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. 

How a Head Injury Changed My Life

Imagine having a head injury that took away your capacity to remember day to day events.  Imagine waking up and not knowing what happened yesterday while having a much less fuzzy recollection of things that happened years ago. Imagine waking up and reading the sticky notes and papers that are taped to your wall before leaving your bedroom in order to understand the world you are about to face; the people who are close to you, healthcare professional appointments. Imagine social emptiness.

This is the story of one young adult, as written in his poem below. After suffering a major head injury, life was altered irreparably.

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          Untitled

I draw blood everyday

so I am very familiar with its stain

Now I need to read the whole manual

first before I will try any new GAME.

So now I need to learn more than a new language

in order, just to fix my FRAME.

But then I see the wall marks, to remind myself

that to learn my new stuff or meet any new ones,

requires a new one.

So whose sum?

Others must remind me that I am a new some,

who is now without sum,

in which resulted in me now having to take a few some

in order just to process some or one.

So now I find that the ones experiencing similar,

are those obese anorexics on the constant ketchup,

breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.

Lost myself, after Falling like timber.

Left-over broken and incomplete.

Most would have cowardess in defeat.

But as my thoughts were echoed

and I tried to fix myself

my emotion was let go.

So I am now left in despair,

trying to understand myself

just through the reflection in the mirror.

******

Be thankful for the memories you have, the good and the bad, for they give us our identity, our sense of belongingness and connection in the world. Our ability to remember allows each one of us to know just enough to build upon day by day, to grow and develop, to learn and improve. Hopefully we use our memories well.


 

 

 

 

 

 

What Really Does Addiction Mean Anyway?

Addictions impact so many people, upsetting lives and hurting loved ones. Worrying about ourselves and/or others being hooked on work, alcohol, money, drugs, sex, porn, food, cigarettes etc. is a widespread problem. Our focus unfortunately,  often becomes narrowly placed upon that “thing” that seems to be consuming so much of our attention, pulling our attention away from solutions and other important areas of life. As this narrow focus becomes increasingly magnified to a seemingly overwhelming level, negative thoughts increase as well; “This is just too far gone”, “I am awful”, “I’ll never stop THIS!”, “Why even try to stop?”

I think we are out of focus.  Our attention becomes on what not to do or on stopping something rather than on what to do and on action that can improve our situation.  I’m not entirely convinced one’s so-called ‘addiction’ is the real problem. Consider all the things in life we are not free to do because we’re spending so much of our effort, time and money on the addictive behaviour. What is being missed, unattended to and let go?  Now that seems, at least to me, to be the real tragedy; being a slave to a substance, a behaviour and even a way of thinking, not free to really enjoy life to the fullest.

Short changing our health and wellness, missing out on recreational, intellectual, spiritual and social growth options, failing to have time for those we love (e.g. children, spouses, family and friends) and severely limiting development of meaningful and satisfying relationships in favour of that one special ‘addiction’ is the real tragedy. 

What is yours? What robs you of a very important part of your life?

Did you know the term addiction came from the slave trade? Years ago, while working on a paper for the Canadian government, I discovered a book called “Drugs, Morality And The Law” (1994 by Steven Luper-Foy, Curtis Brown). The authors uncovered that the initial use of the term addicted was used when a slave was sold to a master. The slave was said to be addicted to or ‘tied to’ their master. Instantly,  I postulated that just as slaves have been freed, we too could find a way to become free from whatever addictive behaviour that is holding us back. I thought, maybe a little too simplistically, if we can be tied to something we could also be untied.

This is a completely different and more positive way of considering addiction than I grew up with. Many of us learned and were indoctrinated with the view that “once you’re addicted it is very, very difficult to quit”.  Not true!  There are many strategies and approaches that help people uncover the thinking and events that contribute to the development of their particular addiction. These include expanding awareness, realigning goals with core values and teaching new ways to override those thoughts and behaviours so that a healthier and more satisfying life can be enjoyed.

Just as ending slavery began with a shift in the consciousness, untying ourselves from addictions requires a process of cognitive uncovering, thought shifting and persistence. For some, a little coaching can help speed up the process and maintain success. If you’d like assistance becoming untied from an addictive behaviour in order to achieve a more fulfilling life, contact one of our counsellors today!

 

Image 1 Photo credit: GaborfromHungary from morguefile.com
Image 2 Photo credit: cohdra from morguefile.com
Image 3 Photo credit: spiroll from morguefile.com
Image 4 Photo credit: DodgertonSkillhause 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.

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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

Where do I find my worth?

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(Submitted by a young man under extreme family duress due to health concerns)

I’ve struggled with a lot of anxiety and depression in the past, and still some today. When I was in high school, I would often be so anxious about my schoolwork that I wouldn’t even be able to complete it. I would convince myself that I was not going to do a good enough job, and as such I shouldn’t even try. With the help of some counselling, I was able to get through, but I was still often consumed by anxiety over the fear that I didn’t do enough.

In university it was mostly the same story. Towards the end of my first year I had a revelation. My dad would often message me, saying that he was proud of me. I would brush it off, asking myself why he would be proud of me while my marks were falling and I was dropping classes. And then I realized that he was proud of me regardless of how I was doing in school. This struck me, and I asked myself why I was worrying about school as if it would change how my parents loved me. I was tying my worth to my performance in school, which was making me miserable.

Once I realized this, I wondered where my worth actually was. If it wasn’t in school, or my actions, where was it? I realized that because Christ died for me, and bought me with his blood, my worth is in him. I don’t have to fear others, or myself, because my confidence is in Him.

Do I still have days where I don’t feel good enough, and am anxious, and struggle? Yes, I do. But I can come back to the fact that no matter what happens, He still loves me.

 

Ephesians 2:8-9 states For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (ESV).

The ending of a love relationship can be a difficult time in our lives. Regardless of whether the relationship is better off finished, we still can experience pain and hurt at this time. Some of us may experience this pain longer than others. Some may not experience it at all. This is because they have been accustomed to burying it deep or storing it away. Regardless of the length of our pain, most, if not all of us, want the feeling to end as quickly as possible.

Working to overcome pain can also look different to people. Some may ignore it and perform their daily routine as though nothing has changed. These individuals may sound like this: “I’m not going to let this interrupt my life. I’ve got other things to do.”

Some may dwell so deeply in their pain, overcoming it seems impossible. “Why did this happen to me? I will never find someone to love me again.”

Others may want the pain to end so quickly that they jump into a relationship with someone else. They believe that “things will be different this time.”

And then there are others who choose acceptance of their pain. They decide not to rush out of their feeling too quickly, but instead, explore this pain. This decision is brought on by the premise that one can only learn from what one feels; otherwise learning cannot take place.  Some may also find themselves in a cycle leading to increasingly more painful stages when they experience one ending relationship after another.

We will be posting a series of the process of rebuilding oneself when a significant romantic relationship ends. We feel that this process cannot be explained away, ‘put behind’ us or simply resolved in any one post, blog or self-help resource.

You may identify with the different ways people cope with pain mentioned. You may also realize great relationships don’t just happen. If you do know this, you want to get council, coaching or advice to improve your recovery and increase your odds at creating a satisfying and truly magnificent romance. To get help with your specific relationship challenge, call us today.

 

 Photo credit: DodgertonSkillhause from morguefile.com