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. 


Photo credit: DuBoix from morguefile.com

TV – Mental Health Analogy

If I were to try to explain how I feel it would go something like this.

I am a TV. I have many channels. During a day my channels get changed. A few channels come in clear without a lot of “fuzzy”. Some channels I’m not sure have been seen.

I think that each channel has a job and an emotion. Some of the channels seem functional and rational and carry on in a somewhat normal way. Some channels don’t even seem to be in the right language for me to understand. Some are just crazy with distorted images and ideas. Some are really boring. (great for sleeping)

I am not always aware of what channel I am on. I think when an emotion happens to me, my TV flips around looking for the right channel to be on. If the right channel isn’t available fast enough it either just KEEPS FLIPPING or stops on the BAD channel.

Flipping constantly is one of the worst feelings. It causes headaches and exhaustion and panic. This feeling of “flipping” makes me look for a “quick fix” to make it stop. I’d definitely unplug myself if possible, or reboot or refresh. This channel isn’t even a channel…it just keeps going and going and makes me want to run and cry. It sometimes makes me speak out of turn or out loud and makes me hear way too much noise at once.

Landing on the BAD channel is my worst fear. It’s the channel NO ONE SUBSCRIBES TO. It’s run by the devil I’m sure. It’s all violent with twisted images and loud annoying noises. It has dinosaurs and creatures without faces. It has trees that whisper bad things and babies that cry out for help. It has shadows in the corners watching from unknown places. The good people are actually bad people who will get you. It’s an extremely scary channel and makes everything feel not real. It gives nightmares and night sweats and other bad things I can’t even mention because they are too bad. Suicide is always a good option that makes sense on this channel.

The religious channel is my favorite. It has great love (and music). This channel has hope and calmness and meaning to life. It has God in charge of all feelings and beliefs. Everything is beautiful and simple. Things move at the right speed. If I could just pick one channel this would be the one. I pray every night that I wake up on this channel. If I am on this channel I don’t want to do ANYTHING that will make the channel change. I find myself avoiding life sometimes in fear it will get changed. Sometimes I get really excited to die while on this channel or just become too overwhelmed with the beauty of the world.

The cartoon channel, a mostly good one, filled with Muppets and laughter and games. Everything is a cartoon and not real. Everything is funny and seems silly. People seem puppet-like and voices change. Everyone is an actor and backgrounds are just pretend. People can’t really die but they might explode once in a while. It can be a confusing channel but it’s one I actually like. Caution to myself not to hurt myself while on this channel. It’s easy to be impulsive on this one and make bad decisions. Laughing inappropriately makes a person look crazy so a lot of self-control is needed.

Some channels are set for days at a time. They are like “sub channels” These include:

  • Food channel – vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free, meat-eater, eat by colors, eat by food groups, don’t eat, overeat, make yourself sick, nuts and seeds only, junk food only etc.
  • Sex channel – female attraction, male attraction. No attraction, attraction to objects, attraction to pain
  • Sexuality channel – male, female, both, neither, gay, bi, non-human
  • Relationship channel – not sure this one is included

Someday I’m going to find the remote.   When I do, I’ll get to pick any channel I want. I will also change my package to not include the bad channels. They are such a waste of time and energy.

Change Starts With Our Attitude

As this video depicts, domestic violence does happen to anyone –men and women, children and seniors. The “automatic” or “socialized” response we have, given the gender of the “victim” and “perpetrator”, needs serious revision. When we see or hear about domestic violence, we may either over or underreact, either one being potentially hurtful to both the person whose rights are being violated and to the person behaving in a violent manner. In fact, our thinking about and approach to domestic violence can perpetuate violence itself when we inadvertently convey narrow and misguided perspectives about this important social issue to our loved ones, our children, friends and colleagues.

Physical violence is the intentional use of force against a person without that person’s consent. *** It includes, yet is not limited to, hitting, slapping, spitting on, pinching, punching, hair pulling, kicking, cutting, pushing, shoving as well as sexually aggressive acts.

All sexual contact without consent is a crime!

Psychological abuse (also known as emotional abuse) is often overlooked. Although this form of abuse is not considered a criminal act, it can be as destructive as and, at times, even more destructive than physical abuse. Behaviours associated with emotional abuse may include: yelling, name-calling, shaming, blaming, intimidation, isolation, lude and rude comments, withholding the necessities of life and other hurtful and controlling behaviours.

The initial step to ending an abusive relationship is acknowledging that it exists. Sometimes this is very difficult to do, especially for those who have been suffering in this kind of relationship for so long. The following examples can help clarify;

It is still considered family violence when . . .

▪    The incidents of violence seem minor when compared to those you have read about, seen on television or heard other women talk about. There isn’t a “better” or “worse” form of physical violence; you can be severely injured as a result of being pushed, for example.

▪    The incidents of physical abuse have only occurred one or two times in the relationship. Studies indicate that if your spouse/partner has injured you once, it is likely it will continue and even get worse.

▪    The physical assaults stopped when you became passive and gave up your right to express yourself as you desire, to move about freely and see others, and to make decisions. It is not a victory if you have to give up your rights as a person and a partner in exchange for not being assaulted!

▪    There has not been any physical violence. Many women are emotionally and verbally assaulted. This can be equally as frightening and is often more confusing to try to understand making it difficult to reach out for support and find resolutions.

Source: Adapted from Breaking the Silence: a Handbook for Victims of Violence in Nebraska (helpguide.org)

A professional counsellor can provide a safe environment for you to identify the severity of abuse and/or violence in your relationship, assess whether you require other supports to develop a safety plan and explore steps to help you move into a safe and secure living situation. Counselling sessions also provide you with the time to consider how to adjust and move forward, how to cope with stress and change and how to create healthier and more satisfying intimate relationships.

Counselling provides you with the hope that you can overcome the impact of domestic violence and abuse. You can learn more about yourself and regain your confidence. You can find the support to help you rebuild your life and enhance your well-being. Call us today!

*** For more information on family violence, please follow the Government of Canada link at:

http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/cj-jp/fv-vf/about-apropos.html

 


Photo credit: mconnors from morguefile.com

 Can You Relate?

As one person struggles with recovery from severe childhood abuse (multiple kinds), she writes here about her view of alcohol throughout her journey. In the absence of effective coping strategies or when the stress becomes overwhelming, we tend to turn toward less healthy and unhealthy coping strategies. These can unfortunately offer temporary relief which itself become desired, yet, over the long run, poorer coping choices contribute to worsening thoughts, feelings and of course behaviours.

Check out the following list of pros and cons for alcohol use and you can determine if any of these may apply in your way of thinking…

PROS

  • I feel like I am close to being human
  • I’m not scared of noises I can’t identify
  • I’m not paranoid of people
  • I laugh and I can feel happy
  • I can walk in public around other people and feel like I almost blend in
  • I can express my feelings better or at least some
  • I can’t feel my constant anxiety, worry and stress
  • Flashbacks don’t stress me out as much
  • I eat…because I need to….
  • I dance, sing, swim, listen to music, roller blade , bike ride, play with the kids, jog because it’s fun
  • It tastes so good and feels warm inside my body
  • I don’t focus on anything bad… I just enjoy floating around with no inside pain
  • It feels familiar and comforting
  • I don’t feel so alone and hopeless

CONS

  • That makes me an alcoholic = not a nice label
  •  My liver probably hates it
  •  My moods, emotions, memories, identity can change quickly
  •  I have less control over who is in charge… if any….
  •  Past experiences have led to many undesirable consequences, eg. abuse, jail, loss of a child, suicide  attempts, car accidents, homelessness, etc.
  •  Shows a bad example to my children so it must be hidden and it makes me a liar
  •  I can’t afford it
  •  Sometimes it makes me not human
  •  Sometimes it makes me forget my body belongs to me and I don’t care about it
  •  I can be too impulsive
  •  I can find myself places I don’t want to be
  •  I forget who I am or where I am and where I belong..

Using alcohol comes with risk. Why do I sometimes feel like it’s worth it? It’s not. I know that. It’s just so nice to have a break from my dysfunctional exhausting brain.

 

Meta-Communication and Assertive Communication Skills


Photo credit: taliesin from morguefile.com

The following post is submitted by a young man in his mid-twenties. He describes meta-communication and assertive communication skills and how he has applied these to turn around his poor communication learned from very violent, abusive and negative childhood experiences.


Meta-communication is communicating about how we are communicating: how a message or information is delivered, and is meant to be interpreted. It is based on the idea that the same message accompanied by various verbal and non-verbal deliveries can make a message mean something totally different, including its opposite, as in irony. For example, two people may discuss certain body language such as rolling the eyes, frowning or a shrugging of the shoulders to determine what message is being conveyed.

Assertive Communication uses both verbal and non-verbal communication to respect the boundaries of yourself and others. It is the quality of being self-assured and confident without being aggressive. Examples of this include people who are able to maintain long-term comfortable relationships with other people and and are able to effectively express thoughts and feelings.

I was raised in a family where violence was present unnecessarily. It seriously got in the way of me learning proper assertive communication skills.

It was difficult to grow up having a father figure because of how my father was to my family. I was never taught proper social skills or had any examples provided to me. Because of how my father was, I knew everything about him was negative and I did not want to be like him at all… one bit.

In a way, it is hard to describe but I became a better man because of how my father acted. I learned how to treat others with respect and how to properly communicate. It is good to know that I have seen what the negative outcome will be without proper communication skills and to learn from that bad example.

Recently, my mother and I have been beginning to communicate better. I am now expressing more of my true thoughts to her by opening up, by using a more friendly approach to topics that usually would cause stress between the both of us. We are both using more positive expression and more positive body language.

Less nagging has been occurring leading to more different approaches to conversations that we ever really had before.”

I hope you are as inspired as I am in this young man’s story of pain and recovery, of his striving to overcome horrible experiences and learn more caring, loving and effective communication. Just because we may have grown up in families where violence and abuse existed doesn’t mean we must repeat this behavior. We can, with reading and good guidance, confront our way of interacting with others, learn new ways of communicating and develop meaningful, satisfying, long-term, loving relationships with others.

 


Photo credit: arebella from morguefile.com

ANTS: Our Thoughts or Not ?

The following contribution is from a middle-aged woman who suffered severe child abuse, sexual abuse, containment and physical violence as well as the early demise of her mother. Father’s subsequent downturn to alcoholism and grandparents scornful childcare assistance appear to have contributed, along with multiple sexual predators, to her ultimately suffering from complex post-traumatic stress “reaction” and dissociative identity symptoms. Despite the severe stress and strain on her psyche, she manages to strive to improve for her family and to attempt to regain her sanity. Her interpretation of how her brain works follows:

“I used to think that the four lobes of my brain just worked separately. Decisions made came from whatever lobe was healthiest at that moment. Like the wire connecting them together had a break in it. Over the years, I have tried to get control over which lobe would work but realized I don’t get to decide.

I have tried so many different attempts at control: changing my diet, adding different vitamins, punishment and rewarding the lobes that seemed to work best. Giving control to others who thought they could fix it for me using whatever methods they thought would work… (drugging, restraining, electrocuting, depriving, thought control, etc.). This has proved impossible so far.

Now I don’t think my four lobes work separately. I feel like my brain has turned into a giant anthill, each ant having its own job to do. Sometimes they seem to work together but sometimes they seem to eat each other and fight. It feels like a war inside the hill.

Sometimes, I think the poisonous ants are the big ones that overpower the small ones. The small ones have to fight and stay on alert at all times for the big ones. They have to follow the poisonous ants and do what they say, if they are not strong enough to fight. Other times, they get too tired and surrender themselves to the poisonous ants and get killed if they step out of line and do not follow. Sometimes, the small ants can win. It takes teamwork by many different small ants but they CAN choose their own job to do. It just takes more than one.

I can sometimes feel them in my skin and head. It makes me itchy. It makes me wonder if they are getting along or struggling. Sometimes, I see ants all over my bed or couch or wall…wherever I’m sitting. I think it’s the BIG ANTS making me see them and feel them, reminding me they are in control.

Sometimes, the small ants can be tricky and be poisonous too but you don’t know it at the time. You can’t assume anything with ants of any size. They switch jobs without notice. They fight without reason.

I don’t like ants. I enjoy spraying ant killer into their tiny hills. I like to put them out of their misery. I can’t imagine them being happy. God would likely disapprove, as he created such creatures but they can really torture you if they were to live inside your head. They have such a nasty sting for such a small bug.”


Photo credit: Jusben from morguefile.com

A psychological term, from cognitive-behavioural theory, uses the acronym ANTS to refer to our “automatic negative thoughts” It almost seems as though the author of the words above has a hypersensitivity to her negative thinking processes. It would be nice, I suppose, if it were much easier to get rid of our ANTS or “Stinkin Thinkin” than it is. Help is available to reduce our ANTS.

Therapy is designed to help people uncover ANTS and find new ways to think that promote improved mental health. For help recovering from abuse, resolving relationship concerns or to improve your view of yourself, contact one of our registered therapists for your confidential consultation today.

 


Photo credit: taliesin from morguefile.com

What’s Wrong With Me?

“Mrs. A. was a 43-year old woman who was living with her mother and son and worked at a clerical job. She had felt depersonalized as far back as she could remember. ‘It’s as if the real me is taken out and put on a shelf or stored somewhere inside me. Whatever makes me me is not there. It is like an opaque curtain…like going through the motions and having to exert discipline to keep the unit together.’ She had suffered several episodes of depersonalization annually and found them extremely distressing. She had experienced panic attacks for one year when she was 35 and had been diagnosed with self-defeating personality disorder. Her childhood trauma history included nightly genital fondling and frequent enemas by her mother from earliest memory to age 10.” (Davidson, Neale, Blankstein, & Flett, 2002, pg. 220).

Usually a childhood trauma may contribute to the onset of a depersonalization disorder. The person’s perception of self is altered, making it difficult to experience situations in life normally. Increase in stress can trigger a depersonalization episode.

Symptoms of a depersonalization episode include (but are not limited to):

  • Sudden loss of self
  • Feeling of having an outer body experience (sometimes called “dissociation”)
  • Unusual sensory experiences
  • Feel “mechanical;” as though they have lost sense of reality
  • Common thoughts such as: “My body is not in harmony with my being,” or “My body does not feel like it belongs.”

The difficulties of depersonalization is that it creates:

  • Worries about feeling isolated and detached from others (imagine the trouble of relating to the people that love and care about you?!)
  • Vulnerability and embarrassment in social situations. This disorder usually begins in adolescence.

Depersonalization episodes usually occur in several other disorders such as schizophrenia, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, and borderline personality disorder. Treatment will often be complex, involving a treatment plan that addresses multiple disorders and symptoms drawing upon a variety of therapeutic approaches.

Treatment of depersonalization disorder is sought out when episodes are reoccurring and disrupting quality of life. Individuals will establish goals to alleviate symptoms, such as depression and anxiety, as well as ways in which the person’s family can understand the nature of the individual’s disorder. Ways in which the family can support one another are also developed and strategies to implement and evaluate the plan are agreed upon.

To create a treatment plan specific to your needs, call us today.