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. 

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

The pornographic industry has been at my fingertips since I began to develop an interest in it, at the age of 13.  With the progression of technology, it has only gotten more accessible.  To date, it’s as easy as checking my “new follower” notification on twitter. At least once a week, I will get followed by a cam girl or pornstar and with the click of a button, I have entered the ironically named “adult entertainment” portion of the Internet.

I think the accessibility of porn these days scares a lot of parents and the knee-jerk reaction is often to use an onslaught of parental controls, monitoring apps and other types of software to spy on your own children.  I gather that the general public realizes this is like trying to contain a wildfire with a standard home extinguisher.  Simply labeling it as out of bounds only makes teenagers want to rebel and cross the line. So, when a product is as compelling as porn, there’s no need to add to its seductive lure by making it “forbidden”. Switch out “forbidden” for a synonym, “naughty” and it’s pretty clear that the message is destined to backfire.

If we have learned anything from the failure of the war on drugs, informing the public about the risks and rewards of drugs, from a non-biased standpoint, is the answer to preventing misuse and addiction. Porn should be treated for what it is, a drug just like alcohol or marijuana. Whether it’s opening up the “Incognito” browser, rolling up a joint or mixing a rum & coke; all of these actions are done to provide a release from reality and stimulate a pleasure response in the brain.

“Cambridge Neuropsychiatrist Valerie Voon was featured last year in the UK documentary, “Porn on the Brain”. Her research demonstrates that the brains of habitual porn users show great similarity to the brains of alcoholics. A brain structure called the ventral striatum plays a significant role in the reward system of the brain—the pleasure pathways. It is the same part of the brain that “lights up” when an alcoholic sees a picture of a drink.” (Source: covenanteyes.com, Title: Brain Chemicals and Porn Addiction: Science Shows How Porn Harms Us).

So let’s talk about it for what it is. Porn is a drug and the only way to help your kid understand how to deal with the temptation is to have that seemingly awkward talk. Converse about what’s going on in their brain and why their body reacts the way it does to that type of virtual stimulation. It will remove some of the shame associated with having a sexual desire and the frustration of their inability to act on it during those uncomfortable pubescent years.

The positives shouldn’t be left out. Masturbation has been a thing for thousands of years for a reason. Sometimes that sexual release breaks some of the tension and allows me to be calmer or less “on edge” for a period of time. I had a conversation with my dad when I was 13 that resonated with me. We spoke about porn/masturbation and how it’s associated with lustrous thoughts. If those thoughts are left unmanaged, they can be detrimental to a person’s patterns of thinking and damage other areas of one’s life. I didn’t stop watching porn, but at least when I did, I questioned the morality behind what I was doing and recognized it as an unrealistic depiction of sexual behaviour.

Trust your teenagers to start thinking about their actions like the young adults they are. Inform them without judgment and make them feel less alone in the matter. It’s probably the first recreational drug we are exposed to and, if approached properly, it can provide a healthy foundation for the ones we will encounter later.

(This post was contributed anonomously by a young adult)
Photo credit: Seemann from morguefile.com

Setting Healthy Boundaries?

When we get a first sight at our newborn child, we are overwhelmed with thoughts and feelings: feelings of love, joy, happiness, and excitement. Sometimes, we may anticipate fear, grief and worry. We may question how we keep this perfect little bundle in our arms perfect as a toddler, child, teenager, and adult. We ask how we might instil core values and life lessons so that our child does not make the same mistakes that we did.

We are excited to be a part of this perfect being’s growth and development but at the very same time, also nervous. We may sometimes feel that we have to give our child “everything”, however, is “everything” too much?  Tough to know when we are doing this for the first time 🙂

Setting healthy, appropriate boundaries with our children may be the best teaching/gift that parents can provide. When we create a balance in our disciplinary approach we improve the chances for healthier relationships.  We establish mutually respectful guidelines, clarity in communication and increased understanding of roles in the family.

Sometimes our own thoughts and feelings can make boundary settings difficult. “Will they (our children) hate me?” “I don’t want to be a bad parent.” “What if this doesn’t work?” “Is it too late to create a boundary now?” Our own upbringing or experiences growing up, left unattended to in our subconscious, may unknowingly influence our parenting approach in less than desirable ways.

Recognizing and responding to these inner thoughts in a healthy way is an important aspect to effective parenting.  Historic thoughts arising from time to time is normal, some serve to guide our path while others may actually block healthy development for us and out children. Learning about and practicing effective healthy boundary setting may not only offset feelings of uncertainty, but may surprisingly increase a more confident and relaxed approach to parenting.

Call us today to work on increasing parenting competency through increased awareness, skill sets and with the creation of effective boundaries for you and your family.

 


Photo credit: anitapeppers from morguefile.com

Parenting Our Children & Parenting Ourselves

Promoting mental health involves building awareness, reducing the stigma often attached with the term and, of course, developing strategies to improve our overall mental health. Just as we strive to improve our physical health, we are wise to learn more about our mind, mind-body connection and find ways to strengthen the health of our minds.

One of our local school boards has recently taken steps to do just that.  The Durham Catholic District School Board (DCDSB) has developed a strategy called “Together For Mental Health 2014-2017”. In a recent newsletter they lay out a guide for parents, however, we might all benefit from following these principles;

10 Strategies for Parents to Foster Positive Mental Health”  

1. Create a sense of belonging – build strong, positive relationships

2. Encourage good physical health, including adequate sleep, healthy eating and exercise

3. Make time for regular family meals

4. Encourage creative outlets

5. Develop your [inner] child’s competencies

6. Keep the lines of communication open

7. Model good mental and physical health habits [hang with people that do]

8. Have a predictable routine

9. Foster volunteering and helpfulness

10.Bring fun and playfulness into you and your [loved ones’] lives

Adapted from DCDSB newsletter outlining their mental health and addictions strategy

 


Photo credit: KellyP42 from morguefile.com

Probably one of the most important interpersonal skills we have is listening. But, wait a minute, don’t most of us have ears so aren’t we listening all the time? Apparently not, according to the post below submitted by a frustrated and tired woman, wife and mother.

I am a middle-aged married woman whose adult son lives with us. Do you find that when you come home, everyone is waiting for you at the door (including the cats) wanting your attention or something from you right away and you don’t even get through the door? Why is it that I get so irritated by the habits of others around me? When I am feeling overwhelmed or stressed, these habits can drive me crazy!!! No matter how often I say to my husband or son, “Please pick up after yourselves” or “Don’t tell me how to drive”, these annoying habits always occur and make us have arguments. In our day to day lives, we are so busy just trying to keep a clean house and worrying about what to have for supper again. Most of us work out of the home at one, sometimes two jobs. Life can get overwhelming and when you are dealing with difficult people, it can sometimes be stressful to the point of wanting to run away. This is how I feel sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family but I have a tendency to want to run away to recharge. I need some “Me” time.

Above is an excellent example of a few common problems or challenges in families.

First, her complaint is loud and clear yet those living in the home don’t appear to hear or a least respond to it. This may be due to poor communication practice in the home. Turning a complaint (what we don’t want) into a request (what we do want) is an amazing difference in communication and a “game-changer” in others’ ability to meet our needs. Rather than complaining and telling others what to do, perhaps this woman can clarify her expectations of others, by calmly making clear requests, and then await an acknowledgement that she has been heard.

Second, on their part, those not following through with chores or tasks are likely listening and not hearing. This is a common dilemma in families. Truly hearing requires an action that confirms receipt of the information “picking up after yourselves”, versus listening and then failing to respond.  It is critical, in healthy communication, to both acknowledge and validate the speaker or the person making the request. What better way is there to do this than by actually doing what is asked, either right then or fairly soon afterward. This is LOVE.

It is far too easy to say “I Love You” thinking it is only an emotion. Love is a verb as well! It takes real strength and fortitude to follow through with behavioural requests from our loved ones: to set aside our desires, our plans and our wants in order to satisfy and please our loved ones.

Finally, “me time” is important to recharge and renew, however, it is a serious problem if it is used to “run away” from a bad situation. After all, isn’t that precisely what people say about drinking, drugs and affairs; that it was to escape the negative reality of their day-to-day lives.  Rather than running, we are much better off sticking around to resolve our issues, negotiate new patterns, roles and communication strategies and, then, heading out for some truly relaxing “me time”.

If all this sounds too difficult to accomplish on your own, there are professional and confidential counsellors (books as well) to assist you and your loved ones to listen better, negotiate more effectively and to resolve the challenges you are facing.  Contact one of our registered therapists for your confidential consultation today.

 
Photo credit: jdurham from morguefile.com

 Photo credit: JessicaGale from morguefile.com

Are Our Phones Smarter Than We Are?

Smart phones are like our very own personal assistants (who we can even have a conversation with).  Appointments, dinner dates, meetings, and deadlines are recorded to keep us on track.  Email and Internet access are easy to use with the touch of a button.  We can even scan prices of items when we shop (who needs customer service?). We no longer even have to wait in bank lineups to manage our accounts.

Because of the accessibility that smart phones provide, we often feel a need to have them around us 24/7.  They wake us up in the morning (sometimes before) and even follow us to our bathroom.  Somehow, we have adopted the habit of our phones joining us at the dinner table or while eating in restaurants.  When do we consider our phones as intruders in our lives? Possibly when we can answer yes to any of the following questions:

  • Do you have more conversations with your phone than with people around the dinner table?
  • Do you text members of your family within the same household when they are just in another room?
  • On vacation, is one of your first questions an inquiry about wi-fi?
  • Do you allow phone interruptions to take precedence over your current person-to-person conversation?
  • Does your phone accompany you to the bathroom?  (Really?)

Smartphones can have a significant impact on children’s social development.  An article from Dr. Michael Gabriel from GPM Pediatrics says that “children are missing out on how to learn language, learn about their emotions and how to regulate them, learn how to carry out a conversation and how to read each other’s facial expressions.”

Can we come to a consensus that we may be addicted to our phones and that, until now, we didn’t fully realize the impact they have on our lives, well being, and relationships with others?

There are easy ways to reduce the time with our phones.  Counselling isn’t likely to help you decrease dependency on your “smart” phones, however, short-term counselling can help rebuild relationships and develop the social skills required to maintain healthy relationships.  Contact us today!