Stress Management 101

Next in my series of ‘how to’ topics is how to manage stress more effectively. Previous posts include Relapse Prevention Essentials and Learning How to Manage Unpleasant Emotions.

Stress. It’s a word that gets used often in today’s busy-ness obsessed world, but do we really know what we are talking about when we say we are “stressed”. What is stress, really? Stress is anything which causes a person to feel unable to cope or pressured beyond what is comfortable, from feeling the urgency of a looming deadline to the blind panic one might feel whilst running from a dangerous predator. Both these examples place the person under stress to a degree.

Types of stress: internal and external

The term ‘stress’ is used in both physics and psychology. Both mean similar things, something is causing the system (you) to move beyond a state of equilibrium. When applied to humans, stress can be anything that causes feelings of pressure, tension or discomfort. There are generally two types of stress that humans experience: Internal stress and External Stressors.

Internal stress is stress arising from thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations (feeling hungry, tired, sick) and as a result of trauma. All these things increase tension which we experience as “stress”.

External stressors can come in the form of time constraints, deadlines, traffic, obligations, appointments, demands from others and financial burdens. These are all forms of external stress.

They both play off each other, in that external stressors cause internal stress, and internal stress can make it more difficult to adapt to external stressors.

Dealing with internal stress

Managing internal stress can be tricky. Much of it happens below the level of consciousness and it can seem like our thoughts, reactions and emotions are automatic or just ‘how we are’. This is not the case. Internal stress can be managed by increasing awareness of the content of our thoughts; paying close attention to the words we are saying to ourselves in private, tuning in to our emotional responses; asking questions of oneself such as, what sensations are present when I think these thoughts and generally listening to our body. Sometimes we are just tired, hungry, angry or thirsty. Sometimes, managing stress can be as simple as tending to our physical needs as they arise. For example, you might be tempted to work through lunch because you feel stressed about the volume of work you have to get through. However, working on an empty stomach makes it difficult to focus and you end up making a mistake. This ends up increasing your feelings of stress and overwhelm. If you had stopped when you were hungry and had something to eat, you would have saved yourself hassle later on.

Given that internal stress affects our thoughts, how we feel, and our actions, it is important to have tools on hand to manage all three types of internal stress. CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) strategies and Mindfulness based behavioural therapies (such as DBT, Dialectical Behavioural Therapy and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction are all good therapies for understanding how our thoughts, emotions and actions affect each other, and how getting a handle on how these three things can impact our ability to manage stress.

Managing stressful thoughts

Often the way we think about a situation causes us to feel differently. For example, if we think of things in a negative way then we are likely to feel upset and that may cause us to act irrationally or impulsively. And, usually when we act from a stressful place, we usually end up doing things that ultimately make our situation worse, and that of course, leads to more stress. For example, you get invited to dinner with a group of people you don’t really know all that well. This is a situation in which a lot of people may experience some nervousness or anxiety about anyway. However, if your mind starts coming up with thoughts such as “I’m hopeless in these situations, I never know what to say, What if nobody wants to talk to me, Why am I so ridiculous… You get the idea, it’s easy to see how one negative thought leads to another, and another, and how pretty soon the idea of cancelling altogether seems like a good idea. However, if you had stopped yourself at any point from thinking these thoughts and consciously made a decision to think different thoughts, more positive or even neutral thoughts, the negative thought train may not have had a chance to build momentum. Learning how to tune into your thoughts and deciding whether or not these thoughts are helpful, useful or accurate takes time and patience, but it is a skill well worth practicing. At first, you may find that you have already allowed your thoughts to get the better of you and have already acted on those thoughts and are feeling regretful before you remember that you are supposed to be practicing this new skill. Don’t let that worry you. At least you picked up, albeit after that fact, that you could have chosen to think differently. Keep at it, eventually you will catch yourself mid-negative thought and actively change how you think about a situation and then choosing more positive thoughts, change how your feel and act. It takes courage, patience and practice but it gets easier the more you try.

Handling stressful emotions

Focusing on your thoughts, thinking patterns, unhelpful beliefs about yourself is a great start. However, sometimes, stress seems to hit us out of the blue. Like an emotional storm that feels uncontrollable and all consuming. It all happens so fast that before we know it, we have said something, done something or taken something we regret. When this happens, our ability to think, act rationally or even speak can be affected. The opposite can also be true. Emotional stress can build up gradually, or we may experience a series of emotionally stressful events. Sometimes, our tendency is to ignore these feelings, to push them down, or to sometimes drink or use substances as a way of ‘self-medicating’ or coping. This can sometimes go on for some time and become a way of being and merely existing, but it is not really thriving or sustainable.

The best way to handle emotional storms or feelings is to stop. That is, stop whatever it is you are doing, pay attention to the feeling or the emotions as they are happening. If you are in the middle of an emotional storm, you often act out that emotion in ways that you usually regret. The best thing you can do if you find yourself in an overwhelming emotional storm is to hold on and wait for it to pass, and it will. Ground yourself in the present moment, (breath, feel something, look at something in the room) and count to 10, breathing in and out slowly as you do. Sometimes, going for a quick walk or a run can do wonders to settle an emotional storm. And yes, it’s o.k. to cry if you want to.

Learning to experience, process and attend to your feelings as they happen is also a skill that may take some practice. Sometimes, we have old ideas about feelings that may hold us back from experiencing certain emotions. Old “programming” from childhood that may tell us that this emotion Is bad, or not acceptable. What is important to know is that all emotions are healthy, and are neither right nor wrong, they just are. They are our truth in the moment. Emotions don’t harm us it is what we do to avoid feeling those emotions or when we allow our emotions to get the better of us that causes the most damage.

Stress inducing habits

Sometimes, stress can encourage us to take short-cuts in an attempt to manage day to day or because we fear dealing with the underlying cause of our stress. Sometimes this fear is valid. We may have responsibilities, debts to pay, or children to look after and taking time out to manage our stress properly can sometimes seem like too much of a big issue to tackle, or it can slip way down on the ‘priorities’ list of school runs, work meetings, deadlines and bills etc. However, often the short-cuts we take to manage our stress in the sort term unfortunately tend to be not so good for us in the medium to long term. Alcohol, just for example, can lead to serious health problems, relationship issues, loss of time and even premature death in some cases (car accidents, mishaps, violence). In-fact, addictions in general are linked quite strongly with childhood trauma and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Trauma reactions generally increase stress in the body and an affected person may be more likely to turn to addictive behaviours or substances as a way of coping with the ‘unspeakable’. However, it is important to know that addictions don’t really solve a problem, they just delay the inevitable. Other stress inducing habits include poor time-management, staying up late (when you know you have to get up early the following day), eating junk or takeaway food in the name of ‘convenience’, leaving things to the last minute rather than attending to them as they arise,

External Stress: Prevention is better than cure

External stress as stated above involves stress that is external to you. First thing I recommend is doing what I call a ‘stress audit’. That involves simply writing down a list of all those things that cause you stress and working out what items you can do something about and those you can’t. For a very simple example, driving to work often causes a lot of stress because the traffic is out of control and getting worse. Consider taking public transport or leaving 15 minutes earlier. Or if your work is flexible, arrange for a later start time to avoid the peak hour crush. That is a very simple example and granted, there are some stressful situations which are out of your control. For those situations, practice letting go of struggling with unhelpful thoughts related to a situation you cannot control and try to focus your attention on those things that you can do something about. However, for those things that are in your control, small changes can add up to huge benefits when you put your mind to useful thinking and problem solving.

Making concrete lifestyle changes can be challenging, especially when coupled with having to give up an addiction or habit which previously seemed like your only way of managing or coping. It is well worth the effort however when you find out how to properly deal with stress in ways that truly benefit you and those around you.

Complex trauma and stress management

O.k. time for a disclaimer. The above advice is general in nature and you should consider your individual circumstances before following my or any advice you read on the internet for that matter!

However, I do want to acknowledge for some people who have experienced significant and extended trauma or who suffer with the effects of Complex-PTSD the above information may seem contrite or over-simplistic for your situation. I get it, however, trauma is not what happened to us but how our body responds to what has happened. This response creates added intensity to our experiences of and dampens our ability to handle every-day stress. The above techniques and ideas may not be and is not intended to be an overarching solution to complex stress, but the basic ideas are sound and can help with some of the effects of complex trauma such as anxiety, addiction, depression and avoidance.

If you are experiencing the above symptoms, seek out help. Your GP is often the first port of call however, it is easier than ever to find a therapist online or try out some of these online based courses for managing stress and anxiety. Most of them are free too which is not a bad thing.

https://mindspot.org.au/

https://moodgym.com.au/

Addicted to Outrage?

Can we be addicted to negative emotions? Such as outrage, anxiety, fear, anger, depression, guilt or feeling ‘hard done by’?

We normally associate addictions with more or less positive things. Substances and behaviours that make us feel good or better in some way. Alcohol, helps us to relax, or feel happier or intoxicated. Cannabis can help us to chill, calm down or get lost in the music. Amphetamines can makes us feel confident, energised or ‘on top of the world’. Porn can makes us feel powerful, in control and aroused. All these things can help us to forget or distract us from pain, discomfort or relieve stress in some way. So it would make sense that some of us could get ‘addicted’ (attached to if one goes by the old definition of addiction as I discuss in an earlier post Why is the word addiction so controversial?to these sorts of things. However, it has recently occurred to me that perhaps we can also become addicted to negativity in some way.

You may balk at the suggestion. Anxiety feels awful. Depression is terrible. Why would anyone want to continue with such negative emotions? I guess one needs to look at the pay off. What does one get by continuing with these emotional states that make us feel bad or worse in some way. Or, another way to look at it is, what do you get out of doing by continuing to feed the negative emotion?

Let’s take anxiety as an example. What does anxiety stop you from doing that you might otherwise do. Drive a car? Get a job? What do you get to do by not doing those things…. well you get to avoid the discomfort, fear and the possibility that you may get hurt in some way. You get to feel safe. You get to avoid uncertainty. And you get to avoid having to change. And, ever notice how the more you give in to your anxiety, and the more you allow depression to weigh on you the bigger and heavier they tend to get? It’s as if you are carrying around a heavy load or burden around with you…

Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, spiritual teacher and all round amazing human often talks about the concept of the “pain body“. The concept of the pain body is a strange one to get your head around. It is, according to Tolle, made up of all the slights, painful experiences and unfinished business that you carry around with you in your body, unconsciously. Any painful experience or trauma memory that has not been adequately faced or resolved at the time it occurred becomes part of our pain-body. In a healthy person, it may lay dormant most of the time, but some people live entirely through and completely identify with their “pain-body”.

Your pain-body can be awakened or ‘triggered’ by anything – an event, a person, an argument, a situation. Often it is awakened by something that happens to remind us of a past trauma or event. The current painful event awakens the pain-body and in that moment we become the pain-body. That is, we identify with our pain-body 100%. In ACT we call that “fusion“. Fusion is when we are so caught up in our beliefs, thoughts, memories, or pain that we believe those thoughts and are overwhelmed by the emotion generated that we in a sense, stuck to those thoughts, so much so that we become those thoughts.

The pain-body wants to live, according to Tolle, like any other entity, and it feeds on negativity and pain. And, the more we feed it, the more it wants and the stronger it gets. When we are living through pain, or in our pain-body, it can seem as if everything and everyone is against us. We see the world in terms of black or white, us vs them, good and evil. When we are in pain, we often lash out at others, and want others to be in pain too. We want to be right about our pain and therefor unconsciously seek more pain in order to prove ourselves right about how bad everything really is. The more we live through our pain-body the bigger, stronger and more dominant it becomes.

When we identify 100% with our painful thoughts and memories, we can sometimes act in ways that are unhelpful, hurtful to ourselves and others and are generally unpleasant to be around. We can act in ways that take us further and further away from our goals, values and true self. When we act in the service of our pain-body, we may think that we are doing something about our pain, but we often act in ways that bring us more pain. I am reminded of another famous quote by Eckhart Tolle is,

addiction starts and ends in pain.

We can also become so used to being in our pain-body that we may come to prefer it. We may become more comfortable being angry, depressed or outraged that we no longer remember what it is like to not be those things. In essence, we can become addicted or attached to our pain because for some of us, that is how we identify.

But there is another way to be. When we realise that the only power our pain-body, or our trauma history, has over us is the power we give it then that is the first step towards becoming free of our free-loading pain-bodies. Often in therapy, at some point in time clients often say they feel lighter, more at ease, or as if a weight has been lifted from them. Maybe, this is their pain-body dissolving? It is worth a thought.

A positive affirmation to help dismiss or weaken our own body of painful experiences:

The only power the past has over me is the power I allow it to have.

I allow myself to be free from the past,

I release all pain, resentment and anger,

I am at ease with who I am today,

I am free to be me.

Why acceptance of anxiety is your best foot forward

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

 

 

Anxiety is a part of life and a part of being human.

Life is by its nature uncertain. We try lots of different ways to feel secure and increase certainty in our lives but ultimately we really cannot control everything.

This creates anxiety for everyone to some degree.

According to ACT (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy), there are three fundamentally different ways we can choose to approach anxiety: fusion, avoidance and acceptance.

Fusion

We can choose to allow anxiety to control us and dictate how we live our lives. We can choose to follow its demands and try to control things as much as we can to reduce it. Ultimately however this strategy does not work very well as there are more and more things that we find we can’t control and it’s hard to keep up with all the things anxiety tells us we need to do to feel ‘safe’. An example of this is agoraphobia. In the end, a person with this condition cannot leave home at all and their house becomes a prison. Anxiety can push us to do all kinds of silly things that seem to make perfect sense at the time, like calling that friend over and over again when they are 10 minutes late, or going back to check you’ve locked the door 20 times, just in case. Anxiety thrives on what ifs and the more we listen to its shrill, insistent call the less we allow ourselves to really live.

Avoidance

We can choose to try and rid ourselves of our anxious thoughts and feelings by avoiding them. This often takes the form of distraction or numbing. We can choose to distract ourselves from anxiety by a number of ways. Some distractions are healthier than others, for example, going to the gym or reading. However all distractions can become problematic if we engage in them too much or too often. Some distractions are pretty unhealthy from the get go, such as alcohol or other drugs. Some can be o.k. in small doses but can cause problems if we allow ourselves to get ‘hooked’ by the distraction – I am thinking of things like eating, gambling, surfing the net, watching a movie or even having sex. These are all potentially unhealthy distractions. In the end however, avoidance only works for a short time to relieve our anxiety, and we often find that when we come back to reality after spending time with our distractions, things have gotten much worse in our absence!

Acceptance

The third way we can choose to relate to our anxiety is to accept it for what it is. That is, make room for anxiety in your life. Expect anxiety as part of life and that it will come up at different times. In-fact, if we didn’t have any anxiety at all, we would get in trouble real quick! Acceptance doesn’t mean you want or like the feeling but simply that you are willing to allow it. Respect anxiety as a part of your humanity and in some ways, anxiety can sometimes even be helpful. I know it sounds crazy but learning to tune in to your anxiety and really listen to what it is trying to tell you can be really beneficial. Some people might call this level of attunement to our inner world intuition. Learning to tune into your anxiety can help you to distinguish what kind of anxiety you are experiencing. That is because anxiety is not a blanket, one size fits all emotion. There are different types of anxiety. For example, there is the anxiety that comes with staying stuck and the anxiety that comes with moving forward. Both generate anxiety but one is more of an excited type of feeling and the other, the former, is more of a sluggish, mucky type of anxiety. I know which anxiety I’d prefer to feel!

So there you have it. Three different ways to interact with anxiety. Which will you choose?

 

 

7 simple life hacks to commit to in 2018.

Forget New Years resolutions. The news is out! We are not victims of circumstance or biology. No matter what your past history entails, the good news is change is possible. Our brains are flexible and wired for change and adaptability. It’s called neuroplasticity. The more we practice a behaviour, whatever that behaviour is, the stronger that part of our brain becomes. In other words, we become what we do most.

So, becoming more conscious of what we do on a daily, hourly and moment to moment basis is the key to change. Whatever it is you want to start or stop doing, there is no time like the present to take a step in the right direction.

Here are seven ways that you can change your mind, and life, for the better with the help of mindfulness practices.

1. Live mindfully

…that is, consciously, with awareness and conscious choice. Living mindfully means bringing conscious awareness to everything you do. It doesn’t mean you have to spend hours a day meditating but even a few moments of pausing, breathing and noticing what you are experiencing without overthinking can help improve mood and manage daily stress.

2. Relate to experience directly

Try using your senses rather than through thinking, analyzing or judging all of the time. Take a moment to stop, notice and check in with your self. A simple mindfulness exercise is the 5×5 pause. Going through your five senses and noticing the first 5 things you see, hear, feel, smell and taste. (Taste is sometimes a difficult one, unless you are seated at a sushi train…yum!) However, by the time you get to taste, you will have mindfully checked in with yourself.

3. Stay in the present

Resist the urge to dwell on past events or worry about future “what ifs”. Staying present involves noticing and accepting your day to day, moment to moment experience as real and valuable. Whenever you find yourself time travelling in your mind try a simple 5×5 meditation or simply stop and notice your breathing for a few moments, to bring you back to now. You can also take a moment to look around you and notice the small details of your immediate environment. It’s amazing what you see when you stop to look.

4. Avoid avoiding all unpleasant feelings at any cost

Try to welcome all feelings and emotions as temporary messengers who have something important to tell you. Feelings are neither good nor bad, they just are and they do pass. Emotions are our body’s way of communicating our truest needs, desires and wants. We don’t have to follow our emotions or do what they tell us to every time, however, acknowledging your feelings is the first step towards honoring our truth. Knowledge is power after all.

5. Accept things as they now are and go from there

…instead of how you would like them to be. Don’t waste energy or time on struggling with discontent. The more you struggle with feelings of frustration, unfairness and anger regarding those things (or people) that you cannot change, the less energy you have to put into changing those things you can. Take a deep breath, and take control of the only things you can control, your own mouth, arms and legs!

6. Learn to see your thoughts as just thoughts, not facts or reality

Some thoughts are factual, some may have elements of truth and some may be completely incorrect – learn to choose which thoughts are most helpful to you rather than focusing on whether they are true or real. Our thoughts have the ability to influence our emotions and actions. But, thoughts are really just words, symbols and images floating in and out of your conscious mind. They are not who you are. Your thoughts do not define you. One of the core mindfulness processes is taking a step back from your thoughts and watching them come and go. Like clouds in the sky, or sushi on a sushi train! You can choose your thoughts just as you can choose your sushi. Focusing on thoughts gives them undue power  however so, choose your thoughts wisely.

7. Practice self-compassion daily.

Be kind to yourself. Learn and practice how to be your own best friend and treat yourself with the kindness, compassion and respect you really want. Watch what you say, do and how you treat you. If you find yourself saying, doing or treating yourself in a way that you would never treat a friend then that is a sign that you need to be more loving to you. Take some time every day to say a kind word to yourself or give yourself some praise or encouragement. It might be useful to practice daily affirmations like, I am doin the best I can with what I have or Every day I get a little better at being me.

There you go. Seven super simple New Year strategies to practice daily to improve your mind, reduce anxiety and stress without having to start a new exercise class or join anything.

Wishing you all a safe and enjoyable end of 2017!

 

To my friends about to turn the big four Oh No!

A little less than 10 years ago now I wrote by first ever blog post. I was 39 at the time, newly single (again) and about to turn 40. I had just left a particularly nasty relationship and found myself playing the dating game again. That was the start of a long journey for me, a journey of discovery, fun, excitement, pain, heartache, joy, some hard truths and much more. I am very thankful for what I learned along the way however, it led me to where I am today and that is something I am extremely grateful for.

But that was my situation at the time. Every ones’ circumstance is different but whatever is going on for you, whether you are married, divorced, single, with or without children – whatever the case may be, turning 40 is probably the most anxiety provoking thing you will ever do. (Apart from being born, getting married, starting a new job and a myriad of other things that life throws at us.) Yes, turning 40 is one of those milestones that stumps us all. It’s the time to really say good bye to your youth and a time to accept that you are definitely on the downward slope now… (cue evil laughter).

Or, is it?

I certainly thought so at the time, and the idea filled me with a sense of impending doom and dread. Of course, I now know that I was having what Bugental may have termed an existential crisis. There is something about the shock of turning 40 that makes you feel as if death is just around the corner, that life from now on will be just that little bit worse and that it will continue in that vein until death. But, I can honestly say, that is just anxiety talking. The fact is that 40 is just another number, another year, another arbitrary marker that only has meaning because we make it so. For me, turning forty was the start of one of the most fruitful, productive, exciting periods of my life. I can honestly say, I had nothing to worry about. Now. But, that’s the benefit of hindsight.

Here’s what I wrote back in 2009:

I’m not forty, yet. But it is looming around the corner like the bus my best friend stepped in front of when she was 18 and which kept her in hospital for 6 good months. I mean, she knew the bus was close, on it’s way, due even… like, it was a busway she was crossing at the time, but still, she didn’t see it coming. But that didn’t stop the bus from whacking her one and leaving her broken up and unconscious on the side of the road. I have the feeling that turning 40 is going to feel a bit like that…

I can tell you now, it was nothing like that.

So if 40 is in fact just another number and reality is scary the truth may be somewhere in between, but, whatever that truth is make it yours and make it count.

To all my friends and about to or who have just turned forty and are, as I was at the time, freaking out, take comfort. Life is a process and every stage has its challenges and benefits, its good points and bad. I hope that your forties give you everything you ever hoped for and more, and try not to freak out.

 

 

 

If you want something to change

When working with persons who are struggling with any mental health or emotional issue, it is interesting to note how attached people become to the behaviours, beliefs and/or relationships that are the main cause of their difficulties and the reason for their appearance in the consulting room. This is not surprising, in psychology, defensive behaviours […]

Meditation on flying

 

Caught a plane to Melbourne yesterday morning. I was allocated a window seat, first time in a long time that I have. I also had the entire row to myself which was unusual considering the plane was otherwise full. Not that I’m complaining.
It was a beautiful, blue and sunny Sydney morning, so I took the opportunity to not read, or look at my device but to just sit and enjoy the view and the experience. I augmented my experience with music by way of what I had on my phone, which was also an unfamiliar experience for me. I rarely wear headphones around, I’d rather hear what is going on around me, most of the time. But for this flight, I thought it might be a nice change.
As I looked out of the small window, my view was restricted by the wing. Not that I’m complaining about that either, I am really glad that it’s there but my mind did go to some future place in which planes were designed to be mostly glass – that way you’d really feel like you were flying among the clouds. But that hasn’t happened yet. As such, I had a small window framing my view and that would have to do.
As the plane gathered speed, about to take off, I marvelled at this feat of human engineering. This pinnacle of human achievement. What was once thought of as impossible was now an everyday occurrence, something we mostly took for granted, like so many of our current technological advances. I use that word with some hesitation, however, I cannot think of a better one for now. But, I think it prudent to sometimes pause and reflect on that which we take for granted lest it get away from us, or overcome us somehow…
The plane gathered speed and soon it lurched forward and the ground was no longer supporting me. A weird, unnatural feeling which gave me a sudden feeling of anxiety. This is not natural. Humans were not meant to fly! I am literally putting my life in the hands of a stranger. How do I know he isn’t throwing back tequila shots in the cockpit? Suddenly the whole idea of leaping into the sky in what pretty much amounted to a tin can with wings seemed completely preposterous. The definition of madness! I felt my amygdala ignite and my brain flood with chemicals which signalled ‘danger, danger’ to the rest of my body. My heart started beating faster and my breath felt short and strained. Was it too late to turn back?
Then, I was overtaken by the sight of a fluffy white cloud which seemed in hands reach – if I were able to open the window, and by how solid the clouds all seemed, I almost expected to see an angel or two, lazily plucking at a harp string. The sky beyond the clouds was blue and the ground had pulled away from us enough so that you could see the curve of the earth on the horizon. Another reminder to me that my existence is depended on the vehicle in which I am travelling. Be that a tin can catapulted by jet fuel, or a big round rock obiting a sun, which is itself moving through space. Or the body that houses my consciousness.
Nothing is that stable, or that permanent. If this was my last day on earth then I was grateful for the time I had been alotted. Beauty comes at a price, truth depends on your perspective and joy is a choice you make every day. Yesterday I chose joy, and gratitude, and hope.

Trusting the “process”

A while ago now I wrote a post about the shitty shower-head in my apartment and the meaning of my resistance to getting a new one. (You can read it the whole post here if you like.) For those that can’t be bothered, the basic moral of the story was about acceptance. I hated my shitty apartment and was so focused on the future that I was choosing to live with a shitty shower-head in the present that dribbled out water rather that accept my current situation for what it was. Crazy, huh? Hmmm, well we’re all a little crazy, especially therapists! But, it’s recognizing the ways in which our own unique brand of craziness manifests that makes us wiser as we go. We are all trying our best and learning as we go.

Thing is, some lessons are harder to absorb than others. For me, it’s my own special brand of silly ‘futurizing’ anxiety which drives me around the twist at times, if I let it. It’s a constant effort of vigilant, compassionate self-awareness which keeps my anxiety at bay. If there is one thing I have learnt about anxiety, both from observing my clients’ and my own is that is not something you can ever really ‘beat’. It’s something you make peace with, shake hands with so to speak and learn to live with.

I came face to face with my futurizing anxiety today by way of a HB pencil. Yes, a pencil. One of those refillable ones that you put the leads into. When I picked it up I realized that it only had one lead left in it. That made me anxious. Here is a running dialogue of what went on in my mind for the next few minutes: What if I run out of lead while I’m using it? Should I go and see if I can find some spare leads to refill it now before I start? What if I don’t have the right ones? Should I go find another pencil instead of this one? And so on. Exhausting isn’t it? I was worried about the future instead of focusing on the present task which was to simply write down a few notes. It was in the noticing of my anxiety around a silly pencil that gave me the clue that my anxiety was manifesting itself again. It was the same brand of anxiety that manifested itself when I refused to get a new shower-head. So what did I do, I simply repeated my mantra – Trust the process. Instantly I felt calmer, took a deep breath and wrote with the pencil with only one lead. If and when the lead runs out, I will deal with the situation when it arises.

I know this is a overly simple, silly example, beyond silly really but it does illustrate my point. Anxiety starts with the small things, it’s when you let it continue without interruption or give it your full, uncritical attention that it can get out of hand.

Then I thought to myself, why does the phrase “trust the process” work for me? I’m not sure about that but it really does. (I suggest that if you are suffering from some kind of anxiety that you find your own phrase that works for you.) I think it’s because it short circuits the route that your brain has been so used to taking (probably straight to the amygdala, where your emotional responses come from) and re-directs to the neo-cortex area of your brain (your rational, thinking, processing mind). However I think the phrase, trust the process might be a good all-round one to have on stand-by whenever you find your anxious mind trying to take over.

Why that phrase in particular? I think it’s largely to do with the word ‘trust’. Trust is a safe word, and whatever it is you put your trust in can be the right circuit breaker for you. For example, if you are religious, you could substitute the word “Jesus” or “God” for process. As in “Trust in Jesus”. Just as an example. Or you might be humanist and then you would put the word “self” in a sentence, as in “Trust yourself” or “I trust me”.

Whatever your phrase, try it yourself and see. Oh, and remember to ‘trust the process’.

🙂

Yoga for stress reduction & anxiety

Yoga is one of those things I’ve dabbled in on and off since I can remember. It is something I do for a while, and while I’m doing it I love and really enjoy the benefits of, but then for some reason or another I just stop. And then, after a while I start to feel crap again, disconnected with myself, tense etc and then I remember…oh yeah! Maybe I should do a yoga class.

Since I’ve discovered the benefits of mindfulness practice, this has bought a whole new dimension to my understanding and appreciation of yoga. There is really no better way to connect the mind with the body than to connect the breath with movement. Yoga really is mindfulness in action.

So, having said that, I was pleasantly surprised to find this infographic appear in my inbox this morning from the wonderful people at Happify.  It’s an infographic of 7 yoga inspired breathing exercises and poses to instantly destress any time of the day. And you don’t have to be a yogi to do any of the poses, as they are very simple. This is something I am definitely going to be sharing with my anxiety clients so I just wanted to share it here with you’all.

Here you are:

7 yoga poses for stress reductionOh.. and if you want to get into yoga again in the comfort of your own home none the less, I really recommend Yoga with Adrienne’s YouTube channel. She has heaps of yoga videos for whatever mood you happen to be in, and if you really want kick start your yoga journey, I highly recommend taking her 30 days of yoga challenge.

Namaste y’all for now!

Impermanence

I used to write a lot of poetry. Especially in my angsty late teens and early 20s. (Those that know me won’t be surprised to hear this.) Somewhere, there is a folder containing all those old poems, some on loose bits of paper, napkins, wrappers etc. Some torn out of the pages of whatever notebook I carried around with me at the time. I always had a notebook and pen with me wherever I went. Most were typed on an actual typewriter. (Yep, I’m that old). How I sometimes miss that clack, clack sound. (I don’t miss making a mistake and ripping the page out in frustration to start all over again though!)

Sometimes, at random times, some lines come back to me from poems I’d written so long ago. Lines that have stuck with me for some reason, for example this one:

Where are you my love that will understand me, not just for my hair, my skin and my teeth?

You don’t fucking exist. It’s me, all alone. I don’t need anyone. I couldn’t care less. 

I wrote that when I was 19. Teenage angst much? Yeah, well. I also wore a lot of black at the time… I remember that line because for me it was triumph of independence and powerful rage. And so, so transparent in its ache for just the opposite. Of course I cared. I cared a lot. Of course I needed love and connection, we all do.

Another line of poetry that sometimes floats back at me, is this:

Constant flux. Constant. Flux.

Is all we can rely on. 

That was the last two lines of a longer poem which I can’t recall right now. But, I marvel at my insight. I think I was 17 when I wrote that. And it came back to me the other day when I was having a conversation with someone who said, and I am paraphrasing here but it went something like this:

“At the heart of it all I think is a desire for permanence, for certainty. Everything changes, and can change in an instant. Nothing lasts forever, and you can’t really rely on someone to be there for you because from one day to another, everything can change. I find it hard to go all in because….well, what’s the point? At one point or another, you’re gonna get hurt.”

There-in lies one of the great existential challenges that we all face as humans on this small, blue planet that we call Earth. Nothing lasts, everything changes. Impermanence is built into the nature of existence. Yet, we try and resist this essential quality of being with all our might. We resist loving completely because, we will – not may, WILL lose that love one day. It’s inevitable.

Buddhism has a name for this. It is called Annica, and is considered one of the three basic facts of existence. The other two are suffering (Dukkha) and non-self (Anatta). The last one is kind of hard to define and calls for a whole other post, and more so let’s just leave it alone for now.

But, and perhaps the one thing that I wish I had said to my friend, because at the time I didn’t say much. Or what I did say didn’t come out the way I wanted it to, and it’s been playing on my mind. What I wish I had said was this,

What’s the point?
What’s the point of loving or giving yourself completely to another human being, a cause, a passion or an animal even? When there is no guarantee that those things will last? Well, that is the point. That is precisely the point.