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. 

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

ALIENATION WATCH – THE LESSER SPOTTED ALIENATION AWARE PROFESSIONAL

Posted on 14/11/2014 by karenwoodall

This week I have been confronted with the dearth of alienation awareness and expertise in the UK field of family services. This is not a surprise to me but what has been surprising if not alarming is the emergence of a new type of professional, the lesser spotted professional if you like (it is coming up to the weekend, humour me).

This lesser spotted professional is someone who for the sake of a few hours training could be the alienation aware professional who knows what to do and how to do it. That this person remains ignorant, not only of what they don’t know but what they do know, is both astounding and terrifying to me in equal measure. This week, on wading through yet another case file, I became aware that the case, which has been bouncing back and forth twixt professionals in public and private law, was actually beautifully described in a section 7 report some SIX YEARS ago. The problem is that the social worker, who wrote so eloquently about the child’s campaign of dislike and hatred, the fused indignation of the child and parent, the furious and unrelenting denigration of the rejected parent, had not the first idea of what she was looking at. And so, concluded, in a pitiful and damning ending to her sixty page description of a severe case of alienation that, the child is the subject of a contact dispute in which both parents are to blame and the child should be left with the preferred parent with no contact now or in the future to the parent rejected by the child. Grim reading. Parentectomy due to lack of awareness of the professional charged with analysis. Little wonder parents in the UK go mad, get bad or simply end their lives because of the intolerable ineptitude of the people charged with safeguarding our children.

The question for me is why do our family services know so little about Parental Alienation and, when they do know something about it, (which clearly the author of this report does, she described it so perfectly) why do they not want to find out more about it. Why, for example, did this social worker, on hearing a child say ‘I wish he would just die’ and ‘I would kill him if I could’ not consider that to be concerning? Why, when a child says that her father should be ‘shot and thrown into the river’ does a social worker not decide that this requires further examination? Why do social workers and other family workers not realise, when they see a child who is utterly determined to uphold the aligned parent’s perspective – to the point of delusion – go on to conclude that this is just a contact dispute. What sort of mind block prevents professionals in family services from understanding the reality for alienated children? Politics? Discriminatory practice? Or simple ‘he said/she said’ fatigue? Whatever it is it is causing our children to become stuck in the most appalling circumstances within the court process, subjected over and over again to professionals who are well meaning but unskilled in the field and to a flimsy court management process which aids and abets institutionalised abuse of children which frankly appalls me.

Parental Alienation is NOT a simple contact dispute, it is, in severe cases, child abuse, nothing more nothing less. In less severe cases, hybrids perhaps or those which are created by naive alienators, it is all too easy for it to trip into child abuse and should always be approached as a case where children are at risk.

And lest you think this is just an all out attack on family support services, let me tell you that I have worked in cases where social workers and CAFCASS officers have approached the problem as a child protection issue. Where those people have really ‘got it’ from the outset and we have worked together to tackle the problem immediately and systemically, bringing change for child rapidly and effectively. Those people are like gold dust (you know who you are) and I salute each and every one of them for there are, in this country, some brave and fearless people who make a massive difference. If only there were more.

The reason there are not more of these people is perhaps answered in the arguments which are raging between parents and state services up and down this land of ours. From the islands to the highlands from the borders to the metropolis, parents are campaigning to have Parental Alienation recognized by the people who serve our families. Pleas which are falling on deaf ears mostly and which receive dismissals and derisory commentary from those who profess to be in the know and who are most certainly in power. How and why is alienation ignored is the question being asked, when is the question I am asking, when will family services recognize the problem of children who are stuck with an angry, vengeful and determinedly alienating parent is not just a contact dispute but a case of child abuse which must be stopped.

That question is one which rattles around my brain as I read through the teeth grindingly painful accounts of social work interactions with families where alienation is alive and kicking. When social workers describe a child who has been ‘spousified’ and who is being used as a confidant and a replacement partner but see nothing to be concerned about in that. When social workers listen to children parroting angry words and untruths about a parent they think deserves to be kicked out forever and hear nothing wrong in that. And when social workers speak only of contact disputes instead of child abuse in the face of those things , the answer to the question appears to be never.

The problem in my view lies in the institutionalised acceptance of disposable parenthood and the notion that family separation is normal and simply something that causes a bit of an upheaval for a while but everyone gets over it eventually. Far from getting over it however, there is a significant cohort of people for whom getting over is not possible and for whom an alternative reality is revenge, cold blooded or otherwise or a definite and distinct unhingement from normal behaviors. And the truth is that everyone goes a little bit mad when they separate. It is after all a most unpleasant and terrifying experience. What everyone doesn’t do however, is hook their children up to their revenge making machine and drop them hook line and sinker into the shittiest parts of adult rage. Most reasonably healthy adults know that this stuff is not for their children. Most people, however mad they go, manage not to take their children with them.

But a significant number of people do and this is where being able to understand this group and differentiate them from the rest of the general family separation cohort is vital for family services. In this group are people with personality disorders, people with rage problems and people with enmeshment and other issues that cause an inability to tell the difference between their own feelings and those of their children. It would seem like basic social work practice to me to be able to recognize those people but judging by the reactions of social workers when confronted with them and by their behaviours, it is easier to not see the reality than see it, name it and deal with it.

And perhaps that last sentence says it all because dealing with it appears to be beyond the capability not only of those who support the family but those who assess the family and those who make judgements in family courts. Clearly recognizing problems is one thing but doing something about it is quite another, perhaps it is this which leads social workers and other family professionals to act like the three wise monkeys when they are confronted with parental alienation, if they see it and hear it but manage not to speak of it, will anyone notice or even really care (apart from the rejected parent who can so easily be picked off with the accusation that they are simply an aggrieved parent who did not get what they wanted in court).

Which leaves us with a generation of children and their families who have been torn apart by parental alienation, who have turned to the courts for assistance and found none and for whom the future looks very bleak indeed.

And all for the sake of a few hours training, a willingness to act and a family court system with enough guts to protect children who are being abused.

The only condition required for evil to flourish is that good people do nothing.

And too many good people, lesser spotted or otherwise are doing nothing at all.

(All readers should note that I am bound by the code of ethics for Experts in the Family Courts as well as by the code of ethics for counselling and psychotherapy. As such each and every case study or reference that I make to my work is heavily disguised to ensure that I do not reveal any of the details of cases I am working on past and present or that any family member with whom I work or professional with whom I am working, could recognize themselves or each other on this blog. As such, my writing refers to real life work but the cases are a patchwork of different elements of cases that I may have or may be working on. I take my responsibilities seriously in the Family Courts, however much I may criticize them and I also take my work as therapist equally seriously. At all times I balance the act of writing and speaking out with my absolute commitment to the rights of families for a fair, just and confidential service. I write because I consider it my duty to raise awareness of alienation and the way in which it is not recognized by family services. Where I see best practice I acknowledge it as I have in this article. I am working for better outcomes for alienated children and their families at all times).

Find more about parental alienation work from Karen’s view at https://karenwoodall.wordpress.com/author/karenwoodall/

Photo credit: quicksandala from morguefile.com

I Feel All Alone

Sometimes, we find ourselves in a place where we feel we cannot go on. The people in our lives do not seem to be enough or we aren’t enough? What are we to do in this #dark place ? Writing or expressing our emotions artistically can help both with getting them out and also with reaching a place of new understanding and awareness. Using poetry, art and music provides a healthy expression of the wide range of feelings (all of which are normal and useful). Artistic avenues also provide some relief and the opportunity to share our grief and struggles with others who may be suffering.

One teen did just that! She sent her poem in to share… with the hope it may help others not feel so alone

#Heavy

heavy eyes
heavy shoulders
heavy weights upon my shoulders
i realize this is not normal.
but what really is normal?
not me, i see, everything around me
smiling happy,
joyful, pleasant.
and happy.
this word.
what is it?
it’s blurred within the space it’s supposed to fit.
what am i doing?
i’m trying, i’m trying
but all i’m doing is colliding
with the thoughts inside my head
they crowd me,
they surround me and i can’t get away
they love me, they hug me and they kiss me & they tell me that everything will never be okay.

i’m running as fast as i can but the truth is i’m not getting anywhere
and i’m jam packed between the voices of society and screams inside my head.
they tear me apart
and i’m aware of every single look and every stare
it makes me crave to know if every little string of hair is in place.
and i know i’m out of place
i’m displaced
i’m misplaced
and i’ll be replaced
but i wont be retraced.

but i’ll put on that straight face
and walk through the crowd everyday.
listen to the voices of society saying everything will be okay.
this word
what is it
it’s blurred within the space it’s supposed to fit
what am i doing?
i’m trying i’m trying but all i’m doing is colliding
with the thoughts inside my head
they crowd me.
they surround me and i can’t get away.
they hug me they love me
they kiss me and they embrace me
and they tell me that everything will never be okay.

        -Teen Girl

Photo credit: jzlomek 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

(submitted by a wife and mother)

When Life Throws A Curve Ball???

Why are we always faced with some really tough decisions in life?  Life threw me a curve ball back in April and I had to re-evaluate what is really important for me and my well being.  My husband and I separated and I had to make some pretty fast financial decisions.

I parked the truck, started taking transit and decided to start seriously looking for a job in Oshawa where I live.  I had been travelling to Pickering and back at least 3-4 days per week, often times working into the evenings and not getting home until 9:00 p.m.  My travel took 4 hours in a day, what a waste of time!!!!  I applied for a job with excellent hours in Oshawa and I got the job. I was so very excited.  I would miss my co-workers in Pickering but I am so happy to be working near my home.

When I get stressed, I want to keep my mind occupied but I was getting a little too carried away.  I had five jobs (3 at-home dicta-typing jobs) and I also wanted to sing on the weekends.  I had to put a stop to some of these chaotic behaviours because I knew if I wore myself too thin, I would end up getting sick.  What good would that be?  I now realize how hard it was for my spouse because when would we actually get to see each other and have quality time together?  Most of the time, I was too tired to do anything, I just wanted to sleep on my off hours!!   We hardly communicated because we were like two ships passing in the night.

The past few months have allowed me to reflect on what is really important – my family.  My husband is in an addiction rehab residence and he is doing well.  Oh, it WON’T be easy, trust me, I know this!!!  I also know that we are married and my spouse has an illness – actually two of them –  which both affect his mood negatively.  It takes two to make a marriage work and we both have to work at it. For now, because of our poor decisions months back, we are working at it from a distance.

My goal is to be healthy and happy, that is all I want out of life.

******************************

For more information on “How to Communicate Effectively with your Spouse” and also “How to Manage Stress”, please contact one of our counsellors today

Photo credit: cbcs from morguefile.com

Sorting Socks Too Difficult? It May Be Work Related?

Whether it is meeting a deadline, getting along with colleagues, dealing with a work crisis, managing a big deal, catching up on reports or supervising staff—work-related stress can become overwhelming.

Sometimes all we want to do is leave work at work, get out and forget about it. We want to reach our homes and provide our families with all of our energy to help around the house, whether with helping kids with their homework, preparing meals or any of the numerous other tasks around home. When we are overly stressed, time we want to spend with our families may feel like a burden, added things to do on a seemingly never-ending list of daunting duties.

Excessive stress can lead to the failure of our usually effective coping strategies and significantly impair daily functioning. Things like humour, relaxation, music and other coping methods no longer seem to work. We may then appear to be ‘trying’ to do all these tasks and functions with our families, yet not really meeting the mark and finding we feel adaquate in our role.

If we could step outside of our bodies for a moment and watch ourselves try to do it all, what would we look like?

Are we snappy when our kids ask for help? Do the simple requests from our spouses annoy us? Is sleep being disrupted by racing thoughts or tension? Would you see yourself struggling to get to sleep, waking at night or simply feeling unrested in the morning? Do you find it hard to sit down and enjoy a meal? Is it becoming more difficult to show family that we genuinely enjoy time with them?

When we are unable to effectively cope with work-related stress (or other stressors), it resides within us and enters our homes as we do. We may like to think we have a handle on things but our relationships with our families can tell us differently. Others may also become quick to anger, less open to hearing our concerns and feelings and may become more tired and drained. Unmanaged stress can be very draining on energy levels and, of course, get in the way of sleep, intimacy, eating and overall quality of life.

Often, when under too much stress, we can easily turn to less healthy coping strategies such as drinking, smoking, over or under eating and arguing and fighting in an attempt to resolve matters.

Seeking counseling for work-related concerns can help us sort through work challenges and create strategies to potentially resolve some issues and find new ways to cope with stress in a healthy and effective manner.

When we identify our difficulties at work, and home, and talk through them we can find solutions that lead to increased peace and contentment. We can also be more engaging with our loved ones. If you would like assistance  Contact us today!

 

Photo credit 1: clarita from morguefile.com
Photo credit 2: orchid from morguefile.com