stress

Intentions over Resolutions (And Book Inspo!)

Photo by  Daria Shevtsova  on  Unsplash

As 2017 draws to a close, I’m feeling reflective and hopeful. There’s a simultaneous sense of looking back and looking ahead, trying to stay present while also taking stock of another year in the life, all while preparing for what’s in store in the new year. We hear so much talk about resolutions this time of year. There’s a sense of “not good enough” that always comes up for me when I think about resolutions. This idea that we have to give something up, be better, be more disciplined, lose more weight, make more money, do more, have more, be more. But more isn’t what I’m feeling right now. Yes, there are things I want more of. But they aren’t really about things, or even really goal-oriented at the moment. They aren’t things I can pass or fail at, and they aren’t about discipline and control.

Enter intention. Intention is a practice, much like mindfulness. It is about the process and the journey rather than the outcome and destination. For so many of us, resolutions have us kicking off the new year in a burst of energy, willpower, and drive, and often end in a month or two in disappointment, self-recrimination and shame. Intention is all about self-compassion, gratitude, resilience and presence. When I think of what I want more of in 2018, it’s all of those things.

There are a few books I’ve read this year that have tended the embers of these intentions, and some that I offer to you as a way to light your own path away from burdensome resolutions and towards a new way of being with yourself and your loved ones. Shauna Niequist’s Present Over Perfect, Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness, Amy Johnson’s Little Book of Big Change, Rebecca Scritchfield’s Body Kindness come to mind. I have Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, Shonda Rhimes’ The Year of Yes, Jen Sincero’s You are a Badass and Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck all queued up on my bookshelf. Are you sensing a theme?

My work this year with Rachel Madorsky of The Coaching Therapist Institute (Tracy and I both became Certified Transformational Coaching Method Practitioners) has helped me shift gears internally and in my work, and I’ll let you in on a little secret: my intention for 2018 is to allow myself a lot more grace, a lot more room to fail, and a daily practice of slowing down, staying present, letting go of what doesn’t serve me, and honoring my own work/life alignment by focusing on self-compassion, gratitude, resilience and presence. What will your intention be today?

My Loved One Experiences Anxiety, Why Can’t They Get Over It?

Anxiety can feel as though you are being chased by a lion. Although this analogy may seem extreme to those who don't deal with an anxiety disorder, it's one that makes sense to someone who encounters anxiety on nearly an everyday basis. Sufferers of anxiety know the feeling of fear, experience hypervigilance to everyday situations, have an excess energy or even a depletion of energy due to the exhaustion of panic and feel that there is imminent danger nearby even though there may not be an actual threat around them.

Having the understanding of friends and family to support you through your anxiety can make all the difference in the world, but it isn't always easy to have empathy when you haven't experienced anxiety firsthand or been taught a bit about it. It is very natural and common for those closely connected to individuals with an anxiety disorder to believe a number of things such as, “I support them, I love them, and it doesn’t seem to be enough,” “It cannot possibly be that bad,” “They have a good life, this doesn’t make sense,” or “Why can’t they just get over it?” These are some typical thoughts to have, but are not helpful for someone who is struggling with anxiety to hear.

When someone is going through anxiety, their body is reacting as though there is danger close by and their stress response is activated. This means they experience acceleration of their lungs and heart, so the blood will rush to their extremities to be prepared to run from danger or “brace” themselves from it. It can also mean they cannot utilize critical thinking or logical thinking because their energy is currently in use to save them from a perceived danger. They can also experience tunnel vision, loss of hearing, and shaking, among other physiological responses. So, truly, they are reacting as though they are being chased by a lion. And yes, they know they aren’t being chased by a lion, which can make these feelings worse because they do not make sense to them.


So, what can you do? Ask them what they need. They may tell you they need to be alone because they are overstimulated and that is okay. Tell them where you will be if they need you. They may say that they need you, but do not know how they need you. You can sit with them and wait until they are ready to talk to you. But probably the most common response is, “I don’t know.” During these times, you can use your judgement, but giving advice may be the least helpful since they cannot truly hear you and any advice given may be minimizing their experience. Once they have calmed down, rested, and time has passed, ask if you can talk about what they need or want you to do in these situations. Ask them what is helpful and not helpful. It could be a trial and error situation, but the fact that you acknowledge what they are going through is real will make all the difference. And as always, if it is debilitating for them or they/you believe they need more help than what you can give, have a gentle discussion with them about finding a professional who can help the both of you.

LifeTip: Constellations of Adaptive Responses

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When we experience a stressful or traumatic event our brains activate different response systems.  These are commonly referred to as adaptive responses because they help us adapt, stay safe and survive potentially threatening and/or sudden changes in our environment.

Some adaptive responses are entirely physiological and are a result of the body’s neurophysiological response to stress, threats, and/or danger.  These responses can include the fight, flight, and freeze responses, which are activated by the most primitive part of our brain, the limbic system, and at a most basic level, prepare our bodies to fight, run away or hide (freeze) in the face of danger.  

Additional physiological responses to stress include: panic attacks, hypervigilance, sleep disturbance, and the like.  Even though we are all humans, we don’t always all respond the same way to the same kinds of experiences.  For example, some of us can tolerate extreme sports and roller coasters, while others would find that too physiologically overwhelming.  The same is true in the face of traumatic events.

On the other hand, some adaptive responses manifest themselves more in the emotional, cognitive and behavioral realm.  Some examples of this include being angry, intrusive thoughts, using humor, throwing ourselves into advocacy work to prevent the traumas that happened to us from happening to another, or to avoid dealing with our own trauma history.  These examples are just the tip of the iceberg, really.  There are so many kinds of responses and each person has their own unique constellation of responses in order to get through life.

While it may be hard to understand sometimes, all of these responses are ultimately there to help us survive a given moment or experience.  It’s just a matter of teasing out whether or not they are indeed still helpful in our stimuli-laden, busy, modern lives.  Sometimes too, we find that strategies that worked in the past no longer work in the present and in fact, have become a source of trouble, or maladaptive.  When this happens it can feel like life is playing a big prank on us.

Many adaptive responses are involuntary, however we are also capable of utilizing new strategies, voluntarily, as we learn and grow.  Our work in therapy is centered on promoting self-discovery of the physiological and psychological adaptive responses.  What’s serving you?  What’s not?  What is your body, mind, heart, or spirit needing from you in order to get back in the driver’s seat of your life?  This is the work to be done.  And, this is what we are here to help with.

 

LifeTip: The Continuum of Stress & Trauma

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Image © Natalia Amari

Sometimes the idea that a particular life event is a trauma can feel scary and overwhelming. The experience of labeling a specific event as traumatic or not is, in essence, subjective.

For many individuals, it can be powerful and relieving to name an event or series of events as traumatic. Others may consider a similar event a stressor, and it may be equally beneficial to refer to it as such. Even benign experiences, like taking a walk or eating candy, can be experienced as traumatic due to a history of trauma. Of course, it is also important to note that some events may not cause any stress at all.

Given how subjective these experiences can be, how on earth do we identify a trauma or a stressor?

After we experience an event we perceive it through many different filters, such as:

  • Human Physiological Response (heart beats fast, palms sweat, muscles tense…)
  • Life Circumstance (living alone, partnered, un/under/employed, in school…)
  • Temperament (personality, general outlook/approach to life…)
  • Cultural Norms (attitudes, expectations, traditions, rituals…)
  • Societal Response (news media, social media, local community, school, work…)
  • Resiliency & Vulnerability Factors (the presence or absence of diverse skills to handle adversity, such as social capital, self-efficacy, socioeconomic status…)
  • Prior Life Experiences (history of privilege, oppression, traumas…)

There may be many more filters than this, but these are a few notable ones.

After we perceive the event through these filters, we interpret the information on the continuum of stress and trauma as:

  • Eustress (the good stress that motivates you to work on that paper to turn it in on time!)
  • Distress (you know, when stuff breaks down and throws your day off course)
  • Acute Traumatic Response (an immediate reaction to the experience)
  • Chronic Traumatic Response (an ongoing sense of feeling traumatized by the experience)
  • Delayed Traumatic Response (when the impact remains dormant until something later in life that draws up the prior experience)

Viewing stress and trauma on a shared continuum creates a more open dialogue. One where the individual labels the experience on a continuum based on their own beliefs, values, feelings, and experiences. This continuum then helps to foster more freedom, choice and empowerment. And with this, comes more avenues for healing.