The Power in the way we Think

Posts tagged ‘breathing’

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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Manage stress simply

manage stress simply

We’re almost at the end of the month so today I wanted to discuss how you manage your stress. If there is one thing I have learned as I make mistake after mistake in managing my own stress, it’s that simple is always better. Follow the KISS principle (keep it super simple), and you won’t ever go too far wrong.

So let’s do this.

  1. In previous posts we have discussed how effective breathing is to down-regulate the stress response. You might remember Linda’s post on the role of breathing. There are many different breathing techniques available if you wanted to google it, or even search for suitable apps (I’ll leave you to find these on your own). But with all of them the basic principle is to use your diaphragm and get some good quality oxygen into your lungs and brain, so you can calm the stress response and re-engage your thinking brain (neocortex).
  2. Take time out to do things you love. If you remember my post on the alpha and beta brainwaves, you’ll know that engaging the alpha state will help to down-regulate the stress response. And while breathing is still the most effective way to do this, engaging in activities that ignite your passion will help you focus and put your brain into the alpha state. As an added bonus, things will feel like they are flowing easily and without much effort.
  3. Prioritise the things in your life that are important to you and leave the rest. When you’re in the middle of doing something stressful, stop and ask yourself whether it’s absolutely essential. Try doing an audit on your daily or weekly activities and consider letting some of them go. When you do this, keep your values firmly in your mind – those ideals and concepts that mean a lot to you. For example, if family relationships are big for you, try allowing yourself to take time to play with the kids or spend time with your partner, and allowing the carpet to remain unvacuumed for an extra day.
  4. Do activities that make you feel relaxed and free. For example, listening to music that you love, dancing around the lounge and so on.
  5. Incorporate some gentle movement. Get out into the fresh air and go for a short walk. Play with the dog (or other pet) and allow yourself to be a kid for a while. Check out our post on stress and movement for a reminder on what intense exercise can do to your stress levels. Sometimes it’s better to ditch the run and wander aimlessly around the local markets instead.
  6. Spend some time in nature. Visit a lookout and watch the view. Sit under a tree and lean back against it. Walk around on the grass with bare feet. Ground yourself.
  7. Laugh! Our post on stress and laughter will tell you how this helps lower stress. So try watching a funny movie or being silly with the kids.
  8. Start small. If you’re used to running around from one thing to the next to the next all day, if you attempt to sit still for 2 hours your brain will strongly object! It will likely stress you more to sit still than it already does just going through your day! Instead, just take 30 seconds to stop, sit, and do some of that belly breathing we all know and love. If you persist in doing those little things regularly, pretty soon you’ll be able to stop for longer periods.
  9. Create a routine that works for you and your lifestyle. Don’t allow anyone else (including me) to tell you what you need to do. Trust your own gut and go with what will work for you. My suggestion to begin managing your stress is to simply incorporate the belly breathing (even 30 seconds each time) morning and night. Try doing it before you get out of bed in the morning, and right before you go to sleep at night. The theory is that doing it first thing will set you up for the day and at night it will get your brain ready for sleep. As I said though, these are suggestions. Always trust your own instincts and incorporate the techniques in a way that will work for your unique body, brain and lifestyle. You are the best expert in your own life.

I hope these suggestions are helpful. If you have any techniques that you have found work for you, we’d love to hear about them below! Someone else may be inspired to try something a little left of centre!

Simple is always best

Stress and emotions

We’ve already talked about the Limbic region in the brain and its function in regulating our emotions. And we’ve also discussed the role of the amygdala in assessing potential threatening situations.

You’ve probably gathered by now how the amygdala plays a key role in our survival. It helps us to recognise when our life is in danger and sets off a chain reaction to get us out of that situation. Our body is flooded with hormones to get us moving (either fighting or fleeing), and also to completely focus our attention on the threat so that we aren’t distracted from it, again in order to increase our chances of survival.

We have also learned that sometimes our amygdala makes the assessment that we are at threat when we really aren’t. If you recall, this is because our brains haven’t evolved enough to keep up with the huge advances in technology we have experienced over the years.

So we are activating the stress response for things like finances, screaming kids, work pressures, time pressures, physical illnesses or injuries, and so on. None of these are likely to threaten your survival.

When you think about the neurobiology behind the stress response, and our slower evolutionary processes, it makes sense that our brain responds in the way it does. But what happens to our emotions on the occasions where our life isn’t actually at risk?

Can you imagine how you’d feel if you had a lot of work deadlines to meet, were dealing with repeated issues with your children and also had some recent, pricy unexpected bills?

I’m guessing the experiences of fear, anxiety, uncertainty, dread and overwhelm would be high, amongst others.

And very likely they would come and go in unpredictable patterns, which could make those emotions worse and more intense.

And this would likely lead to behaviour that you’re probably not always going to be proud of. Irritability, snapping at your loved ones, yelling, uncharacteristic urges to run away and hide, not wanting to face the day, fatigue. And what about the arguments about irrelevant things?

The bottom line is that your emotions go haywire and they become unpredictable.

And this leaves you feeling unsure of yourself and wondering why the hell you can’t just keep it together and get through it like everyone else does. Am I right? I think if I had one dollar for every person who came into my counselling room asking, “why can’t I do this right? I should be able to cope better”, I would be well on the way to being a millionaire! Well, almost.

But as we’ve already discussed (several times), when you know the processes that the brain goes through, hopefully you’ll see that appearances can be deceiving. I don’t know anyone that could cope with all these things and still be “coping well”. On the outside it may look like they have it together, but it’s almost guaranteed that they feel just like you do on the inside.

That said, I need to acknowledge that each of us has a “coping capacity” that is different from anyone else on the planet. Yes, we all have the same processes occurring in the brain. However each of us has had different experiences throughout our lives, which has given us different memory systems and ultimately, different ways of coping.

This is why some of us love scaring ourselves silly with horror movies and others, like me, won’t go near them. It’s why some of us can’t wait to ride the scariest, most windy and daring rollercoasters, or jump out of perfectly good airplanes (why, I ask, would anyone choose to jump out of a fully functioning plane?!?!)

Remember too, that there are plenty of parents who absolutely thrive on having their house choc full of kids running amok. They thrive on the chaos and feed off the energy. And there are others (again, like me), who prefer peace and quiet after they get home.

2012-02-05-ALBERT-EINSTEIN-everybody-is-a-genius

These differences are natural based on our life experiences, family background and so on. So please, do yourselves a favour and stop comparing yourselves with the people around you.

And when you feel those emotions swirling around and bringing you down, try going back to our simple belly breathing technique that Linda talked about in her article on the role of breathing.

I have a challenge for you …

For the next 7 days, I want you to take time out each morning and evening to do 10 deep belly breaths, as described by Linda. Before you get out of bed and right before you go to sleep are perfect times. It only takes about 30 seconds, so no excuses!

At the end of the 7 days, report back here to let us know how you went. Have you noticed a difference in your day and your emotional state?

The relaxation response

In this series you’ve heard a lot about the stress response. We’ve talked about it so much that you’re all probably sick of hearing about it! It’s incredibly important that you understand how it works because this knowledge will assist you in managing your stress in a way that works for you. If you’ve been hiding under a rock these past 19 days and haven’t read anything about it, you can find it in this post and this one. The impacts of stress on our systems are so huge and it’s really important that we are able to combat them. Our health and wellbeing depend on it.

So how do we begin that process?

I’m glad you asked!

The body being the incredible machine it is, created a system that can naturally support us to tackle all this stress. And it’s all part of the autonomic nervous system. Since I’m slightly lazy, I’m just going to call it the nervous system.

A little technical information for you on the nervous system. It’s divided into 2 parts – the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).

The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for getting the body ready for action. So when the amygdala does its job by making the assessment that you’re at risk, the signals that get sent to the brain stem to raise your heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar and so on, engage the SNS to make those things happen.

The parasympathetic nervous system does the opposite. It calms everything down. It returns your heart rate to normal. It lowers your blood pressure and blood sugar. So when you’re in the stress response, the PNS helps to bring you out of it.

As a demonstration of how these systems work together, think about body temperature. When it gets hot or cold outside our body temperature will either rise or lower. This is the role of the SNS. And the PNS will jump in to try to balance things out. It will make us sweat when we get too hot and will give us goosebumps when we’re too cold. You see, our body likes balance. Being out of balance is not our natural state of being. We function optimally when everything is balanced and this is called homeostasis. And we thrive on it.

So, when we’re stressed, the PNS will do everything in its power to reinstate homeostasis. And we can help it along. If we can regularly put ourselves into what is called the relaxation response, we support the PNS to bring our body and mind back into homeostasis.

Essentially, the relaxation response is the opposite of the stress response. When we are stressed, everything is activated, or switched on. We are ready for action. Alert. Aware. Vigilant. And our body is jumping and ready to hit the ground running.

On the other hand, the relaxation response is just that; relaxed. This is kind of like when you are laying in bed on the way to sleep. You’re still aware of the things happening around you, but your mind and body are at rest.

So, how do we switch off the stress response and switch on the relaxation response?

We’re probably talking about this part a lot too, so brace yourself…

Breathing.

Yep. You got it. Breathing.

breathe

Linda talked about belly breathing in her post on stress and the role of breathing. She talked about practising by placing your hands on your chest and belly, and working on making the hand on your belly rise and fall as you breathe, pretending that you’re inflating a balloon. You may like to re-read her article to refresh your memory.

I found another article about activating the relaxation response. It talks about closing your eyes and taking deep breaths for 10 minutes while you focus on a chosen word, such as “peace” or “calm”.

If I were practicing this I would look at combining the two techniques – breathing for 10 minutes while I focused on the deep belly breaths Linda talks about. I’d love for you to give it a try and see how you go. Share your experiences in the comments below!

Remember what I said before about homeostasis? When we are chronically stressed our system gets used to it and the highly stressed state becomes our new “balance” point. So when we then try to counteract that by practicing these breathing techniques, our mind will kick in and try to stop us. It perceives this new state of calm as being out of balance, so it will do whatever it can to prevent you from focusing. You’ll have some pretty random thoughts pop into your head, you’ll find it difficult to concentrate, you’ll feel like you want to get up and run away because you’re so used to being in that “action” state.

So, here is my tip to work with this… persist. Practice. Be kind to yourself. Your brain is simply doing its job by trying to stay balanced. Gently refocus on your objective (the focus word of your choice or your hand rising and falling on your belly). Say to yourself something like, “thanks mind for doing your job, I’ll give you a chance to play soon, but for right now I’m focusing on this breathing”.

And if you do find yourself continually distracted, that’s fine. Go with it. Just start with the breathing for 30 seconds. For some people this is enough to begin with. And then gradually build it up in 30 second increments. Pretty soon you’ll be able to focus for 10 minutes like a pro!

If 10 minutes seems like forever (which it will if you’re just starting out), try using an alarm so you don’t have to think about how long you’ve been practicing. However, a loud ringing at the end of the time will likely put you right back into the stress response! So try a gentle sound such as a soft tinkle or wind chime effect.

Stress & the Role of Breathing

I’m calling on another of my friends and colleagues today to discuss the role of breathing in stress. Linda is a psychologist with 20+ years experience in supporting people who have been living with stress and trauma. I’d encourage you to check out her website below her post as she has some very informative and helpful articles to read!

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“A human being is only breath and shadow” – Sophocles

So breathing is one of those things we take completely for granted, and yet breath really is life, without it we are no more.

In today’s topic we are going to have a look at the importance of breathing in helping you to lower your stress levels or down-regulate your stress system. We will also provide an exercise at the end of the post that you can use to learn how to breathe with your diaphragm – a really important strategy in down-regulating the stress system.

In terms of stress you learned early on in the post titled ‘Down-regulating stress’ just how breathing is affected by the stress response. Remember how whenever your brain perceives a threat in your environment your amygdala (the warning system in your brain) becomes alerted and often very quickly sends a cascade of hormones (chemical messengers) through your body. These hormones, primarily cortisol and adrenalin, then tell your body to breathe shallowly and much faster to increase your intake of oxygen.

Unfortunately today many of us automatically breathe quite shallowly. If you watch a toddler wandering about and playing, you will notice that you can actually see their belly moving as they breathe. Toddlers are very relaxed, they have yet to learn to suck their belly in and begin breathing shallowly. As we age we learn to suck our stomach in, due both to tension and the desire to reduce the waistline, which makes it impossible to breathe from your belly.

Breathing shallowly actually increases the likelihood that you will automatically switch on your stress response. Because you don’t get enough oxygenated air into the bottom of your lungs you may feel as though you are struggling to breath and even feel anxious. Over time, just like any muscle, the diaphragm will become weakened if it is not used properly, potentially trapping you in shallow breathing.

The easiest way to check whether or not you are breathing from your chest or using your diaphragm is to place one hand palm down on your upper chest area and the other on your belly. Breathe normally and see if you can notice which hand is actually moving. The hand that is on your chest should be completely still and the hand on your belly rising and falling as you breathe.

Breathing actually starts with the diaphragm.

stress diaphragm

The diaphragm is a huge muscle sitting in your chest just below your lungs. The only time you probably pay any attention to it is when you get the hiccups, which happens because the diaphragm has become irritated and it then has a little involuntary spasm. When the diaphragm contracts it enlarges the space where the lungs sit, enabling air to enter our lungs. When the diaphragm muscle relaxes the air is forced from the lungs.

Breathing in allows us to take in important, life giving oxygen and breathing out enables us to release poisonous carbon dioxide. You may have heard the affirmation people repeat: “breathing in good, breathing out bad”.

Diaphragm breathing helps to stimulate the vagus nerve, a cranial nerve that has links to the parasympathetic system in the rest of the body. Remember that the sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the stress response and the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for rest, relaxation and repair.

When you stimulate your parasympathetic system through diaphragm breathing, it is essentially like putting on the brake, helping your body to stop the stress response. Whereas when you breathe from the chest you are stimulating the sympathetic system.

Diaphragm breathing also helps you to focus your mind on your body right now, rather than getting caught up and carried away by all of those unhelpful thoughts racing around in your mind.

So how can you strengthen this very important muscle and at the same time switch on the relaxation response within your body?

By learning diaphragm breathing, sometimes called abdominal breathing or belly breathing.

Diaphragm breathing is really easy once you get the hang of it, although it may take you a little practice to master.

To begin with you are best to practice lying down, either on your bed or on the floor.

Have your legs slightly bent at the knees so that your upper body is relaxed.

Place your hands, or even an object like a book or a soft toy, on your belly and concentrate on expanding the diaphragm as you breath in. Imagine as you are breathing in that you are inflating a large balloon in your belly.

Notice on the in-breath how the air moves first into the bottom of your belly, then up through the chest area, then fills you up almost to your shoulders.

As you breath out, imagine a deflating balloon, with the air first leaving from your shoulders, then your chest area, then right down into the bottom of your belly, until no air remains. Stay with that empty feeling for a moment and then notice as your belly automatically begins to rise for the next breathe.

After practicing diaphragm breathing lying down you will find it easier to practice standing, sitting and moving about throughout your day.

Breathing from your diaphragm is not something that you can just do in those moments when you feel stressed, yes it is helpful at that time, however you need to practice this type of breathing so that it becomes more natural.

Practicing every day will also ensure that you are turning on the relaxation response, helping to reduce anxiety and reduce stress.

Try making diaphragm breathing a regular part of your sleep routine. After you’ve climbed into bed take a few moments to practice 10 deep, belly breaths.

stress breathing

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Lindas bioLinda is an AHPRA registered psychologist and relationship counsellor with offices located on the Gold Coast. She has worked in mental health since 1994. Since that time, following a long and often trying journey, particularly given that she had not completed secondary school, she achieved a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, a Diploma of Counselling, a Graduate Diploma of Adult Education and a Post Graduate Diploma of Psychology. Linda now enjoys specializing in helping couples to learn how to value their best asset, enabling people suffering from dementia to move forward in their lives, and supporting people who have experienced work-place injury in their recovery. She also has a passion for assisting people to heal from stress, anxiety and depression.

Linda values openness, authenticity, and acceptance in her work as a psychologist. She is a big believer in the power of the mind and recognizes that in many instances it is the activity within our minds that contributes to our psychological distress. Linda views the brain as an amazingly powerful organ: she is passionate about understanding how the brain functions and what each of us can do to maximize the brain’s potential.

You can find out more about Linda at www.eastqldcounselling.com.au.

More on Anxiety

I would like to bring you all back to anxiety for a brief moment. A colleague of mine wrote this post for me a while ago and I think it might assist those of you who experience anxiety. Mick provides a simple place from which to begin managing your anxiety – mindfulness. Have a read and see what you think. If you feel you may benefit from learning how to observe your anxiety, please make contact with your mental health professional.

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What’s your lived experience of anxiety? What’s your relationship to it? If it were an animal, a colour, a flavor, what form would it take?  Is it something that seems like a normal part of your life?

Anxiety is a condition that increasingly affects people and communities globally. While it can be healthy in small amounts it often reaches levels in contemporary life that can have a debilitating effect on an individual’s psychological, spiritual and physical wellbeing. The effect of collective anxiety on communities can also be profound in the wake of significant events.

mindful or mind full

 There are many diverse strategies for managing anxiety and different things may work for different people. In that moment however of a racing pulse rate, inability to focus, a short fuse or lying awake in the middle of the night how do you go about applying a strategy? For example have you had the experience of successfully activating breathing techniques to reduce your symptoms? Have you been too overwhelmed in the moment to manage the anxiety? Have you ever had that thought “Well these tips all seem good in theory but….’

The simple act of observing what is going on in your body is a good place to start. Learning to become curious about the subtle and obvious characteristics of your own anxiety can open up a space in which you can really make a choice about how you want to experience that anxious moment. From there you can explore different strategies but it begins with curiosity. Not always easy. It can be hard to look that beast in the eye sometimes. But there are ways you can learn to be curious without getting caught up in the maelstrom.

Underneath curiosity lays motivation. Is anxiety something you can live with whatever its degree? Does anxiety provide other benefits that you feel might disappear if you conquer it? Is anxiety affecting your relationships with other people? Some of these questions may appear simple however like a sad song, they can suddenly make complete sense when the time is right.

So as best you can try not to see anxiety as an enemy to be resisted (resistance may sap what little energy you have left!). Before the strategies…observe it, understand it and then make a decision on how you want to live with or manage it.

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Mick Sheedy. Counsellor (Bach.App.Soc.Sci. Counselling) (QCA)

Hi, my name is Mick and I recently moved to Clunes from Brisbane with my wife and our boxer dog. We chose to live in Clunes because we like the sense of community and the natural beauty/serenity. I am a counsellor and my most recent work has been in assisting carers of all ages to manage their mental health.  A carer is someone who cares for another person living with a mental illness, physical or intellectual impairment. I am now available for counselling from a peaceful and private location in Clunes. Tel: 0478 086340 email: micksheedy12@gmail.com

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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