How Do You Spell Stress?  FFFFFFFFF!

How Do You Spell Stress? FFFFFFFFF!

Having a stress response to challenging circumstances serves an important function for survival.  When a threat is perceived from the environment it is advantageous to go into high alert and arousal to give a narrow highly focused attention on that threat to survival.  That is when the body reacts with fight/flight/freeze stress responses.  But all too often that narrow focus of attention and survival reaction continues as chronic sources of ongoing stress long after the threat is over.

Stress is not something that can be avoided completely.  As we all know “stuff” happens despite our best efforts to predict and prevent stressful events from occurring.  All too frequently the situation can be beyond our control to stop or change.  So “reducing or getting rid of stress” is not really an obtainable objective.  The true task is to learn about how we deal with those situations that can actually “invite”  more ongoing stressful responses.  Instead learn how to create a different relationship with those stressful occurrences.  What we think and feel (based on past experiences) creates the stress responses that can lead to more damaging consequences than the actual stressor.   Managing thoughts, beliefs, feelings and even behaviors are something that can be done to reduce the stress responses.  Even though we cannot necessarily change the stressful circumstances.   Most stress responses are due to the perception of being out of control of the environment.  This means being unable to predict and create the desired outcome or predict and prevent undesirable circumstances. This is the common threat that is often experienced as stressful. When the threat is removed or addressed then there should be relaxation and return to a normalized state of being.  When this does not happen that is when the complications from chronic stress responses and even traumas can occur over time.  According to Childre and Rozman “letting negative thoughts and emotions run rampant generates stress hormones which keep circulating in your system and reinforces depressed mood and anxiety” (p.92)*.  The stress inducing habit of repetitive negative thoughts and limiting beliefs, fear, resentments and blame (perpetuating a victim pattern that activates more insecurities) releases stress hormones that will continue beyond the external circumstanes that triggered them, a downward spiral.

Symptoms of Stress

The 5F’s of Stress responses are:

  1. Fight. Most people do not actually physically “fight” a perceived threat. Although some “road rage” incidents have escalated to physical confrontations that can be life threatening.  Most stressors do not actually threaten someone’s life.  Instead the fight usually manifests as an internal conflict about the stressful situation.  Such as “I don’t want to deal with this”, I don’t know how to deal with this”, “I have too much to deal with and can’t handle more”, “I’m overwhelmed and exhausted.”  And yet the stressful event is present demanding to be dealt with.  The fight is often expressed in being argumentative, angry, hostile, aggressive, agitation, frustrated or just plain irritable and edgy with family, friends, and co-workers.
  2. Flight. Fleeing from managing a stressful situation is often by denial, procrastination, avoidance, disconnection or dissociation, suppression or repression of feelings, using distractions like TV, the internet, cell phones, drugs  and alcohol.
  3. Freeze– This is the proverbial “deer in front of the headlights”.  Danger is coming and there is fear.  Fear shows up as numbness, being literally frozen or being immobilized and unable to take any action or make appropriate decisions.
  4. Fret– Thinking changes with a very narrow focus of atttention on the stressful event. There is often constant worry, frenetic thinking, rumination, preoccupation, complaining, and hyper-vigilance for the next stressful event.  Frequently there is an inability to concentrate or think rationally about the situation in order to more effectively deal with it.
  5. Frazzled– Energy changes as a result of all of these stress reactions resulting in fatigue or complete exhaustion, feeling overcome and overwhelmed byt the situation, sleeplessness and even insomnia which causes more tiredness.

Five Solutions to Managing Stress

  1.  Friends– Connecting with friends is a very powerful way to effectively manage a stressful situation. It can be helpful to talk about the stress with a sympathetic listener.  However, that should not be repeated over and over again which would generate more stressful responses.
  2.  Focus– The narrow focus of attention is a limited field of information to the exclusion of everything else. This restricts awareness of other experiences and information that may be helpful to the situation.  Examples are just focusing on the stressful event, internal self talk,  or repetitive thoughts and limiting beliefs.  A more helpful way to cope with stress is to have an open focus of attention.  This is a more expanded and inclusive way to attend.  Research has shown that even including the simple awareness of physical sensations related to sress can make a big difference. Or attending to space or objects in the envrionment, other senses (smell, taste, sound, touch, visual) or focusing on a broad range of internal and external stimuli overall.  This form of attention has been shown to reduce physical and psychological stresses and enhances creativity which can be helpful for problem solving.
  3.  Fun-Laughter! If you are laughing you can’t think or worry.  Laughter transforms fixed, counterproductive, negative thinking that accompanies trauma and stress. It is a form of nonverbal communication that conveys empathy and is highly contagious.  Laughter promotes health by increasing endorphins, lowering blood pressure, decreases stress hormones, boosts the immune system and beneficially activates the cardiovascular system.  Overall laughing will lead to feeling more relaxed, energized and being present with a better perspective on the current stress.
  4.  Flow and Flexibility– Various emotions are appropriate at different times.  Learning how to manage the flow of emotions is very helpful in stress management.  This requires a flexibility to shift to high or low levels of arousal as needed.  Having an awareness of the feelings that includes the location of the feeling in the body, the sensations of that feeling and naming the feeling itself is a first step in emotional management.  Using meditation, yoga, or some other physical activity is helpful in discharging or shifting some of the emotional energy.  Being emotionallly fit is being able to return to a baseline of emotional balance regardless of external circumstances.
  5.  Finding Coherence-Coherence is greater order and synchronization in the systems within the body.  Stressful reactions cause incoherence and chaos in the body especially over time.  This can contribute to a variety of physical symptoms and health issues.  The easiest way to achieve coherence is bring the heart into coherence with a breathing technique.  Through establishing and sustaining coherence hormone ratios can change, moods and perceptions can improve, energy increases, stressful reactions reduce and resilience against future stressors increases.

 Coherence Technique:   Eyes closed. Focus on your heart and imagine your breath flowing in and out of your heart breathing deeper and slower. Imagine or experience a feeling of love, joy, appreciation, gratitude in your heart as your breathe. The more you do this the easier it will be to use in a stressful situation.   *Childre, D., Rozman, D. (2005). Transforming Stress the Heartmath Solution for Relieving Worry, Fatigue, and Tension.

10 Reactions to Grief and Loss

10 Reactions to Grief and Loss

The experience of grief and loss is a very individualized experience. There are common reactions that may occur. By no means do these reactions follow a particular order or sequence over an optimal period of time. Some reactions may not be experienced at all. Some may happen and then cycle back at a later time. Some people may recover more quickly.  While others may take a number of years. Comparing one’s grief process to others is not very helpful.  Focusing on the differences with others grieving process invites a conclusion of  judgment of not doing right. This certainly adds to the already stressful emotional experience of grief and loss.

The most common reactions are:

  1. shock or disbelief that the loss has occured
  2. denial with feeling numb or a refusal to accept it has happened
  3. bargaining such as “let me be the one to die, just let him/her live”
  4. pain or deep sadness and guilt
  5. anger that may be directed to doctors, religious beliefs or even the person who died
  6. depression and loneliness with a sense of heaviness, low energy. There may be profound feelings of isolation and feeling separate from others and normal daily life.
  7. period of calm with less physical symptoms and lifting from feeling overwhelmed and intense emotions
  8.  acceptance
  9.  processing the loss by becoming more functional, being able to deal with dail problems and beginning to rebuild a different life after the loss.
  10.  Physical symptoms. There is an increase in inflammation which decreses the functioning of the immune system resulting in more vulnerability to illness, fatigue even death. Insomnia, changes in appetite, inability to focus or concentrate as well as a variety of other physical symptoms may occur.

Generally there is very little that can be done to “get rid of” the grief.  When there is an emotional attachment greiving is a normal response or an “emotional injury” to that loss. It takes time to heal and recover with help from some “tools” or ways to mediate and manage these reactions.



The ABC’s of a Healthy Relationship

The ABC’s of a Healthy Relationship

These are only some of the necessary ingredients to the health of an intimate relationship. If there is a lack of these,  the relationship can flounder and eventually break apart. It is very difficult once there are habits of  an unhealthy relationship already in place for a long time to make any changes easily or quickly.

Sometimes there is just too much damage to repair.

These  qualities and practices for a healthy relationship should be present from the begininng. But it is never to late to start the ABC’cs of a healthy relationship!

Awareness or mindfulness is being able to monitor and notice what our thoughts and reactions are in the present moment without prejudice or judgments. Without awareness there is no possibility of correcting our mistakes or improving the quality of the relationship.  To be able to create the most healthy relationship starts with having a healthy relationship with yourself.   Awareness offers the opportunity to enchance self love by working on oneself and to observe potential positive outcomes for self and the relationship. This is the necessary first step to change and bringing the relationship to a higher level of satisfaction and health.

Acceptance of self and other of our unique qualities, strengths and weaknesses. In a healthy rleationship these unique aspects of self can be known, seen and validated by our partners. In a healthy relationship our “shadow” side can even become a source of creativity and growth as well as a source of our deepest needs, values and desires.  Acceptance also means being supported by your partner to pursue these authentic goals and desires towards the mutual fulfillment of healthy relationships.

Appreciation is the recognition and acknowledgement of our value and gifts by our partner. We want to feel the enjoyment and pleasure of being in a healthy relationship. If your partner offers something you want or like in a caring way and you feel the joy of that, why would you not want to share your appreciation with your partner? The desire to please the other is nurtured by your appreciation. Appreciation is the fuel for a healthy relationship. Think of this as making an investment into your relationship bank. If your relationship does not feel satisfying, pleasurable and energizing, why would you want to continue being in that relationship?   So, practice the “5 to 1 rule”.  For every negative comment (complaints, criticisms, judgments, blaming, accusations, verbal attacks, resentments) there should be 5 positive statements (compliments, affirmations, appreciation, gratitude, acknowledgments, recognition, affection, support, encouragement).

Behavior! Actions do speak louder than words.  Do what you say and say what you do!  Keeping your behavior congruent with your words and feelings is a good practice for healthy relationships. This helps prevent miscommunication,  misunderstanding and promotes a healthy relationship. If you care about your partner your behavior should reflect that caring attitude. That also means that you want to offer the gift of thoughtful actions or “acts of service and kindness” to your partner.

Communication is an essential component of healthy relationships. Start with a simple statement of feelings which is one word (fear, anger, sad, hurt, disppointed, frustrated, warm, relief, etc.) “I feel…” Then make a short descriptive statement of what that feeling is about.  And, finally state clearly what it is that you need or want.

Changes!  The only person we can change is ourself.  As much as we often try, we cannot change our partner.  It is very easy to point the finger at our partner when there is a disagreement or problem. But that approach typically only creates further problems, disconnection, distance and depleting emotions such as hurt, anger, disappointment or resentments. There often is no resolution and an escalation of damage to the relationship over time.  This is the antithesis of a healthy relationship. The first step is instead to focus on yourself. And using awareness look for your participation in what took place. Then you can consider an alternative way to approach your partner that could potentially lead to solutions, understanding and healing.

Making a “behavior change request” is another option. This is a request or invitation to your partner to willingly make a change in behavior for your benefit which enhances the relationship.  State your desire or need in a positive specific way and how it would make you feel to have that change in behavior. Your partner then has an opportunity to consider if that is something agreeable and possible to offer to do. If the answer is “no”. Go back to the drawing board and offer a variation of your request that would satisfy you and be more agreeable for your partner. An example might be: Instead of  saying, “stop being mean to me”.  Restate this as;  “I would like you to speak to me with a softer tone and become more affectionate. I would then feel closer to you.”


2 Ways to Bring Back that Loving Feeling

2 Ways to Bring Back that Loving Feeling

Do you recall how it was when you first met each other? Those were the “days of wine and roses”. Everything was loving, exciting to be together, fun. Whatever irritations came up were easily excused and he/she was given the benefit of the doubt. The focus was on how wonderful he/she was and only positives were the rule. Then reality set in over the time together. The “irritants” multiplied and became more difficult to overlook.  More discontent and negatives were the rule with less positives experienced in the relationship. Sometimes there is even a consideration of ending the relationship entirely. There is hope in bringing back that loving feeling you had in the very beginning.  The difference is that now you have to do it more consciously with intention. In the beginning it happened naturally without any effort. But try this with your partner. It works!  

 5 to 1 Rule

For every negative statement there should be 5 positive statements. Negative statements include complaints, criticisms, judgments, blaming, accusations, verbally attacking, resentments all directed at your partner. Positive statements include compliments, affirmations, appreciation, gratitude, acknowledgment, recognition, affection, support, encouragement. This should be practiced daily. At the end of the day make a point of sharing some positives with your partner. Offering positives does not need to be done all at once but throughout the day as it occurs to you.

Behavior Change REQUEST

(Note: I emphasized the word “request” because this is the attitude to be taken with this exercise. This is a request or invitation to your partner to willingly engage in changing his/her behavior for your benefit which enhances the relationship.) The purpose is to educate yourself about your partners needs and taking the opportunity to change your behavior in order to offer meeting those needs as a gift to your partner. This is not about trying to change your partners behavior! Each of you take a turn. When the request is made the other one needs to seriously consider if that change in behavior is something that can be done with a willingness to do so. If so, you agree to work on offering that behavior. If the answer is “no”, find another way to demonstrate what you are requesting from your partner that would be more doable for him/her to offer you. Make an agreement of a time to work on these changes. It could be a few days, a week or even a month. At the end of that agreed upon time frame, have a conversation about your experience in making these changes that you agreed to do and the status of your relationship as a result of this exercise. Identify your “desires” (or issues) that tend to be repetitive and evoke feelings such as anger, frustration, hurt, fear, resentment, disappointment, etc. State the desire in a more positive way including how having that desire met would make you feel. Try to offer something specific that would demonstrate the need that you are asking for from your partner.

Example: “Stop being mean to me.”

Restate this differently, for example: “I would like you to speak to me with a softer tone of voice and become be more affectionate. I would then feel closer to you.

How to Mitigate the Fear Pandemic and Dangers of Social Distancing (Part II)

How to Mitigate the Fear Pandemic and Dangers of Social Distancing (Part II)

We are living in an unprecedented situation that none of us have experienced in our lifetime. This isn’t the first time we have experienced a pandemic virus, nor will it be the last. But how the government decided to address this particular pandemic virus is unique in our history. The danger is not simply potential exposure to the virus and whether any one person may get sick or pass it unknowingly on to someone with a possible loss of life. Our very way of life has been completely disrupted. There is stress, loss and grief that everyone is experiencing even if you do not have a direct personal experience with the virus itself. The long-term quarantine, social distancing, job loss and uncertainty about the future increases physical and psychological stress.  This is a perfect storm that has a profound impact on the functioning of the immune system when we need it the most to protect us and those we love from the ravages of the virus. 

The Impact of losing a job or business

As I write this there are millions of people and counting who have lost their jobs. According to several studies job loss is not simply about a loss of income, but is about safety and survival and includes:

*increase in stress (physically and psychologically)
*poor health, an increase in self-destructive behaviors, drug and alcohol abuse
*loss of confidence, lower self-esteem, less sense of control
*anxiety, insecurity, shame, depression, isolation, loss of hope
*breakdown of family relationships, increased fighting, risk of violence
*a greater risk of suicide, increased risk of mortality by 10-15% in the first year afterwards


Dangers of isolation and social distancing

Studies conclude that social isolation and loneliness of otherwise healthy, well-functioning individuals eventually results in psychological and physical disintegration, and even death. Social isolation tends to increase the sense of loneliness. Loneliness is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, viral infections and cancer. Research shows that the lack of social connection heightens health risks as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or having an alcohol problem. Several studies have demonstrated that social isolation is linked to an increase of inflammation and a decrease in antiviral responses and production of antibodies.  “Changes in immune cell gene expression were specifically linked to the subjective experience of social distance”, according to Steve Cole, a professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine.

Many people will likely experience trauma from this quarantine.  Peter Levine, a trauma expert and author of “In an Unspoken Voice”, observed that a condition for the development of posttraumatic stress disorder occurs when someone is both afraid and feels trapped.  “The interaction of intense fear and immobility is fundamental in the formation of trauma,” according to Peter Levine. We certainly are “trapped” and confined in quarantine with the ongoing social transmission of fear either of the virus or the loss of ability to support our family.


The Dangers of being Out of Touch

We are social and emotional creatures who yearn to connect and touch.  Physical contact is necessary for our health, wellbeing and social connection.  Many people are suffering from “touch hunger”.

 The benefits of touch and physical presence are:

*triggers endorphins the feel-good chemicals that counteract the not feel good stress reactions.

*heart rates synchronize, gestures are duplicated, voices match and modulate which reduces stress

*we unconsciously duplicate each other’s facial expressions, which is how we know each other’s feelings

*communication and connection is enhanced by receiving this information moment by moment

During threats to survival, safety and grief, the natural response is to seek eye contact and physical comfort from others.  Instead people are now considered to be dangerous carriers of illness and death who should be avoided.

 Virtual contact

Despite all the positive press about how much we are connecting online during this time, this is not actually an equivalent substitute for human contact.   According to a recent study there is

* a strong link between digital communication and loneliness.

* Digital communications are out of sync and disrupt the sense of attunement.

* screens and cameras inhibit the ability to “read” or “feel” each other nonverbally through close eye contact and duplication of the micro muscles of the face.

This makes it harder to effectively communicate and repair any miscommunication. There is a tendency to be less revealing and more withholding than in person.  Less real connection is taking place when we need it the most.

And, you can’t hug your computer!

Wearing Masks

 Smiling is a very important nonverbal form of communication. When we encounter a stranger, it is a quick way to determine “friend or foe”.  Smiling is calming and reassuring. Wearing masks do not allow for that to happen.  As a result, people generally avoid eye contact or greetings often resulting in an increase of fear and anxiety when in public.

Signs of stress

Some of the symptoms of stress that you may be experiencing include:

*forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, inability to take in new information

*less ability to evaluate and analyze information objectively, reduced reasoning skills

*Sleep disruptions, fatigue, change in energy, changes in appetite, digestion

*Irritability, short tempered, more reactive, edgy, angry

 *panic attacks, heart racing, fast breathing, inability to catch your breath, extreme anxiety that stops you from doing what you are trying to accomplish

Be aware of what circumstances may put you over the edge. Many people have experienced a panic attack just by going to the grocery store.  Having the kids cooped up day after day for some may be challenging.  Having that awareness gives you an opportunity to use some of the following solutions to help you manage better.


I.  Quarantine your Mind


Take the same amount of time you would spend watching TV and research the news from a reputable fact-based source without the “programming” that induces fear, anxiety, stress and the belief that you or someone you love is going to get sick and die.

*Stop reporting and repeating devastating personal stories and worst-case possible scenarios. This only serves to reinforce the fear and anxiety in yourself and others.

* Avoid listening to others telling horrific stories or ruminating about their fears. Politely change the topic or ask them to stop.

*Focus on and repeat positive information, feel good stories, or new possible treatments for the virus

* Engage in “strategic planning” for the future. For example, I chose to take this time to learn how to do social media marketing for growing my business and writing!

* Be aware of, acknowledge and express your feelings with someone you trust. Ask for help or consult with a professional.

* Make choices that give a sense of personal control by exercising, eating healthy, being productive, getting up and getting dressed, etc.


 II. Soft Belly breathing, quick stress, anxiety relief

According to James S. Gordon, MD, an expert on stress, trauma and author of “The Transformation”, breathing with your belly in a soft, relaxed way:

* slows heart rate, relaxes muscles, decreases blood pressure, improves digestion

* reduces fear and anger, stress reactions, improves judgment

* promotes self-awareness, compassion which invites more connection and feeling closer to others

HOW TO SOFT BELLY BREATHE: Eyes closed, Say the words “soft”, “belly” slowly. Inhale through nose, exhale through the mouth softening more and more with each exhale, focus on feeling your belly move with each breath.


III. Shake it Up and Dance it Out

Cultures around the world use “expressive meditation” (shaking and dancing) as a way to deal with trauma and grief. Animals shake after they experience threatening predator situations before returning to normal activities. Expressive meditation is an ancient way that religious traditions use to change and expand consciousness.  The benefits of expressive meditation (shaking and dancing) are:

* promotes spontaneous emotional expression which can be healing in itself, increases the life energy

* supports spontaneity, liberating, healing of trauma, same benefits as physical exercise

* increases serotonin, dopamine and endorphins, creates new neurons in the brain

* releases fear, decreases anxiety, relief from and protects against depression, reduces self-doubt increases resilience and creates a better mood

* improves sleep, memory, increases capacity to focus

* disrupts the stress survival patterns of rigidity, tense bodies, shallow breathing, limited beliefs and negative thoughts

* returns to a normal state of balance with access to imagination, awareness and social engagement 


HOW TO GET MOVING:  Let go of any self-consciousness and just get into the movements!

SHAKING: Set an intention to appreciate the opportunity to move through and beyond where you are frozen or stuck in fear, stress and survival.

Select some fast music that gets you moving.

Start with feet shoulder width apart, a slight bend in knees, close eyes, breathe deeply, long slow breaths.

Start shaking from your feet and move upward through your body. Experiment with shaking all areas of your body, don’t leave any part out.   Do this for about 5 minutes to fast music. Then finish with 2-3 minutes of stillness, silence and breathing long slow breaths.

DANCE: Choose some music for moving that you are unfamiliar with. Wait until you actually feel the music in your body and then let your body start to move to the music. Try to move every part of your body in different ways feeling the music flow through you without following any dance step. Then finish with 2-3 minutes of stillness, silence and breathing long slow breaths.




* If you are laughing you can’t think or worry.

* transforms fixed, counterproductive, negative thinking that accompanies trauma and stress

* has the same objective as meditation which is a way to joyfulness

* form of nonverbal communication that conveys empathy and is highly contagious

* Health promoting, pain relieving and improves mood by increasing endorphins, lowers blood pressure

* Decreases stress hormones and boosts the immune system; aerobic benefits, activates the cardiovascular system, increases heart rate and pumps blood to internal organs

* Stimulates the diaphragm muscle, abdominals, back, leg and facial muscles. After a few minutes of laughter these muscles relax.

* Frees us from victimization that shuts out pleasure in the now and offers future hope.

* Feel more relaxed, energized, present with a better perspective on the current crisis.

* traumatized people benefit with pain reduction and lightens the burden of trauma.

* More harmony with and compassionate to each other

* Most importantly there is a genuine sense of a close connection with another


How to get it going:

Yes, you can tell jokes, even a Covid-19 joke. But that doesn’t go as far as you might think!

Do it with your virtual meetings.  It will be contagious! Someone starts and you all will be joining in.

HOW TO LAUGH DEEPLY: Standing is best to start. Try to force laughter up from the belly by contracting it and pushing it out.  Churn out sounds from there, the sillier the better such as barks, chuckles, giggles, guffaws.  Keep it going until the laughter takes over.

You can clap your hands or swing your arms while chanting, “Ho, Ho, Ha Ha.”  Keep going until deep belly laughs take over.

End with stating positive intentions about yourself, tasks and future.


Each of us have a responsibility to immunize ourselves and inoculate others against this virus by remaining in the present moment and elevating our emotions to love, joy, appreciation, gratitude, empathy, compassion, caring.  Transmit hope not fear.


If you need help call me!

Pamela Morgan, LCSW ,  Body Psychotherapy, 954-525-8088,, Help-for-us.