I have been working with a particular middle-aged woman for some time now. We'll call her Brenda. She has been suffering from poor digestive health, multiple sclerosis, and unrelenting back pain for more than 7 years now. Always on edge, she feels categorically unable to relax her body, especially her back.
Upon my asking, she felt the last time she was able to feel fully relaxed was when she was just 8 years old, playing with her stuffed animals in her room. She had some trauma with her parents around that age that persisted for years afterwards and she hasn't been able to feel relaxed since. Imagine living 45 years and never feeling relaxed in your own body.
I remember my first experience working with someone with trauma. She was a middle-aged woman with back pain who was quite rigid and despite us just meeting had mentioned a few negative-sounding comments about her husband. I didn't think much of it as a new clinician but some bells went off when I went to palpate her abdomen and she got very defensive despite giving me permission to do so. I felt completely unprepared to help her deal with this at the time.
Subsequent patients came and went and they had the same vibe of behaving in a self-preserving way, some more aggressive than others. Many, when they did volunteer information, described difficult childhoods. Unsurprisingly, they now presented to me with physical pain, tension, and chronic stress.
Compulsive thinking is a terrible human affliction. Rumination is the tendency towards repetitive thought, typically negative. Not only is this a great way to be more depressed (and is predictive of a new onset of depression), it’s also a great way to lock yourself up physically as those who have tendencies toward rumination also have higher resting cortisol levels. And if you are chronically stressed, you are chronically tense - they are two sides of the same coin.
I felt compelled to write this. Every day I work with people who desperately want to get better. They want to move more easily, live without pain, and be more productive and happier. Most of them believe that the fix is to do some exercises, get stronger, and go back to how things were. And perhaps that works for a few. But we must realize that we cannot have a conversation about what exercises to do or even what is wrong with the body without understanding that prolonged stress pulls at our every fiber and is the cornerstone of the bad stuff in your life.
Isn’t it always a paradox when you hear someone say, “Just relax” as if it’s a conscious decision the person is making to be tensed and keyed up. Like “yeah the thing I want most in the world is to be stressing out right now”.
Read on to understand a connection between our perceptions, stress, and movement and how you can get first dibs on my fully-downloadable audio course: Movement Meditations.
Hello! It's been awhile since I've posted on the blog but that doesn't mean I haven't been busy. Read on to discover:
I find the denial of human impact on climate change to be an interesting example at how we recognize and respond to threat as a humans.
From an evolutionary standpoint, we have selected for traits that allow for immediate survival: quickly perceiving the whites of enemies' eyes and teeth, toxic or rancid smells, or running from tigers. We developed the ability to quickly change our physiology to survive and/or pass on our genes. All in the name of getting out of dodge in the short-term...
We are not meant nor designed to be under constant stress. Take, for example, mouth breathing. When you breathe thru your mouth as your primary mode of respiration you are stressing your system.
Let’s say you’re worried about something at work and haven’t been sleeping well. This emotional event creates a physiologic stimulus that is interpreted as you being under threat. So your body kicks into protect mode and part of protect mode is get as much air IN as possible. Who knows when your next breath is going to come, better get the air now.
Look, I get the “stiff upper lip” cultural norm of just plowing thru life and pushing anything that gets in your way. A sort of self-punishment that we wear as a badge of honor – something I’ve certainly done.
But we have a biological need to come down after stressful events (which includes thoughts — they’re neurological events as real as any other). Animals in the wild experience stress and danger routinely, yet most aren’t traumatized and limping around with stiff and painful backs or clinical anxiety. But zoo animals and most humans are experiencing this kind of dysfunction.
Read on to discover why, and learn a new strategy I've come up with to help.
2016 was a busy year for me in the reading category. I find that books are some of my best mentors: offering insights that are tangible and always accessible. To me books are an investment, not an expense, and building a personal library is a powerful source of wisdom. I have readers of this blog who often ask where I get my ideas and the "where do you learn that?" question. Much can be answered by the books on this list. So if you're looking for some new reading material in 2017 read on to discover my favorite, and eclectic list, from this past year.