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.

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.

WAYS TO MITIGATE THE EFFECTS OF THE MITIGATION

I.  Quarantine your Mind

*AVOID WATCHING TV

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.

 

 IV. THE BEST WAY TO HAVE A REAL SOCIAL CONNECTION:

Laughter!

* 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,

Mindfulbody.us, Help-for-us.

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

How to Conquer the Fear Pandemic of Corona

As President Roosevelt once said, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.”  The true virus pandemic right now is FEAR.  Many people are terrified right now, not about the corona virus, but how they are going to survive financially.  Everyone is talking about taking precautions and ways to prevent the dreaded corona virus.  But one thing that is not being much discussed is probably one of the most central and important considerations. Reducing or managing fear and anxiety enhances the functioning of the immune system. The stronger the immune system the higher probability that you won’t contract the corona virus.

The fear virus not only impacts the immune system, but each of us in high stress infects those around us as well.

  •  Internet communications easily transmit the fear virus sometimes without verification.
  •  News organizations locally and nationally sensationalize information.
  •  We report drastic stories and worse case possible scenarios.
  •  People talk about fears and anxiety over and over.
  •  The more attention that is kept on these emotionally charged communications the more the fear is fed and kept alive.
  •  The fear virus spreads faster and further than the corona virus.

Through these multiple routes of infection, stress is fueled throughout the community. The situation appears to escalate daily as a result.

Stress is about survival. 

Fear and anxiety are emotions of stress. These emotions arise from the anticipation of possible events that actually have not yet happened and perhaps may never happen. This is a projection into an unknown future based on a predicted trajectory of current circumstances.  When we are in survival mode we are in high alert and arousal trying to predict, control, and protect in any way possible to maximize best outcomes to survive.  The more stress that is experienced there is anxiety, fear, worry, impatience, aggression, competition, frustration, and panic.  With stress in charge we feel separation and a manic, frenetic state of desperation.  People rush to the grocery store in a panic buying everything in sight.  Sound familiar?

What happens to the body under stress?

During the stress/survival mode the brain is in high Beta waves.   There is an influx of stress hormones throughout the body.  Biological resources are directed to the task of threat and survival not growth, repair, healing.  The brain and body become incoherent. This means systems are not working as well together as a whole. Some systems may be turned off or are reduced.  There is not enough energy available to give proper instructions for optimal immune functioning. As a result, an environment is created that is more receptive to illness such as the corona virus.

Dr. Joe Dispenza, author of Becoming Supernatural

Dr. Joe Dispenza has done research concerning immunoglobulin A (IgA) a protein marker that is responsible for the strength and healthy function of the immune system. When stress levels go up, the levels of IgA are lowered.  The immune system is down regulated and compromised.  When the stress level is reduced the average IgA levels increase by 49.5%. As Dr. Dispenza said, “this is better than any flu shot!”

So how are stress levels lowered?

How can fear and anxiety be reduced or managed?

  • We need to shift our focus of attention.
  • This means reduce the amount of time watching, reading, or listening to the news. If you need to check in, do it briefly and move on to something else.
  • Reduce the amount of time spent talking about what is going on.
  • Find ways to not overly obsess about what is happening or possibilities of what could happen.
  • The future is unknown.  Anything is possible including a vaccine for the corona virus.
  • So, if you are going to attend to the current situation, put your focus on imagining what you would feel if there was a vaccine suddenly available.
  • Or put your focus on how would it feel, if we all returned to a normal work schedule and money flowed once again.

Be aware of the words you use during this time.

I personally object to the term “social distancing”. This languaging contributes to emotional distancing and separation from others. This is the very essence of the stress/survival mode and the fear virus. The implication is that having contact with others is potentially dangerous and life threatening. This feeds more fear and anxiety.

This a is a time we need to reassure, support, calm and help each other as a community.

I recommend using the term, “socially responsible”. This would include taking all the necessary recommended precautions to protecting and taking care of yourself.  In addition, this term includes taking into consideration friends, neighbors, people around us, the community at large. The focus of attention now opens up beyond the narrow attention on individual survival. Taking the focus off oneself and checking in with others is now a possibility. While it is not advisable to touch or hug, a hand may be extended to help. Ask sincerely how are you coping with this? Is there anything you need? Offer words of hope or encouragement.

Next is how to counter the stress emotions.

By changing your emotional state away from the stress emotions, the IgA levels go up. Your immune system becomes stronger. Brain waves change from high beta to low beta or alpha which is a calm more relaxed state. The brain and body become more coherent.  Resources can now be directed to growth and healing. These elevated emotions are love, joy, appreciation, gratitude, empathy and compassion. When you take others into consideration as I suggested you are already moving into compassion and empathy.

 A quick easy way to move into these elevated immune enhancing emotions, is a random act of kindness.

  • Do something for someone.
  • Check to see if your neighbor has what they need.
  • Maybe you could share one of those packages of toilet paper or the extra carton of milk you bought.
  • As long as the government allows and you are not in a high-risk group, go to your favorite restaurant Support those employees through this very difficult financial challenge. Restaurants are probably one of the safest environments. They have to maintain state requirements for cleanliness and employees are already in the habit of mandatory hand washing.
  • Or support any other business that may be facing financial challenges.
  • Show appreciation and gratitude to those around you.
  • When I was at the gym, with great appreciation I thanked the cleaning staff for the extremely important job they were doing to protect us.  I observed my hair stylist offer a significant discount to a customer who had just been laid off due to the corona virus with an assurance that she would work with her when she needed her hair done.  She had just confided in me how terrified she was, not about the corona virus, but about how was she going to survive financially through this crisis. That generous, compassionate gesture boosted her immune system as well as mine and her customers.
  • How about sharing those stories of how you may offer a random act of kindness or receive one?  Spread this news around!

Another way to elevate your emotions is to breath fully and focus on your heart.

Remember or imagine feeling love, appreciation or gratitude.  Feel those feelings in your heart.  Dr. Dispenza found that moving into an elevated emotional state for 9-10 minutes 3 times a day enhances the immune system. That isn’t much time at all for a maximum benefit in these current circumstances.

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. Together we can conquer this virus!

 

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

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