomfortable. It is felt as heat, constriction, collapse, diminishment, smallness, badness, wrongness and many more. Try tapping on how shame shows up for you and get in touch with any negative core beliefs about yourself around shame and tap until they don’t resonate with you anymore.

Resources:
Listening to shame by Brené Brown https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psN1DORYYV0
Healing the shame that binds you by John Bradshaw https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5q2tZa1gp8Q

Friday, September 15, 2017

Why trauma is much more than a PTSD diagnosis

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is synonymous with trauma, however, many people who are traumatised might not receive a PTSD diagnosis.

There are two main reasons as to why:
1. Criterion A in the PTSD diagnostic criteria
2. There are many other signs of trauma besides the stipulated criteria in a PTSD diagnosis



Let’s discuss the importance of criterion A first. There used to be two parts to this criterion, A1 and A2, but A2 was deleted from the DSM-5, the most recent edition of the DSM, because it had no “utility”. A2 stated that: The person's response (to criterion A) involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror. Why A2 was deleted is beyond me, because without having a response to an event, it is impossible to be traumatised.

If the the American Psychiatric Association's (APA), “scientific” model of PTSD/trauma were replicable, an A1 event would always result in trauma. It doesn’t. Some people experience these events and don’t develop PTSD, or other signs of trauma. Why? In addition, many other experiences not listed in criterion A do result in trauma. Why? Because of the person’s response and experience of the event. This needs to be taken seriously as too many people who are suffering and desperate as a result, are not getting the help they need.

By deleting and not expanding on A2, the APA has undermined the importance of the subjective experience, deeming it non-scientific, which is just ridiculous. The implication is that criterion A is an objective measurement of trauma, which it is not. A huge contradiction in deleting A2 and calling it useless, is that the rest of the PTSD criteria, namely; B, C, D, E and G* only measure the person’s response. Crucially however, if criterion A is not nominated, the other criteria won’t even be considered. 

Conventional methods either ignore or overly focus on symptoms, instead of seeing them as a bread crumb trail to the causes. For example, if your blood test results fall within normal parameters (forget optimal), albeit at the cusp of the lower or upper end, your symptoms will be ignored and the dots won't be connected, you might even be passed off as a hypochondriac and if you're a woman you'll often be given a prescription for either anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication. Whereas,  if you can tick criterion A, the symptoms become all important in the sense of either squashing them with medication, which doesn't work long term, or using methods such as cognitive behavioural therapy which only 'talks' to the prefrontal cortex, which is often offline when traumatised. Things are changing, but too slowly for those who are suffering, this is why the importance of trauma-informed care cannot be overemphasised.

Trauma should be listed as an etiological factor for nearly every diagnosis in the DSM, along with any other root causes. Just imagine how the treatment of certain conditions would change if unresolved traumatic stress, giving rise to many symptoms, if not all symptoms in some cases, was addressed? Why not treat the cause(s) instead of the symptoms which very often puts us on an expensive, helpless and hopeless merry-go-round with seemingly no way of getting off? We need to ask who benefits from the system as it is currently set up, it certainly isn’t the tens of thousands, if not millions, suffering needlessly from unresolved traumatic stress in all its many manifestations.

*View the other criteria here: https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/PTSD-overview/dsm5_criteria_ptsd.asp

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Just imagine ...

That we acknowledge and address the effects of unresolved trauma in all its overt and covert forms.
Everyone having access to shelter, food, health and education as the absolute minimum.
People’s needs being met.
Chronic health issues being taken seriously.
Mental health stigma doesn’t exist.
Compassion is shown to anyone who has a dis-ease, mental or physical.
Having access to a menu of all available care options, even if we don’t have any financial means.
Children are cherished, loved, hugged, kissed, protected, respected, taken seriously and allowed to be who they truly are.
That children can just be children.
That we value emotional intelligence as much as we do academic intelligence.
We are taught to be present to whatever is going on with us, and when we can’t, we could get the help and support that we need.
That symptoms didn’t rule and root cause(s) were valued and sought.
Israel not re-enacting its collective unresolved trauma and persecuting Palestinians the way Jewish people have been persecuted.
Imperialism and colonialism didn’t exist.
No one having to flee their countries out of necessity but because of choice.
No corruption.
Honest and accountable politicians.
Rehabilitating people who have committed crimes rather than punishing them and hardening them even further.
We cared about what happens to others the way we would if it were happening to us.
Men not being called sissies or cry babies when they are vulnerable and show emotion.
That it’s ok for men to be afraid and for women to be angry.
That women aren’t called bitches for being strong nor punished/bullied for speaking up and saying no.
Female genital mutilation didn’t exist.
Women aren’t punished for having sex and enjoying it.
Women could wear what they wanted without facing any consequences dictated and enforced by men.
Women had agency over their own bodies and lives.
Old age was valued.
There is no hierarchy of racism according to the shade of our skin.
People realising that white skin is a loss of melanin in northern climates so the body can produce enough vitamin D to survive and is not a sign of the ridiculous notion of supremacy.
People questioning themselves when they feel superior rather than acting it out.
Questioning the trillions spent on war when millions don’t even have any clean water to drink.
Not profiting from war or sickness.
Valuing people more than profits.
We are as kind to Mother Nature as she is to us.
Addiction is perceived as ritualised comfort seeking.
Not pathologising any manifestations of traumatic stress.
Religion didn’t exist.
We didn’t classify people, or their worth, according to their financial status.
Realising that violence is often (always?) the re-enactment of trauma.
We realise that we are collectively responsible.
We realise that we are all connected.
We feel we belong and have inherent value just because we exist.



Friday, August 25, 2017

Bracing against


Try tapping on the following script, making sure to customise it for you, diagram here.

Even though I brace when … I completely accept my need to brace

Even though I didn’t realise that bracing against … is what is keeping it in place, I’m open to learning how to release this …

Even though I don’t always have to work on this … I can take breaks when I need to and that feels …

Top of head: I have to brace against …
Eyebrow: Or it will swamp me
Side of eye: It’s too frightening to feel …
Under the eye: I don’t have to feel … all the time
Under nose: I can take breaks
Under chin: That part or parts need reassurance I’ll come back
Collar bone: I only seem to take notice
Under the arm: When I feel bad

Top of head: When they feel bad
Eyebrow: Otherwise I ignore them
Side of eye: So they have to get my attention
Under the eye: Any way they can
Under nose: I need to show them that I’ll
Under chin: Be there for them
Collar bone: For the good
Under the arm: And the bad

Top of head: They need to know
Eyebrow: I won’t abandon them
Side of eye: I don’t have to feel … all the time
Under the eye: I can soothe … instead
Under nose: I don’t have to fix this
Under mouth: I just have to be there
Collar bone: And be kind
Under the arm: To all parts of me and how they feel