The Power in the way we Think

Posts tagged ‘emotions’

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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Stress and the amygdala

Did you read yesterday’s post on the stress response? I know it was lengthy and a little technical, but if you haven’t read it, I’d encourage you to go back and do it, because today’s post will make much more sense if you have.

So yesterday we learned about how the brain processes stress. We looked at the 3 parts of the Triune Brain, as shown in my very artistic diagram.

triune brain 3

And we discovered that little thing in the limbic region called the amygdala.

If you’d like to read more about the neuroscience of the amygdala try this site. It’s pretty technical but it shows how the different parts of the brain feed into the amygdala and how the amygdala feeds into other parts, which then impact on our emotions.

Remember, the amygdala has just one job of making the assessment about whether a situation is life threatening.

As I explained yesterday, when the answer is yes, the stress response is activated. And the amygdala is what we call “up-regulated”. Signals are sent to the brain stem to increase heart rate, breathing, blood pressure. They’re also sent to the neocortex to shut down the non-essential ability to think, reason and problem solve (see diagram above).

And by doing this we are able to respond effectively to the risk to our survival.

But what if we aren’t really at risk? Remember me saying yesterday that the amygdala can’t tell the difference between a saber-tooth tiger and finances? There really isn’t any bill on the planet, no matter how large, that threatens our existence. Promise.

So we’ve got this up-regulation going on, where our bodies are flooded with adrenalin and cortisol. We feel out of control, like nothing is going to go right. We have emotions galore running over us and through us. And all we can think about is the thing that activated the response in the first place. In this case, the bills.

Which is the other thing I neglected to mention yesterday. Part of the stress response is the complete focus on the thing that places us under threat. Do you think it would help us survive if we took our eyes off the tiger and forgot it was sitting on the rock? No way! It would immediately take its opportunity to pounce and attack. Kind of self-explanatory, right?

When it comes to the bills the reaction is the same. Our focus is complete. We worry, we mull it over, wonder what we are going to do. And because our neocortex isn’t working due to the lack of blood flow, we aren’t thinking clearly about it. We can’t problem solve it.

So we have a body full of adrenalin and cortisol, we feel antsy and restless, out of control, we have a racing heart and lots of muscle tension, and all we can think about is the bills (or whatever activated the response).

We need to find a way to reverse the process. To re-engage the neocortex so we can think and figure a way out of the situation. To calm our emotions, our heart rate. To ease the muscle tension and release the adrenalin and cortisol.

For such a complex system it feels like the solution needs to be just as complex, right? After all, this up-regulation feels completely horrid, so it must be complicated. Right?

Wrong.

The solution is so simple it seems like it won’t have any chance of working. Surprisingly though, it does.

I find that the simplest solutions work the best.

Breathing.

That’s it. Just breathe.

The stress response and the Triune Brain

Yesterday we brought all of our definitions together and discussed the impacts that stress can have on you. While the effects can be severe, the good news is that we can minimise them by implementing some lifestyle factors. We’ll cover those things later in the month.

Today I’d like to discuss the stress response. This takes us back to the in-built survival mechanism we all have in our brains. We are biologically programmed to do everything we can to remain alive for as long as possible. Some guy named Paul McLean introduced us to something called the Triune Brain, which breaks down its complexity, dividing it into 3 parts that make it a lot easier to understand our survival instincts. If you’d like to read more about the Triune Brain you can just google the term, but here is a site to start you off.

So this post is likely to be a little lengthy and technical, so read it at your own pace. Feel free to put it aside and come back to it later. I’ll include diagrams and subheadings to break it into manageable parts. If there is anything you don’t understand, please ask. It’s important that you are able to process and understand this information, because it will help you to implement strategies that work for you.

The Triune Brain

Ok. So as I said, the Triune brain is divided into 3 parts and together they explain our evolutionary processes.

Brain Stem

This part of the brain is the only part that is fully developed at birth. It’s located at the bottom of the brain and runs down into the top of the spine. It’s responsible for our basic human survival. Breathing, heart rate, blood pressure and so on. It also has part responsibility for the stress response, otherwise known as the fight/flight response (which I’ll explain soon).

To paint a picture for you, if you hold your arm up in front of you, your forearm between your wrist and elbow would be the brain stem.

Limbic Region

This is generally fully developed between the ages of 3-5. It sits on top of the brain stem and is responsible for our emotions and plays a big part in our stress response (fight/flight). It also plays a part in anxiety, depression and trauma.

Within the limbic region are 2 key parts that you need to be aware of. The first is a pea-size thing (very technical term) called the amygdala. Its sole job is to make an assessment, which I’ll explain further soon. The other part is the hippocampus, which forms part of our memory systems. I’ll explain this soon too.

As an aside, when a child is abused at a young age, their amygdala becomes enlarged and is activated much more easily.

If you’re still holding your arm up, make a fist. Your fist is the limbic region of the brain.

Neocortex

The neocortex is the last part of the brain to develop. While it starts to grown when you’re young, it really kicks in when you hit your teenage years and doesn’t fully develop until around age 25 (which is why teenagers are so impulsive and don’t think things through. Their limbic regions are fully developed, enabling them to act on their emotions, but their thinking brain doesn’t yet have the capacity to keep up and balance it with the ability to reason things out).

The neocortex is commonly called the thinking brain. It’s responsible for exactly that. Thinking. Which includes reasoning and problem solving.

Going back to your arm, keep your fist clenched, and wrap your other hand over your fist. This hand is the neocortex.

Take a look at this first picture. Hope you like my super artistic ability! It shows the Triune Brain as I’ve described. Hope it makes sense with the colour coding.

triune brain 3

Let’s go back to caveman times for a second

I want you to take on the role of caveman for a moment. You’re coming out of your cave to do the hunter-gatherer thing. You’re too far out to get back inside quickly, and you suddenly notice a saber-toothed tiger sitting on a rock to your right. And this tiger is look at you like you are its next meal.

saber toothed tiger

What do you do?

Here is where the amygdala comes into play.

You see the tiger, you hear it, and you may feel vibrations under your feet, smell it and so on. Your brain takes in this information and sends it to the amygdala.

Your amygdala’s sole job is to answer 1 question – is this tiger a threat to my survival?

If the answer is yes, your stress response, or fight/fight response, is immediately activated:

  1. The amygdala sends a signal to the brain stem to say, ok, I need all of my resources available to get me out of this situation alive. Your brain releases adrenalin and cortisol (the 2 main stress hormones) to prepare you for either fight or flight. It increases your heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure to ready your body to respond.
  2. At the same time signals are sent to the neocortex (thinking centre) that says “I don’t need you right now, time to shut down”. Think about it. Will the tiger sit around waiting for you to think about things and decide which way to go in case it moves to the left 4 inches or closer to you? Let me tell you, it won’t wait. You need to be able to react immediately. If you take time to problem solve your life could very well be terminated! So, the blood flow to your thinking center gets shut down so you can immediately react.
  3. Additionally, you need to be aware that once the crisis has passed, if it happens again you need to be ready to act very quickly. So the memory device I mentioned earlier, called the hippocampus, lays down memories so that next time you see a tiger, the information is processed much quicker. The amygdala does its thing and the stress response is activated.

triune brain 4

We can come back to modern times now

So now we’ve explained the stress response, we need to understand that with the really quick advances we’ve had since our caveman times, we’re no longer confronted by saber-tooth tigers. Generally, our lives are rarely threatened. Evolution hasn’t kept up with those developments and unfortunately, the amygdala can’t tell the difference between tigers and finances.

Or any number of other things we have to deal with in our modern society. Families, kids, work responsibilities, traffic and so on.

And because our lives are so fast these days, it’s likely that our stress response is activated over and over again in very quick succession.

But here’s the thing. The stress response is there for a specific purpose. To keep us alive in a crisis. And after the crisis has passed it is supposed to ease. Blood flow is returned to those non-essential systems like our thinking brain. The stress hormones dissipate and leave the body (which is when you feel shaky and fall to bits). And at this point we are supposed to rest and recover and recoup our energy.

I hope all that makes sense. It’s a complex process and can be difficult to understand. We’ll leave things there for now and pick it up again tomorrow, when we’ll talk more about that pea size thing called the amygdala.

Emotional Stress

emotional stress

Welcome to our third (and final) post in defining stress and really getting in and examining where our stress comes from.

Over the last two days we’ve discussed physical and mental stress and the types of things that influence them. On both days we’ve noticed a number of items on the lists that were a bit unexpected. I believe that today will be no different. There are many things that impact on our emotional stress. Emotions are fickle. They come and go with no rhyme or reason. Or at least we think there’s no rhyme or reason. The fact is, if we understand the mechanics of how our emotions work, we can often recognise the reason and therefore acknowledge where they originate. This of course makes them much easier to manage. So, keep an eye on our blog over the coming week for posts (that may be slightly technical) that will hopefully provide some insight for you.

So, let’s get down to our list. The formula we used yesterday and the day before seemed to work quite well, so following the same routine, we can deduce that emotional stress may be defined as anything that places pressure, strain or force on our emotions.

  • Illness/injury (ever been cranky after stubbing your toe or walking on Lego?)
  • Shock/accident
  • Life challenges (marriage, death, buying a house etc)
  • Work
  • Parenting
  • Beliefs
  • Values
  • Attitudes
  • Seeing other people emotional
  • Disagreements/fights with others
  • Injustice
  • Animals
  • Relationships (partners, ex’s, kids, friends, colleagues etc)
  • Finances
  • Trying to fit in
  • Keeping up with societies expectations
  • Time – too much or not enough
  • Success, procrastination
  • Pleasing others
  • Not having anything meaningful to do
  • Others’ perceptions/opinions
  • Not speaking your opinion/bottling up your emotions
  • Threats to your life (either real or perceived)
  • Abuse (physical, sexual, emotional)
  • Criticisms/put downs
  • Bullying
  • Inability to do something (problem solving)
  • Emotions (one emotion can trigger another or escalate what you’re already feeling)
  • Confusion
  • Responsibility (too much or not enough)
  • Thinking, ruminating or dwelling on problems

There are so many more things that need to be on this list and as I type my brain isn’t providing them. So I’m putting the call out for additions. Comment below and I’ll add them to the list.

The thing with emotions is that it is very easy for them to become overwhelming. Events trigger the emotion, you start thinking and ruminating on the event, which triggers more emotion. It becomes an uncontrollable cycle very quickly, leaving you feeling confused, overwhelmed and out of control. Not a pleasant place to be.

Think about this though. Our brains are pre-programmed to feel emotion. It’s a built-in survival system. Fear tells us when our environment is unsafe and we need to remove ourselves. Shock tells us that something has happened that our brain cannot process, so it helps to shut down the system for a while. And overwhelm tells us that our brains are a bit full and it needs a break to recover and process the things inside.

And given the fact that our current lifestyles continuously place more expectations on us, our brains and bodies really need something that helps us to manage everything.

The bottom line is this. Emotions are normal. Everyone feels them. They serve a purpose. And denying their existence just creates extra pressure that our systems need to manage, placing even more stress on us.

Focusing on Stress

I’m excited! Today is November 1st.

The first day of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). While I’m not up for writing an insane 50 thousand word novel in one month, I thought I’d give NaBloPoMo a go, the National Blog Posting Month, which runs alongside. The challenge is to write a blog post each day for the entire month. The rules state that they cannot be written and scheduled in advance, so this will be a real challenge for me given my weekly schedule!

So, as of today, our focus will change as I embark on this endeavor.

stress

Stress

We all experience it, but few of us really understand what it means and how it impacts on us, our lives and our families.

Have you ever wondered how stress affects your mind, body and spirit? How our emotions become a rollercoaster and we often feel like the smallest things will tip us over the edge. And then there’s the urge we feel to hide away from the world, and the desire to yell at everyone who gets within reach. Or maybe you’re more like me and you end up zoning out in front of the television or computer for hours at a time.

I’ll cover the neurobiological aspects (what happens inside your brain), the neurochemical aspects (hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol), the symptoms, and heaps of strategies to tackle it. And I’ll also include some personal stories from real life people with real life issues. We’ll tackle short term stress and long term stress. We’ll tackle stress and mental health, including its connection to illnesses such as depression, anxiety and PTSD.

Are you interested?

Great! Then stay tuned, as I’ll be talking about it all. If you have any burning questions or anything you’ve wondered about for a while, please comment below or send me a message on Facebook, Twitter or by email.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Ali

Influencing Boundaries

I’d like to introduce you to Ellen, a Psychologist from Victoria. She is a blogger, author and mum and loves to inspire others. Here she shares her take on boundaries and how they impact on us and our sense of SELF. I really hope you come and join us again later in the week, as Ellen will be back to help us learn how to establish healthy boundaries and increase our self-esteem. I’d love for you to go visit her website after you listen to what she has to say.

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Recently a friend of mine, apologising for being a bit out of sorts, explained that she was upset about her 20-something daughter.  She and her daughter had always been close but recently there had been trouble; arguments and disagreements, tension.  According to my friend, the boyfriend was the problem.  Well … not the boyfriend exactly.  She had quite liked him and had certainly made him welcome as the two of them stayed with her during the weekends while working away from home during the week.  It was not him exactly.  Rather it was his influence on her daughter.

Apparently he had a lot to say about who she should be friends with and how much time she should spend with her friends and her family.  Apparently little things that upset him became big things to her and if friends and family were part of his issue then she went in to bat for him, causing tension in her own relationships.

Her mother, my friend, was quite distressed.  She sensed a wedge being driven between her and her daughter and she was quite sure that it was not of her daughter’s doing.  She could see the influence that this man was having.  She didn’t like it but she was at a loss as to what to do as any mention of it to her daughter was met solely with defensiveness.

At the time I expressed empathy for my friend, tried to console her and we brainstormed a few ideas and options.  I related my own experience of being in my 20s with a much-loved partner whom, on reflection, I also went in to bat for perhaps more often than was warranted. I tried to solve his problems and appease his worries when really that was his job.

I was pondering this later when I realised that this was perhaps an issue of blurred personal boundaries.  Personal boundaries, in psychology-speak, are the limits – physical, mental and emotional – that we establish around ourselves to differentiate ourselves from others.  They allow us to separate who we are and what we think and feel from the thoughts and feelings of the people around us.

Givers have to set limites ellen jackson

Personal boundaries are critical to healthy relationships but it can be very easy to let them blur, particularly when we’re young, inexperienced, or perhaps haven’t had clear boundaries and healthy relationships modelled to us in the past.

Signs of unhealthy boundaries include:

  • Feeling guilty for saying no
  • Doing things for others that we really don’t want to do
  • Allowing unwanted physical contact
  • Not speaking up when others treat us badly
  • Giving endlessly to others in order to please them
  • Taking endlessly from others because we can
  • Rescuing others or allowing ourselves to be rescued instead of solving our own problems and encouraging others to solve theirs.

Personal boundaries are critical to our self-esteem.  If we forget that we are each unique individuals with our own feelings, need, interests and values – or we were never clear about these things to begin with – it is so easy to take on board the needs, feelings and desires of our partners, children, friends and even the boss.  It is so easy to forget your importance as a special, unique person and to start to feel and behave as though everyone else is more important.  Do that for too long and your self-esteem – your confidence and belief in yourself – can easily disappear.

My friend’s daughter is still young and she has a strong mum.  With time I think – I hope – she will come to realise that she needs to look after her needs and her relationships and let her boyfriend fight his own battles.  If not, her mum and I agreed that a session or two with a good counsellor or psychologist will be the next course of action.

Stay tuned for my next post to learn how we establish healthy personal boundaries …

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ellen jackson

Ellen is a Psychologist, author, mum.  Melbourne-born, she spent most of her 20’s and 30’s in Sydney and now lives in beautiful Ballarat, in the Victorian Goldfields. Ellen writes stuff to inspire and sometimes to challenge.  She knows a lot of stuff about how people work at work, how people are different and unique and how people make the most out of life.  Ellen writes at www.potential.com.au or if you’d like ask a question or share a story she’d love to hear from you! You can email her at psych@potential.com.au.

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.

 

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!

 

Five Minute Morning Practices

During our focus on self-care, we have established how important it is to take regular time to re-centre and rebalance ourselves. The human body is designed to put out energy and to then go through a rejuvenation process to enable the system to reclaim and regain that energy. In the previous post I have shared with you a few simple meditations that could help you in taking some downtime.

In this post I’d like to share another resource I have in my office. This is a small book titled “Five Good Minutes: 100 morning practices to help you stay calm & focused all day long”, by Jeffrey Brantley, MD, and Wendy Millstine. I took a photo of the cover for you.

5goodminutes cover

When you open the book you’ll find it divided into two parts. The first is “the foundation”, which gives some background on the book, how to use it and what to expect. The second is “the practices”. This is further divided into categories according to what you might like to choose to focus on in your 5 minutes. In each category you’ll find a collection of activities/practices. Each is a double page and explains the practice and how to do it. There are 100 to try, so there should be something that works for everyone!

I have provided 2 examples for you to try. I’d love it if you gave them a go to see how they work for you.

 

Number 28

Take a musical break

 

Take five minutes in the morning and listen to a violin concerto or a piano piece by Chopin. If you prefer jazz, a piece from Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue or John Coltrane’s My Favourite Things may be a nice alternative. Make sure that the music isn’t pumping hard rock, but something more meditative. If you want something more energetic, consider Dvorak’s Symphony no. 9, From the New World.

Once you have selected the appropriate song, let the music transport your mind to another place and time. Drift off to the last camping trip or vacation you took. Remember a time when you went to see a live orchestra play for the first time.

Music has a soothing effect on the nerves. Music has the power to stir up warm memories, to make you smile inside and to calm your inner spirit.

 

Number 14

Push all the right buttons

 

Stress is a part of life. Wouldn’t you love to have a button you could push to turn off stress and an equally useful button to turn on relaxation? Well, you can, by simply acknowledging the triggers that set you off and imagining the button that calms you down. You can retrain yourself to push the right buttons that allow you to relax and feel at ease.

  1. Recall a stressful time in your week. Notice your feelings and thoughts and how your body reacted.
  2. Now imagine a knob – much like the one on your stereo – that turns down the volume of stressful thoughts. When you feel yourself reacting to troubling thoughts, turn the volume down.
  3. To the right of the stress knob is a button for instant calmness where peaceful and reassuring thoughts can be heard. Press the button.

Create a mantra or key phrase that you can say to yourself, such as, “I have everything that I need to deal with this situation.” By learning how to adjust the volume on stress you instantly deescalate the strain and anxiety that may arise in your day. When you employ your visual relaxation button, you remind yourself that no situation is insurmountable.

What I’ve Learned about Self-Care

This article is a guest post from someone who really understands what it’s like to need to practice self-care. This lady lives every day with the knowledge that if she pushes her body too far it could break down and stop her living her purpose. I am proud to introduce you to my friend Madeleine; a free, creative and intuitive spirit.

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Her bio reads:

Madeleine bio

Madeleine is a writer who also enjoys a number of other creative pursuits, including songwriting, singing, fashion design and modelling. She is also passionate about personal and spiritual growth and alternative healing.

 Madeleine lives with the constant knowledge of what it’s like to struggle through each day – for many years she’s had CFS/FM combined with autonomic dysfunction. Although she directly understands the challenge of balancing a meaningful lifestyle with chronic symptoms, she regards herself as a warrior – not a sufferer. And she strongly encourages others to hold the same perspective, for it is the struggles of life that lead to the development of inner strength and empowerment.

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WHAT I’VE LEARNT ABOUT SELF CARE:

It’s powerful. It’s healing. It’s multifaceted. It’s a process that is ultimately life-changing.

Do these sound like overstatements? Perhaps they do, depending on where you currently sit on the self-esteem continuum.

To me, that opening paragraph certainly would have sounded unbelievable – even laughable – had I read it when I was a lot younger and didn’t understand the power of self-care and its broad implications.bowl of self esteem

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t suffer from some degree of damage to their self-esteem. Some of us are sharply aware of our corroded sense of self-worth. Some of us are not.

I was initially in the latter category – in denial. As a teenager, I was already a professional success in a number of creative fields. I simply couldn’t see – or maybe didn’t want to see – that my self-esteem was low because I felt very confident in my abilities.

It was the curse/gift of illness that forced me to honestly examine myself. I realised then that our self images are multifaceted. In my case, although I had a good appreciation of my talents and a strong sense of myself as a writer/singer/dancer, I still felt that WHO I was did not deserve love, acceptance, respect, care or nourishment on any level.

And so the learning process began…

I learned that self-care (which is married to self-esteem) has multiple components, hence the ripple effect on the many areas of our lives.

For me, the first component of self-care was learning to nurture my body and take appropriate action to get my physical needs met. Sometimes, perfect health may not always be a blessing because it can blind us to our self-mistreatment. We race through our daily routines, our minds focused elsewhere, while we neglect our body’s need for proper nutrition, adequate rest, or balanced exercise. In many cases, we abuse our bodies with alcohol, tobacco, drugs, strain/overwork and other unhealthy habits. The body is a miraculous machine or vehicle, and it deserves to be treated with care and respect. If we fail to do this, we will inevitably become unwell. I learned the hard way that it’s not worth waiting until our vehicle breaks down before we start being kind to it.

On the psychological level, I came to understand that self-care has many elements and is very broad in scope. It encompasses nurturing ourselves emotionally, releasing all self-judgment, clearing toxic feelings and beliefs that negate us in any way, forgiving ourselves, standing up for ourselves, voicing our rights, protecting our hearts from hurt, recognising our true, immeasurable worth and essentially loving, accepting and respecting ourselves unconditionally.

Phew! Making all those attitudinal adjustments and changes is clearly not an overnight process! Indeed, it is a journey of growth that leads to empowerment. I’m still walking the path because there is always more to learn, particularly when life keeps placing us in situations that continuously challenge us in different ways.

But every step along the path is worth it. Because we are worth the effort it takes and the rewards we reap from caring for every dimension of ourselves. And what’s more, it isn’t only ourselves who benefit. This is by no means a purely selfish practice. I know it might sound like a cliché, but it really is true that if you can’t love and care for yourself, then you cannot do the same for another. After all, how can an empty vessel fill another? The greater your capacity to love and care for yourself, the greater your capacity to give and make a valuable contribution to the lives of others. 

 

And ultimately, that’s what we’re here for.

 carer serenity scene

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