Anger Management Strategies for keeping anger at bay (part 1 of 4)

‘The man who gets angry at the right things and with the right people, and in the right way, and at the right time, and for the right length of time, is commended’ – Aristotle –

‘Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.’ – Buddha –

‘To be angry is to revenge the faults of others on ourselves.’ – Alexander Pope –

Anger is a driving force and creative energy, which, if judiciously applied, becomes a motivation for change. Anger will be destructive only when it is used as a tool for controlling others through fear (narcissistic rage) or when it results in a total loss of control over your emotions.

Anger is never an issue. How you handle it is the issue.

Where’s the boundary here? Emotions deemed ‘negatives’ are classified according to their disruptiveness to your wellbeing and that of others (emotional and psychological), depending on their frequency and magnitude. Some people have frequent and loud outbursts that do not result in harm to self or others.  Why is this so?

Anger can be dramatic in its intensity, a true volcanic eruption. What matters is what is said and done to others during the burst, how long it takes you to come back to calm, and your ability to ponder about the causes of your anger. So, managing anger is a delicate balancing act, in which you need to assess whether you were righteous or aggressive and if your response was proportional to the slight or exaggerated. If you are the kind of person who represses anger or expresses it too forcefully in the eyes of others, the following might help.

Anger defined
An instinctual emotional response that ranges from mild frustration to explosive rage. A response to a perceived or real threat that releases a cocktail of stress chemicals in your blood stream and provokes various bodily responses. When you get angry, your heart rate and blood pressure go up, as do the levels of your energy hormones, adrenaline, and noradrenaline.

It is also a normal and healthy human emotion that is biologically wired to keep us safe from danger. The most instinctive, natural way to express anger is via an aggressive response.

Anger can be painful and disturbing, so angry people seek an immediate solution to the source of anger. They must force the obstacle or problem away, immediately, to get relief. This is how anger can become explosive.

There are three means to handle anger: express it, repress it, or calm it.

If negatively expressed, impulsively, irrationally or in out of control fashion, it can damage relationships, reputation, and health and even lead to issues with the law. This emotion can result in snap decision-making and self-defeating behaviors.

If positively expressed, it leads to appropriate action, relief, discussion and resolution.

If repressed, its energy must be expressed in an activity, because if turned inward, it can lead to anxiety, depression, somatic illnesses, irritability and a range of physical complaints, even to heart attack.
If calmed down inside, you are controlling your outward behavior and internal responses, such as lowering your heart rate, you are letting the feelings subside.

Reasons for being angry and the magnitude of the anger vary according to people. Everyone expresses it differently, which makes reading and managing angry people difficult because it is a bespoke task. Individuals who are easily angered have a low tolerance for frustration. They can’t tolerate much inconvenience or annoyance. They are particularly infuriated if the situation seems unjust. Causes may be genetic, physiological or sociocultural.  Some people are born with low tolerance levels. Others acquire it. Other get very stressed, and their tolerance lowers over time.

Reasons for being angry

Anger is caused by internal events, such as brooding about personal problems, or external events, such as being caught in a traffic jam or handling a difficult work colleague.

– Unfairness or injustice was done to self or others, rightful or perceived.
– Frustration at a situation, event or person (impatience)
– Being hurt by the actions of another
– Being harassed
– Sensing a threat to ideas and beliefs we value.
– Feeling dismissed (your needs are not listened to)
– Internal mood states (like the memory of past trauma springing up to mind)
– Fear
– Accumulated stress
– Use of street drugs
– Certain medical conditions
– Seeking revenge
– Getting attention
– Being unable to express other feelings.

Why we bottle up…. Until we can’t any longer

We’re raised with the belief that anger is ‘bad’ and we are actively discouraged from expressing it. As a result, we don’t learn how to handle it or channel it constructively, we suppress it and internalize it. Several assumptions underlie this behavior.

Part 2. > What we’re told about anger – the myths.

Bitter Divorces Are Destructive

Acrimonious divorces can bring you down to your knees financially, and destroy your health. Worse, they will emotionally injure your children.

The difference between a bitter and a healthy divorce depends on the choices you and your ex-partner make. A divorce involves a couple, not individuals. One or both of you can choose to have a bitter divorce. Conversely, both of you can choose to have an amicable one.

Most separations start with civility. However, one of the many causes or outcomes of divorce involves issues that developed during the marriage, such as resentment or an injury to self that can no longer be healed throught talking and repairs attempts. Divorce allows a partner to express their hurt and anger by opposing their former mate through the legal processs.

The fight might involve manipulation, generally about the children, the finances, or any form of social pressure. As one party throws allegations, the other feels a need to protect themselves and to respond in kind. An inexorable, escalating spiral of tit-for-tat retaliation takes place.

Characteristics of acrimonious divorces. They:

  • Lead to litigated adversarial stances.
  • Make it difficult for you not to counter if the other is warring against you.
  • Create bad feelings and anger that cannot be kept under control, and usually include  attempts to vindicate the past (e.g., he was unfaithful, she was a neglectful mother)
  • Involve mutual self-defeat.
  • Cause the children to suffer emotionally, as negative emotions cripple the parents
  • Mess up your health  during the process, which could last several months if not years. It could ruin any opportunity to rebuild a better life and relationship.
  • Are costly. Your economic resources could be used for your and your children’s’ benefit instead of being squandered.
  • You all lose.

Characteristics of healthy divorces:

  • They are civil, cooperative, and sometimes even amicable. Animosity and battling are kept to a minimum.
  • The reasons making a divorce go bad are fully understood and avoided (see next paragraph).
  • Have legal, economic and emotional objectives: they end the marriage within a reasonable timeframe without massive legal and other fees, distribute assets and income fairly, economic sacrifices are equally shared, both partners are allowed to grieve the end of the marriage and each can move on to new relationships without baggage.
  • They foster a sense of economic justice and basic trust as the other is not demonized. Communication remains effective, with mutual goodwill.
  • They achieve legitimate and positive goals for yourselves and your children.
  • Settlement agreements are negotiated before going to court. Economic issues such as child and spousal support are resolved, the property is equitably divided, and mutual rights and responsibilities as parents are spelled out in a fair custody agreement.
  • They minimize emotional impact on children and help them adjust to a new situation.
  • They transition to a new life for your all.

Reasons divorces go sour:

  • Though separating, you are still married. No matter how much distrust, pain and anger you feel, and the need for vindication or revenge, you are still emotionally connected. Fighting through a divorce is a means to ‘stay together’ for the duration of the proceedings.
  • There is no economic justice, such as an enormous financial disparity between the partners, where one feels victimized by the other.
  • There is no trust: one has demonized the other and has not given the benefit of the doubt when disputes arise.
  • No communication skills: communications are uneffective and their style is not conducive to future cooperative parenting.
  • There is no goodwill. Each expartner wishes ill upon the other and does not support the children in accepting the other’s new mate or lifestyle.
  • The nature of the legal system is adversarial and based on opposition instead of cooperation.
  • One or both partners’ behavior is abusive, stemming from a need for control or revenge, anger, flaring emotions, and because all that was disliked in the other and messed the relationship up is  now resurfacing during divorce: years of managed dysfunctions will now explode in the space of a few weeks. Tactics will include:
    – Contesting parental fitness (invoking drug abuse or various addictions, irresponsible, neglectful or abusive parenting, mental instability, reckless spending, etc.)
    – Endless spats of grounded or groundless allegations, some designed to drag the divorce and cause financial harm.
    – Intimidation and scare tactics, with threats  such as “I’ll get custody of the kids”, “I won’t pay”, etc.
    – Hiding assets well ahead of requesting for divorce or during the divorce, or failing to account accurately for one’s possessions.
  • The impossibility to reconcile emotions and rationality. On one hand, one must fight against the fear of becoming economically destitute, to protect self against the new ‘enemy’, or worry that the children might be stolen or their mind  poisoned by the other. On the other hand, there is the memory that there  was love once and the knowledge that the expartner is the key to the children’s emotional and psychological health.
  • If settlement agreements are unfair and unworkable or incomplete,  the feelings of bitterness and injustice that emanate from them lead to regrettable actions, such as defaulting on child support obligations or not adequately meeting the children’s economic needs. When flawed, the settlement will need to be reworked in court.
  • Negative feelings interfere with readjustment, growth, and new relationships.
  • Social circles are broken as family, friends and acquaintances take side, and sometimes even interfere with the divorce process.
  • Fears about custody arrangements and alienation from the children.

You can take measures to protect yourself and the children, and to  ensure a reasonable divorce or at least,  contain the effects of a bad one:

  • Minimize stressors in your life. Allegations and fights may be part of your divorce process. Each time you are accused of whatever fault by your partner’s lawyer , you will be emotionally flooded. Flooding impedes rational thinking and you could make a mistake in defending yourself as you create doomsday scenarios in your head and succumb to panic.
  • Whenever an allegation is thrown at you, sleep if off. Do not answer immediately. Allow your feeling of  injustice or rage to wither before you formulate an answer.
  • Be prepared. Anticipate your worst case scenario, such as losing significant parts of your assets, losing visitation or shared custody of the children, not getting enough financial support, etc. Plan accordingly. Follow up with a best case scenario and a realistic scenario will emerge.
  • Answer allegations one at a time. One at a time. Sort and address each issue separately when several are raised all at once. Collect whatever evidence you have, text messages, documents, statements, pictures, videos, any recorded media, and organize them in a folder, one for each allegation. Give that folder to your lawyer. Keep adding to it. Whether you ex partner’s allegation is correct or baseless, you need to collect mitigating evidence or evidence to the contrary. If you make an allegation, be prepared to stack supporting evidence.
    – Was he a big spender who imperiled family finances? Was she a gambler? Back it up. Get the receipts and credit card statements, match them against your documented income by way of bank or other statements.
    – Did he abuse the children? Back it up. Get records from doctors and counselors or ask for psych evaluations of the children. If you have photographs or texts exchanged after such incidents, print them out. If you are the accused, and you are certain that she purports such allegations so to deprive you of your custody rights, then appoint third parties to do the discovery for you. As paid and impartial professionals, they’ll bring their findings to the table.
    – Does he say that you are preventing access to the children? Keep a record of calls and visits. Stop attempting to minimize visits if no visible abuse has taken place.
    – Does he say that you are a drunk….. and you are? Mitigate. Show proof that you are seeking help for your alcoholism.
    – Does she say that you have some mental issues, and you do? Show evidence that you are undergoing therapy, taking medication, and seeking help.
    – What if you are not an alcoholic, you are not suffering from mental issues? Get a report from a GP and a specialist, then get a psych assessment.
    – Does he say that you are unwilling to compromise and you make unreasonable demands? Call a mediator, and show proof that you attempted conciliation on whatever issue he accused you of stalling.
  • Concentrate on the big issues. Petty ‘he says-she says’ fights  get expensive when handled by lawyers. Get third parties to help you, understanding that you, and you alone can keep your agents in check.
  • Do not attack the character of your ex-partner, especially to the children.  This could be construed as an attempt to alienate the children.Concentrate on managing your partner’s behaviors instead.
  • Keep it business-like. Don’t add fuel to the fire. If answering emails or texts is too emotionally taxing and risk a scathing reply, then have someone else handle it, or wait to read them.

Note: I  worked for the State of Colorado district courts as an investigator,  and as advocate in cases involving  custody of children caught in domestic disputes, separations and divorce. I was appointed to act in the best interest of the child. As such I am very familiar with acrimonious domestic and divorce cases, and I am fully trained to assess  impacts on the children caught in such situations.

Stress: Handling it with a compartmentalized life

Life is like a sailing ship. A ship that is sea-worthy has a number of separate compartments. When in stormy weather, one compartment might get damaged but will not cause the boat to sink. When the bottom compartments take water, the second and top decks keep the ship afloat. If the second level also goes, the top decks still keep the structure afloat. Only when water invades all levels of the vessel, does the ship sink.

This image applies wonderfully to your life: you are the captain of the boat. As you identify the compartments that make up your daily activities and your life, and ensure that each is balanced or at least minimally catered for, they keep your life afloat. They absorb the stress of any one damaged area.

While areas may overlap for some people, the lower deck usually comprises work, major undertakings and projects (such as education, purchasing a home and more), partner and social circle. The middle level’s compartments are partner, children, house, family, friends and community, pets, holidays or leisure time and learning something new. The upper deck includes diet, health, physical exercise, spirituality and time alone, indoor and outdoor hobbies.

If one or more of the lower and middle level compartments or even whole levels get flooded, it is then another area that might help you shed some of the stress. For instance, you could rely on family and friends when you have work-related problems or a severe dispute with your partner.

The upper deck is critical. Looking after your health and turning to your all-consuming hobbies such as music will allow you to get some respite away from one stressful area. That stress would be absorbed by another compartment, even if only momentarily.

Try this simple exercise: review the areas of your life; the list given above is an example. Draw a boat, such as the one below. The size of a compartment reflects the amount of resources you dedicate to them. The number of compartments you choose will reveal the areas of your life. Maybe you have a particular area that is not reflected in the drawing below: just add it! boat 1

Ask yourself how much time you dedicate to each compartment, and how well you cater for each area. Fill in details for each compartment. Perhaps you have multiple hobbies or sports activities.

Remember that it is the energy and time you invest in the upper deck areas that will keep you going if your lower and middle levels get flooded and while you take steps to pump that water out. This ability to draw on various resources is what ultimately helps you keep your balance during times of stress and perhaps crisis. If you find that you have too little compartments, now might be a good time to think about what you want to create.

Adapted and expanded from Powell, 2009, The Mental Health Handbook.

Stress Busters on the Go – When Time is Scarce

We all know it: the remedies for stress busting are a regular exercise, well-being or self-care routine, any activity you could practice a few hours a week. The issue is that we need find the time to free our timetable and attend training. Further, it is unlikely that an hour at the gym or in a yoga class will offer enough relaxation to offset a day or a week of stressful activities. The benefits of any routine will only last so long.

The following are some rapid exercises that you can practice on the go. They take only a few seconds, 3 to 20 seconds to be exact. They are highly effective. All you need to do is remember them, and use them as often as you need them.

You can practice several times a day if need be. You can do them before a difficult meeting or other challenging situation, and as you progress through your busy day, when you feel you want to give yourself a breather. They keep you grounded, alert, focused throughout the day, every day. They give you a micro-break and integrate seamlessly with your various activities. You will find that you feel less restless toward the evening, and racing thoughts won’t keep you awake all night.

These short exercises act as a swift pattern-interrupt, a kind of switch-on/switch-off button that prevents stress from increasing further. They take your focus off a trigger. They allow you to perform a quick ‘mental reset,’ as you would do at home with your internet WiFi router when it doesn’t pickup signals. The principle is the same.

• Intentional Listening.
As you engage in your usual activities, identity the faintest sound around you. It could be a clock on the wall or the engine of a car in the street. There are many sounds, so please, select the faintest one. Listen, while you are still doing what it is that you do. A few seconds are enough. You have somewhat split your focus between your present activity and that sound. Neurologically, it is restful.

• Diversions.
Ever found yourself in a tense situation? You might be arguing on the phone with a client, or being stuck in traffic, and you’d rather have it done and over with. Then focus on what it is that you are touching now. Is it a pen? The wheel of your car, your seat? For a few seconds, focus on the feel of that object. Again, as you focus your attention on your current activity, give your brain the means to rest, by tapping into your sense of touch. The brain responds well to touch: it is an immediate prompt to get back to reality, by sensing what is material and tangible. It is grounding, and hence relaxing.

• Notice the breath.
Simply notice how you breathe. Is it choppy? Uneven? Or is it slow and steady? If your exhale is shorter or jerkier than your inhale, you are in stress. If your exhale far exceeds the length of your inhale, you won’t be alert. Decide that your next three breaths are going to have an inhale that is as long as the exhale. This would take 10 to 15 seconds at the most. This is all you need to do. If you are extremely tense, then make sure your exhale is slightly longer that your in-breath.

• Acuppress.
Sitting at your desk and tired or stressed? Using the table as support for your elbow, use the supported hand’s thumb and middle finger to gently touch and perhaps slightly press the inner corner of your eyes, on each side of the nose, right under the eyebrows. You can also place your index between your eyebrows, and pace your breath (see above). There are nerve endings in that corner of the eyes. Touching or squeezing them provokes a parasympathetic (relaxing) response in the brain and then the body. Slow down your breath (see above) as you do this exercise.

• UnSloutch.
Stress expresses itself in our posture, as much as bad posture adds to stress. Whether you are walking or sitting, bring your shoulders up toward the sky, roll them back and down, and immediately get your shoulder blades close together. This will open your chest forward. Tension builds in the upper part of the shoulders and the neck. This leads to eye fatigue and migraine, among other things. Bringing the shoulder blades together in the sequence described, is a powerful counterbalance to tension buildup in that area.

• Intention.
Take a few seconds to observe what you do right here, right now. What do you see? How is the ambient temperature? What do you hear? Can you feel your heartbeat? Is anything happening within your body? Can you describe the color of the nearest object to your left? Now go back to your routine.

• Water and touch.
Next time you use the sink, listen to the water flowing from the tap. In an office or home environment, it is the closest we have to the sounds of nature: the sounds of water are intensely relaxing when you focus on them.

Resources:
Block, S. (2005). Come to Your Senses: Demystifying the Mind-Body Connection. Atria Books
Ortner, N. (2013).The Tapping Solution: A Revolutionary System for Stress-Free Living. Hay House
Rosen, R., Yee, R. (2012) Yoga of Breath: A Step-by-Step Guide to Pranayama. Shambala Publications

Emotional Resilience – Coping with adversity

Some call it ‘mental toughness’, others will talk about ‘emotional resilience’.  These words describe our capacity to face adversity and to cope with stress, and our ability to bounce back to our usual state of balance after some severe or emotionally challenging events.

“What doesn’t kill you makes your stronger” said Nietzsche.

In other words, each time we experience a stressful event and  we successfully go back to a state of balance , our tolerance, or resilience threshold,  shifts  upward, toward  strength and increased ability to cope with difficult events in the future.

It also means that we develop our ability to handle greater complexity: what seemed insurmountable yesterday was lived through, and hence an experience will become more manageable, though still painful, tomorrow. We’ve learned something from the experience, from its context and intensity, and we’ve shown ability to adapt, learn and grow.

Resilience is dynamic, and built over time; it is not something we are born with. It defines our ability to  positively adapt to  and recover from circumstances   such as deprivation, trauma, loss, threats, illness, accidents, and so on. It allows us to show and build life skills competences.

Some of us get caught in a loop and experience delays in adapting to and growing out of a crisis.  For instance, if a negative circumstance is far too overwhelming for our current capabilities, psychological distress involving grief,  fear, rage, frustration and other emotions,  or mental injury, can occur.  This results in symptoms such as victimization, overwhelm, fatigue, substance abuse, and mental health problems in the form of depression, post traumatic disorders, phobias, anxieties, obsessive-compulsive disorders, etc.

This in turn marks the difference between survivors, who grow out of challenges and transform a situation into one of personal growth and development,   and persons who sustain mental injury and may take longer, to adapt and grow out of their challenge.

Everyone has a different threshold of resilience overall, and resilience levels differ in any one person according to the type of crisis they meet. This in lay terms distinguishes between who is ‘weak’ and who is ‘strong’ and how a person is very ‘strong’ in one situation and ‘weak’ in another.

Since we all react differently to an identical trauma, these words do not account for the severity of circumstances a person must live through. While all of us will experience the loss of a loved one at least once in our life, not all of us experience accidents, tragedies, abuse, natural disasters or war.  Our age too makes a difference. 2/3 of children who  sustain trauma in early childhood may  have all kinds of issues later in life such as social maladjustment and violence* , while an adult may suffer from depression only or simply rebound quickly.

Resilience is also affected by our moods and our physical health at the time of the crisis, and by the length of exposure to the event.

Finally, resilience is not about ‘toughening up’, ‘bearing it like a man’, or ‘chin up, stiff lips’. It requires acknowledging feelings, grief, anger, pain, and  allowing those to be ‘felt’ as opposed to boxed in and ignored or controlled.

Building up/recovering your natural resilience

Your personality traits and your environment are major factors in your ability to deal with stressful situations. This makes it important for you to know what situations you can easily cope with, and the ones you have problems handling.

Support groups, associations of psychologists and other professionals all recommend the following, to implement as a priority, in any order:

  • Commit to recovery from the situation and make it your priority for a while.
  • Delay making life decisions (change of job or  residence, separation or marriage etc, until you feel your emotional stability has returned, whether this takes days, weeks or months after the event)
  • Spend time developing, improving, maintaining relationship with partner, kids, family members, friends and other acquaintances. The closer and more meaningful your relationships are, the better your ability to cope when distressed or stressed.
  • Talk about your feelings with people who are close to you. Let some steam off in safe settings. Vent it out, in safety. You may find that people around you have lived similar circumstances and they can guide you and support you as they share your burden.
  • Gain understanding, seek knowledge about the situation. This helps you view the crisis not as an unbearable problem, but as a situation you can act upon decisively, because you know the facts.  It also helps reduce fear, which tends to exaggerate as stress levels rise.
  • Accept that circumstances sometimes can’t be changed; in this case, walk out of the situation if you can, or develop your other coping skills if you can’t.
  • As you come out and recover from the event, develop a set of recovery goals (e.g., spending time with close friends) and carry them out, slowly. Delay making big decisions.
  • Improve your physical health, with nutritional choices, physical exercise, relaxation, and enough sleep. These steps will ease the stress you are under.
  • Implement a daily routine and stick to it – show the world that you are stating that life goes on as usual, regardless of whatever scare comes your way.
  • Develop a hobby, an interest which can absorb you, something you enjoy doing.
  • Help others, volunteer to help.  Being a support to others is documented to increase ability to cope with difficulties. It makes you feel more capable.
  • Look at learning from the past, review how you handled the events, as this becomes an opportunity for self discovery and acceptance, and will help you develop confidence in your ability to handle future events.
  • Keep a long-term perspective on the events; see them in the broader context of your life, and life span.
  • Cultivate hopefulness and optimism. Visualize what positive outcome you expect further down the line. As the saying goes, ‘there’s light at the end of the tunnel’
  • Wonder what the meaning of your life is, in this situation and in your future.
  • Call for professional assistance, medical doctors for medication, and therapists for counselling and psychological support, pastoral counsel for spiritual support.

 

If you wish to discuss some troublesome event and find ways to move forward, please contact me to schedule your obligation free, 30 minute consultation.

Sources and Resources:
An excellent book is “Man’s Search for Meaning “by Viktor Frankl, the father of Logotherapy. Various printed and online resources are available on topics such as trauma, PTSD, depression, OCD, etc, with coping tips and strategies.

 *see online references on the work of Emmy E. Werner, Developmental Psychologist

Transforming Our Internal Universe: Changing our brains with the power of thoughts, emotions, and the body.

When we achieve congruence in speech, thought and action, we function at our peak, because our whole being is fully engaged, with all parts of ourselves working harmoniously and co-operatively toward a goal or a state of being.

However, how do we synchronise these three parts for peak functioning?

This comes through the integration of feelings, senses, and thoughts.

Such integration involves understanding and managing our inner world, which includes the rational mind (the thoughts) and our capacity to have and identify certain emotions. It also involves understanding the relationship between our environment and our body, through its ability to sense and self regulate. In this sense, all aspects are interconnected.

Once a thought exists in our mind, masses of physiological reactions occur in the body and emotions are felt.

Lets put it to the test: notice the sensations you feel when you recall a cherished event, or a person you love.  Then after a short break, do the same,but this time recall an intense moment, one of anger, frustration, fear, or sadness.

The  sensations are different and produce either well-being and relaxation or tension. These sensations are only the surface sensing of much deeper processes at play within your body.

The thoughts create a cascade of bodily reactions that in turn produce what and how we feel, and naturally how we act.  Each time we direct our attention or awareness to a given thought, feeling, event or situation, we set in motion subtle neurological processes that alter our blood flow, activate several glands and produce a chemical cocktail that is released in various organs and changes our physiological systems such as the respiratory or cardio-vascular systems, accelerating or slowing them down.  They also modify electrical impulses in various parts of the brain, and create new combinations and sequences in the neurological pathways.

All these processes remain unnoticed unless by our brain’s unconscious.  However, what we put our attention on, ultimately defines us on a neurological level: we become what we think and our body’s health is related to how and what we think.

Our habitual thinking trains our body to react to  certain habitual chemical processes.  Whatever the chemical releases, they become regular and reach a state of normality over time.  Some however become abnormal. For instance, increased arousal levels caused by adrenalin production, perhaps the result of a stressful life,  can over time lead to cardiac issues.  Yet we do not notice, because these conditions are our level of normal, that is usual and functioning.

Think of similar events occurring over time, such as the daily rush to work, and the way we think and react to this.  Chances are, we think and act in the same manner, time after time, without even noticing, and this in turn creates the same chemical processes that run repeatedly through our body.  Depending on the processes, rushing to work every day can be a fun and relaxing experience that can be nurturing to the body, or detrimental to our health. All depends on the feelings and thoughts associated with ‘going to work’ and the chemicals thus released internally.

Sometimes, we become aware of how we think and how we do things similarly and perhaps, how it may affect our body and our health.  Because we are versatile beings and are capable of thought, we can  then choose to keep our attention on the thoughts, feelings and actions that serve us,as opposed to those that, though once useful to us, we now recognize are detrimental to us.

For instance, placing your attention on pain in the body is beneficial: it tells you that you need to pay attention to an injury or illness, and take appropriate steps to heal.  However, if the pain becomes chronic, or if you worry about it , or get frustrated because the pain impedes your daily life, your focus makes the pain exist even more.  At that point, if you place your attention on something else, the part of the brain that processes body sensations switches off, and the pain goes away or its intensity reduces significantly.  If you pay attention to pain consistently, you wire your neurons strongly toward the pain, and you develop a more acute perception of it. Like a finely-tuned instrument, your body and thoughts are now able to feel the pain even more acutely.

Our attention brings anything to life.  We mold ourselves by the repeated attention we give to something: we are a work in progress, and through experiences, memories, fantasies, all information inputs alter our brain cells by neurologically rearranging and rewiring neural pathways through the various stimuli we get.

In essence, we become what we spend our time mentally attending to.  Hence, the thought that we have the ability to reshape our brain, and thus, reshape our destiny holds true.

Yet, can we unlock the means to manage our thoughts, feelings, and reactions to move from stress and pains toward regeneration and change?

The answer is yes and a stark contrast to older beliefs that the mind is static. 21st Century research shows us otherwise.

We have the neuro-plasticity to “break the habit of being my usual me.”  Our brain can and does evolve and it does so limitlessly.We are able to achieve congruence of thought, feeling, and action, as we move away from a state of stress and reactivity to a state of alert mindfulness.

Through our own stress, we exist in a primitive state of survival, one that limits our evolution.  We experience life, but do not reach our peak. Realising our potential demands alertness, flexibility and health.

Sometimes, we choose to remain in a situation that creates stress: a less than satisfying job, an unhealthy relationship or location, and so on…  Why is it so? Why do we stay in a situation we dislike? Why don’t we change what makes us suffer? We know intuitively that “this is not good for us”, yet we feel unable to change anything about it and “put up with it”.

The response is simple: because not only have we become accustomed to whatever conditions we live in, but we also have mentally become addicted to the emotional states they produce, and our bodies have come to assimilate that the chemical reactions that arouse from that state of being are normal and are to be expected.

As we become stuck in one mindset or attitude, genetics are partially responsible, but we have hardwired a part of our brain through repeated thoughts and actions. And these are difficult to change.

To consider changing is to accept becoming different: we are no longer who we used to be.

We first have to experience something that makes us feel uncomfortable enough to want things to be different, and we sense that to overcome our life conditions, we have to change something in ourselves.

So, how do we overcome this challenge of redefining ourselves? How do we change something in ourselves to create new connections in our brains, new habits, or new approaches to similar events? How do we create the principles upon which, from timid we become bold, from helpless with finances we become confident we can take care of our financial future? How do we move from feeling dissatisfied with our relationship or job, towards a stage where we can change their dynamics, or simply make a decision we may now still fear, that of leaving them?

Overcoming a challenge requires first that we demonstrate a will greater than our circumstances,and second that we adopt new habits, by initially breaking old habits, through the release of encoded memories of past similar experiences that are outdated and no longer apply to, nor serve us in, our present circumstances.

My next article will describe some of the methods we can use to build up will, release old habits and how to rewire our minds for greater efficiency and happiness by achieving congruence of thought, feeling and senses as we learn to integrate senses, thoughts and body responses.

Coaching and counseling can help and support you in this work. How about contacting me for obligation-free information and for assistance in devising a three to ten week plan to help you get there?

MBB (Mind Body Bridging) is the method we will use as you journey to transform your mind. It is a 21st Century modality, used in various medical, psychological and coaching practices, with techniques drawn from the latest findings in neurological science and psychology, and thoroughly tested in clinical settings.

Stressed! What to do about i?

If you live everyday as an emergency, you pay the price

Stress is a physiological (body), behavioural and mental response to a perceived or real threat. It implies you feel in danger.

Some stress is necessary and good:  in healthy doses it makes you more alert, focused, and productive. It improves your performance and awareness when you engage in an activity.  It helps you escape from dangerous situations.

When the stress response becomes regular and situations do not call for you tensing up about them , or when  it  reaches or exceeds your tolerance threshold and power of adaptation, you get chronically stressed and possibly sick.

Whatever you do, even when loafing, you create a state of tension in your being.  This tension is an intrinsic part of life.   The tension is a polarity between two opposites or counterparts: rest and work, excitement and relaxation, demand and ability, etc.  When one opposite follows another, or simply exists with the other, you create the tension necessary to do all that you do in your daily life.  When the tension drags you more toward a polarity, when the natural balance of opposites is lost, you experience stress.

The stress response is the way your body signals that you’re getting out of balance and is a prompt to guide you back toward homeostasis.

Recognising and acting on those signals enables you to regain a relaxed state. Getting used to and/or ignoring the signals, will lead you to chronic stress response and later, to possible illness.

Facts about Stress

  • We differ from animals: our response is mental.  The flight, freeze or  fight response comes from our perceptions. Our bodies can’t make the difference between real and imagined danger
  • Therefore, an event (an accident, an argument at work, etc.)  is not what causes the stress directly. It is our perception of the event that causes the stress. If we associate the event or situation with danger , then we activate our stress response.
  • An aspect of danger is that when the perceived demand of a situation exceeds your perceived ability to meet that demand, you experience stress.
  • Anxiety, phobias and panics are severe stress responses. These feelings are appropriate in dangerous situations (e.g., road accident, falling and rolling on a ski slope or escalator). They are over-reactions when they occur after an argument with colleague, a dash in a crowded street, or a difficult moment with a mate.
  • Stress kills. Most sicknesses are a direct effect of accumulated stress. It is thought that 75% of visits to doctors involve non specific stress related illnesses.
  • Stress creates escapist behaviors: drug and alcohol overuse, careless sex encounters.
  • Stress can be caused by intense, dangerous events or even by lack of stimulation
  • We reinforce our stress reactions as we learn to associate an event with stress.  Most of our stress responses are conditioned.
  • Our personalities influence our stress threshold: sensitive or pessimistic people are less resilient to stress.
  • Our childhood experiences such as the care and handling we received from our caregivers  influence our resilience to stressors.
  • The quality of our relationships influences stress.
  • Whatever our resilience threshold, we all need to counterbalance stress with relaxation.

Stress is accompanied by physiological, body responses, and if threshold is exceeded:

  • alertness and focus —  sustained hyper-awareness leads to fatigue, overwhelm and out of control emotional responses, insomnia, then depression
  • metabolism speeds up to bring pure glucose to the large muscles involved in combat and flight (e.g., thighs, core muscles) — over production of  adrenaline, cortisol, vasopressin and  endocrine chemical to help this process may result in heart disease over time, type II diabetes, hypertension, stiff neck , headache and back pain because of tension.

Changing your physiology is a simple and effective way to reverse your stress response back to relaxation.

  • slow, rhythmical deep abdominal and then diaphragmatic breath activates the parasympathetic nervous response associated to return to calm, jump starts vagus nerve function for reduction of  heart ventilation and muscle tension, and promotes release of acetyl choline, the hormone of meditation, to reverse stress by a return to relaxation.
  • Breathe in for 5 counts, hold for one, exhale for 5 counts and repeat. Fill your abdomen first, followed by you thorax. Exhale in the same manner. Be slow and deliberate as you breathe. Engage in full, deep breaths.
  • Do a full relaxation technique by tensing and then relaxing each body part as you keep your breath rhythmical. Think of tensing then relaxing your feet, calves, knees, thighs, and each body part as you breathe in and out. pay attention to your facial, neck and shoulder muscles. Breathe. This takes 3 to 15 minutes to complete.
  • Do an activity such as a walk or go swimming.
  • Get out of the room where you feel the stress occurs and start breathing  (as per above) after you close the door.

The suggestions above are effective response to diminishing stress, and are your  first line of defence  for quick return to relaxed state . Apply breathing every time stress arises.

It takes about 8 weeks to learn apply  this breathing technique automatically so to calm your stress response. Learning this breathing technique takes only a few trials.

other responses involve:

  • various relaxation exercises, meditation, imagery and sensory withdrawal.
  • walking out from the stress.
  • developing greater tolerance to stress through various CBT exercises and progressive desensitisation techniques.
  • learning to come back to the ‘now and then’, which can be learned over a few g sessions.

Learning to let go of mental and behavioural responses to stress is your second step.