Saturday, December 08, 2018

It's all in your nervous systemS

I was going to write a post about what can we tolerate after hearing what Dr Datis Kharrazian said about it on the Interconnected series by Dr Pedram Shojai, but I had already posted about it in 2013.

But it has lead to this post which is also about tolerance, stress, diversity, inclusivity and integration on a micro and macro level.

When they say that stress is the biggest killer, they’re not joking, even though this has become somewhat of a cliché that we don’t pay much attention to anymore.

Mirroring the mind body split, we have the split between the central nervous system and the enteric nervous system, or to put it in everyday terms: the brain and the gut. This is most definitely changing in many circles, but very very slowly in the mainstream.

As a reaction to the dominance of the brain and the emphasis on reason, logic, reductionism etc. over the last few hundred years, we have more and more emphasis on the body which is great. But focusing only on the body or the brain is not an integrative approach. Humans are systems living within systems and I think any approach to health, mental and physical, needs a systems approach. We cannot afford to leave anything out of the health equation if we want good health and vitality.

Something that Dr Kharrazian said about tolerance made me think about my own tolerance levels over the last 10 years or so; and they haven’t been great. My tolerance for unhealthy chemicals is really low, I smell things I never used to smell. In fact I react to them because I have developed such a low tolerance, which is actually a good thing as it is pointing me to something that I need to work on for my mental and physical health which is the health of my gut.

It also mirrors my tolerance for other things in life which has also been low and has led to me having a ‘short fuse’ for things I would have normally taken in my stride. Or did I ever take them in my stride? Did I just push them down, not wanting to deal with them? And like so many, one day the straw broke the camel’s back and I was forced to deal with the mountain of stuff I had avoided.

We don’t realise that stress affects everything, especially our microbiome. Research is showing just how important it is to have good diversity of bacteria in our gut for our overall health, but it is especially exciting to realise just how much it affects our mental health. Everything we ingest is important to our health; food, experiences, other people, the stuff we read, watch and focus on. Which is why we need to be as selective as we can with the things we ingest and food is probably the easiest place to start for most people. It’s certainly easier to control than other people!

The gut lining completely regenerates itself in just 5 days. Try eating things you’ve never eaten before. This ensures good diversity in your gut. Increase your intake of vegetables, fruits and healthy fats. Drink lots of clean water. Chew your food slowly and sit down and relax when you eat. These simple things will help you enormously. Slow down in general, don’t even try to multi task, it overwhelms us and causes unnecessary stress.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018


Setbacks are inevitable; they don’t mean there’s something wrong with you or that things will never get better. By being prepared for setbacks, we know that we’re still ok when they happen and that our journey doesn’t always take a straight path.

Psychiatrist, Bessel van der Kolk says our biggest fear is that our pain will never end. However, fearing something doesn’t make it true, though it can certainly feel true. If you are afraid that things will never change, it is a really important issue to tap on.

It’s vital to be honest about how you really feel. The bigger the emotional charge you have on something, the more you realise you’ve hit gold in terms of being able to resolve what’s really bothering you. It can be scary to admit our fears around certain things, it can make them seem more real, but they are already real to you and tapping on them can help you to soothe them.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Be yourself

If I've learned anything in life, it's that I may as well be myself. It's too exhausting to live any other way. We like it (mostly) when people are themselves and we can sense it when they're not being themselves. We exhaust ourselves by playing along with any falseness, whether it comes from us or others.

It's not always easy to be ourself and growing up, we might not have had the chance and safety to be ourself and discover who we truly are. But I think we've always had a sense of it, deep down. It's up to us to live into who we really are. I think life calls us to do that.

It takes courage to be yourself. Remember, you're being yourself to be true to yourself, not to piss others off. And you will piss some people off when you know yourself; what you want, don't want, what you will tolerate and what you won't.

The good thing is that people will trust your Yeses when you say No on the odd occasion or maybe even every time you want to say No :-)

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Making sense of your life

Making sense of your life is not about what you’ve been through but how you make sense of it, which I think is a really hopeful message. Even if you had a horrific upbringing, you can still make sense of it and be who you truly are, not what your conditioning taught you to be.

Dr Daniel Siegel calls making sense of your life a ‘coherent narrative’ and uses the Adult Attachment Interview to help his clients figure this out.
You can’t make sense of your life if you haven’t looked at how you’ve lived, what has influenced you, why you do, think and feel the way you do. You can’t make sense of your life if you live in denial and avoidance. You can’t make sense of your life by disowning and dissociating from what’s painful even though it’s totally understandable that you do that.

Life calls you to make sense of your life; to digest, metabolise and experience all of your experiences so they can fall into their right place and you can be the person you are meant to be.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

When you can't accept something

When you can’t accept something, be honest about it. At least you won’t have the pressure of lying about how you feel which is exhausting.

Tapping on the truth of how you feel is what will get you results. You don’t need to dress up how you feel before you tap, just let rip on your honest feelings and watch how things shift. If you think you’re being negative, then tap on that first.

Balos beach, Crete, Greece

I hope the following phrases help you, remember to customise them to suit your feelings and situation.

Even though I think I’m being negative by telling the truth, I completely accept how I feel

Even though I don’t accept how I feel, I accept the truth of that

Even though I can’t be with this feeling, I accept how I feel

Even though I’m afraid that this will never end because no matter what I do it doesn’t go away, I accept how frustrated I feel

Even though I brace against these body sensations because they feel so awful, I can’t help myself, it’s a knee jerk reaction, maybe I can feel 10 seconds of them

Even though I’m just so exhausted fighting, struggling, trying to get better and it seems the harder I try, the worse I feel, I love and accept myself anyway

Even though I can’t find any compassion and kindness for these feelings and sensations right now, that’s ok

Even though I don’t see any way out of this … I choose to remain open, what have I got to lose?

Even though if I say it out loud or even admit to it silently, I feel it makes it more true, I accept how I feel

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Your comfort levels

As we’re healing from trauma one of the most important things, as Babette Rothschild says, is to improve the quality of our daily life as much as we can.

One way we can do that is by paying attention to how comfortable we feel in the moment: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

What do you do if you’re out walking and you get a tiny pebble in your sandal and it doesn’t feel really uncomfortable right there and then but you might feel sorer at the end of your walk if you don’t take it out, but you also think that taking off your sandal to shake the pebble out is too much hassle.

The small things become the big things so take that pebble out, make your walk as comfortable as possible. Listen to what your body is saying to you. Stop overriding its messages. This is how we show ourselves respect and take ourselves seriously. Making yourself as comfortable as you can be in any given moment is really really important.

So drink when you’re thirsty, eat when you’re hungry, rest when you’re tired. So many of us have a pattern of pushing through. We don’t trust that things will work out if we don’t struggle or fight for it. We might even think we’ll get some sort of prize for trying as hard as we can. Or maybe we have a belief that says the more we do, the more value we have. When we take it easy we feel lazy, good for nothing. It might even make us anxious to do less, never mind nothing.

Watch out for signs of discomfort and what you do to alleviate that discomfort. It might be easier to make yourself more physically comfortable initially as you usually only have yourself to answer to in this regard. But maybe emotionally you’re not comfortable saying No. Feeling comfortable in this instance in akin to feeling safe, they often go together. Remember by saying Yes when you don’t want to, is equivalent to saying No to yourself. Try saying No on the smaller things with people you feel safer with and see how it feels. Like anything, we get better with practice and dealing with whatever consequences there might be. Because there are consequences either way, it just depends on what consequences we’re comfortable with, or can become comfortable with.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

The reenactment of trauma

The reenactment of trauma, or repetition compulsion as Freud called it, is everywhere. In our own individual lives and collectively.

If we don’t know about this phenomenon, we’ll think we’re being persecuted, punished, cursed, because we’re bad, shameful, unlovable or unacceptable. Insert whatever adjective was used to ever deride you and any conclusion that you came to as a result of how others treated you and your experiences.

Being traumatised is like being in a perpetual state of indigestion. It feels awful and we’re often desperate to resolve it once it starts to bubble up from our too full barrels: causing us debilitating symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety and depression.

We wouldn’t walk around for 40 years with a piece of food stuck in our throats but we walk around with many many undigested experiences because they felt and feel too overwhelming to feel. That’s why we dissociate, dissociation is what creates trauma as defined by psychiatrist Ivor Browne: unexperienced experience. And it’s good (and essential sometimes) that we dissociate, it’s a brilliant survival mechanism until it becomes a noose around our necks.

Sheskinmore, County Donegal, Ireland

I believe trauma repeats so we can resolve it. We don’t often see it that way though, and nor do others. There are many who rush to condemn us when we show signs of unresolved trauma especially when it is acted out, rather than in. Examples of act outs are violence, abuse, bullying and examples of acting in are agoraphobia and chronic illness to name a few. Many see the signs of trauma being reenacted as evidence of disorder and mental illness. I see it as a sign of unresolved trauma or as Freud said*: “an urge inherent in organic life to restore an earlier state of things”. We literally cannot stand it, or thrive, when things are left incomplete, unexperienced and undigested.

The repetition of trauma gives rise to the most agonising frustration that whatever we’re going through will never end which leads us to feel hopeless and that we can’t escape our situation. It’s like a merry-go-round we can’t get off. But we can get off.

When you see repeating patterns in your life, write them down, write how they make you feel, feel into your answers, even if only for 10 seconds. Try feeling for a bit longer the next time, maybe 15 seconds. The repetition is an opening, an invitation to see the real truth of who you really are before any muck obscured your vision.

*Freud S: Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), translated and edited by Strachey J. New York, WW Norton, 1961

Monday, August 27, 2018

Tapping on insomnia

One of the most debilitating symptoms of undischarged traumatic stress is insomnia. When you can’t fall sleep, sleep only a few hours a night or you wake up constantly during the night, you just can’t function properly. Lack of sleep brings us to our knees, literally and metaphorically.

Insomnia is not a symptom you can easily ignore. If it goes on for longer than a few months, sleep becomes an obsession. It’s akin to being afraid of having a panic attack: you become more and more afraid of not sleeping and your entire life starts to revolve around getting as much sleep as you can, however you can. You will try anything to get a few hours sleep so you don’t go through your day like a zombie.

When you’re suffering from insomnia, your nervous system is in sympathetic mode, that is, flight or fight. Insomnia is usually the result of years and years worth of thwarted flight and fight responses that you couldn’t complete because of survival and safety issues. You might have been a good sleeper at one time, and something that might have seemed harmless was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

You might also have spent years in freeze mode. Sometimes it feels better to be numb than to feel anything. We can also oscillate between being shutdown and being overwhelmed. However, as time goes by things have a way of melting and erupting, whether we want them to or not. We become triggered more easily because our barrels only have so much space. Something has got to give if nothing is being emptied.

Insomnia is one of those issues you just have to get to the root of. If you don’t, you might sleep well some nights and then go back to either waking through the night or not being able to fall asleep: two steps forward, 6 steps back.

Your quality of sleep is a strong litmus test for your stress levels, so lowering your stress levels on a daily basis is really important. But so is getting to the root of why we’re stressed. Sometimes we don’t have any control over some of our stressors because of circumstances, but start where you are and do the best you can. A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step as Martin Luther King said.

Don’t wait until bedtime to relax, take every opportunity during the day to observe your breath, where you might be pushing through, when you’re not listening to your body, when you clench or brace and so on. Learning to sleep well again involves changes in how you live your life. What was once adaptive isn’t serving you anymore so you need to learn a new way of being in the world that is more true to who you really are.

Fill in the blanks to these statements and tap on your answers. Trust what comes up.

When I think of going to bed at night I feel …

Sleeping feels …

Not sleeping feels ...

A part of me doesn’t feel safe to sleep deeply ...

A part of my body feels … which keeps me awake (or does it feel like the whole of your body, be specific about where you feel stress/tightness/constriction) and that feels ...

My thoughts become distorted when I’m stressed and it’s hard not to believe them ...

Not sleeping and how it feels reminds me of ...