10 best ways to get through the holidays.

 

The holiday season often brings joy to most people, not for everyone, a significant number of people get down and feel stressed during holidays. The reasons are plenty. There are many factors that can trigger stress, agitation, down and out, dreaded bad feelings ranging from remembering the loved ones, a bad experience during the holidays, loneliness, being overwhelmed, or a combination of external and internal factors.  There is no one universal reason to holiday blues, since what is depressing or stressful for one person may not be for someone else, and same is for solution, what works for one may not work for another.

 

In order to resolve and overcome the holiday stress, here are some practical tips which can minimize  stress and difficult emotions during holidays:

Xmas Box.jpeg

 

1. Plan your holidays ahead: Set aside the priorities and avoid impossible goals. Don't over-schedule yourself. Take enough time to relax and recover after your work and other commitments. Make plans in advance to know how and with whom your holidays will be spent. Uncertainty and putting off decision-making add enormous stress.

 

2. Take a pause: Find some time for yourself. Researches have shown that spending just 15 minutes alone, without disturbances, has a refreshing effect on your brain, and it decreases anxiety and stress. You may opt any of these options to rejuvenate yourself:

-Taking a walk at night and stargazing.

-Listening to soothing music.

-Getting a massage.

-Reading a book.

3. Ask for help: Seek help from your family and children if you need it. Stop obsessing over doing it all yourself.

4. Avoid Perfectionism: Don’t allow perfectionism to wear you down. Remember to focus your energy on enjoying the people in your life after all it’s being together and goodwill that matters.

5. Stick to your daily routine: Don't try to squeeze in more during holiday than you can handle. Don't let your holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to stress and guilt.

6. Reach out: Don’t feel lonely or isolated, seek out companionship and support from community, religious or other social events. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits as helping those in need can help you feel less isolated.

7. Learn to say “NO”: Try to practice to say no in small ways.The word no is extremely powerful and liberating. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feel resentful and overwhelmed. Don't feel obligated to entertain every relative and friends. Know your limitations and learn how to say “no.”Friends and colleagues will understand if you can't participate in every project or activity. There's no need to lie or to explain why you can't participate.

8. Be Flexible: The holidays can be stressful when you have too much to do. Instead of trying to pack multiple family celebrations into a single day or weekend, create a schedule for festive gatherings which will be more convenient for everyone.

9. Abandon old traditions: Be realistic in your celebrations and find new ways to celebrate together. Discuss with your family which traditions are most important to you and to them? why you can't choose to create new traditions that better fit your current lifestyle? As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well.

10. Think positive: The holidays may drive you to your breaking point, but don't focus on the bad. Negative thinking can trigger the your body's stress response, just as a real threat does. Remember, it's time to celebrate with your family and friends (even if they do stress you out!). An optimistic outlook will help you cope with challenges that come your way.

These practical tips may minimize your stress and anxiety, and help you cope. They may help you improve your coping skills so you can get through the holiday season with a smile on your face.

3 Techniques To Develop Your Compassion.

 

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – Dalai Lama.

 

In order to understand the importance of compassion in a person’s life it is important to know what compassion is? Compassion is a powerful moral emotion—it moves us to care for the suffering of others, and enables us to live cooperatively with one another. We all need compassion because life is harsh and is susceptible to diseases and injuries. The recognition of common fear and yearning is the basis of compassion.

 

Why develop compassion in your life? Compassion is one of the few things we can practice and that will bring immediate and long-term happiness to our lives. The main benefit to develop compassion is that it makes more happy, also brings others around you more happiness. The other benefits of practising compassion is that it slows down the ageing process, reduces the stress hormone secretion while other benefits are emotional and spiritual. It is therefore of utmost importance that we cultivate compassion in our lives and practice compassion every day.

 

Now the main question arises that how can we cultivate and grow compassion in our lives? Here are the 3 simple ways which one should try and practice daily to increase compassion.

 

  1. Morning mantra: Greet each morning with this mantra suggested by the Dalai Lama: “Today I am fortunate to have woken up, I am alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others, I am going to benefit others as much as I can.” This practise will nurture you, make you strong and will make you feel proud of you and your life. The motivation for this kind of practice is usually driven by a desire to be happy.

  2. Increase the sense of Empathy: We can learn compassion when we practice giving without the need to gain anything in return, when we are with people or animals who are in sufferings , and also when we experience the reward of feeling appreciated. Imagine that a loved one is suffering. Something terrible has happened to him or her. Now try to imagine the pain they are going through. Imagine the suffering in as much detail as possible. After doing this practice for a couple of weeks, you should try moving on to imagining the suffering of others you know, not just those who are close to you.

  3. Develop and practise compassion over long term: A compassionate attitude increases internal strength and can greatly reduce the distress people feel in difficult situations and can become a profound personal resource in times of stress. Compassion cultivation techniques have been shown to increase positive emotions and social support, reduce negative distress at human suffering, and reduce people’s fears of feeling compassion for others. Such training programs may prevent the collapse of compassion, by letting people overcome fears of fatigue and accept their own compassion. Therefore, train your mind to intentionally choose compassionate thoughts and actions and develop skills that help you relate to others—and yourself.

 

Together, these mindfulness techniques may enable people to enhance their compassion at a time when we need our compassion to be firing at full speed.

 

The stress response and anxiety

 

Stress is an inevitable fact of life. Stress and anxiety are part of being human, although they are helpful in getting one out of extreme situations where a fight-or-flight response is necessary for our survival, but both can be problems if they last for a long time or have an impact on our well-being or daily life.

 

Stress is actually completely normal, and it’s not necessarily bad. It serves a purpose, after all. Stress is a biological and psychological response experienced on encountering a threat that we feel we do not have the resources to deal with. A stressor is the stimulus (or threat) that causes stress, e.g. exam, divorce, death of loved one, moving house, loss of job, which results in stress.

 

Contrary to general belief, there is a difference between stress and anxiety. The difference between them is that stress is a response to a threat in a situation while anxiety is a reaction to the stress. Symptoms of anxiety and stress are driven by the same chemical reaction; stress is a normal response to a threatening situation and anxiety is largely caused by worry.

 

Everyone experiences anxious feelings. Unhelpful or distorted thinking is likely to be one of the biggest causes of anxiety. Anxiety is the feeling of distress when you are uncertain about what might happen. I want to point out that being human, by its very nature,  includes anxiety. We always live in the unknown. You can be anxious about speaking in front of an interviewer, audience, being late, learning to drive, walking and crossing the street alone. All of this is anxiety provoking as it is part of our human condition. It is not a matter of anxiety being bad or good. It is your relationship to your anxiety that is important. Understanding what causes you to feel anxious and then working on ways to manage anxiety is essential to finding more peace, happiness and balance in your life.

 

The stress response has physical, mental and behavioral components. We all have an inbuilt stress response, which is a normal and healthy in many respests. We need it and couldn’t survive without it. This response starts when our brain perceives something stressful – whether a major crisis or simply a change in our routine – which then triggers our body to make stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones enter our bloodstream and travel throughout the body, suppressing less urgent activities such as digestion and fighting infection in favor of creating responses that help us deal with the stress we are experiencing – increased heart rate, brain activity, and muscle contraction. When the stress is gone, the hormones return to their usual, optimal level, and our body goes back to digesting food, preventing infections, processing thoughts and emotions, and the other usual functions.


Once the stress triggers the bell of awareness and lets you know that the stressors in your life need attention, the management decisions are up to you. Stress management can manage your level of stress, it works when you develop your stamina, maintain your flexibility, and nourish your cells. The point is to build your resilience by maintaining the integrity of body, mind and spirit. Your health and well-being depend on these factors working together, in a balanced way that honors all your needs.  

The Neuroscience of Empathy and Compassion

Why when we see someone in pain, it somehow causes us pain as well? Empathy and compassion are two feelings that are invoked when we see the suffering and misfortune of another. The moment we are born, we interact with our social environment. “Empathy is really important for understanding others’ emotions very deeply, but there is a downside of empathy when it comes to the suffering of others,” says Olga Klimecki, researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences.  When we “empathize,” we share the other person’s feelings but when we “sympathize” or show “compassion” we do not necessarily share the same feeling.

 

Empathy is a gateway to compassion. It’s understanding how someone feels, and trying to imagine how that might feel for you — it’s a mode of relating. Compassion comes out of one's need or feeling to help someone else, it could be because you understand that other person is in need of help. Compassion builds empathy in long run. Therefore, empathy can be painful while compassion can be an ever giving, joyful, state of being. Living a compassionate life can be learned – it is not just something that some ‘extra-good’ people are born with.

 

The question of how “people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others” is the focus of research in social psychology. The field of neuroscience has recently focused on studying the affective and social brain. A new interdisciplinary field, social neuroscience, has emerged from the union of classical cognitive neuroscience and social psychology. Recent neuroscientific research has addressed classical social psychological issues such as people’s ability to understand other people’s minds —their beliefs, intentions, and feelings.

 

Researchers have identified the Neuroscience of Empathy that the tendency to be egocentric is naturally present in human beings – but that a part of your brain recognizes a lack of empathy and autocorrects. This specific part of human brain is called the right supramarginal gyrus. When this part doesn't function properly—or when one have to make quick decisions—the researchers found that one’s ability for empathy is greatly reduced. This area of the brain helps us to differentiate our own emotional state from that of other people and is responsible for empathy and compassion. This supramarginal gyrus is a unit of the cerebral cortex and is located at the interface of the parietal, temporal and frontal lobe. Studies shows that  this is located more towards the front of the brain.

 

Recent study also suggests that we can better cope with others’ negative emotions by strengthening our own compassion skills. They found that the compassion training led participants to experience significantly more positive emotions i.e. can better cope with distress than they did before the training—and they coped better than a control group that did not receive the compassion training. Through compassion training, we can increase resilience and approach stressful situations with more positive affect,” says Klimecki. This positive emotional approach was accompanied by a change in brain activation pattern: Before the training, participants showed activity in an “empathic” network associated with pain perception and unpleasantness; after the training, activity shifted to a “compassionate” network that has been associated with love and affiliation.

 

The main outcome is that we can shape our emotional reactions, and can alter the way we feel and respond to certain situations. And that, “Our emotions are not set in stone.”-says Klimecki.




 

How we can work with stress

I was listening to Tara Brach’s podcast about stress.  She talks about how stress has a non-stop quality of feeling a constant pressure to always be on the go. 

Stress triggers anxiety, and the fears that go along with it.  We worry, become agitated, avoid or deny what we find painful or run towards something that we think will alleviate it.

We see stress as negative, and often interpret these signals in a way that negates who we are, making us feel badly about ourselves.  This contributes to low self-esteem, and thinking of ourselves as “small”, and not being good enough. 

What if we thought about stress as a signal to transform our lives and recognize that we can learn something and evolve through stress because it helps us to grow. 

Stress is apart of life.   It gives us information that can help us to transform.  When we’re under stress, we have habitual thinking patterns.  Emotionally we feel conflicted and physically our bodies become filled with tension.  When we’re in this pattern, our ego is running the show and we feel vulnerable, separate and threatened.  Our flight, fight, and freeze responses are activated.  In these areas of high activation, agitation, jealousy, greed, and depression are expressions of the stress response that can create habitual patterns of responses that we identify with.  What areas do you find trigger you and cause you to react?

We go into fight, flight and freeze responses when we feel unsafe and threatened.  This further adds to feelings of rejection, vulnerability, fear, uncertainty, low self-esteem and of course it impacts our relationships.  The biochemistry of the threat response increases adrenaline and cortisol levels, and decreases endorphins, serotonin and dopamine levels.  We perceive our world differently when we’re in the threat response. 

How do we shift out of this threat response?

If we can change our perception of these responses and begin to observe our behavior, we have the potential to change, and transform.

Instead of acting out impulses, the potential to make choices and have different outcomes and options becomes available.  .

If we don’t judge ourselves and instead support our process with compassion, then we have an opportunity to change and stay connected to ourselves instead of loosing who we are. 

Stress can wake us up instead of shutting us down.  It can help us to see what’s there instead of denying or avoiding. When we start to recognize and observe the pattern, and how we get triggered, the shift is already starting to happen.  We can bear witness to the chain of activity that happens in the threat response.  Our body tenses up, we blame others or ourselves, we may worry, feel sad or depressed, react, become agitated or angry, lash out and all of this makes us feel like we’re not ok.  We become the victim or the perpetrator.

We evolve by recognizing our habits over time, and with patience and compassion, we can see how these patterns impact our lives and our relationships.  Observing helps us to see how we’re suffering, and creates the space for something else to emerge.  We don’t even need to think about it.  If we can pause, take a breath, listen and pay attention then the nervous system can shift towards less activation and more stabilization. 

Stress pic

Self-Regulation is a part of Self-Care!

I was coming home for a wonderful vacation with my son when I started not feeling so well two days before we were leaving.  We boarded the second leg of the three-leg plane trip home, and four hours into the flight the situation grew worse.   I was in so much pain.  It felt like I had the flu on steroids!  I can’t recall ever being so sick, even with pneumonia. You must be thinking, "I’m so glad I wasn’t the person sitting next to her on the plane, or even being a passenger in that fuselage!"  I don’t blame you!

In general, I consider myself to be pretty healthy, and hardly ever have temperatures, but I knew my temp was really high.  Even Ibuprofen didn’t seem to cut it when it came to the aches, pains, hot and cold sweats and nausea I felt. 

I tried to stay hydrated, and walk up and down the aisles to get some circulation going in my body.  It took every ounce of energy from me to walk.  I was completely zapped of any movement in my body and felt like a lead weight that could be an anchor for the Queen Mary.

I started to feel anxious, and trapped inside my body.  We had been on the second leg of our flight for six hours, with another two hours to go, and feeling worse by the minute.  Another two hours being on that plane felt like an eternity.  I really wanted to walk over to the cockpit and ask the pilot to please drop me off in Iceland as we flew over it.

Self Regulation/Self Care

As the anxiety increased, I could feel the activation in my body.  The flight response was rearing its head and I felt my lungs constrict, and my body tighten.  Thoughts like what’s going to happen to me? And, What if I’m not ok?  Were screaming inside my head.  My body wanted to open that emergency door and leave this space capsule, and the other part of me wanted to shutdown, and fold up inside myself.  I was feeling so terrible, torn and stuck.  I could sense that part of being sick was my nervous systems threat response and the dys-regulation between flight and freeze responses. 

I realized that I needed to urgently work with resourcing, which is a safe place one can visualize and feel in the body.  I started to think about a wonderful place we visited while on vacation.  I added some more places to this visual vocabulary that were very peaceful and quiet.  After a couple minutes I could feel it in my body and started to feel my nervous system begin to downshift.  Then it would become activated again triggered by another chill or pain, and I would work with downshifting, adding the ingredients of a visual, peaceful and kinesthetic experience. 

I needed to resource for a good amount of time, and throughout the rest of the flights.  It became my focus, my visual and kinesthetic exercise and experience, and it helped me profoundly.  I had to work with myself on deep levels and apply the skills I’ve learned and teach to others in a serious and urgent way.  I had to be present and in the moment with what was happening, really stay focused, and not allow the threat response to interfere with what I knew about my own energy.  It was through this self-regulation process that helped me to have faith that my energy did exist, and consistently working with this helped me to know it, even though I was challenged over many moments.  This experience forced me to go deep inside and find the courage to face the fears in myself.  It was through the process of self-regulation that helped me to have many moments of groundedness and connection.  There were many times when I really wondered if I was going to be ok and these questions came up all the time.  Regardless of the fear and questioning, I knew that staying connected to myself was essential, with whatever happened.  I wasn’t sure what it all looked like, but my job was not to know, and my focus became about connection and not loosing myself.  This required a tremendous amount of energy and it was really hard work.  It gave me a different perspective and an appreciation of finding peace in the midst of chaos.   No small task.  The experience of connection allowed me to feel stillness, even when those voices in my head, my body and my emotions were telling me something different. 

This illness followed me off the plane of course, and two weeks later after many fevers of over 104 degrees (the highest temp I’ve ever had) and almost a week in the hospital, I survived!  What helped me through all this uncertainty and pain was the skill of self-regulation and self care.  I realized on a deep level that Self-regulation is synonymous with self-care.  I had to keep finding my way back home when nothing but darkness obscured my vision.  I had to find my way consistently to a peaceful place, even when nothing seemed to make sense, and the world felt unsafe, shaky and fragmented.  I had to help myself continually find and connect with an inner stillness and peace.  This is what kept me whole.  I feel even more compassion for people who suffer from chronic pain, and for all of us who are suffering with something.   

Thanks for listening.  I hope you find value in what I’ve said.

 

 

What is Aversive Judgement and Four Ways to Work with it

When we can’t feel love or connection, and instead find ourselves in a place where we’re feeling lonely, isolated and disconnected, we may tend to ask ourselves what’s wrong with me?  We so often hear those voices in our head that say, “If I was really a good person, my life would be different”, or “I should have done it this way”, or I’m just not good enough”, to name a few of these judgmental thoughts that may sound familiar to you.   

We identify ourselves with this negative perception and then judge ourselves rather harshly for feeling this way. This is aversive judgment. 

Tara Brach describes aversive judgment as mental aggression. 

If we can recognize that we often identify ourselves as these thought patterns instead of seeing them as negative self talk that has nothing to do with who we are, then we can start to separate ourselves from aversive judgment patterns.  Aversive judgment is a pervasive way of thinking for many of us. 

As part of the process we can feel a great deal of shame, self-doubt and guilt.  The anecdote of aversive self-judgment is self-compassion.   When we begin to see ourselves as different from the aversive judgment patterns, we are changing and healing.  We have choices and can respond instead of react and begin to exercise more love and compassion.  We don’t have to listen to the negative voices once we start to discern them.  In fact, it’s far more loving to recognize that negativity as harmful, and not who we are.  However, all of us experience it to some degree.  When we shift our thoughts to something more kind and loving, we feel and experience life differently. 

Here are four ways to work with yourself to help move you through the process of aversive judgment patterns:

1.      Recognize it’s happening.

2.      Take a breath.

3.      Slow down, and;

4.      Change your thoughts to something that brings you peace, like a safe place for example.

Over time this process can help you to develop some skills to work with aversive judgment patterns.  The more you practice, the better we become at being more loving to ourselves and find more  peace.  Aversive judgment patterns challenge us all, and we learn a great deal from them.

 

 

 

 

 

Working with Self-Doubt

Self Doubt

We’ve all experienced many moments of self-doubt, it’s universal.  Some of us may feel it more then others but we all suffer from it.  Tara Brach has a helpful podcast about Self-doubt, which you can download by going to her website, Tarabrach.com. 

We can recognize self-doubt in many ways.  It can sound like the negative voices that say, am I really lovable?  Am I worthy? Do I have something to offer? Am I capable of being in a relationship?

The more self-doubt grows inside of us the worse we feel.  We identify with this “badness” and it becomes a defining characteristic of who we are.  This is the core of self-doubt. 

We believe our negative thoughts, and the doubt continues to reinforce our identity.    This habitual process makes it difficult to let go and limits the view we have of ourselves. 

Tara Brach, Psychologist and Buddhist teacher, defines self-doubt as:  “A cluster of repeating beliefs that go along with feelings of shame and fear. When something triggers us this arises, and we feel bad”.   

When we’re caught in self-doubt we have an opportunity to practice and weaken the certainty of our beliefs and release some of the fear and shame.  We may start to glimpse ourselves aside from these beliefs when this happens. 

How can we change this pattern of self-doubt?  It’s a process.  Here are some questions you may want to reflect on that can help you begin to recognize and work with the negative voices in your head that perpetuates the patterns. 

Ask yourself is this really true?  The process of inquiry creates space and allows you to observe you’re responses instead of identifying with the negativity.

Sokyam Rinpoche said “It feels real, but is it true?”

Ask yourself where you feel the tension in your body when you hear these negative thoughts. Notice what it feels like in your body and what happens to you emotionally when you’re in this place.  What’s the impact this has on your life when you believe in the negative beliefs?  You may have an insight and recognize what you’ve been living with for a while.  Allow yourself to sit with this awareness and ask yourself how this has affected your life.

The more you become aware of this pattern, the greater the realization of what it might be like to live without the belief.  Who would you be and what would your life be like without these beliefs?

The process of inquiry provides space to see, hear and feel what it’s like to experience these negative beliefs from a different perspective, and creates a new pathway for something else in our experience.  When we can sense who we are beyond the belief, challenging our self-doubt, it can change our perception.  Self-doubt starts to shift, and something else comes into the foreground that changes our relationship to ourselves and enriches our life experience.   

Letting Go of Resistance

Letting Go

I was reading “A Fearless Heart”, written by Thupten Jinpa, Ph D.  I highly recommend it for those of us who would like to know more about compassion, and how to integrate this practice into our daily lives. 

Thupten Jinpa was a former Tibetan Monk who holds a PH D. from the University of Cambridge and has been the principal English translator to the Dalai Lama for nearly thrity years.  He is an adjunct professor of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy at McGill University and chairman of the Mind and Life Institute, which is dedicated to promoting dialogues and collaborations between the sciences and contemplative knowledge, especially Buddhism.  He lives in Montreal with his wife and daughters.

Jinpa says the inhibitors of compassion are forms of resistance that manifest as defensiveness, pride, suppression, and denial.  And emotions that follow include sadness, pain, and frustration can also be considered symptoms of resistance. I had never thought about resistance from this perspective. 

I was reflecting upon how resistance shows up in our lives and prevents us from having a full range of emotions that provide us with life experience.  Resistance is the experience of shut down, shut out, and disconnected.  If we don’t allow ourselves to have a relationship with our emotions how can we truly be alive and fully embody life? 

Although, isn’t it the experience of resistance that can teach us what it means to be vulnerable if we allow ourselves to be receptive?  If we listen to resistance and respond by letting go, instead of engaging in the struggle, so inherent within the resistance, then we come back into connection.  Compassion is all about connection.  Resistance is the experience of disconnection.

The value of resistance is that it does provide a coping mechanism to protect us from the pain that may have overwhelmed us.  As we develop, it can inhibit our ability to connect not only with ourselves, but also in our relationships. 

I was reflecting upon how important it is to observe the many ways resistance shows up in lives, and the wisdom we cultivate as we pay attention and recognize the patterns of resistance.  As they unfold, we increase our capacity to feel vulnerable by sitting with resistance and observing our patterns, and the gift of compassion deepens.    

 

 

Four ways to find peace when we’re in conflict.

Sometimes it’s so difficult to feel good about ourselves after we’ve been involved in situations where we’ve said something out of anger, or felt trapped and shutdown.  We may have acted out, behaved badly, or even felt frozen, not knowing what to do. 

How do we move from that place of feeling badly about ourselves, embarrassed or ashamed?  It’s very difficult and something that takes time to cultivate.  We may not be used to disciplining our minds like this however, there are steps we can take to find more peace and resolve.  Compassion is the energy that helps us to move through these difficult places and forgive ourselves. 

4 Remedy's

There are four steps to this practice of cultivating compassion and finding peace that are enormously helpful. 

The first step is regret.  When we regret our behavior, or something we’ve said, it’s an important process to recognize that we’ve harmed someone, and it’s hurtful to ourselves.  Regret is not like guilt, which is driven by fear and worry.  Regret is essential for change.  If we don’t look at our actions and words, the tone of our voice, the energy of how we behaved or conveyed a message, then we’re not being aware of how we impact others.  Regret helps us to look at ourselves and be honest.  We need to feel vulnerable and in this place compassion arises. 

The second step is to rely and focus on something greater then our selves.  When we rely on something, it can help us get our feet on the ground when we’ve fallen.  It can stabilize us.  We feel more grounded, safer and more connected.  In gaining a new perspective, it can give us insight around our behavior, soften the harshness of our inner critic, and be more compassionate to our selves and others.

The third step is known as the remedy.  This is something we do to “right the wrong” so to speak.  In doing this consciously, it helps us feel better and gives us a sense of regaining control.  This is empowering, especially when we feel like we’ve lost control.  We apply a remedy when we do things that help us like taking a walk and being in nature, meditating, or doing something nice for someone.  It might be as little as holding the door open for someone.  The intention to do something good when we’ve hurt or harmed someone gives us a better feeling about ourselves.  It’s offering kindness in the place of hurt, sadness or anger.  It helps us to feel more at peace when we do something that makes up for harming or hurting someone else, and we feel better about our selves. 

The fourth step is making a commitment not to do the action again or at least refraining from it for any length of time.  This depends on you, and what you feel comfortable committing to.  It may be an hour, five minutes or maybe never.  The important aspect of this is to take responsibility and make it a point to be more conscious and make the changes needed so you don’t harm others and yourself. 

When we work with this skill it can help us to learn from our patterns, find more peace and compassion for others and ourselves.  . 




Eating Disorder Walk 2016 & Somatic Experiencing

This weekend I participated in The Alliance for Eating Disorders 5th annual walk that helps raise awareness and educates people about eating disorders.   There were 750 people who participated in the walk that took place in Boca Raton, FL on Saturday morning. 

I find it so powerful when people come together as a community to give and receive support and work towards healing and a greater good.  When we struggle together it lightens the darkness and we don’t feel so alone.   

Eating Disorder Walk 2016

Eating disorders are rarely caused by one event, but usually the result of trauma, or accumulated and extreme stress.  As Peter Levine, author of Waking The Tiger states “Trauma is not in the event, but in the nervous system”.    Trauma can manifest in many ways, and eating disorders are symptomatic of these anxious and stressful states. 

Throughout the morning, I had the opportunity to talk to many people about Somatic Experiencing, which is a model created and developed by Peter Levine over 40 years ago. It’s one of many valuable tools to help people get in touch with their body and discover what they are feeling.  Some of the ways to work with the body includes being aware of what it feels like in the body during anxious states, more relaxed states and the process of being able to shift from a more anxious state to a more relaxed place.  This is important to access sensory experience so we can orient to ourselves, know what we feel and be able to self regulate.  We can be in touch with ourselves, and more comfortable in the body.

Somatic Experiencing is a model that integrates mind and body and it’s very helpful in the treatment of eating disorders.  Eating disorders can be expressions of feeling very separate from others and negative towards oneself.  Once we start to listen to our bodies through Somatic Experiencing, it’s a big first step in listening and learning about ourselves.  As we begin to listen, we start to track what we feel during a therapy session and in this process, we can experience more connection to ourselves through our sensory experience. Connecting deeply with the felt sense helps us to be present in the moment, and to be more objective, and identify less with our critical voice, and experience more calm and peaceful states.  Our bodies can guide us to places of healing and wisdom, if we can have compassion enough to listen.  

Awakening to Compassion

Awakening to Compassion

I was listening to a podcast by Tara Brach.  She said,  “The most essential expression of spiritual realization is love”.  I reflected on this and realized we can’t underestimate the power of feeling loved.  It’s vital to our existence.  When we don’t feel loved, we can easily feel separate from our selves, our lives and our relationships.   Tara describes how for many of us it feels lonely and painful.  “The perception of separation gives us the longing for connection”.  Experiencing this can make it difficult develop trust.  We can end up feeling inadequate and unworthy of being loved or even capable of loving. 

When we allow ourselves to open to warmth, and love, even for just a moment, it can change how we feel, and melt away some of what numbs us inside.  Numbness starts to dissolve our experience of being separate, and we may feel a tenderness that helps us to be more present and alive.  Caring for another or caring for ourselves, allows the numbness or coolness to melt.  In this place, we find connection.  Tara shared the following Buddhist quote “Experience your heart as open space forever shining”.  Our conditioning obscures this light constantly within us.   When we are drawn to something greater we can be more present and discover that we’re more then our identity. 


When we start to notice the habits that make us feel separate by embodying what doesn’t feel good, and recognizing what helps our energy to feel more connected, we start to change, and move in a healing direction.    Observe the habits that keep us feeling separate and allow yourself to see the ways you cultivate connection. 

What are some of the ways we create separation and distance in our lives?  Is it through obsessive thinking, or distraction?  We might feel restless, fatigued, or anxious.  Do we compare ourselves to others?  What do we get attracted to or try to avoid? We try to change others so we can feel better about ourselves.  We judge ourselves, and others when we’re feeling threatened, and underneath these reactions, we feel vulnerable.  As Tara said “We keep ourselves separate because we don’t think there’s not enough time to be intimate”.  We are busy wondering what we need to do next, instead of being present with the moment. How do we move from this habitual state?  We pause, take a breath, allow ourselves to feel our vulnerability, and sit with ourselves in this space, without judgment and telling ourselves we’re wrong. As we sit with the ache and pain, we feel a stirring of warmth and tenderness and this is compassion.  To be able to sit with the pain, of how we’re feeling, and be gentle with ourselves and not make ourselves wrong, or bad.  To recognize that the suffering that’s arising opens’ the heart and awakens compassion.  In this place healing happens, and we find peace.

For those of you interested in hearing Tara Brach's podcast, here's the link, https://www.tarabrach.com/widening-the-circles-of-compassion.  Enjoy.  


How Meditation can help with Depression

Meditation-depression

When we feel depressed, meditation can help.

 

When we feel sad or depressed, we don’t feel alive, and life becomes mechanical.  We find ourselves going through the motions.  We can easily loose ourselves, and our light goes out, or feels dim. 

There are many forms of depression that can result from difficult and painful situations such as loss of a loved one, trauma, illness, biological circumstances, to name a few, or it can be like cloud cover, that generally brings us down seemingly for no apparent reason. 

Depression can be short or long term, and even chronic.

Some of the symptoms of depression include:         

o  Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions

o  Fatigue and decreased energy

o  Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness

o  Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism

o  Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping

o  Irritability, restlessness

o  Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable,

o  Overeating or appetite loss

o  Persistent aches or pains

o  Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings

What can we do to help ourselves when we’re feeling down?

There are tools that can help us, even when we don’t feel like we have the energy.  One of them is meditation, which has proven to be very effective for treating depression.   NPR wrote an article about Depression and Mindfulness based on 47 studies that all conclude meditation helps with depression.  

Meditation helps us to develop our observational skills and recognize our thought patterns.  This is essential for change to happen and healing to occur.  We need to see how our hurtful and harmful thoughts keep us feeling stuck or trapped.  Negative thoughts and emotions equate to feeling badly about ourselves.  We may have a tendency to blame ourselves, or feel guilty.  Low self-esteem is common when we are depressed. Often, we might not be aware of being depressed.  It can happen over time and we get used to feeling this way.

How can we navigate this difficult territory?  Meditation is one tool that can help with depression and here are some techniques that can be useful:

Take a pause:

Take a three-minute pause. Sit in a comfortable position. Close your eyes or leave them partially open.  Bring your focus to the breath as it flows in and out of your body.  As you take a step back, observe the negative thoughts that are cycling in your mind. Depression is filled with critical and judgmental thoughts that play out in our heads constantly hearing statements like “I’m worthless”, “No one cares about me”, “I can’t do anything right”.  Sound familiar? We tend to focus on the negative and ignore the positive thoughts.  Recognizing this thought pattern can help us to know what happens to us when we experience this cycle,  how we talk to ourselves and what we feel emotionally.  This is a first step to being aware of what’s happening inside your world that greatly impacts your internal and external experience.  It is the path of healing.  

 

 Develop gratitude:

As you continue to sit comfortably cross-legged or on a chair.  Take another couple minutes and reflect upon what is meaningful in your life, what it’s like to be alive and what you can be grateful for in the present moment.  Ask yourself what it feels like in the body as you reflect upon these questions.  Allow the thinking self to be in the background and notice what emerges in the foreground as you reflect on these questions.   Notice what happens in your body, and if there are any changes as you observe.  Connecting with our body helps us to track what’s happening with our energy in the moment.  Notice if there are any changes emotionally, or in your thought process.  Maybe you find yourself slowing down, or feeling calmer.  Meditation tends to re-focus our energy towards more positive states that can elevate our mood and change our biochemistry helping us to feel more peaceful.  We see our internal and external world from a different lens that allows us to experience our lives, and our relationships differently.

 

Recognize life is temporary:

Meditate a few more minutes on how our lives and relationships are temporary.  All experiences are impermanent.  You may have been emotional or upset in the past, and this moment you may feel different.  In reflecting on the temporal quality of life, it can help us to cultivate and appreciate our human experience and be present in the moment.

 

Develop openness and receptivity:

As you sit comfortably, take another couple minutes to imagine a safe place.  It can be the sky, the ocean or the mountains, etc. Notice what it feels like in your body when you’re in this place.  Does it feel more spacious, lighter or expansive?  Try to identify sensations.  As thoughts arise, gently bring yourself back to the image of your safe place or the sky.  Notice if you start to feel yourself settling and softening, feeling more open and relaxed. 

 

If you allow yourself to cultivate a meditation practice, it can decrease depression, stress and anxiety levels. Meditation is skill and this tool helps us to harvest and experience more peace, and happiness in our lives.     

4 Tips to Reduce Anxiety

4 Tips to Reduce Anxiety

There are many tools and techniques to help reduce anxiety.  It’s about finding what works best for you. 

We’ve all experienced anxiety, and some people may be more prone to feeling anxious and aware of it then others.  Sometimes our anxiety feels more manageable then other times.  When we go through difficult situations, our anxiety levels can soar.  When we become anxious, we may not think about tools we can use to reduce anxiety.

Here are some tips you may find helpful to alleviate anxiety. 

1.     Start a ten-minute meditation practice in the morning.  You can use a guided meditation to help you start and if you need some ideas, you may want to check out one of my favorite apps, Insight Timer.  You can choose from a number of guided meditations.  Another way to start meditating is to visualize a safe and peaceful place.  You can listen to some relaxing music, or just sit quietly while you and picture yourself in this place.  Bring your awareness to how it feels in the body when you’re in a safe place.  Track your sensations, and notice if you start to feel more relaxed and settled.  This image of a safe place can be with you throughout the day when ever you feel anxious, or just want to check in, work with the energy of calmness from the image and visualize it often even when you’re not meditating.  See how you feel and compare it to when you don’t do this.  Is there a difference?  Often, this practice reduces anxiety.  Give it a week and see if you feel any changes.

2.     Exercise is essential for reducing anxiety levels.  It creates endorphins, a hormone in the body that helps us feel good.  When we can change our biochemistry by exercising this contributes to our overall state of happiness and well being.  Exercise helps us to experience and feel movement inside our body.  When we feel like we can move inside our body, we feel less stuck emotionally, less depressed and fearful.  If we feel restless, agitated, or bored exercise can help us release energy and feel more grounded and settled.  Sometimes, more exercise and movement causes us to feel more stressed.   Feeling constant motion can add to feelings of tension and anxiety.  If this is the case, change your exercise routine and try an exercise that promotes movement in a relaxing way like walking, or gentle yoga.  Monitor your energy, and track what feels good inside your body.  This will give you peace of mind.

3.     Take a pause.  When you start to feel anxiety in your body, pay attention to your breath.  Breath in slowly and gently for a couple minutes.  You may try holding your breath for a few seconds before you breath out slowly.  Do this several times to help your body settle.  Notice as you take a pause and breath slowly and mindfully, how your body feels.   You might find yourself feeling more relaxed. If you’d like to try another technique, you can purse your lips together, like your whistling to regain the Co2 balance into your system.  Often these levels decrease when anxiety levels increase.   Taking a pause is a way that can help us slow down, reduce anxiety, and respond, instead of react.  Taking a pause can slow our reaction time down, giving us more control over our emotions. In practicing these tools for reducing anxiety, it can help us to not feel so overwhelmed.

4.     Don’t judge yourself.  Often when we feel anxious, we can easily become critical of ourselves.  We may find it difficult to understand why we react the way we do.  Knowing something intellectually doesn’t always change the way we feel.   Often we may feel stupid, ashamed, embarrassed, hopeless and worthless.   If we can recognize that judgments are often verbal expressions of anxiety then we can support ourselves by accepting and empathizing instead of judging.  We can begin to see ourselves differently. 

I hope these few helpful tips are something you will try and find valuable.  We all feel anxiety to varying degrees.  Trying some of these simple techniques can help you feel more grounded, less anxious, and more peaceful. Click here to read more about Anxiety Treatment. 

Mindfulness and Brain Chemistry

How can we help ourselves when we’ve experienced a loss, or some kind of trauma, aside from or in addition to prescribed medication?

There are many research studies that indicate Mindfulness practices change our brain chemistry and helps considerably with trauma and depression.  

What is Mindfulness?  It’s the ability to stay connected and be aware of the present moment.  The way we cultivate mindfulness is through meditation practices.  This might not sound like something you want to make time for, however, if you take a moment to recognize the value it can bring, this may cause you to rethink the possibilities.  

Mindfulnes and Brain Chemistry - Lynn Carroll - Delray Beach, FL

According to the Harvard Business Review, developing a mindfulness practice actually increases our ability to self-regulate, meaning that we can consciously direct our attention and behavior and not act impulsively, often making decisions that don’t benefit us.  It helps us to resist distractions and focus on what we are doing in the moment.

In the article on Mindfulness, click here to read, it points out that neuroscientists have researched how Mindfulness practices affect the areas of the brain that change perception, body awareness, pain tolerance, self-regulation, sense of self, complex thinking and self-reflection.  

In thinking about the far reaching implications of this.  Mindfulness meditation can help us to see things differently.  When we change our perceptions, trauma resolution is possible, self-esteem can increase, and pain can be relieved.  We can find more peace in our lives, even if the situation has not resolved itself.  

The more we meditate, we find ourselves calmer, more at peace, and comfortable in our skin.  Our thoughts slow down, we feel less anxious and depressed.  

If you’d like to start a Mindfulness meditation practice please download my quick guide to help you learn how to meditate in the Mindfulness section of my website.

Grief

Grief - Lynn Carroll - Delray Beach, FL

As many of us know, grief is a very difficult and painful process.  Often we might do things to avoid grief, in hopes that it will go away. However, it doesn’t disappear unless it’s felt, and this doesn’t mean that you need to feel it all at once in order to “get over it”.  It can be over time that sadness, and anger are released and you can find yourself in a better place. 

In general, people are usually more willing to help if something has just happened, but over time, it gets more difficult for people to be there and provide support because everyone goes back to their daily lives.  Often, we can be in shock and not be capable of reaching out during a time when we need to feel connections.  

On another note, our culture often does not understand the grieving process, and may have unrealistic expectations about when our grief should end.  Maybe certain people feel that after the first month, everything should be fine and we’re expected to be back on our feet again. 

Often it can help to speak with someone you feel close to, and share what your feeling.  People can turn to their loved ones but sometimes that’s not the case.  This is where speaking with friends, a support group, or even seeking professional help like speaking to a therapist can be beneficially.  

In an article that appeared in the Huffington Post, click here to read , it discusses how when grief is not shared, it can’t be released and unlike a wound, it’s not going to heal over time unless tended to.  All sorts of symptoms can manifest from depression, to panic attacks and other somatic related complaints.  Your thoughts may feel like molasses or on the other hand they could be racing, and your emotions may range from being overwhelmed to feeling shutdown.  You may feel stuck, lethargic, and fatigued.  These just some ways that grief can manifest, and it helps to be aware of what your feeling, and to share this with others so you don’t feel so alone.  There is a tremendous amount of wisdom and compassion we can learn from sitting with great sadness.  It’s in the very place of vulnerability that healing can happen and we can find peace.  

The Stress Response: An Ancient Cycle Present in Our Daily Lives

Did you ever think about how our basic threat or stress responses of flight, fight and freeze are with us every single day from moment to moment? 

The Stress Response - Lynn Carroll - Delray Beach, FL

I watched the fight response come alive in a grocery store the other day.  A man in front of me checking out became agitated with the cashier because she couldn’t find a price on an item he wanted to purchase and had to call someone from the store to look it up.  

It took more time and this man was obviously in a hurry.  He grew very agitated and annoyed, and said remarks that expressed his anger.  I realized I was looking at the fight response of a nervous system that was being sub-consciously triggered by the situation.  Stress responses are always operating within us just below the surface.  

Have there been times when you haven’t known what to say when someone has caught you off-guard?  At work the other day, I saw a therapist whose client had made an off color remark.  The therapist’s face was frozen over.  She was at a complete loss for words to respond.  It was the deer in the headlight look, a classic example of the freeze response.  

And how many times have you said to yourself, “I Just want to get out of here” which illustrates the flight response that comes up in our every day lives.  It can be as simple as waiting in line at a Starbucks drive through with cars ahead of you, behind you, and feeling trapped.    It’s taking forever and you needed to be home, or back at the office five minutes ago.  This increases our stress levels, creates anxiety, and makes us feel like running away. 

Whether we act out our stress responses or not, they are still very much apart of our biology, and psychological make up.

Often we tend to judge ourselves pretty harshly and don’t understand why we so often react in a way that later makes us wish we could have a do-over, sometimes because we overreacted and sometimes because we under-reacted.  However, when we recognize these biological forces are always operating in us and that the manner in which we manage the associated stress is something we can gain control over, it can help us to feel less shame and blame and more accepting about our biology.

These stress responses have been around for 270 million years.  We are programmed more for stress then relaxation because on a fundamental level we want to survive and be alive!  Often, these stress responses can be healthy coping mechanisms that have helped many of us get through difficult times.  However, when the stress responses and thought patterns control us and prevent us from feeling peaceful, relaxed and grounded, then we might want to seek help and understand how to better manage the stress response.

An article published by The Harvard Health Publications has done a great job in describing the stress response.

Click Here To Read

Please feel free to post a comment.

The Wisdom of the Body

Whether it’s in everyday life or during a therapy session, we continuously process our thoughts and emotions, sometimes really well, sometimes not.  But, we rarely even think about what is happening to our bodies on a sensory level.  So, what does that mean?  It means that we need to check in with our body to get a sense of what’s happening inside of us.  If we can do that, we can gain valuable information about our thoughts and emotions.  We benefit greatly by becoming aware of what our body feels like when we are really anxious and when we are feeling really well.  We tend to notice when we don’t feel good more than when we do feel good. 

The body is such a wonderful instrument and we barely tune in to it to listen to what it is saying on a sensory level.  We simply are not taught this language in school.  The sensory vocabulary can be quite limited and it’s really not part of our everyday conversation except on rare occasions and when we’re not feeling well.  Usually we hear and talk about what ails us.  

So what would it sound like to hear from the sensory level?  Maybe something like this, “I’m feeling vibrations in my arms today, my legs feel really heavy, and my shoulders feel like a block of cement and have felt like this for years.”  Who actually talks like this? No one I’ve met.  However, if we tune in, we might notice something about ourselves that can help us be more in touch with ourselves.  

We also rarely share sensory information with each other, even if we are aware of what is happening.  Although it’s something we may not talk about, we can still acknowledge and listen to what’s being felt.  I find when I check in with my physical body experience, I get a sense of what I’m feeling emotionally and what my thoughts are doing.  For example; if you think about public speaking, real or imagined, most of us get anxious, and when we do, our body starts to speak to us.  We might feel shaky from the adrenaline running through our body, it might be difficult to take a breath, we may have thoughts of wanting to run out of the room, we feel afraid, our mouth gets dry, our vision changes, and gets narrow.  For a quick body map of the fight/fight response, check out this link: http://media.psychology.tools/worksheets/english_us/threat_system_en-us.pdf

When I’m more aware of being in my body, I’m tuned in and can make better choices because I’m listening on a sensory level as well as recognizing what thoughts and emotions are coming up inside me. I can discover something about myself in the moment, like if I’m starting to feel anxious, or tired, calm or happy, etc.  It’s a way I’ve come to realize of staying grounded, connecting with myself and being more available to others.  

Tuning into my body also helps me to notice those patterns that bring me into negative states. Because I’ve been checking in frequently with myself, I’ve been doing a much better job of recognizing when I’m starting to feel stress and how to bring myself back to feeling more balanced. It certainly doesn’t work all the time, but at least I can get myself back on track some of the time, and I keep learning more about myself.  

Stress takes us into threat responses of fight, flight or freeze and this brings us out of balance.  We end up losing control, and feeling down about ourselves.  These primordial responses kept us alive for millions of years (and we may have needed these in our early childhood too!) However, we can learn to have a relationship with them so they don’t unknowingly drive us and make us feel out of control.  We can develop skills!

Only by tuning in can I start to make decisions and recognize that I have choices.  I don’t have to follow the habitual pattern of negative self-talk and emotional disturbances like I used to, and when I don’t, I’m in a better place to change these patterns.

Each time I work with redirecting these negative patterns, I’m able to see the changes and differences in my life.  I’m able to feel more at peace.