The Power in the way we Think

Posts tagged ‘changing your brain’

Stress, alpha and beta

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With only 4 days left of November, we’re on the downhill sprint of this NaBloPoMo challenge and our focus on stress. It’s been an exciting ride!

I want to finish off the month with a few posts that will help you all to integrate everything we’ve discussed over the month, and our final post will celebrate it all.

So as we bring things to a close I want to talk with you all about brainwaves. If we hooked our brains up to an EEG machine and measured the waves during the various states we experience, we’d probably be quite surprised.

There are 4 or 5 different types of brain waves (depending on who you’re talking with), of which I’d like to concentrate on 2, as these are the ones most associated with stress.

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The first of these is the beta waves. These occur when we are awake, alert and learning. Beta waves are associated with stress, anger, irritability, moodiness, anxiety and depression. When we are in this state our thoughts often feel chaotic and we could generally feel out of control. Next time you feel like you’re running around like a headless chicken, you’re probably in the beta state.

Alpha waves on the other hand, occur when we are relaxed and in a meditative state. We feel peaceful and calm, our habits and fears seem to melt away, and we are in a prime state to learn new things. It is in this state that our creativity is at its best. Have you ever been in a state where everything seems to go right for you and things flow effortlessly? This is when you’re brain reflects the alpha state. This also reflects the relaxation response, which we have discussed previously.

The other two states, theta and delta, most often occur during sleep. Theta is light sleep, like when you’re in that place between wakefulness and proper sleep, while you’re still aware of what’s happening around you. Delta occurs during deep, restorative sleep, which Linda talked about during her series of posts on stress and sleep.

Since the beta and alpha states are the waves we want to focus on here, let’s do that.

As we’ve already established, beta waves occur during times of stress and are associated with anxiety, depression, moodiness and anger. We’ve all been there, right? And I’m sure you can recognise from some of our early posts this month that this is what stress often feels like.

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If the alpha state is one of relaxation, creativity and flow, wouldn’t this be much more preferable to being in the beta state? It would be for me, that’s for sure!

So how do we get ourselves from beta to alpha?

By breathing. Using the deep belly breaths we’ve spoken about before, where we concentrate on using our diaphragm to fill up the lungs and allowing them to empty naturally before we take the next breath.

When we become nice and relaxed by using this method, things become easier to achieve. And when we then engage in activities that fill our hearts with passion, it brings forth our creativity and promotes an environment that supports us living our dreams.

And isn’t that what we all ultimately want on some level?

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Stress and Glorious Food

What is food to you?

Many people would respond with words such as nutrition, fuel, sustenance, energy, life force, nourishment.

Others would say comfort, stress reduction, safety, security, crutch, solace, home.

Which would you choose? I know that for much of my life I have been the second.

The school you feel you belong to says a lot about your beliefs around food and how you use it in your life. I know it does for me

There is one thing for certain in this. Without food to eat, we would not survive. Every system we possess requires the nutrients in food to function effectively. Breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, nervous system, skeletal system, reproductive system, thought and reasoning system, learning system. Etcetera.

And for this reason we have inbuilt systems to attract us to food to make sure we want to eat.

Every time we eat our brain signals the release of dopamine, one of our feel good hormones. This means that every time we eat we feel pleasure, which is another of those inbuilt programs.

We all have a biological need for pleasure (and on the other side of the coin, to avoid pain). This process is quite complex in terms of the brain structures and functions involved, and much of that is irrelevant for our purposes.

The key point we need to make is this: when we have painful life experiences we will always seek to avoid that pain and to gain some pleasure.

And food is often the go-to method we choose because we have the dopamine released every time we eat and therefore we subconsciously know that it’s sure to make us feel good.

dopamine release

If that is not complicated enough, let’s add another layer …

Everything we learn results in our brains laying down pathways of neurons (called neural pathways, funnily enough) to help us to perform. This includes absolutely everything. Walking, talking, making a sandwich, having a shower, driving a car, thinking, coping, dancing. Everything. If we think about driving a car, for example, the first time we do it we feel pretty awkward, wondering where to look, where to put our hands and feet, trying to remember everything we need to do. As we practice over and over, our neural pathways are layed down and the actions become automatic. Pretty soon we are able to drive through a traffic light and once we’re through, we think, “holy crap, was that light red or green?!”

This is the process that is laying down neural pathways.

The way we cope with stress is no different. As children we learn different ways of coping from the example we have from the adults in our lives. If our example is a healthy one, with positive thinking and an ability to bounce back, this is the pattern that we learn. However, if you are anything like my family (which is very common), we are offered cakes and biscuits (and lots of similar yummy foods) to comfort and ease our boo boo’s. Which can lead to us running for the sweets whenever we are stressed. Can you relate to this as much as I can?

A couple of notes to keep in mind. Firstly, these pathways don’t have to begin in childhood. They can be layed down at any age (which means we cannot blame our parents, sorry lol). And secondly, the types of foods we usually choose to indulge in, whilst it isn’t always the case, commonly contain sugar. We are usually drawn to sugary foods as these produce those pleasurable feelings most easily. And our brain becomes addicted to sugar. Go figure, right?

So what does all this mean for our stress?

In many of our previous posts we have discovered that stress doesn’t feel nice! There are so many things that stress does to us that are detrimental to our body, mind and emotions.

So, since we have this hardwired programming to avoid this kind of pain, we will automatically seek to find something pleasurable to counteract and replace it.

And often that is food, particularly given the programming we have to eat for survival.

Can we change all this programming?

No, unfortunately we cannot. It is hardwired.

Does this mean we are stuck with the habit of stuffing our faces each time we’re stressed?

Again, the answer is no. There are things we can do. And these begin with managing the underlying reason for the stress we are experiencing. Now I understand that sometimes we can’t change the circumstances. However we can manage it by going back to our favourite coping strategy – breathing. Remember Linda’s article on the role of breathing? This simple technique does not just down-regulate the stress response. It engages the relaxation response. It allows us to think more rationally (and therefore consider whether we really need/want the chocolate we’ve been craving), and it also allows us to actively take control of the way we feel. I’d say that is a win-win, wouldn’t you?

One more note to finish with. One of the most important things to understand about the brain is its ability to change. In neurobiological terms this is called neuroplasticity. We need to know though, that these changes take time. You can build new pathways by practicing new skills over and over again, whilst allowing the old ones to remain unused. But trying to learn how not to use food to relieve stress does not happen overnight. We need to practice these skills consistently for months for them to become more automatic. As we work on it, it can be helpful to be gentle with ourselves each time we mess up. We deserve compassion, after all.

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.

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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?

Stress and Trauma

Day 11 of our series on stress.

Wow, it feels like we’ve done heaps in such a short amount of time! But there is still so much to cover that it also feels like it will take forever to reach the end of the month! I have faith that we’ll get there though. We’re a resilient lot, really! We’re almost half way through the month and if you’re reading this, I’d like to thank you for sticking with us and hope you’re enjoying the series.

Today is all about trauma. Like we did in the first few days of the series, it’s probably a good idea to define what we’re dealing with here. So, according to the free dictionary, trauma is a noun:

    1. A body wound or shock produced by physical injury, as from an accident.
    2. The condition produced by this.
  1. Psychiatry. Psychological shock or severe distress from experiencing a disastrous event outside the range of usual experience, as rape or military combat.
  2. Any wrenching or distressing experience, esp. one causing a disturbance in normal functioning.

When I read this definition I am reminded of the simple definition that we learned about earlier in the month – stress is a force, pressure or strain.

Though it seems like it is an extreme form.

So, I’m going to connect the dots for you here and state that trauma is an extreme level of stress.

Like we did with our definition posts, let’s explore those things that create trauma. You’ll notice that many of the things on this list were also on the lists for physical, mental and emotional stress.

  • Abuse – physical, sexual, emotional/mental, financial etc
  • Bullying
  • Car accidents
  • Medical crises
  • Muggings
  • Physical fights
  • War
  • Yelling
  • Injury
  • Pregnancy or birth difficulties
  • Illness or medical crisis
  • Rape
  • Animal bites
  • Poisoning
  • Seeing a distressing news article
  • Drug taking
  • Watching a distressing movie (I won’t go near horror movies for this reason!!)
  • Witnessing someone else experience trauma
  • Hearing a story about someone else experiencing trauma

I’ll come back to these final two items as they deserve special mention.

Once again, this list is not exhaustive in its content. There are plenty of other items that need to be added but right now my brain isn’t providing me with what I need. And like stress, trauma is a very individual experience. One person will be impacted by watching a specific movie and another won’t. One person will be impacted by witnessing a car accident and another won’t. There are a lot of factors that come into play.

I feel that the majority of it comes down to the neurobiological stress response that we have already discussed in several posts. We introduced it with Stress and the Triune Brain and continued it with Stress and the Amygdala.

If we’ve identified that trauma is an extreme stress response, doesn’t it make sense that its impacts also come from the stress response?

Except that since trauma is an extreme level of stress, so too are the impacts. In addition to those mentioned previously, people who have been traumatised may also experience items from this list, which has been taken from the Beyond Blue site.

  • Re-living the traumatic event – The person relives the event through unwanted and recurring memories, often in the form of vivid images and nightmares. There may be intense emotional or physical reactions, such as sweating, heart palpitations or panic when reminded of the event.
  • Being overly alert or wound up – The person experiences sleeping difficulties, irritability and lack of concentration, becoming easily startled and constantly on the lookout for signs of danger.
  • Avoiding reminders of the event – The person deliberately avoids activities, places, people, thoughts or feelings associated with the event because they bring back painful memories.
  • Feeling emotionally numb – The person loses interest in day-to-day activities, feels cut off and detached from friends and family, or feels emotionally flat and numb.

trauma response

You’ll notice that some of these items are the same as those we came up with for stress, while others are different. One of the key things to remember about traumatic experiences is that these reactions are an absolutely normal response to a horrid, not normal event (or series of events). And it is possible that these responses can persist for a long period of time and can be diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

This is a serious mental health concern that can be treated, and yet often isn’t due to stigma and a fear of being thought of as weak. If you have been traumatised and recognise these symptoms as things you have experienced, please, please, please seek support from a medical or mental health professional. And if you come across a professional who doesn’t want to know, find another one who is willing to listen. If you know a friend or family member who has been exposed to trauma and who is not receiving any support, please encourage them to read this post.

It’s important that everyone understands that this response comes about from the violation of our in-built, biological need for survival. It’s not something we can control. That sense of safety can be regained – with support from professionals who understand where it comes from and who have the skills to treat it. If you or someone you know needs some guidance on finding professional support, you can email me at mindseteffect@optusnet.com.au

One more note I’d like to make here. Trauma doesn’t have to be experienced to occur. Witnessing it or simply hearing about it can produce the same results. It’s real and it has a name – vicarious trauma. Many emergency personnel and mental health professionals or those in other helping professions (nurses, social workers, doctors etc) experience it, as do family members caring for someone with a disability, illness or mental health condition. There is support available.

I’d like to leave you with one final thought. There is no shame in reaching out for help.

Warning: If reading this post triggers your stress response, please consider seeking support from your team of professionals.

Down-regulating stress

Are you getting tired of me talking about the amygdala yet? That little pea-size thing located in the limbic region (emotion centre) of the brain is responsible for our entire survival. After all, it’s the thing that makes the assessment about whether we need to be on the alert for threat. It tells us when we need to focus our entire attention on getting out of a particular situation, whether by fighting for our lives or fleeing for it. The fight/flight response, otherwise known as the stress response.

Like we’ve talked about in previous posts, the amygdala sends signals to different parts of the brain that releases neurochemicals (a fancy word for hormones) that ready our body for that fight or flight. Adrenalin and cortisol provide extra strength for our muscles, and elevated heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate. When you combine this with the lack of blood flow to the neocortex, or thinking centre, our emotions are truly activated and our ability to reason out the problem at hand becomes impaired.

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As we discovered yesterday, this process is called up-regulation. It occurs every time we perceive something as a threat. I say it’s a perception because these days it’s not often that we get confronted by saber-tooth tigers outside our cave. Instead we’re confronted by all the things we discussed in the first 4 days of our focus month on stress. Everything that impacts on our bodies, mind and emotions.

Some of these are real threats to our survival, such as the trauma of abuse, but others are not. How many people have died when their kids don’t clean up their room after being asked 300 times? I’m guessing not many. But as we’ve already established, our amygdala doesn’t know the difference, so it makes the assessment regardless.

So we know how it becomes up-regulated.

Do we know how we can down-regulate it?

Don’t be overwhelmed by the terms I’m using. Up-regulation. Down-regulation. They sound technical but we can simplify them.

Up-regulation is to activate the stress response. To set it in motion and to put us on alert.

Down-regulation is the opposite. To calm us down. To ease our emotions, support the adrenalin and cortisol leaving out body, to calm our heart rate, blood pressure and breathing. And to re-introduce the blood flow to the thinking centre of the brain so we can reason and problem solve again.

I know the process sounds complex, but as I hinted yesterday, it truly is simple to do. And it comes down to one word.

Breathe.

Yup, that’s it. We need to breathe.

Breathing promotes the flow of oxygen. And this in turn promotes the flow of blood. The more oxygen we take into our lungs the more we will have going through our brain. And that’s where we need it, to down-regulate the entire process.

Think about it. When we feel stressed how do we breathe? Shallowly. We breathe into our chest. And when we feel completely relaxed and chilled out, how does our breathing work then? Deeper. Complete breaths. From the diaphragm. This is the type of breathing that really supports the down-regulation.

I’d like you to try something.

While you’re reading this, I want you to either lay down or sit up straight. Place your hand on the front of your rib cage. Take a breath in and just notice what happens to your tummy. Does it rise up or sink in? observe it for a few seconds without trying to change it.

Now, try to get your tummy to rise up as you breathe in and sink down as you breathe out. Repeat, as you slow your breathing. Spend about 20 seconds simply focusing on this process.

And then check in with your body and mind about how you feel. Let us know what kind of difference you felt in the comments below.

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What does it mean to have self-esteem?

Hi everyone! I’d like to introduce you all to Sharon, who is an interior designer and Life Coach. She has had some pretty intense experiences in her life and her self-esteem has been impacted as a result. She has made big changes in her life and now she does what she loves in a beautiful part of the country she now calls home.

Sometimes the biggest, most traumatic events can affect your life for a long time. And it’s often a series of small, seemingly insignificant events that can help you turn things into a completely different life.

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It’s a tricky question to answer as the answers will be as individual as people themselves.  For me, having self-esteem means that I live to my own set of values and not those imposed upon me by others – by religion, by the government, by my family or friends.  It means that I am confident enough in my own skin to know that my opinions count, that my voice deserves to be heard and that I am worthy of happiness, just as I am.  Yes I could be 10 (okay 20) kilos lighter, I could exercise more and eat more healthily.  I could spend more quality time with my children and husband and less time on Facebook.  I could read more educational books and less young adult fiction.  BUT, would any of those things make me happier?  Maybe, but maybe not and if I did any or all of these things, for whom would I be doing them?  For myself or for the acceptance of others? 

Blog Chicks sharon chisolmFor many years, as the result of a violent upbringing, I felt like a fraud as a child, feelings that continued as I grew into adulthood and even after I had children.   I had spent years growing up trying to hide the truth about who I was – a scared young girl who felt isolated and worthless and a big part of who I was as an adult was still led by that scared young girl.  I sought attention in the wrong places and from the wrong people and it took me roughly twenty years to realise that it didn’t matter how highly anyone else thought of me, I still felt worthless.  

Back in 2010 I won a coaching award from a prestigious organisation – Best Newcomer Coach of the Year – the judges were all renowned Life Coaches in Australia and New Zealand.  However, for a long time I felt as though I had cheated somehow and persuaded the judges that I was far better than I actually was.  I thought that perhaps they had given me the award out of pity or because they had no-one else to give it to.  I didn’t put my award up on my wall because I felt as though I didn’t deserve the recognition.  It didn’t matter how many people told me that I had helped them because I thought they were just being nice. 

A year or so later I had a big “a-ha” moment and realised that most of my feelings of self-worth, or lack of it, stemmed from my childhood.  I realised that I had grown up feeling like a fraud and fearing people finding out the truth about who I was and what my life was like.  In that moment I realised that I had had no power as a child – it was not my fault that my upbringing was the way that it was and that I did not need to feel shame or guilt because of it.  I was able to let go of those feelings and know in my heart that I had done what I needed to, to protect myself.  So I started to be real about who I was, about my feelings, about my depression following the birth of my children.  I started to speak out honestly about what I had been through and it was incredibly liberating.  I discovered that my voice deserves to be heard and that by sharing my experiences, I am able to help others to free themselves of their own limiting beliefs and feelings of worthlessness. 

sharon chisolm robin williams

Understanding why we behave and think the way that we do is, in my opinion, the first step to gaining control of those feelings of self-doubt and self-loathing.  If we are able to understand why that little voice inside us speaks to us the way that it does, then we can manage those thoughts and find our path to self worth and greater self-esteem.  Having high self-esteem does not mean that you are arrogant or narcissistic, it does not mean that you think you are better than everyone else, it simply means that you recognise the value you bring to the world and to the lives of those around you.  It means that you understand you deserve to be treated with respect  and love and that you have abilities and gifts that can impact the world in a positive way. 

I now display my award with pride on my office wall, because I know that I do make a difference to the lives of others – fellow business people, my clients, my friends and family and most importantly, to myself. 

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Sharon Chisholm The Restful Nest Profile Photo (1)Sharon Chisholm is the founder of The Restful Nest, an Interior Design business and The Organisation Coach, a Professional Organising business specialising in working with women business owners.  An award winning Life Coach, Sharon’s passion is assisting women to achieve business success through effective time management and organised living.  Sharon moved to Australia in 2002 from the UK and now lives on the mid-north coast of NSW with her husband and two children.

Sharon’s business and blog can be found at www.therestfulnest.com.au, which focuses on Interior Design and Professional Organising. Her Facebook page can be found at www.facebook.com/therestfulnest.

She has recently begun another page called The Organisation Coach https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Organisation-Coach/372596746224720?ref=hl.  This new page is a focus for women business owners who struggle with organising their homes, businesses and lives, and tackles self-esteem issues around these things.

I’m sure Sharon would love it if you took some time to visit her pages and sent her some love.

Love your body

So often we are bombarded by images and words about ugliness. We are lead to believe that we are inadequate and unworthy because of our appearance. We got (or get) bullied at school for wearing glasses or for having a few extra folds of skin and fat, or for having a birthmark on our face or for stuttering or for having stretch marks or … for a whole range of other things. We get bombarded by messages that say we MUST buy certain things in order to change who we are to be acceptable. Skin-care and makeup and surgery and clothing and accessories and whatever else you can think of.

We learn to hide ourselves from others and to fear being who we truly are. We become afraid of being judged and work hard to prevent it by buying into the messages we hear. We buy all the things we can to cover and mask ourselves. We cover up the small scar above our eye that told the story of when we fell off our bike at the age of 9. We get liposuction to rid ourselves of the fat that remains on thighs that have carried us through the hardest moments in our lives. We get our tummies tucked. Tummies that have carried precious children inside and allowed them to grow and to be nourished. Or tummies that tell the stories of how we have overcome years of abuse to be the healthiest we have ever been in our lives. We buy gym memberships to punish our bodies for being 5 kg larger than the person next to us. We buy gym memberships and hire personal trainers to smash us into the ground to rid our bodies of those extra 5kg. 5kg that protected us from the bullies or 5 kg that protected our babies or 5kg that enjoyed a little extra cake as we celebrated a major milestone in the lives of the people we love the most. Or 5kg that marks the journey of us mourning the loss of the person most important to us.

We do these things over and over and over again for years and expect to feel better about ourselves and the person we are becoming. We disconnect ourselves from the world. We disconnect ourselves from ourselves. Our mind becomes separated from our bodies and they operate independently. While we are busy cleaning or walking or whatever, our mind is busy thinking about how ugly we are or how inadequate we are or how we need the next best thing to repair the hole that was created 20 or more years ago.

The hole that nothing can repair. It seems that no matter what we try to do, no matter what we buy, no matter which gimmick we get sucked into, it doesn’t work.

You’re right. It won’t work. Because you don’t need a gimmick.

You cannot repair a hole, a disconnection between mind and body, with the next quick fix. You’re looking for a solution full of hate. A solution that is, in itself, flawed.

The idea of a quick fix (marketed to keep you buying products and designed to keep you feeling inadequate) repairing an emotional injury is ludicrous.

An injury of hate and inadequacy and unworthiness requires a solution of love, worth, and meaning. You need to feed the injury the emotions that it is missing.

There are no quick fixes that will ever work.

The only way to repair a disconnection is to reconnect. To get your mind and body talking to each other. To get them doing the same thing at the same time. Here are some key things I have learned about reconnection in my life.

  • Acknowledge the story. Each “inadequacy” on your body tells a story about who you are. Those 5kg (or 10 or even 70kg) served a purposestory to tell at one point in your life. They may have protected your heart from the impact of abuse or they may have nourished and helped your children grow. Or maybe they supported you through years of grief. Your scars tell a story. Whether physical or emotional, the stories behind those scars have made you the person you are today. They got you through. They strengthened you. They supported you. To deny them is to minimize your spirit. To deny them is to say they mean nothing. And that is the furthest thing from the truth, when without them, you wouldn’t be who you are. So acknowledge the scars, whatever they look like. Send them love and gratitude for helping you get to today.
  • Years of disconnect, abuse and hating yourself cannot be undone overnight. It takes patience and practice to reprogram your mind with messages of love, self-respect and support. So be patient with you. You deserve it.
  • Surround yourself with a support team of people who believe in and practice unconditional acceptance. You deserve it. Include a team of professionals you can trust, to help you heal from the hurts. It’s worth it.
  • Wean yourself (at your pace) from the quick fixes.
  • Let go of any guilt you may have about needing the quick fixes. Even they serve their purpose. Sometimes they start you on your path back to connection and self-love. Mine have, and I am grateful that I had those tools at the time I needed them. It’s ok to need them; it’s ok to use them. When you no longer need them you’ll begin looking for new tools that will serve you moving forward.
  • Send love to your body. Spend time regularly exploring it. Get to know it. The bumps, the bruises, the cellulite, the scars, the stretch marks, the bony bits. Run your fingers over your skin, observing the imperfections. Try to remain mindful of the experience. Remember the stories behind each imperfection. Forgive yourself. Love yourself. Pamper yourself. You deserve it.
  • Use physical exercise to help you reconnect. When you’re walking, observe and feel the way your legs move. Feel the aches of being on your feet. Feel your arms swinging by your side. Observe the things around you. Notice the ground under your feet. Notice the path. Notice the flowers or the grass or the water or whatever it is you see. Observe your body as it navigates the terrain.
  • Learn to listen to your body and what it needs. Learn the difference between the signals that say “I need to rest” and “I know you want to stop but that is your mind giving you false signals. Your body can do more and you’ll feel a huge sense of accomplishment if you can learn that you can do more than your mind thinks it can”.

One thing is certain in all this. You, and your body, are worthy. Worthy without conditions. You deserve unconditional love and acceptance, simply because you were born.

This video by Mary Lambert sums up this core message nicely.

Self Comparisons

I’ve had this song on my iphone for a while but rarely listen to it as I am generally too busy. Today I was playing some music and it came on. I’ve always loved it so I searched for it on youtube and when I watched the lyrics cross the screen they got me thinking …

For a long time I’ve been one to compare myself to other people. Their appearance, their accomplishments, their size, their friends. Their everything really.

I’d make judgements and usually it would be me that came up short. I’d always be lacking in some way. Worse. Not good enough. And I’d consequently feel bad about myself and who I was.

The thing is, I knew that everyone was different. People told me again and again. We all looked different. We all had different personalities. We all had different likes and dislikes, we all thought differently.

But I still made comparisons between them and myself. Continuously. With everything, especially the things I found difficult. Academic work, sports, cooking, cleaning, and so on.

In more recent years as my self-esteem has improved those comparisons happen less often. I don’t feel the need to compare myself with others because I feel much more content and in control of who I am. I know I am worthy and I don’t need to compete with others in my head to prove it.

With the education I now have in psychology I understand that we are all programed with a neurological need for self-esteem. It’s a survival mechanism that goes back to the origin of human life. By nature we are a social species and we depended on others for protection against things like attacks from animals and other tribes who wanted our resources. We needed our tribe to survive and if we didn’t have skills in specific areas we were at risk of being banished, which opened us up to a higher likelihood of death. So, this neurological program compared ourselves to other tribe members to enable us to continually adjust our behaviour and improve our skills so that we were acceptable to the tribe.

These days in reality we generally no longer need to justify ourselves and our existence. In our modern society we aren’t threatened by packs of animals in the same way we were so long ago, so we don’t need to rely on our tribe for our physical existence. But our brains haven’t yet caught up and the neurological programs are still there. So we continue the pattern of comparing our worth to that of others.

And this can bring on some seriously destructive patterns of thinking and behaviour that keep our self-esteem low and us wondering why we aren’t “as good as” other people. The more we compare ourselves, the more likely it is that we feel badly about the person we are.

self comparisons

Understand this …

  • Our tendency to compare comes from neurological programming that has been inside the human brain for many many years, which means that we do it naturally and usually without any conscious thought.
  • Every person has a unique journey. We all have a unique mind, body and spirit. We all have unique neurological programming that is wired in a unique way. At each moment in time we are each in a different place. We think differently, we have had different experiences. We have different beliefs. Our brains are wired differently. So when you compare yourself to someone else, you are comparing a vacuum cleaner to potatoes. Each is a different beast. You use them for different purposes. You may prefer one over the other, or you may love (or hate) them both. But comparing them to each other is pointless and serves no purpose other than to mess with your head.
  • The best thing you can do to support the development of your self-esteem is to compare yourself with yourself. Examine where you are in your own life and journey, and if you aren’t satisfied with what you see, consider making some changes. Seek new information and support. Do things differently. Learn new ways to change the way your brain is wired.

hero own story

It IS possible. I know, because I’ve done it. And my future has completely opened up as a result.

Suppressing your feelings

Emotions are tough. At least they can be. Unless of course you were raised in a family where you were encouraged to express your emotions in a healthy way and you were taught skills to manage them. And even then there are challenges. But at least you’ll know that your emotions are a normal part of the human experience. And you’ll know that it’s ok to feel them. So then that means you’ll allow them to be there. You’ll allow them to flow over you and through you. And you won’t feel the need to hide from them. You won’t feel the need to eat them away or drink them down or bury them with work or avoid them with exercise or get rid of them with any other method.

My method of choice has always been to eat them. I numbed them. Over and over. I protected myself. I protected my heart, my mind and my spirit. And have done since I was little.

And here’s the deal with that. At some point, that method of protection no longer works. It’s like you have small torches along the road that is your life, and through your experiences they each alight in turn, and illuminate the pathway that leads you to who you really are. And when that happens, your method of choice becomes something that holds you back and prevents you from living the life you are meant for.

litpathway

The process of navigating that pathway is full of obstacles and challenges designed to test you. I think I’ve sat enough ‘exams’ in the last little while to take me up and over Mount Everest! Each of them is certainly challenging. And when I am done and they are ‘graded’, they each set off a domino effect of lighting a series of torches that has me galloping down that pathway instead of simply walking.

As you reach each exam it feels like the little brother to Mount Everest. It feels like the biggest thing you’ll ever do. Until you get to the next one! But there are some things you can do to help illuminate the path and ease the way.

  1. Surround yourself with a trusted support team. Sometimes we feel lost, confused and full of turmoil. Speaking with coaches who are knowledgeable about the area you need can help to clarify the noise in your head.
  2. Take some time out to care for yourself. Feeling stretched and stressed is not fun! It can feel overwhelming and like you’re going to explode. Find some activities that you love and that will help to release the pressure valve. From running to meditation to gardening to boxing to cooking. The list of options is only limited by your imagination. If you’re unsure what will suit, try out some different things to see which work best.
  3. Writing is one of my biggest allies. It allows me to sort out the mess in my head and get clarity on which way to travel. But it doesn’t work for everyone, so you might like to tweak it a little. Try colouring in, using random words or symbols, creating collage, drawing or even poetry.
  4. Take time away from the issue. Completely distract yourself and do something different for a while.
  5. We can only ever possess knowledge that correlates to the extent of our prior experiences. And those can never cover the breadth of information out there on a particular topic. New, quality information from reputable sources can clarify and help light your path.
  6. Understand that these emotions are normal and they are ok. They are a signal that something isn’t sitting right. Something is out of sync. Give yourself the time you need to take a step back and look at it from a different perspective.

Even though sometimes it seems like you’re in complete darkness, understand that there is always a spark of light to see by that will direct you to your next step. Taking that one tiny step will ultimately lead you to the light.

 

Self-Esteem

bowl of self esteem

Self-Esteem is a “respect for or a favourable opinion of oneself” according to dictionary.com.

The second part of this is probably the easier to explore, so let’s look at it first. A “favourable opinion of oneself”. To think and believe highly of yourself. To know that you are worthy. To understand that you have skills and talents that the world would miss if you weren’t in it. To understand that you deserve love. To love yourself, and every part of you. Even the parts not usually “acceptable” in society – the flabby bits on your body, the tendency to say things without thinking first, or even the habit of procrastinating on doing the things most important to you. Whatever it is you hate about yourself.

Let’s have a look at the first part. A “respect for oneself”. Do you respect yourself? Enough to stand up for your rights? Enough to walk away from people who mistreat you or take you for granted? Enough to create and enforce boundaries? Enough to take the actions necessary to protect your time, energy, space, body, emotions and spirit? Do you respect yourself enough to find and follow your passion? To share your special gifts with the world? Enough to allow your unique and wonderful spirit to soar?

I believe all of these to be the most important things we can do for ourselves. I have personally discovered that without them, one lives a half-life. We simply exist, instead of live. We experience dissatisfaction, negativity and often self-hatred.

Self-esteem is multi-faceted. It is complex. It’s dynamic and changing. It will fluctuate as things happen in your life. Your sense of self as a child was certainly different to when you were 20. And that was certainly different to what it is right in this moment, here and now.

Are you happy with the way you feel about yourself right now? Do you believe in yourself and your abilities? Is there anything about yourself that you would like to change? Is there anything you’re unhappy with? Your size? Your appearance? Maybe your finances or the way you speak to your family? Your education or employment?

Whatever it may be, the chances are that the answer is not in fixing the things you’re unhappy with.

If you learned to love and accept yourself unconditionally, you’d look at the world differently. You wouldn’t need to shed weight to be lovable. You wouldn’t need to change your body to be beautiful. You wouldn’t need to get a better job or earn more money to be worthy. And you wouldn’t need to stop speaking without thinking. Instead, it would simply be one of the little quirks to love about yourself.

Self-love and unconditional acceptance would allow you to feel free. To feel centred and whole and complete. You would naturally allow your spirit to soar, you would eagerly follow your passions and show the world your unique skills and talents. You would generate and send out love to those around you. And you’d tackle challenges with faith and surety that everything will turn out exactly the way it is meant to.

This month’s focus will explore all of these issues. We’ll talk about boundaries, accomplishments, spirit, skills, unique talents, purpose, beauty and more. If you would like to read about something specific, please comment below, on our Facebook or Twitter feeds, or flick us an email at mindseteffect@optusnet.com.au, and we’ll endeavor to meet your needs.

 

 

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