Lori Nelson-Martin | Uncategorized
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It’s Time for Self Care

 

I love this post written by Therapist, Yoga Teacher, Artis and Tarot Reader, Corey Brown. It speaks so much to my personal experience of living life at a pace, that can on one level seem healthy:  What’s wrong with keeping a schedule full of fulfilling, life affirming activities? And on another, can really keep me from true well being and health. Here’s to joyous, unscheduled, open, down time for all who need it in 2016.

 

CoreyBrown-1

 

“Wait, what?” I said in complete and utter shock  “Did you say that stress is causing this?”

 

“Oh yes” the doctor said calmly and with a part sympathetic, part annoyed smile on his face, “very much so and you need to take action immediately or it will just get worse.  It’s time to slow down and reevaluate your lifestyle.”

 

“Ugh,” I replied.  And then I swore, “Shit, shit, shit.”

 

I mean how could I be stressed? I knew so much about stress!  In fact, I fancied myself a bit of an expert in the area.  For six years I worked in the Northeast, on a large state university campus as a Wellness Counselor and Educator.  My area of specialty was stress management and I counseled students individually to help them identify, reduce and manage stress using a variety of evidence-influenced techniques.  I also developed workshops, groups and guest lectured in classes all over campus about the importance of stress reduction.  I even co-taught a course through the Biology department entitled “Stressed Out: The Science and Nature of Human Stress.”  So for real, I knew a thing or two about it and could not believe my ears when the doctor gave me his diagnosis.  My adrenals, which are part of the endocrine system, are two triangular shaped glands that sit on top of the kidneys and are responsible for regulating stress and metabolism. They were working overtime and as a result of my busy lifestyle and an unknown gluten allergy, my body was in a state of perpetual fight or flight.  Like a car running out of gas and driving on fumes, I needed to slow down, pull over and fill up my tank… quick!

 

Several months earlier I noticed a great deal of hair shedding in the shower and in my hairbrush.  I used to have this wild mane of long wavy hair and at first I didn’t give it too much thought until my hair stylist said something.  “What’s going on?” she asked with a concerned look on her face as she pulled hair from her comb, “Are you stressed?” I wondered out loud about the possibly of an iron deficiency or that perhaps I needed to get better about taking my vitamins.  I definitely did not think I was stressed.

 

But you know what they say about hindsight being 20/20.  Looking in the rearview mirror, I can see clearly now that I was extremely busy with starting a private practice, family responsibilities and what seemed like an everlasting home renovation project.  Some days I wouldn’t get home until late, scarf down leftovers for dinner and then collapse into bed. As I took inventory of my life and circumstances, I realized that what was going on was a whole bunch of everything.  Even though I enjoyed my work and my comings and goings, I usually felt pressed for time, always racing from one obligation to the next.  If you asked me how I was, I usually responded, with a bright smile on my face, “Great, just busy!” I was trying to make time for everything and as a result my resources were tapped, my cup was empty and my hair and health issues were the physical manifestations of this.

 

Somehow, without even noticing it, my time had become consumed by do-ing.  I had not made enough time in my life to simply be.

 

I didn’t realize I was over-stressed because I had incorrectly associated being “stressed out” with being emotionally overwhelmed, pathologically anxious or depressed.  When my clients ended up in my office, they were usually at their wits’ end, crying, under duress, unable to function and in need of immediate support and intervention.  I liked my life and felt happy living it; I enjoyed my day-to-day responsibilities and caring for my family members.   But if I’m honest, I also felt tired.  It never dawned on me that I was doing harm to myself until I was forced with the choice to evaluate and change or to ignore my body and experience an ongoing decline in my health.  I truly believed I was wholeheartedly living, scheduling in time for vigorous exercise and visits with friends, but the twice-weekly power yoga classes, good time management and organization skills were just not enough.  In fact in some ways it was part of the problem. I barely made any time for intentional stillness, relaxation and leisure or paid much attention to the more subtle ways tension developed or expressed in my body.

 

For some of us, our emotional or behavioral response to stress is the indicator that we have reached our threshold.  For others however, it is the breakdown of the body.  And yet others experience a combination of the two.  Point being, there are many variables when it comes to understanding how stress uniquely affects you.  Interestingly enough, while there are general evidence-influenced guidelines for managing stress, in my experience the most effective protocols are the ones that are tailored toward the individual. Not all stress is bad, but it can result in negative outcomes if we don’t take the time to understand it. A customized method is the most effective if it includes a basic education on the biology of human stress and an understanding of how your body uniquely perceives, receives and processes it.

 

While I had spent several years teaching others about stress reduction and management, I inadvertently overlooked the unassuming, yet crucial indicators and states of being that ultimately affected my health and wellness.

 

We live in a time when the stress we have is different than the types of stress our ancestors experienced.   There are many reasons for this, but significant changes are due to the developments in technology as well as changes in our economy, quality of food and environment.  Our society has assumed a set of values that directly and indirectly encourage us to do and consume more. This has a psychological impact, which often results in unconscious or conscious functioning like excessive busyness or over-achieving.  I refer to this modern day stress as “sneaky” stress because unlike being faced with an immediate danger, it seeps in slowly and gradually builds.  Before you know it, you feel like you can barely keep your head above water. You are operating on such a high plateau that something as simple as stubbing your toe causes you to burst into tears and long for a grand escape to a tropical island where you can lay on the beach and do nothing-forever!  Sound familiar?

 

All day we receive messages and information from external sources, not to mention the challenging yet incredibly rewarding work we do with our clients. Without awareness, these various experiences, tasks, responsibilities and obligations cause us to default into a receptive autopilot state.    It’s in this state that we unconsciously hold our breath (or the breath becomes shallow) and clench our muscles in attempt to protect ourselves from perceived threats or guard from overstimulation. In doing so we send a signal to the brain that we are under fire.  The brain in turn responds by alerting the adrenal glands and activating our fight-or-flight response.  They begin to produce the hormone adrenaline and won’t stop unless they receive another message from the body that we are safe.

 

Adrenaline is what calls the body to action by increasing blood circulation, breathing, and carbohydrate metabolism.  It prepares the muscles for battle, for exertion.  In short amounts, it sharpens our senses, helps us adhere to deadlines and aids in the ability to multitask. But if we don’t ever communicate to ourselves that we are no longer being threatened or under attack, the adrenal system will keep working, continuing to produce hormones that are only meant to provide triage and short-term refuge.

 

What I failed to recognize was how often I made my adrenal system work during my regular routine.  Throughout the day, even during the most mundane of tasks, I held my breath and clenched my muscles.  My schedule was full and rigid and this type of tightening and constriction occurred while at the dry cleaners, checking my email, driving to and from work, thinking about my to do list, making dinner, washing the dishes and even (incoming vulnerable moment!) while listening to clients.  Adding insult to injury, it was not uncommon for me to skip breaks or work while eating lunch, rarely giving myself downtime.  I fell into a sympathetic dominant state, a state in which the body, for the majority of time, believes it has to fight or flee and is constantly on guard. I wasn’t doing enough to regularly signal to my body that I was indeed safe.  And so, like a faithful, ever vigilant Secret Service Agent, my nervous system kept watch.

 

Overtime it becomes hard for many of us to slow down because so often we come to believe that it’s normal to live in an overly vigilant condition. This state of perpetual busyness can essentially develop into a bad habit; we become attached to it for one reason or another and cannot always change easily.  When I was told to slow down, reduce my workload and commitments, I panicked.  How could I cut back on my responsibilities?  What about money? Each thing seemed equally as important as the next.  With time, practice and regular, intentional self reflection, I was able to “trim the fat” so to speak, and let go of things that no longer served me, making room for new, healthy and sustainable habits to emerge.   But first I had to give myself permission to slow down and believe in the value of doing so.

 

In 2013 I relocated to Asheville, North Carolina, a thriving community I consider to be better aligned with my interests and values.  There was a waiting period while I obtained my state professional counseling license, so I used this time to immerse myself in contemplative practices by starting a yoga teacher-training program.   At this point I had been practicing yoga for well over a decade, experiencing many physical, emotional and spiritual benefits. Professionally, I had the desire to enhance my skills and better understand the intersection between yoga and psychotherapy.  To my surprise, the training supplied me with so much more than an intellectual understanding of the ancient practice.  It proved to be a mind-blowing exploration of my own body, resulting in a complete paradigm shift.  By developing a felt sense, or a somatic knowing, I left the training finally able to fully grasp and integrate concepts around the subtle form, the breath, mindfulness and meditation; techniques that intentionally play upon the senses to calm and nourish the nervous system.  Subsequently my methodology for teaching these techniques changed and organically began to transmit into my work with clients.

 

Someone once said to me, “It is arrogant to give from an empty cup.” As a provider, I wish for my clients to go beyond surviving and learn to thrive in this wild, wonderful and mysterious life.  Along my journey, I realized it was not possible to truly help clients and students the way I wanted to if I, myself, was not flourishing.  Barbara Fredrickson, professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and researcher on emotions and positive psychology developed the Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions. She determined that while feelings of fear and anxiety help narrow our focus and sharpen our “fight-or-flight” response, positive emotions (ex. happiness, joy, contentment, benevolence, gratitude) help us expand our life instead of just trying to survive.  Regularly cultivating these feelings in the mind and the body, so that more often than not we experience a sense of harmony and connection, is what allows us to become parasympathetic dominant.  A state in which the body, for the majority of time, believes it is safe and is able to rest, repair and digest.  While in a parasympathetic dominant state, creativity increases and our mood and concentration is enhanced.  It is here that we actually replenish our energy reserves.

 

To me, so often we allow our lives to become overscheduled and dictated by tasks as a futile attempt to create meaning and ritual.  Filling the proverbial cup obliges a practice of sacred selfishness; a belief that the holistic understanding and interconnection of mind, body and spirit is essential for wellbeing.   Reclaiming ritual by developing a habit of valuing ourselves enough to make self-care and leisure a priority requires courage.  Even more courage is needed to entertain this theory and while we step back and take inventory of our expression of existence. As healers, helpers, teachers, partners, parents, friends and community members, I propose that in doing so not only will we learn to live authentically and in genuine health, we will be able to a give back exuberance and hope to all around us, imparting new life, energy and spirit.

 

Corey Brown, MA ET, LPC, RYT:

Corey embraces a collaborative transformational counseling approach through which people become aware of, and make choices towards, a more successful existence.  Her present-based method implements expressive art therapy, yoga, meditation and earth based practices to help her clients understand their personal story, achieve liberation from limited thinking and make space for what is desired in life.  In particular, Corey enjoys supporting helping and healing professionals in the area of compassion fatigue.  She has extensive experience providing existential support to adults of all ages, in private practice as well as in academia and has instructed courses in Expressive Arts Therapy and the Biology of Human Stress.   This spring she will be teaching in Lenoir–Rhyne University’s Center for Graduate Studies program.  Corey regularly teaches workshops, runs retreats and instructs weekly yoga classes.  To learn more about her, visit her website.

 

Nutritional Support for Anxiety

 

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Check out this great article on nutritional support for anxiety:

http://www.pccnaturalmarkets.com/sc/1512/calming-anxiety-with-food.html

Sunshine on My Shoulders

This is a re- post from 2008. And as we approach winter, still good stuff today!!

For those of you that know me well, you know I LOVE THE SUN. In addition to the antidepressant effects of sun exposure, I’ve recently learned that sun exposure is also our primary mechanism for making vitamin D in the body.

So, what’s important about Vitamin D? Vitamin D has long been known to be important for bone growth and development in children and for normal bone health in adults.  However, recent evidence is showing that Vitamin D supplementation may be helpful in the prevention of a number of diseases.  If you are interested to know more, read The Scoop below. If not, read the parts in bold.

The Scoop: Nearly a half century ago it was discovered that people living in the northeast U.S. had twice the risk of dying of cancer than Southerners! More recently, strong evidence has emerged for sun exposure to reduce the risk of prostate, breast, colon, ovarian, esophageal, stomach, pancreatic, rectal, kidney, uterine, lung and bladder cancer.  There is also a great deal of evidence that higher D3 levels also combats several types of autoimmune diseases  (Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Multiple Sclerosis and Type I Diabetes). Moreover, vitamin D seems to regulate immune cell function.  Finally, Type II (classic adult onset diabetes) has also been linked to low levels of Vitamin D in the blood. In short, there is significant evidence that higher levels of vitamin D in the blood protects against most cancers, several autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis and Type II Diabetes.

The only sure way to know if your Vitamin D level is optimal, is with a blood test called 25-OH Vitamin D level. The normal range is 20-100 mg/ml (50ng/ml is recommended). Short of this, I have heard a naturopath friend say that nearly everyone in the northwest who she has tested is deficient in vitamin D. We just don’t’ get  a lot of sun exposure.

While our primary and best source of vitamin D is sun exposure, supplementation might be an important addition in the winter months. This is especially true for all of us living in the Northwest –  it’s kinda dark around here. And I have to say the obvious, anyone with a history of melanoma, please do not use sun exposure as a means of raising your vitamin D level. For everyone, it’s best to use your trunk and legs to make vitamin D (rather than face, hands or other body parts that have often sun exposure).

In short, a little vitamin D supplementation won’t hurt.  Especially
because its so hard to OD on the stuff with oral supplementation while
living in a cloudy climate.  We make 20,000 IUs just from 20 minutes of
summer sun exposure, while high dose supplementation would be
considered 10,000 IUs. My blood levels were tested and I am low in vitamin D. I’ve been taking 5,000 IUs a day of Pure Encapsulations Vitamin D. I also really like the idea of using plain old cod liver oil to get vitamin D. With this, you also get the benefit of essential fatty acids in a digestible form.

Focusing – What is it?

Focusing: A Technique for Body Based Emotional and Physical Healing

 Focusing was developed by psychologist Eugene Gendlin who was a graduate student of Carl Rogers (famous in humanistic psychological circles for developing person centered therapy).  He was interested in understanding why some clients were more successful than others in the process of psychotherapy. Through some pretty thorough research, what he discovered is that it was not the method of the therapist that mattered as much as it was the ability of the client to pause and look inward. From this, Gendlin developed the “philosophy of the implicit” which suggests that the body implicitly carries more than the brain can process.  Gendlin discovered that if a client was able to bring attention to what is actually happening in this moment in the body, they were freer to access their inner intelligence and experience lasting change.

At last!  Researched substantiation for my belief that interfacing with the mind alone doesn’t produce as much lasting change as when the body is brought into the process (I knew I was in this business for agood reason).

What does it take to access implicit bodily knowing that can be such a powerful source of change? From my perspective? Bodywork received from an attentive practitioner given to a receptive participant can do it. Conscious forms of movement (dance, continuum, yoga  – done with awareness) and many other body based practices can also take us to present moment bodily knowing. Focusing was the process that Gendlin developed to help his clients access this inner intelligence.

But, Focusing isn’t just about success in psychotherapy. There are many uses of Focusing, from decision making to working with addictions to helping heal a physical illness or pain. I’ve found it to be an enlightening meditative practice that allows access to my inner awareness and peace.

It’s useful to have an educated partner present when practicing Focusing.  I enjoy helping to facilitate this process with others and am happy to do this as part of your session. Just ask. But, you can also do this practice by yourself.  I’ve been using the practice regularly on my own and have found it to be a great way to start my day or to bring clarity to nagging or unclear feelings or sensations.

Here are the steps to one of my favored version of the practice:

1.    Decide how much tine you have to spend (it may only be 5 minutes or could be an hour). Get quiet and comfortable. Close your eyes.
2.    Bring you awareness inside and just notice what you feel there – especially in the center of you – in your belly throat and mouth/jaw. Notice the sensations – and they are always there. If you can’t feel anything, then just work with this step before you move on.
3.    Ask yourself, “What wants or needs my attention right now?” and wait for the answer.  It could be a difficulty or happiness.
4.    If it’s not already clear, locate what wants your attention in your body. What for instance is the physical sensation that accompanies that emotional feeling?
5.    Imagine that you are sitting down next to this feeling or physical sensation like you would sit down next to someone who you care about and who you’d really like to know better. Greet the sensation/feeling with interest and patience. Let go of any agenda to get rid of it or change it (as we so commonly tend do with our pains).  Instead, try to get to know it, from it’s perspective. Even, if at first, this seems uncomfortable or ridiculous.
6.    Describe the sensation/feeling the best that you can. Go back and forth to check to see that the description (words or image) fits perfectly. It may for instance be something like “a throbbing pulse” or a “ red searing spot” or “a cortisol drip”.  W
hen you get the description just right you may notice the sensation increases or relaxes.
7.    Sit with it. Or, maybe ask it: What’s so (put description from above- like “red searing”) about this? Maybe ask it what it needs. Wait for the answer and receive the information, feelings or images.
8.    Check to see if it’s okay to stop (there may be something more that wants to come through). You may need to assure a part of you that you’ll be back again.
9.    Acknowledge what came. Don’t skip this part- it’s important!

For more information check out Ann Weiser Cornell’s Book called “The Power of Focusing” or Eugene Gendlin’s “Focusing” .

And, if you try it, I’d love to know how it goes!

 

 

Undulation Exercises

Check out these great undulation exercises published by my Hellerwork colleague Anita Boser. Click on “7 Undulations to Relieve Office Tension” to find a free version of her excellent material.
Here’s the link:
http://www.vitalselfinc.com/books.htm