Counting to Ten is Not Enough so How do I Calm Myself Down?

When I was a kid, my parents used to say “count to ten” or “take a deep breath” however this never seemed to work. Either I would refuse to do it as they were TELLING me to do something, telling me during an argument or I would do it only to find I was still very upset and not relaxed at all! Arguments and fights full of “potty mouth” were regular elements of my childhood. What perpetuated this poor, hurtful behaviour and why did it no go away? I mean, we all knew it was not good?

Unfortunately my parents, like so many of us, didn’t know or understand the basic science around properly oxygenating our bodies. We also did not know the creative way our body manages stress… so cool is the body’s Physiological Stress Response. Yes, during a 1988 York University lecture, it was said to be the body’s smart” response to stress!  When I heard that stress was actually a positive thing I was shocked.

Why had I not heard this in over two decades of life? (Not even in school? At least not that I remember 🙂

Turns out our bodies, yes all 7+ billion of us, do something amazing when we are faced with a real or even perceived threat. Oxygen is depleted in a millisecond, the brain senses the problem and sends out the alarm “WE’RE UNDER ATTACK”!  We know how the story goes from there. Well, if not and by way of a refresher, the adrenal gland releases stress hormones (- known on the street as adrenaline -) called cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine, etc., then the heart rate and blood pressure surge, our muscles tense and tighten and the cooling system or sweat glands kick in with the intensity of a thunderclap. As stated, it all happens in a millisecond, the body’s smart response to an attack.

Imagine you’re walking through the woods, down a rocky path on a beautiful sunny day, and you hear a rustling sound. Off to your left, in the grass, about twenty five feet or so, you see a bear! The body immediately acts to bring about a surge of energy often referred to as the fight or flight response. Our bodies are creatively designed to move us into either fight, flight, faint or freeze during heightened stress. Remember, the stressor may be real or not.

The lecturer then asked us to consider the four systems that rocket into action under stress: Under the sympathetic side of our nervous system, the endocrine system releases hormones to fuel the great burst in energy, the cardiovascular system, muscular and cooling systems also engage. What the professor asked next taught me so much more about the benefits of relaxing our bodies.  He said “If four of your body’s systems kick-in intensely to address the stress then where does the energy come from… what four or five systems give up energy or transfer energy?”

What physiological systems are not required when a bear attack is present? What is not required?

Wow! Of course! When a bear comes out we’re not going to require much thought or higher order reasoning. I recall reference to this as the ‘brain drain’. You certainly wouldn’t need to ask your friend “where do you think the bear came from, is he a brown or kodiak?“.  Brain drain? No wonder I have said such silly, hurtful and ridiculous things in stressful moments.

Next, we do not need our digestive system… not a great time to eat.  Probably not going to say “let’s have a sandwich, get some energy, before dealing with that bear“. Probably not going to go to the washroom either. That’s right. The gastrointestinal (GI) system also gives up energy for the fight or flight, “body’s smart” response to stress. Amazingly, the limbic system (sleep regulation) and the reproductive system (do I need to say what this one can do?) also give energy into the pot for our sympathetic system’s quick response to the bear.

Makes sense right? We’re not going to need our upper level thinking, sleep system, eat a meal, get frisky nor go to the washroom, although the latter may happen involuntarily in the face of a bear.

Toward the end of this dramatically presented bear story, the professor said “Of course you need this stress response when facing a bear, an attacker or an oncoming car in the way of… but… (he yells) you don’t usually need the physiological stress response in family relationships, bank line ups or while driving! However, it is exactly the same physiological response.

How did this all begin? What was the first physical change? Loss of Oxygen!!!!!!!!!! Then Breathe, Breathe, Breathe, Breathe

We can shut down the sympathetic response from our nervous system, engage the parasympathetic thereby relaxing and rebalancing our bodies with, not one, four deep breaths, slowed down, paced twenty second breaths

Reduce stress, relax heart rate and lower blood pressure… did I mention increase mental clarity and concentration, appear friendlier, be more amorous and improve your sleep 🙂

Have you heard of “box breathing”? Below is a little video to show how to breathe around the box shape. Remember, you can do this almost anywhere, anytime in almost any situation where you experience stress – low, moderate, high or severe.

 

Be seated or lying down if your doing more than 5 or 6 breaths

You can practice tens or hundreds of times per day so that when you really need this skill it will often come to you seemingly naturally. It will become your go to relaxation skill. You can also add many variations of thinking patterns to help. Some might imagine beautiful and relaxing scenes, call up past images that are calming and refreshing (guided imagery) or breathe in a calm word and exhale a stress heightening term. Others still use meditation and prayer along with deep breathing. Example of  “breath prayers” are below

Breath Prayers can bring believers closer to God.

“Be still and know …mississippi 184 that I am God”(Psalm 46:10)

“Come into my heart, … Lord Jesus.” (Rev. 22:20)

“Say … the word” (Luke 7:7)

“Not my will,… but yours.” (Luke 22:42)

“Show … your power.” (Psalm 68:28)

“Here … I am.” (Isaiah 6:8)

“My help … comes from the Lord.” (Psalm 121:2)

“Speak, Lord,… for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:9)

“Lord, … have mercy.”(Psalm 123:3, Luke 18:13, 38)

This simple deep breathing exercise, box breathing, changed my life, improved my ability to manage high stress moments, not perfectly but better and better the more I use oxygen well.

Have fun practising oxygenation exercises, deep breathing and managing your body’s multiple systems to bring about calm under fire, sensibilities when facing pressure, politeness during disagreements and balance when all seems out of balance. 

{44AF374F-1E40-424D-ACD8-B3937A65A15F}Img400

 Are You Getting The Love You Crave?

One of the greatest resources for marriage and family is the book by Harvile Hendrix (Harville Hendrix, Ph.D. – ISBN 10: 0-8050-6895-3) and, in the twentieth anniversary edition, joined by his wife Helen Lakelley Hunt accurately titled “Getting The Love You Want”.  This is a brief summary* aimed to get you interested enough to buy the book and use it, along with the exercises and maybe even a therapist to make your romantic relationship into the best love of your life.

SUMMARY   by H. Holt & Company

One of my main realizations in Getting The Love You Want was that the two individuals in a relationship need to let go of the illusion that they are the centre of the universe and learn to see each other as equal partners. There are indeed two people in the relationship. When two individuals surrender their centrality, something unexpected occurs – the relationship itself  becomes the center. Once that fundamental shift occurs, they can begin to work with the unconscious purpose of their relationship, not against it. They can begin to accept the fact that being in an intimate love relationship calls forth all the unresolved issues of their childhood, and that they can learn how to work together to resolve them.  We are born in relationship, we are wounded in relationship, and we can be healed in relationship. Indeed, we cannot be fully healed outside of a relationship.  This is the idea that resonated with so many couples.

  • The first step is become more conscious of our old wounds. We look into the past for evidence of how we were denied adequate nurturing and how we repressed essential parts of our being. We do this through therapy, prayer, and reflection, and by becoming more astute observers of everyday events.  As we gather new insights, we share them with our partners, because we no longer assume they can read our minds.  When our partners share their thoughts and feelings with us, we listen with understanding and compassion, knowing that this sharing is a sacred trust.  Gradually we start to “reimage” our partners, to see them as they really are wounded children seeking salvation.
  • Once we have this more accurate image, we begin to redesign our relationships to heal our wounds.

“To do this, we first build an atmosphere of safety and trust.  By closing our exits, renewing our commitment to each other, and deliberately pleasuring each other, we create a safe and nurturing environment.”  

We add to this feeling of safety and validation by learning to communicate openly and effectively.  As we overcome our resistance to this new way of relating, we begin to see our partners with even more clarity.  We learn that they have fears and weaknesses and desires that they have never shared with us.  We listen to their criticisms of us and realize that these illuminate our own darkness.  We tell ourselves: “My partner has something to say about me. There is probably a measure of truth in this comment.”  Gradually we come to accept the fullness, the dark and the light of our own being.

  • The next step in the healing process is perhaps the most difficult: we make a decision to act on the information we are acquiring about ourselves and our partners and become our partner’s healers. We go against our instinct to focus on our own needs and make a conscious choice to focus on theirs.  To do this, we must conquer our fear of change.  As we respond to our partners’ needs, we are surprised to discover that, in healing our partners, we are slowly reclaiming parts of our own lost selves.  We are integrating parts of our being that were cut off in childhood.  We find ourselves regaining our capacity to think and to feel, to be sexually and spiritually alive, and to express ourselves in creative ways.
  • Dec 16th 2008006_editedAs we reflect on all that we are learning, we see that the painful moments in life are in reality opportunities for growth. Instead of blocking the pain, we ask ourselves: “What  truth is trying to emerge at this moment?  What primal feelings are hiding beneath these feelings of sadness, anxiety, and frustration?” We learn that the underlying feelings are pain and rage and the fear of death, and that these feelings are common to us all.  Finally, we find a safe and growth-producing way to express these powerful emotions and no longer allow them jeopardize our relationships.
  • One by one, the elements of our marriage that were once unconscious-the fears, the anger, the childhood needs, the archaic pain-are brought to the surface, first to find acceptance, then, ultimately, to be resolved. As our wounds heal and as more hidden parts of ourselves come into our awareness, we have a new sense of our inherent unity and wholeness.

For more information on how to get the love you want contact us today!

* This brief summary was originally published by Henry Holt and Company and the entire summary can be found at: http://www.peace.ca/gettingtheloveyouwant.htm

Do You Feel You’re Not Getting Anywhere?

How often do we feel frustrated and alone, like no matter what we try life doesn’t seem to get any better. We might change this or that behaviour, for at least a short while, only to end up back in the same situation. We can gradually or not so gradually get more down, hopeless and tried as we seem to return to the same ‘rut’. I heard once the only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth?

The poem below, written by Portia Nelson, conveys these very sentiments and walks the reader through five ‘chapters’ in order to signal a flicker of hope somewhere on the road of life.

There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk (five chapters)

                     1

“I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost… I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

2

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes me a long time to get out.

3

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in. It’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault. I get out immediately.

4

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

5

I walk down another street.”
Portia Nelson, There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery

I think most of us want to believe we can change, that things will improve, and that one day we will reach that illusive better place? While there are certainly no guarantees and we really don’t know anything for sure about the future, what is life without hope? How do we, in the face of severe difficulties, loss, pain and grief, manage to hold onto hope? What can we do to regain a sense of hope we may have one had?

These and other questions strike a nerve in our spiritual being. Who am I? Why be good to myself and others? What does the end of life really mean? Almost all people will contemplate questions like these, pondering issues that do not seem to be answerable by science; at least not yet anyway. This is both a frustrating and exciting element of human life. This is where faith and one’s belief system becomes essential. Our task is to examine our hearts and minds, our emotional selves and seek to discover an improved understanding of ourselves and the amazingly contradictory world we live in.

A journey that doesn’t include the unknown is not really much of a journey at all. Imagine a trip with no surprises, no unexpected discoveries, whether this is an actual holiday or the challenging journey in a close relationship. As we said to our children in preparation for our adventures, “let’s find a way to look forward to and enjoy the journey”.   Rather than being a burden, this attitude seemed to improve our ‘getting along’ and each leg of the trip a more enjoyable and exciting adventure.

Cognitive shifting can help us see situations a bit more positively and in a way that helps us achieve a more balanced emotional state. We can change our thought patterns about almost any event or situation when we are determined to stop falling into the holes in the sidewalk.

 

 

Photo credit 1: willybearden from morguefile.com
Photo credit 2: quicksandala from morguefile.com
Oshawa therapist, durham region counseling

“Have a Snickers” as a decision maker?

There are often times when we make rash or quick decisions and when we look back on them we say, “Why did I do that?”or “Why did I eat that?”
Sometimes its because we’re bored, other times its because we are looking to fill a void or find a purpose. Life seems to be out of control sometimes and there is little we can do to influence world events but we can manage parts of our own life with a few tools.
There have been many times in my own life that I’d wished I had something to help me avoid my impulsive decisions that sometimes have had long lasting effects.

Often these regrets or poor choices can be avoided or managed better when we learn to  HALT. As we unpack the acronym HALT its easier to see how to effectively use this rather simple tool.

HALT stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired

Usually when we make poor choices or decisions its because of one of these four triggers. It seems simplistic but there is some real wisdom in this small word HALT. By taking the time to figure out the reason we’re about to do something, we can usually avoid poorer choices.

Not every situation can be remedied by these four triggers but they are a great place to start. Taking the time to stop and think about these things before acting is an expansion of the “Count to 10” model. Using an acronym like HALT helps us to take a few seconds and try to identify the triggers for our behaviours.

Sometimes the slogan “Have a Snickers” (and many other ads too) actually works to get us to act and, at times, act quickly without thinking. Food is a great motivator and a great reward sometimes.  The Snicker bar slogan appeals to the fact that energy and nutrients in our system need to be replenished so our brains function properly.

Simply asking ourselves to use HALT as a checklist is an excellent tool. Ask yourself “Am I hungry (yes/no), angry (yes/no), lonely (yes/no), tired (yes/no)?”

If ‘hungry’ maybe something to eat or a simple glass of water can do wonders, ‘angry’ maybe stepping away from the situation to get a fuller perspective, ‘lonely’ maybe call a friend or help a neighbour, ‘tired’ maybe go to bed earlier or have a rest/nap.

Rather than being reactive, using new tools and existing ones, we can become more proactive at handling the inevitable challenges of life.  Consider how you may adapt this strategy for other challenging areas in your life? Play around with this acronym a little? Or, you may use the STOP one… Stop, (breathe) Think, Observe then Proceed?

Adding HALT to our ’emotional toolbox’ can better prepare us for a world that is unpredictable everyday.

Now you have read this… it is in your “tool box” or “on your hard drive”  🙂

For more assistance contact one of our counsellors today!

 

submitted by EB

Photo credit: wallyir from morguefile.com

Or Hard Road Ahead?

Should you find you are struggling in your marriage, you may land upon this post. Like so many, you have likely grown frustrated and complacent in your marriage to the point where you are considering options. In addition, you may not feel loved, respected nor valued in your marriage.

Negative thoughts may have already begun to creep into your head; thoughts such as: “Maybe I married the wrong person?” or “I just can’t get through to her/him”.  Others like “There’s got to be something better out there for me” and “what’s the point in trying anymore?” pull you further from your spouse and solutions.

Well, if any of these sound familiar beware! There is a strong wave of evidence that confirms our thoughts are not our own and they also are not fact. Our opinions, ideas, notions and beliefs have been gradually loaded into our mind (super hard drive) over the course of our entire lives by others, all experiences and situations, through every one of our senses: every single sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and feeling we have ever been exposed to.

So before you take that giant leap out of your romance, marriage and family, you may want to explore your thoughts and experiences a little further. It may be you are being driven by unconscious thoughts and patterns from your past; patterns of interacting that predate your marriage?

Think about it. Why is it the negative voice only gives two options when we are unhappy in our romantic relationship; “Stay and be miserable” or “Leave and he happy” ?  What about the just as plausible options of ‘leave and be miserable’ and ‘stay and work on being happier’ ?

Maybe that negative voice, I like to call “stinking thinkin”, just wants to trick us into poorer choices and less healthy outcomes? I often say that little negative voice (or virus) doesn’t have to “get” the kids… it only has to get the parents arguing, disagreeing, fighting and then splitting, then it has the kids.

Why not ask yourself, “Have I really done everything I can do?” Then consider how many books you have read on the topic or people you have used to find helpful solutions. How much coaching or counseling have you really been open to? Why not look into Gary Chapman’s book “The Five Love Languages” or one great resource by Harville Hendrix; “Getting The Love You Want”

In other words, have you really done all you can or are you just taking what seems to look like an easy escape route from your relationship? Caution! Very, very rarely does something truly magnificent come from an “easy” route.

If you’d like assistance to achieve a more fulfilling marriage contact one of our counsellors today!

 

Photo credit 1: earl53 from morguefile.com

Photo credit 2: pippalou from morguefile.com

Listen to His Opinion

Many will say, “we need to put the children first”; or “we have to put the children first” however, far too many people and couples are listening to this false, age-old, tired but not true adage to the demise of children’s mental, social, emotional development and overall health. To truly put children as a top priority is to build marriages and families with strong foundation of tried and true core values, beliefs and the behaviours that follow such a firm foundation. The foundations’ strength is to be clear in the actions and communication between family members.
Children don’t simply ‘pop out of thin air’. People meet, get to know each other, date or ‘court’ each other, meet each other’s family and then children come along… so, in fact, they come second.
Oh, don’t get all upset at this point. I do get it… they are so dependent, adorable and need so much, it really does seem like their needs should come first. But, think about it. Unhappy, unhealthy and stressed parents contribute heavily to unhappy, unhealthy and stressed children, thus, attending to the needs of both the individual and couple are central to doing what is best for the children. One may more accurately claim “family comes first”. The claim is only the first step though. Even when separated, parents are well advised to find a way to move past the hurt of romantic breakup and find strategies to develop and maintain a healthy co-parenting relationship.
Next we want to learn, read and get assistance form others to discover or uncover the secrets to building a strong, caring and loving marital relationship and family.

When you would like to get effective help with your specific relationship challenge(s)… contact us today.


 Photo credit: snowbear from morguefile.com

Some of us will say “Absolutely!” Some of us will say “Not for me!” And others may be too confused to decide. The reality is that sex plays a significant role in love relationships. While it promises so much joy and satisfaction, it can also be the deciding factor that destroys very loving relationships.

When we first choose to be in a romance or “fall into” a loving relationship, most of us are so infatuated with our partners. The sex drive is amazing… even through the roof (thanks dopamine). We can barely take our hands off each other. It’s exciting, engaging, enchanting and we just seem to connect on a level that we assume will last forever. So often we dive into a romance head first (Or is it “heart first”?) and the commitment to be together opens up new expectations and responsibilities, many unforeseen and under-discussed… “love is blind”.

Well not really yet it can certainly feel that way.  Diving in head first quickly becoming more committed than our understanding of one another can handle. As the expectations and assumptions increase, the pressure can overwhelm healthy relationship development. When certain steps are missed in almost any project, task or adventure something will usually falter.

Cracks in the relationship appear and couples can be found scrambling to save or salvage what wasn’t really well established in the first place. Many separated couples state that the connection “just isn’t there anymore”. The passion and excitement that was there when they first met is said to have “faded” until they felt like they were just friends, or worse, “roommates”.

Couples often agree that life and children and work get into the way of romance, however, isn’t this denying ownership and personal choice?  After all, who’s making the decisions? It’s about finding the strategy and skill set to balance our lives in such a way that are able to meet all our needs, not perfectly but sufficiently and satisfactorily for both partners.

Separated couples also share, retrospectively, that they become frustrated, disgruntled and then turn away from their spouse.  Gradually withdrawing to other distractions, many find other potential partners and their sexuality becomes sparked elsewhere. Relationship abandonment is frequently preceded by minimal effort, money and energy being invested into reading and seeking help to “tune-up” their run down relationship; finding ways to become new and adventurous in the apparently no longer “forever” relationship.

When couples seek counselling, many find it is often too late which is statistically supported. One or both have already “checked out” of the relationship and are thinking of lives without one another. What contributes to the decisions to give up on what was once a committed relationship, find another partner and go through the same thing all over again? Many factors can be draining on romance so it is important to have a thorough assessment.

Once we find ourselves moving toward a committed relationship, it is imperative to decide to invest time, energy and significant effort toward the ongoing improvement of intimacy skills; communication, sexuality, problem-solving, conflict resolution, assertiveness, moral and spiritual foundations and healthy family values and beliefs.

Don’t be a statistic. When you and your partner want to enhance ALL aspects of your relationship, contact us for a confidential and professional assessment / consultation.