Tag Archives: anxiety

Calm Your Body and Mind: A Therapist’s Guide for Nervous System Regulation

Before Mental Health Month concludes, I thought it best to bring on board one of my closest friends for some discussion. Please help me welcome Lauren Goldberg (MSW, LCSW), a mental health professional who owns a therapy practice in Colorado called Secure Base Mental Health LLC. Lauren will guide us through how our nervous systems respond to stress (especially amid a pandemic) and how we can become flexible and responsive to our emotional needs through daily grounding practices. Believe me: You should want to read her advice. I’ve already gained some extra wisdom for my wellness journey thanks to the insights Lauren shares here and I’m confident you will too. And now, passing the torch to Lauren (see below)…

 

 

A Therapist’s Perspective

As a therapist, I am often asked my opinion on major current events involving mental health. It makes sense; people want advice, insight, and maybe even answers. They want to feel better. There’s never been a harder event to weigh in on than the COVID-19 pandemic. Why? Because I’m going through it with you.

Generally, there is some space between me, my family, and the major current event, but I am inundated as much as you are with the newest data, often conflicting information, and evolving requirements. Like everyone, I am constantly (daily, hourly, sometimes minute to minute!) adjusting the way I think about the world and how I interact with those around me. It is exhausting spending extra energy navigating tasks that used to be second nature. Plus, I can’t forget the ever-present message that the world is not a safe place. That’s enough to throw anyone’s nervous system into a tizzy!

When Maggie asked me to be a guest on WellnessWinz, I initially thought “what do I know?!” These are such unprecedented times. There’s no context from which to draw on to provide “magical insight.”

What I quickly realized is I do have insight. It may not be magical, but perhaps it can be useful. After all, the same principles can be applied to navigating a pandemic (wow, that word alone is charging!) as they can be to any stressful situation. There are key concepts that I apply to my work with every client, regardless of their circumstances.

 

 

The Autonomic Nervous System

My approach to therapy is based on the value of safe relationships and developing the capacity for autonomic nervous system regulation. My main goal as a therapist is to help my clients feel safe enough to connect to me and, as a result, connect to their own experiences. Let me break that down…

I’m sure everyone is familiar with the term “nervous system.” When I reference it here, I am referring to the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which responds to cues of safety and danger. It helps us know when it is safe to connect and when we must protect ourselves from a threat. There are three modes (or “neural circuits of regulation” if you want to sound fancy) that our ANS shifts into as it responds to the environment. Two of them are more commonly referenced – mobilization (fight/flight) and immobilization (freeze). Side note: There’s also the “fawn” response if you’re a nerd like me and want to do additional research.

An individual’s nervous system drops into fight, flight or freeze when a threat is perceived in the environment, whether the origin is internal or external. These threats do not have to be acute, life-threatening events but can also be chronic, low-level stressors, such as developmental trauma (i.e. not having basic emotional and/or physical needs met throughout one’s life). Responding to repeated threats of safety without the opportunity to re-regulate can decrease resiliency in one’s nervous system. I’ll explain this more in a bit.

The third circuit that is rarely talked about but just as important is called “safe and social.” This is the mode from which we feel safe enough to connect to ourselves and others. In this regulated state, we have access to logical thinking and can learn, communicate and engage with others.

A healthy ANS is flexible enough to respond to an incoming “threat” and recover quickly. However, many people lack this flexibility and end up spending more time in survival mode than in a safe and social state. Generally, this is a result of upbringing and life circumstances. Our nervous systems are so smart that they can be “trained” to look for threats. This can be advantageous when there are threats, particularly in childhood when we have no choice but to adapt to our circumstances.

 

 

The Disconnect Between Brain & Body

What happens when we logically know our environment is safe but our nervous system is still stuck in survival mode?

This disconnect between our logical brain (i.e. “mind”) and our survival brain (i.e. “body”) causes what we call dysregulation and brings with it some seriously unpleasant symptoms. A person with chronic dysregulation may experience anxiety, depression, fatigue, pain, intensified autoimmune responses, irritable bowel, an inability to problem-solve, difficulty connecting with others, and a myriad of other symptoms.

Amidst the global novel virus pandemic (yikes!), some people are spending more time in survival mode as their nervous systems shift away from connection (safety) and towards protection (danger). The world as we know it no longer exists. Our way of moving through life with relative ease and predictability is now replaced with reminders to protect ourselves, stay vigilant in our interactions with others, and deal with the grave uncertainty of our future, not to mention financial stress, social isolation, and serious illness.

 

 

Mindfully Navigating a New & Stressful World

So what can we do to help ourselves navigate this new world, especially with the number of “danger” cues around us? It is difficult to manage the influx of advice and information and to integrate so many changes without access to critical thinking. Remember, our logical brain goes offline in survival mode. To bring it back online, we must show our nervous system it is safe to come out of protection and get back to connection.

While the concept is simple, it is not easy. It takes practice, but the good news is, the more we practice, the easier it becomes. We can literally show our nervous system a different way to “be,” one small step at a time. Even in the midst of a pandemic, our bodies can be trained to notice safety cues. This does not mean ignoring discomfort in our systems; it means learning how to experience comfort and discomfort at the same time. Mindful practice can help our systems move fluidly between the two. Remember, a healthy nervous system is one that is flexible.

There are certain things we can do to show our system signs of safety and even joy. If we focus on these cues instead of cues of danger, we can build our capacity for regulation. I’ve included some suggestions below. Figure out what works for you. You can do this by paying attention to your body’s response (i.e. “gut reaction”) as you read through them. You may find that you already do many of these things so the key now is to do them mindfully. (Helpful hint: Try them for the first time when you’re relatively calm. The idea is to reinforce and expand any amount of regulation rather than attempt something that feels too hard and end up reinforcing survival mode.)

 

 

Daily Practices to Regulate & Calm the Nervous System

1) Ground in all five senses. I lead my clients through an exercise in which I cue them to notice what they see, hear, taste, smell and feel. This orients them to time and place and reminds their bodies they are safe in the room with me. You can do this on your own, too. I have my clients use this video outside of therapy to continue their practice of nervous systems regulation. If this feels too challenging or if you find yourself in a very escalated state, try focusing on just one part of your body that feels good or even neutral. This can be anything from one toe to the tip of your nose. All you’re doing is reminding yourself there is a place on your body that’s okay. When you focus on the comfort rather than discomfort, you’ll be surprised by the shift you begin to notice!

 

2) Get moving. Any kind of movement or exercise, including dancing, is a great way to connect to your body and remind it of its power, health and strength. Try to stay connected to your experience. Overriding your body’s needs and doing too much will push you back towards dysregulation.

 

3) Listen to music and better yet, sing along. The reason is complex, but engaging vocal cords can do wonders for discharging emotions.

 

4) Put pen to paper. Journaling, especially the good old-fashioned way, can help you get acquainted with and reflect on your experiences.

 

5) Take a shower or bath. Water is grounding. Take the effects up a notch by noticing the water fall onto and off your body. Try integrating aromatherapy. Figure out what smells good to you by experimenting.

 

6) Breathe mindfully. Breathe in through your nose as you expand your belly and out through the mouth. Focus on the exhale, not the inhale. Contrary to popular belief, the exhale is what slows our heart rate. Focusing on the deep inhale can actually have a dysregulating effect. As you breathe out, trust your body will know when to bring air in again.

 

 

7) Cook or bake. These two nurturing tasks can help you focus on a basic human need, and the completion of them can feel so fulfilling.

 

8) Practice self-compassion by connecting to your emotional experience. Such a therapist thing to say, right?  Well, there’s a reason – letting yourself feel your emotions allows them to discharge, and this can have far-reaching effects on regulation. Think about what you do for a kiddo when they’re upset – you acknowledge what they’re feeling before you try to apply logic. This is called co-regulation and you can do the same thing for yourself.

 

9) Take a nap. Rest may be just what your system needs to regroup. If you’re feeling up to it, see if you can tune into the heaviness of your body on the bed, couch or whatever supportive surface you’re using. This will allow your body to fully let go and lead to even more restorative benefits (you can also add a weighted blanket for more sensory input).

 

10) Restorative yoga poses. I am no expert on yoga but I do suggest using certain poses like laying on your back with your bottom all the way against the wall so your feet rest on the wall. Shivasana, child’s pose, figure eight/infinity pose and others that are “cooling” can help rest the body and elicit a parasympathetic nervous system response.

 

11) Connect to nature. Walk barefoot on the grass or sand, put your feet in a nearby body of water, notice the animals, plants and trees around you – really notice and even name them aloud or in your mind.

 

12) Listen to relaxing sounds. I have a playlist of ambient sound that I use as needed. My favorite is waves crashing onto a beach and rain falling. Soothing noises like this can be helpful when it’s hard to connect to your body. Engaging your auditory system provides a nice anchor.

 

 

13) Sunbathe! Good old vitamin D can most certainly aid in restoring vibrancy and positivity.

 

14) Pursue social interaction. There is no better way to regulate than by connecting with another safe person.

 

15) Do something creative, whether coloring, drawing, painting, molding or crafting. This is a great way to connect to yourself and discharge survival mode energy.

 

16) Hang with your pet. Spending time with them can be incredibly grounding. Intensify the grounding effect by engaging as many senses as you can. Notice how their fur feels on your hands, notice their color, the sound of their breathing, how they smell, how they feel if they are sitting on your lap, etc.

 

17) Do a puzzle or another game that supports problem-solving. Engaging your logical brain will in and of itself create space for more connection.

 

18) Watch comedy or light-hearted, feel-good shows. It’s important to screen out overwhelming and negative news. This is good practice when it comes to social media, too. Unfriend or unfollow people that seem to be stuck in survival mode. They will only serve to remind your system it’s not safe.

 

 

19) Visualization. Imagine being in a place that brings you comfort. For me, it’s sitting on the shore of the beach with my toes in the sand and my family nearby (but not close enough to disrupt my peace). Use ambient noise to intensify the visualization. You can find a lot of these on YouTube! As you begin to settle in, notice how your body feels. Don’t worry if your mind wanders. Just notice it is and gently bring yourself back.

 

20) Eat! You read that right. What’s more nurturing than a delicious meal, especially one that nourishes your body? It’s also okay to indulge. Just try to stay present while doing so. We run into problems when we disconnect and numb ourselves with food. Notice every bite as it goes into your mouth, notice the texture, the taste, and try to notice when you’ve had enough.

 

21) Pursue therapy. Especially if all of these suggestions feel like a challenge or if you know you’re experiencing symptoms of chronic dysregulation. Most therapists are trained to stay regulated so they can act as a regulating source for their clients. If you are interested in my style, seek out a somatic experiencing therapist. They are specifically trained to attune to the autonomic “conversations” in the therapy room, which can help you reconnect to your body and show your nervous system a more regulated way to be.

 

There are many more options to show your system signs of safety than what I’ve listed here. Do some experimenting! And I can’t say it enough – this is a practice. It’s not supposed to be easy. If it were, I wouldn’t have a job…

Thanks for reading, reach out with questions or comments, and best of luck on your journey to nervous system regulation. ~Lauren

 

*Feel free to contact Lauren with inquires and mental health needs at Secure Base Mental Health LLC.

 

Thanks for reading everyone! Keep nurturing the mind/body connection through daily grounding practices and self care for your mental health!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

Staying Spiritually and Physically Fit During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Fitness merges with faith to equip and armor our bodies and souls!

 

Roughly a month ago, I was invited to be a guest on the Up2Me radio station with host Kim Crabill this Monday (03/16). Kim has authored seven books, runs a non-profit, was named “Outstanding Leader in Media” for 2017-2018 by the CWIMA and was featured in London’s Highly Fabulous magazine by Dr. Patricia Benjamin as a “2018 International Woman of Influence.” What an honor to join her!

Listen to Audio Recording

Listen to Podcast

 

Brief Summary:

Our radio conversation was originally going to focus on the mind/body/spirit connection and how my personal journey as a fitness professional relates to others. But amid a rapidly changing global crisis, our dialogue necessitated redirection. Instead of chatting about my story, we focus on how to hold tight to two lifelines during times of fear and uncertainty: 1) faith and 2) wellness.

 

 

Kim and I chat about how we can manage the anxiety and fear we ALL share during this difficult pandemic. We share faith practices we can infuse into our daily lives and easy-to-access resources for maintaining our fitness and wellness while practicing social distancing.

I sincerely hope that the podcast recording of this radio chat proves useful and uplifting to you during these hard times. Let’s not forget that we are all in this together. Here for you, friends. Let’s use the tools we have to stay HEALTHY and STRONG!

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

 

8 Bad Health Habits I’ve Had to Shake

No one’s perfect and health professionals are no different – I’m certainly not perfect! Far from it. But through the years I’ve awakened to my bad health habits and have refined them through trial and error. In the spirit of keeping things real, here are the habits I’ve had to shake. Maybe they’ll make you feel less guilty for having a few of your own. 

 

 

To Do Lists

Alas, I’m ashamed to admit that my obsession with daily “To Do Lists” wasn’t given a firm kick in the pants until I became a mom. I’m not saying it’s bad to have daily goals and lists but what I would do is obsess over every last detail, staying up way too late to ensure every single little thing was checked off my list. I would run errands even though I was dizzy with fatigue. I would wake up in the middle of the night running through the things I needed to get done the next day. I’m telling ya: CRAY CRAY. Yet I’m astonished at how common this behavior is. 

When my son was born, I was due for a startling realization: I can’t do it all. There were lots of tears. I slowly relinquished control and loosened my grip on life’s minute details. As a result, I can now complete a mere fraction of my lofty “To Do” lists without freaking out. I can officially handle living “imperfectly.” I put my sanity over my task lists. (It feels good.) 

 

Overeating

I never thought that I overate until it hit me like a brick wall one day. I was fresh out of college and working to earn a commission-based living at the height of the recession. I was sitting in a side chair in my dining room stuffing my face with handfuls from a bag of Chex Mix even though I wasn’t hungry. I realized in that moment that I was emotionally eating and that it wasn’t all that different from overeating at dinnertime and finding it soothing.

I was able to “get away” with eating a lot while growing up (probably thanks to having a teenager’s metabolism and playing lots of sports). Even as a kid I didn’t feel like dinner was over until I was overstuffed. I ignorantly equated that overstuffed feeling to being full, even though it was overeating. Fast-forward to my 20s, when I got stressed about the responsibilities of the real world, and I craved to have that familiar feeling of fullness from my childhood. As though it made me feel more centered in life’s whirlwind. But I was wrong. I soon discovered that when I stopped overeating and started eating more intuitively that I had loads more energy and far less inflammation in my body.

 

 

Veggies, What Veggies?

I always ate veggies growing up (thanks mom!) but in college it was all too easy to forget about them. And then life as a recent graduate was a lot of buying veggies with the intention of cooking them before ultimately tossing them in the trash after they spoiled. It took me a solid few years to slowly integrate veggies into every lunch and dinner, but I soon found that it was worth the effort (and pretty darn yummy). Filling up my plate most lunches and dinners with a solid heap of veggies keeps me full for longer, doesn’t over-stuff me, and packs in nutrients that energize me and keep my immune system trucking along. I strongly encourage everyone out there to get creative with veggies and find options they can stay motivated to eat and enjoy on a regular basis.

 

No Time to Snooze

I’ve always valued sleep. Even my former college roommates can attest to this. And so can my husband. I’m pretty grumpy and blah without it. Even armed with this knowledge, I tried to convince myself that I could get by on 7 hours of sleep a night; 7-9 hours is the healthy range so I should be good on 7, right? One would think…but my body disagreed.

I spent a few years getting between 6-7.5 hours of sleep most nights and it just about killed me. I’ve never had a more bleary-eyed, exhausted, mentally unstable period of my life. When I finally respected my body’s screams for more rest, everything fell into order. I felt WAY better and acted like a human again. I’m officially an 8-hour girl. And 9 feels like a slice of heaven.

 

 

‘Twas a Nail Biter 

After my Junior year in college I traveled to Sedona, AZ for the summer to work as a fitness instructor and personal trainer at Mii Amo Spa. (Sedona is known for its positive energy and healing qualities.) When I ended the summer there, I noticed with surprise that I hadn’t bitten my nails all summer, something I had done my entire life! It made me realize that I would bite my nails out of nervous anxiety over nothing in particular, and that the habit never made me feel better – only served to kind of reinforce the stress. So, I don’t bite them anymore. Yay! Small victories are everything. 

 

Sit Up Straight

Mom – this one’s for you! Remember how you always told me to sit up straight as girl? “Don’t slouch!” was the exact wording, I believe. Well, you were right. Sitting and standing with better posture helps my whole body feel better. And I’ve noticed that slouching doesn’t just happen during the daytime – it happens at night, too! I notice that I feel better when I sleep straight instead of tucked into a ball. Give it a try!

 

 

Color Me Cardio

Once upon a time I was the cardio exercise queen. It was my mojo. I did cardio all the time. And I loved it. But to be honest, only doing cardio was kiiiinda a bad habit. It might not sound like it initially but constant endurance exercise can deplete your muscle mass and make certain parts of your body weaker. When I first became a personal trainer I had to adjust my mentality. I couldn’t only do cardio and coach other people to lift weights, could I? I had to start cross-training and weight training more regularly and let me tell you, it wasn’t easy at first. I can still remember the day when foam rolling felt difficult because I lacked upper body strength. I can still remember feeling like planks must be the devil’s favorite form of torture. And I can still remember the time when doing anything other than cardio felt forced. But that all slowly changed in an epic way. I’m pretty darn strong now and I love doing a huge variety of exercises. So, it’s okay if getting started with cross-training or weights feels like a chore. You may feel differently one day. Stick to it.

 

Sunday Fun Day 

This phrase is so common that it’s even a little sticker for Instagram stories! There’s something to be said about taking one day a week to truly relax – and I mean no chores, no work emails, no obligations, and for me, no exercise. I used to push myself hard all seven days a week and wondered why I never felt rejuvenated. Isn’t that just so ridiculous? I’ve really come to embrace the concept of “the sabbath” being a day of rest and encourage you to do the same, even if you’re not religious. We aren’t meant to go-go-go, ever pressing life’s accelerator down harder. What’s the point? Why are you doing it? Ask yourself these questions and the consequences of them. And then ask yourself the consequences of NOT resting. If you value your health, you’ll find that the consequences of not resting far outweigh anything else. We’ve all got one body to get through this life in. Let’s learn to honor it.

 

Life’s not about perfection. It’s about progress.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

To Face Unafraid (the plans we’ve made and more)

The holiday season is full of cheer, gift wrapping, hot cocoa, and a familiar playlist of Christmas carols. One such popular song, “Winter Wonderland,” was written in 1934 and has since been recorded by over 200 artists. The song mostly references winter’s charms like sleigh bells, snowmen, and the thrilling chill in the air. If you listen closely to the words of the holiday tune you will notice that one verse in particular feels a bit out of place. It stands out from the bubbly imagery of winter. It speaks to one of the biggest challenges of the holiday season and life at large:

To face unafraid / the plans that we’ve made” 

Even in the midst of the holidays we too have made numerous plans and overbooked ourselves to the extent that we might now be timid about our agendas. Or perhaps we have cleared our plates of responsibility and must find the resolve to enjoy down time without a whirring voice in the back of our minds telling us about all the things we ought to be doing instead of relaxing. Whatever your situation, finding the ability to thrive instead of survive can be tricky business.

One way that people commonly quell anxiety about the holidays and the upcoming new year is by setting a New Year’s resolution. I’m shocking you with this breaking news. About 50% of us will set a resolution. Unfortunately, research shows that 88% of all resolutions set on New Year’s fail. Ouch. The failure rate is so high because of the way people proclaim their goals. Lucky for you, success is within reach if you do the following…

WW Recommit to Goals

Instead of focusing on a big, lofty goal such as “I want to lose 20 lbs.,” commit yourself to a simple, concrete routine. For example: “I will do my best to go to the gym on Mondays and Wednesdays” or “I will attempt to better control my meal portions by substituting certain calorie dense foods with filling vegetables at lunch and dinner.”

Focus your energy on a routine instead of a goal. This will ensure that you take action rather than sit back and stress over a lack of progress or fear that you won’t be able to attain the high standards that you have set for your future self. As a fitness professional, I have seen time and time again that when people set large goals for themselves, without also creating healthy routines, they get lost in a spiral of frustration and fear. People miss personal training sessions, avoid the gym, and sometimes even gain weight, all because of anxiety over how to achieve their goals.

Fear not. Over time, routines become habitual. According to research it takes approximately 66 days on average for an action to become a habit. This really isn’t too terribly long. It’s worth committing yourself to. Your new healthy habit will become an anchor that keeps you on track. It provides the powerful root structure from which you can grow additional positive benefits and behaviors. The daily choice to engage in this action is the way you consistently recommit to your goals. Thanks to the power of habits we need not fear “all the plans that we’ve made.” This year, there will be no stopping us.


WW Open your eyes

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz logo 2

 

 

References

https://blog.bufferapp.com/the-science-of-new-years-resolutions-why-88-fail-and-how-to-make-them-work

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ejsp.674/abstract

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_Wonderland