Where Are You On the Spectrum?
There is a spectrum to wellness, with crisis on one end, just getting by but no extra reserve in the middle (most of us reside here much of the time) and toward the other end is increased resiliency, ease, confidence, congruency, peace- living your life’s purpose with passion, joy and vital well being.
Sometimes we have been living in survival mode so long it becomes our normal, our “good.” We are so busy managing, we do not realize we are holding our breath, keeping people happy, juggling, losing energy by pushing unwanted thoughts and emotions away, coping in defeating ways or in defeating relationships, and not taking enough time or resources to nurture our inner flame- the source of our energy, our joy and sense of well being.
Chronic stress, increasingly common in modern life, not only affects our mood, quality of thought, decision-making, energy levels and closest relationships, but our physical bodies and overall health. There is a direct link between stress, illness and disease. When the stress response switch is turned on, our body self-repair functions are turned off. It is only when our relaxation response switch is turned on that our body’s innate self-repair and internal processing functions can operate.
If we want to enjoy our lives fully, physically, mentally, emotionally and even spiritually, we need to actively incorporate ways of being, or at least create breaks, that will allow the stress response to switch off and our relaxation response to resume and to eventually become our “normal.”
To create a sustaining, meaningful, rewarding and healthy life, we need to provide opportunities for our five basic needs, our physical, coping, creative, social and essential selves to be exercised, nurtured and expressed freely.
To meet these basic health needs, I have created Shimmering Tree Counselling & Wellness which offers a range of exciting deep peak experience opportunities for use depending upon where you are on the wellness spectrum or on your healing journey. Beyond counselling and therapy, Shimmering Tree offers ‘Rewiring for Resiliency & Well Being’ growth groups, ‘Feeding My Fire’ retreats, MindHeart Healing Arts, Mindfulness In Motion, Chakradance & Cocooning wellness opportunities. Each of these have been developed to support many different levels of soma and psyche (body and mind) needs in order to create balance and fire: energy, passion, motivation and positive mood.
Check out the one that stands out to you right now (see Wellness) and find out more. Take a step towards the vibrant health end of the spectrum and let Shimmering Tree help you get there. Laughing. And in good company! 🙂
Cea Winter, MEd, RCC
How to Calm, Ground & Help Trauma-proof Yourself & Your Children During Difficult Times
How we handle stressful or overwhelming situations like this natural disaster evacuation, initially, can prevent serious issues down the road for adults and children. As a trauma therapist, I would like to share some of what I know on the effects of traumatic situations and how trauma effects like PTSD can be mitigated or prevented by paying attention to how we respond and take care of ourselves and our children right now.
Knowing what I do about the short and long term effects of overwhelm during natural disasters, I want to help prevent unnecessary suffering now and down the road. In Kamloops there are now many individuals and families who have been evacuated from their homes due to out of control wildfires. They are playing a very stressful waiting game where many people are experiencing a sense of helplessness to protect their homes and worry for their family, friends and animals.
Essentially, how we respond to new and threatening situations, especially if we are parents or caregivers, affects everything: our nervous system, our brain and body chemistry, how we are able to care for our children, and our mental and physical health outcomes in later life. There is significant research showing the negative effects of disasters (natural or otherwise) on children in the short and long term. For example, Self Regulation Therapy (trauma recovery therapy) psychologists, Drs. Lynn Zettl and Edward Josephs, have cited, in their trainings, many children who’s mothers were pregnant with them at the time of the Kelowna fires, are showing up in their office with significant trauma effects as young and school age children.
Our children pick up on our mental/emotional state even after birth so it is important that we find ways to manage our stress, not only for our own health and well being, but for our children’s. It is much easier to mitigate or prevent trauma effects in our children by monitoring how we ourselves as parents deal with stressful situations than to treat children later in life.
Babies and children use their caregivers’ nervous system as a template that regulates their own nervous system. If their caregiver is anxious, stressed and ungrounded, not only will that be transmitted to the child, but the caregiver is far less able to attune to and connect with his or her child in a way that the child feels seen, safe and have needs met. In this way, children’s needs for safety and attention can be undermined. Caregivers who are stressed out, anxious and in-their-head cannot be fully present or attune to what their children are experiencing, or be able to communicate convincing assurance to their children because their body language will be communicating something else.
The single most important way caregivers can help their children is to first calm and ground themselves. Ways that I and my clients have used successfully are:
1) breathe – slow deep belly breaths, count the seconds of your inhale (ex. 1-2-3-4), pause for a second or two (ex. 1-2), exhale more slowly (ex. 1-2-3-4-5-6), pause (ex. 1-2)… inhale again and continue until you begin to feel calmer and more in your body
2) ground – feel your feet on the ground, wiggle your toes. You may want to try imagining yourself as a strong, flexible tree that holds it’s ground but flexes in the wind. Imagine roots growing down from your feet anchoring you into the ground, feel the strength of your core, and imagine your branches and leaves growing up towards the sun- feel the warmth of the sun on your skin.
Note: there are many ways to center yourself and to ground. You may want to try a number of these until you find something that works for you:
– yoga (focus is on the whole body- not just the head)
– mindfulness meditation (keep sustained focus on one thing (ex. breath, leaf…) – research has found it to lower stress and create overall mind, body & emotional benefits including dampening the amygdala (alarm system of the body) to allow you to relax and feel a sense of ease and well being. It also grows your brain and prevents DNA degradation or “fraying.”)
– guided body scan (minute focus on the different parts of the body- getting you out of the hamster wheel of the worry mind)
– yoga nidra- guided intention setting & body scan
– play music, sing, draw or scribble, be playful with your kids or a friend
– smell a scent that calms you (ex. a flower, grass, essential oils)
– walk in nature; walk barefoot in grass or sand
– distract self short term (ex. play a game, have a conversation, watch a comedy or learn more about something that truly interests you (learning uses parts of the brain associated with neurogenesis which helps improves mood), help someone else…)
Fortunately, most of these can be accessed online if you cannot get to a yoga studio or a trauma therapist. Try a few out to find what works for you. You may google for specific outcomes such as “yoga nidra for deep sleep,” or “guided visualization for calm & peace.”
3) allow – give permission to allow your body to express itself. If you feel the urge to cry, run, tremble, etc, allow your body to carry this out: this is natural and your body’s way of releasing activation. (In some cases, you may want to do this alone or out of children’s presence if it may be alarming for them- ex. yelling in a closed car).
4) allow your children to express their emotions freely and support them by letting them know what they are feeling is natural and that it is good to express. Important: Do not shut them down or try to talk them out of feeling what they feel. After they have expressed what their body’s want to express, let them be quiet and have time and space to equilibrate, let them know you are there and love them, maybe rubbing their backs. They may be very tired. When their energy returns, invite them to rejoin you or the family and do something enjoyable. Recognize they may be lower energy for awhile and that is okay.
5) radical acceptance – we can waste a lot of energy fighting something we cannot change. Taking a moment to say something like, “I may not like it, but I accept that I cannot stop the fire and I will be okay even if I need to build a new home. The most important thing is that I am/we are safe.” Notice what happens in your body.
6) give your brain a break and bring your attention to your whole self, being mindfully aware and curious about what is happening with your body sensations, mood, thoughts (without buying in to all of them, especially if they are negative and bring you down). This is about observing and tolerating, knowing that all states change and uncomfortable feelings and thoughts eventually pass. Sometimes sitting with them and letting them express (be) rather than stuffing them down can be the fastest way through.
7) monitor self talk – interrupt negative (especially repeating) thoughts and replace with more optimistic perspective or go back to centering and grounding practices above
Please note that it is best to get trained support with this practice if you feel too overwhelmed (if you notice a downward spiral in thought and mood that is too much). If you begin to experience this, change your focus, connect with someone you trust and consider getting professional support. In an emergency in Kamloops area: call 911 or 250-374-5111, go to the nearest emergency room or follow the emergency instructions, or call the local Interior Crisis Line: 310-6789 (do not add 250 before the number). Someone will be available to talk with you 24 hours a day here.
If you or your child continues to feel overwhelmed, scared, panicky or reactive it would be a good idea to go to a doctor to get a referral to a trauma therapist to deal with the root cause and wellness practitioner for added support (these can be booked directly but it is good to check your symptoms out with a medical professional). You may get a prescription to treat your symptoms if they are overwhelming, but it is important to treat the root of the problem as prescription drugs generally blunt the symptoms (and may have side effects you do not want) but do not repair the causal issue(s).
If you are continuing to experience trauma symptoms that interrupt your life after 3 months, you may have PTSD and treatment is important as it generally worsens with time, negatively affects relationships and begins to take it’s toll on the body, often with chronic pain or chronic fatigue syndromes, amongst others. Following the protocol above for supporting yourself and any dependent children during or after a stressful or threatening situation can help prevent or mitigate trauma effects.
The good news is that while we cannot control natural disasters like wildfires, we can take informed action to help ourselves and our children while we are experiencing high stress and to act to get help if issues show up now or later.
Recommended reading: Trauma Proofing Your Kids or Healing Trauma by Dr. Peter Levine or The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk