The Power in the way we Think

Posts tagged ‘body scan’

Celebrating Stress

Celebrations and stress are not usually words we see together. However today they are. Because today, we made it!

It is officially November 30, 2014. Which means that this is the final day of the NaBloPoMo challenge, and our series on stress.

And the National Blog Posting Month has definitely been a challenge! Probably not in the way most people would think, though. I had no trouble at all coming up with the post ideas and writing the material. Stress is such a huge topic that we could easily go for another month without too much trouble!

Instead, the challenge for me was finding the time to get it all done with the other responsibilities in my life. But I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to do it. The experience has stretched me to think about some things (including my own stress) in a different way.

It has drawn lots of new readers to our small corner of the internet and as they share their stories I find my passion for The Mindset Effect renewed. It’s people like you guys who keep me doing what I do. I love sharing my knowledge with the aim of supporting all of you to make positive, healthy changes in your life. At the end of this post, as a special something for all of you who have stuck with me throughout the month, I have a very special treat. I won’t tell you what it is right now (and no cheating by scrolling!); it will be waiting for you when you get to the end. 🙂

After such an intense month and 29 different articles on stress, I’d like to revisit some of the main concepts and bring it all together for you. I know that sometimes receiving so much information can be a little overwhelming and difficult to understand. So let’s see what we can do …

managing stress

We began the month with a few simple definitions of the different types of stress before we discussed the pretty grim impacts it has on our mind, body and emotions. With any type of force, strain or pressure, and the possibility of conditions such as weight gain, heart issues, diabetes and blood pressure, it becomes really important to be aware of your stress and to learn to manage it effectively.

I believe it’s equally important to understand how stress works. If you understand it, you’ll be armed with heaps of knowledge that supports you to implement the simple management strategies that we know really work. You’ll have the science behind why you do things like reach for the chocolate bar, cry for seemingly no reason or snap at your partner. And you’ll also have the reasons behind why you feel some pretty mean neck and shoulder tension or why you crash at the end of the day or week and can’t bring yourself to even get out of the chair.

The neurobiology behind stress is extremely complex. I won’t go into that here but you can go back and read any of those earlier posts on the Triune brain, trauma, hormones and the amygdala. Between them, they explain the workings of our inbuilt survival mechanism and why many of our reactions occur.

The stress response, or our fight/flight mechanism, is activated easily and frequently by all manner of life events, from watching someone you love draw their last breath, to dealing with screaming kids or seeing the bills pile up when you have a limited income. And with the buildup of hormones like adrenalin and cortisol, managing the fallout from these events becomes even more important.

Children are also impacted by stress in the same way we are, but their experience is different due to the development of their brains being incomplete. They need guidance in some of the same simple techniques we use.

Probably the most important and effective management strategy is the use of breathing. My friend and colleague, Linda, did a great job of explaining how to utilise belly breathing to down-regulate the stress response.

We’ve also explored sleep, movement, food and laughter and how these are all related to or impact our stress. And we learned how simple routines and small changes can make a big difference in the way we experience it.

With such a complex system and so many things feeding into the impacts we feel, it’s important that we are able to break it all down into bite size pieces and make the way we manage stress work for us in our day to day life. Learning to listen to our mind and body and understanding the meaning of the signals they give out, means we can become more aware of how we respond to stress and this assists us to figure out how to manage it.

As a special treat to you all for your support this past month I would like to provide you with a bonus. I know from first-hand experience that listening to those stress signals is not always easy. In fact, it can be a downright nightmare! Especially given how chaotic our minds can be when we are in the midst of it all. So I would like to provide for you an audio file with 2 of the simple techniques we have discussed previously. This is called guided imagery. I’ll first take you through a simple breathing strategy similar to the belly breathing Linda talked about. I’ll then extend on this and guide you through a body scan, which will help you listen to, connect with and become more aware of the signals your body gives you.

To prepare to listen, find a quiet place and make yourself comfortable, preferably lying flat on your back with your hands loosely by your sides.

calm scenery picnic point

I’d love to hear how you go with it when you try it! Please feel free to let me know below.

Before I close up this series, I’d like to thank a few people. Firstly to my friend and colleague Linda, for sharing her passion and skill in the articles she provided on sleep and the role of breathing. I’d like to thank my friend Libby, for helping me brainstorm for the post on listening to our bodies. I’d also like to thank Julia and Carlie who provided articles on their personal experiences with stress. Hearing personal stories can help us understand that other people feel the way we do. We aren’t alone in feeling stressed. Lastly, I’d like to thank all of you who read my words and stick around to read more! Without you, there would be no point me writing and sharing all the stuff in my brain.

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Secret Kids’ Business

Sunday mornings like today are commonly reserved for rest and relaxation. But as people wake up this morning they know that for most of the week they are probably pretty exhausted. We all have plenty of demands on our time and energy. And our kids are no different. A lot of the time they finish the week just as exhausted as we do and therefore need down-time also as much as we do. I wrote this post to help kids to recognise when they need to take some time away from “their rat race” and to give them a strategy they can use to take care of themselves. The language is aimed at kids between about 8 and 13, but anyone can use the tips it includes. I’d love it if you’d share it with your kids. If you’d like to share it with younger kids, try simply doing the activity with them. As for the teens, just make a suggestion that they ignore the younger language and take what they need out of it. Hope all your kids get something out of it. I’d love to hear how it goes for them!  🙂 

 

What kinds of things do you do during your day? When I was at school I remember getting up early to make my bed (well, sometimes I did. Most of the time I tried to get away without doing it). I got dressed, had breakfast, did some jobs and then went to school. I did all my work at school, and I concentrated pretty hard to get things right. When I went outside at lunch times I sometimes played games with other kids. I had 2 friends who used to fight a lot and I helped them be friends again. I spent most of the time alone and I got teased and bullied too. After school I went home and did my homework and then did more jobs. Some days I watched my brothers play sports. I read books a lot. It was my way of getting away from all the bullying. I rode my bike sometimes. And I worried a lot. I worried about my friends and about how much people didn’t like me.

sad sun face

What do you do? Do you do sports? Practice a musical instrument maybe? Or do you get tutoring to help with school work? Do you dance or go to gymnastics classes? Do you visit family or friends?

I bet doing all that stuff would make you pretty busy! I wonder whether you get tired by the time you get home?

How does it feel inside your body when you’re tired? Do you feel sleepy? I bet that sometimes you can feel tired but not want to sleep. For me my arms and legs feel pretty heavy, like they don’t want to follow my instructions to move them. Sometimes my tummy feels a bit funny too. Almost like I’m hungry but also like I have snakes slithering around in there. Sometimes I feel really cranky like I want to yell and other times I feel like I want to hide from everyone. Do you feel any of these? Or maybe for you it’s a bit different?

body scan pose

If we listen closely to our body sometimes it’s kind of like it’s talking to us and we can figure out what it wants. It can take a bit of practice, but trying different things sometimes helps discover what makes us feel calmer and happier. Those things will be different for us on different days because we feel different too.

Sometimes we really don’t know what to do when we feel funny and we can end up being cranky with the people we love the most. That can be our mums and dads, our brothers and sisters, or even our best friends. And that’s not always the nicest thing to do. We can feel pretty horrible when we do stuff like that.

It can help to try other things instead. I often suggest that kids make a box especially for themselves. You could call it whatever you want to. Maybe Alice’s box, or Jack’s box if your name is Alice or Jack. Or you could have a little fun with it and name it after your favourite movie character or even make up your own name for it. You could decorate it however you want too.

self care box

Inside the box put lots of different things you could do to help you feel better after a tiring day. Try putting in some of your favourite activities, like a bouncy ball, dancing, reading, listening to music, colouring, riding your bike or playing with your dog. Some things will be too big for the box so you could just write them on some paper instead. If you have trouble thinking of things to put in, you could ask someone in your family for help. And when you try new activities that really help you to feel good, you could put those in the box too!

When the box is ready, on the days you feel a bit funny inside, you could tell mum or dad that you need your box and then choose something that you want to try. If one thing doesn’t work, just put it back in and choose something else.

We’d love to know what’s inside your special box so if you’d like to share with us, maybe mum can help you type them in the comments below. And you may be giving other kids some great ideas for things they can put in their box too!

 

Discovering those emotions

If you’re anything like me you’ll have a history of hiding your emotions because they often don’t feel very nice. When our emotions feel unpleasant, every instinct we have tells us that we need to get rid of that feeling. So we do everything we can to avoid it. We distract ourselves, self-medicate, or even push the emotion deep down inside. Anything so we don’t have to FEEL it.

load breaks you

Because FEELING it would HURT. And it often hurts like hell!

That said, we are a part of the human race. And humans were designed to emote. To experience those emotions, to feel their intricacies and diversity. Happiness, sadness, grief, shock, trauma, joy, excitement, anxiety, stress. Whatever it is, our mind and body are meant to feel them. Our brains are made to protect us and keep us functioning. When our life’s experiences give us things that shock our system out of whack, our brain will kick in and attempt to rebalance.

Sometimes our experiences can leave us quite confused. The impacts of our day-to-day lives can creep up on us. We go through our days, doing what we need to do, taking care of our families, working, and just generally living. And stuff happens. We push those things aside because we are busy doing other stuff and it’s not until later that the impact of those events will show up. And by then our bodies and mind are likely so overloaded that we can’t pinpoint exactly what it is we are dealing with. We can’t label the emotion, we get confused with it all and it adds to our feelings of overwhelm.

And yet through it all, you WANT to sort through the emotion because you know that it will help you to change the way you deal with the stresses in your life. You have plans and goals to create the life you want to live and the confusion is getting in your way. You get frustrated and it complicates things even further.

Sound familiar??

So what can you do to manage it all?

Have you ever noticed that when you are angry your hands clench, your heart beats faster and your muscles get tighter right through your body? This is a physiological reaction to the emotion. Our bodies will feel these kinds of sensations with every emotion we experience, regardless of which one it is.

Sometimes it can be easier and less confronting to manage these physiological sensations rather than attempting to identify and examine the emotion itself.

Muscle tension. Racing thoughts. Racing heart. Churning stomach. Shaky limbs. Shallow breathing.

body scan pose

Whatever the sensation, one of the best things you can do with it is to slow yourself down.

  • Take 5 – 10 minutes out of your day to sit quietly with yourself.
  • Breathe in deeply until your lungs can’t take in any more air, hold it for a second or two, then slowly let it out until there is no more air left. Repeat for as long as it takes to feel your heart rate slowing a little.
  • Continue breathing normally, noticing the rise and fall of your chest and/or ribs. Maybe place your hand on your ribs or chest to help you focus on your breath.
  • Tune in to your body and pay attention to it. Beginning at either your head or toes, slowly scan each part in order. Look out for any aches, pains or sensations that may be there. Maybe wiggle or move each body part as you reach it, noticing how it feels.
  • When you find something, simply pay attention to it. Don’t try to change or alter it in any way. Notice any shape it may hold. Whether it is moving or still. Note what it is made of. Is it transparent or solid? Is it heavy or light? What colour is it? As you continue to pay attention, notice any changes that may occur to it. Does it get stronger, weaker, smaller, bigger?
  • When you are ready, gently move on to the next body part and repeat the process.
  • If you find yourself being distracted by your mind or losing focus, know that your brain is simply doing its job. Be kind to yourself and gently refocus on the attention to your body and the task at hand.
  • Once you get to the other end of your body (head or toes), pay attention to your entire body at once and tune in to everything at once. For a few seconds allow yourself to sit with it and then refocus on your breathing. Taking your time and breathing at your natural rate, spend a couple more minutes simply focusing on your breath.
  • When you are ready and in your own time, become aware of the room around you. Slowly bring yourself back into the room and open your eyes. Have a stretch if you want one and rejoin your day. How do you feel?
  • You might like to play some relaxing music as you do your body scan to help you stay focused.

breathe

If you find it difficult to avoid being distracted and you have an apple product (iPad/iPhone/iPod) or an android tablet, you may be able to find an app to guide you through the process. The variety in these will likely be equal to the number of apps, so if you get one that you don’t really like, keep trying them until you find one that you resonate with.

This kind of body scan will hopefully help you to become more aware of what is happening inside your body. You may find that it becomes easier (after a while) to give those emotions a label. You may find that the feeling of distress and confusion/overwhelm eases somewhat. And you may find that you feel more settled and grounded as you practice regularly.

Just one word of caution. When you first begin using this technique, it can be a challenge to retain your focus. Your brain is designed to keep you in the state it is used to. It is doing its job. If you have someone (or an app or CD) to guide you through the process it can help until you get used to it. So when you get distracted (cause it will happen), be kind to yourself and gently refocus on the task. If you get frustrated when it doesn’t work, you will likely end up feeling worse and will give up.

Treat yourself with the kindness you deserve.

worth taking care of

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