It is not commonly known that emotions are stored on your body. When an emotional event happens, such as verbal or physical harm, you have a visceral response from the sympathetic pathways of the central nervous system. These responsive pathways can be experienced as an impulse of either fight, flight or freeze.
Using your imagination from your own experience, which one (or ones), fight, flight, or freeze, have you experienced as a result of harmful or potentially harmful events? For example, if someone is being verbally abusive, my impulse is to shut down and not respond (freeze). This impulse, I feel, protects me from an escalation of the situation. I believe that if I stay calm, maybe the aggressor will deescalate or at least not get worse. It is kind of like paying dead when you cannot escape the big scary bear that wants you for their dinner.
Some other examples…
The fighting impulse can look like yelling and temper to keep at bay a potential predator. The flight impulse is when you feel so uncomfortable (social anxiety) that your body wants to get up and run out of the room. These are just a few examples and of course, your sympathetic impulse in response to perceived harm is unique to you.
Whenever you are experiencing any kind of trauma (even the cultural trauma of COVID-19), it is always felt in the body. However, you may not be aware of what happens to your body in these emotional states. But the body remembers. As Bessel van der Kolk postulates (see video below), the body always keeps the score.
So, what can you do? The first step is to pay attention to what the emotion is that you are experiencing in the face of harm. Fear is likely present in the moment. Anger toward the aggressor is the most common after someone has harmed or oppressed you; however, you can be experiencing several emotions at once. The next step is to pay attention to what your emotions feel like in your body. The consequences of not properly processing (avoiding) your emotions from past events are the continuance of your version of fight, flight, or freeze. Emotional avoidance causes you suffering and disruption in your daily life. Another consequence of unprocessed emotions is high levels of anxiety, which again, can disrupt your life, your experiences of joy, and prevent you from having or reaching your goals.
Keep in mind, that chronic avoidance of emotions and anxiety can eventually manifest as physical pain or other chronic health issues.
During these trying times of social isolation and fear of the unknown, many people are experiencing anxiety due to this unexpected cultural trauma of the COVID-19.
Undoubtedly, if you are feeling high levels or chronic levels of anxiety, it can mean that most of your energy is focused externally and not in the present moment. In these times, it can be helpful to take a pause and ask yourself, “Have I been letting my fears take over? Am I overwhelmed?”
A great technique to alleviate your anxiety is to turn your energy and attention inward and enter the present moment. As you focus on your inner world, without judgment, and with compassion, it is a place of the present moment, a deep inner peace. The very act of pausing and inner energy focus can calm the mind that is anxious about the future and the unknown. Ask yourself these questions. How am I right now in this present moment? Am I safe? Am I okay in this present moment?
Try building these small moments of self-connection and inner energy into your everyday life. The more you do this, the more you will be able to find your inner peace and self-compassion. When you can find satisfaction from being in the present moment you won’t feel so disconnected and anxious.
Also, In the present moment, you can release yourself from concerns of the past and the future and simply be with yourself, right where you are, right now.
Please watch this video…
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I am writing this letter to you(me) to remember all the things I have accomplished in my life that I want to express my gratitude for, my homework for trauma group at work. First and foremost, I am grateful for choosing to have and love my children their whole lives. I am grateful that while I was never perfect as a parent, I chose to make my children the most important people in my life and still do. My heart bursts with joy and love when I think about them, remembering all the joy they have brought me. While I crave grandchildren, my children are and always will be enough to fill my heart with love.
I am also grateful for all the work I have put into the relationships with my family. My boundaries with my sometimes dysfunctional family are always being worked out, but I am so glad that I am my authentic self now and that I no longer go along to get along. And sometimes, I react with more careful thought, rather than emotion, to family members when boundaries are being tested. Even if others haven’t changed, I have. My healthier interactions are now a reflection of my true and authentic self. I will always be a work in process, but now that I respect me, and others respect me too.
I am proud that I take care of myself too. Self-care is so important to me that my swimming 3-times per week has become no longer enough. Now I am going to look into a couple of after-work classes or morning yoga.
I am Grateful…
I thought writing this letter would be easier. I have come through so much and I am so grateful that I somehow came through each adversity stronger than before. I have a more optimistic outlook than I have ever had in my life.
I am grateful that I chose, and choose, to not drink alcohol anymore. I choose to be present in my life now, present and clear-headed. At times it is harder than I had ever imagined, but sooo very worth the hard days to stay sober. My physical health has improved, my mental health has improved, and while I have had some absolutely fabulous friends, mentors, coworkers, and counselors help me on my journey, I am ultimately the one who has stuck with it and I did the work.
My Life’s Path
And, to this I have to tell myself, how very, very grateful I am to have taken one of the biggest risks of my life and started a brand-new career path at 50 years old as a certified peer support specialist. I work with others in recovery with addiction and help them with their mental health issues.
The world has opened up for me and I feel more valued, committed, influential, important, worthy, competent, appreciated, inspired, open, energized, believed, validated, and respected and loved than I have ever felt in my whole life.
I own my life now, my thoughts are my own, and I Express them more than I ever have. Thank you(me) for taking a leap of faith. And thank you, Lord, for having my back, as always.
One of the most common things we do when feeling anxious is to avoid our anxiety.
When you are feeling anxious, what do you that you do to avoid it? Some people may use substances (e.g. alcohol, nicotine, THC), engage in impulsive behaviors (e.g. judging others, temper, binge eating, hoarding, OCD) or shut down (e.g. ruminating, low motivation, physical aches and pains, headaches/migraines).
If you are in the process of learning how to face your emotions to alleviate your anxiety, this can be a very difficult undertaking. So, I want to share some mindful practices that I use to “keep it together and carry on” in the face of deeply disturbing anxiety.
Box Breathing & Mantra
The first one is breathing deeply or box breathing (breath out for 4-hold for 4-breath in for 4-hold for 4-repeat; see video). I practice this breathing technique daily and often.
The second is having a mantra that I use for calming my mind. For example, I went for a jog this morning, and when my body and mind wanted to quit, I kept repeatingfeeling good-looking good, feeling good-looking good, and this kept me going without slowing down my pace. Mantras also work well with breathing meditations.
Another way to reduce and tolerate anxiety is mental toughness. Mental toughness is a philosophy of learning and growth. Mental toughness is facing difficulties and suffering from a positive and open mindset. Watch the video below on mental toughness.
If you are interested in learning more about adaptive and mentally healthy ways to work through your distress, Below is a book I recommend reading (at least twice) to better understand the phenomenon of mental toughness philosophy.
On the evening of January 16, 2020, I was attempting to be attentive during my theories and practices class while my phone, buried deep in my bookbag, was buzzing relentlessly. It was about 6:20 p.m. when I finally gave in to sneak a peek at what was up with my phone. When I saw the never-ending green blobs as I scrolled down my phone, all the messages seemed to blur except for the one. “Call me now!”
If any of you know my husband, he does not text, at least not me, ever. I am sure he had called and left messages but, he must have known that I would not have attempted to answer, and I would be more likely to see his text. I immediately stood up from my seat, in the middle of class discussion, walked out of the classroom, and made the call.
My husband’s voice was cracking, and he was clearly crying through his words. John had been skiing all day with family and friends. As anyone’s would, my mind immediately went to the worst-case scenarios. You are in the hospital, you broke your back, neck, leg…oh my God!
“Honey, the house burnt down, it’s gone, everything.”
“Is Cash okay?”
“Yes, he got out. He is in the truck. He is fine.
“Are you okay?” I am okay. I gotta go, the fire inspector needs to talk to me.”
Without any forethought, I opened the door to my classroom while my professor, Andre, and my peers were conversing over the required reading. “Andre, would you come out here? Please, I need to talk to you.”
Those of you who know me, know this is not something I would ever do; disrupt a class or disrespect my professor for anything other than dire reasons. Andre got up and came out without hesitation. At that moment, I was still composed or at least I thought I was. However, my expression and demeanor may have told onlookers another story. I told Andre of my situation. He gave me his genuine comforting concern which brought my attention to the fact that my body was now physically shaking. My eyes were beginning to hurt, but I was planning my next steps leaving my tears at a bare minimum.
My drive home was almost an hour from the University of Rochester which gave me plenty of time to process my present situation. I need to stop at Walmart; buy a dog bed, dog food, chew toys, and food bowls. We need toothpaste, mouthwash, underwear…
When I arrived at what was left of my home, there were way too many fire trucks and emergency vehicles to take in. Four or five fire departments were there, I am not sure of the count. Ambulance crew, firemen, Sheriff deputies, the chief of police, and the fire investigator littered the property and the nearby roadside. If I had to guess, there had to be at least 60 uniformed first responders moving about the eastside of our picturesque, creek lined property.
As I walked up my long and slippery driveway weaving through the trucks and the hoses, I noticed that several firemen were in a circle on their hands and knees while inspecting debris from the fire. They were in the vicinity of the forever-gone front stoop looking through the ashes brought up from the basement where they suspected the fire began. The investigators eventually concluded, from the tiny metal-like pellets, that the fire started in the electrical box of our 12-year-old home.
The only other non-uniformed person, besides John and me, that got past the nearby barricaded roads, was our good friend, Bits. Bits, one of John’s best and supportive friends, own’s Walter’s house. Walter is a 9-year-old beagle and is one of Cash’s favorite playmates. Bit’s and Walter’s dog-friendly environment was ideal for us to accept their generous offer to take us in for as long as we need. Thank you, my friend.
The only thing that I did not lose in this devastating inferno, was my computer, my car, and the clothes on my back. The fire was so hot that it melted Cash’s car that sat about 30 feet away from the house. Cash’s car is a 2007 Fusion full of dried mud and dog hair which comes with his own on-demand chauffeur (John or me) to take him on his daily outings for a hike or ski in the nearby parks. The control panel on John’s relatively new plowing tractor melted, along with the siding on our small gardening shed located about 40 feet north of the house. This was a brutally hot and dangerous fire.
The Only Moment that is Real
Some of the most valuable things that I lost were things without much monetary value. I lost my father’s WWII duffle bag covered in writing, in languages unknown, from all the different regions during his travels through the Panama Canal all the way to China. In addition, I lost my grandfather’s NYPD Captain’s hat along and other family heirlooms dating from the early to mid-1900s.
Nonetheless, without despair, my heart is not distressed over the things we lost. Throughout my education and practice as a mental health counselor, I have learned a great deal about processing and living through traumatic events. No lives were harmed or lost from this horrific fire for which I am truly grateful. The fire is no longer. It is in the past. Our present moments feel warm and safe. Many people are reaching out to offer their sympathy, empathy, and if there is any way in which they can help. Some amazing soles have offered to open up their homes to shelter their newly homeless friends, and we truly thank you.
Now, when I start ruminating about things I no longer have, I remind myself that these are only thoughts. These thoughts are not real but what I am constructing. Living in the present is good. It is the only moment that is real, and it is good. We have what we need, I have my family, and I have them with me.
The Truly Endearing
The very next day, I was honored and comforted to spend the afternoon with two of my BFFs, Jenn and Jules. The purpose of our mission was to do some speed shopping for the basic necessities such as clothes, winter boots, and toiletries. Shopping with your girls is fun, right? No, I hated it. The last thing I wanted to do was shop. My mind was in a fog and I had not eaten in I can’t remember when. Jenn & Jules took such good care of me doing tedious jobs such as finding sizes and digging through sales racks. But what really meant the most to me was that these to insanely busy fulltime workers, doctoral students, researchers, and pet parents, canceled their appointments, set aside their homework and family’s needs to give me a full afternoon of their undivided attention.
Several years ago, I remember there was a group of Tibetan monks that came to the University of Rochester to create their beautiful sand mandalas. To have experienced the time involved, the skill, and cooperative detail needed to create these beautiful works of art was simply mesmerizing. But only after a few days it was gone! Why? How can they destroy such beauty when it brings so much joy and awe? This was the defining moment when I learned the valuable lesson of the theory of impermanence. Nothing lasts forever, nothing. When I catch myself thinking, I can’t believe I don’t have that anymore, I remember the meaning of the theory of impermanence. If I mindlessly ruminate over the loss of my material possessions, I will be creating more of own my suffering. So, I remind myself, nothing is meant to last forever, not even me. And now, I feel better and I can move on.
Now we Move Forward
So, we are okay. Our needs are being met. Our jobs, our passions, and our love still exist. This tragic event makes me reevaluate what I am truly grateful for and what brings meaning to my life. My reflections on this recent event had given me time to think of how we will rebuild our new and comforting safe space.
One thing I know for sure is that I want less. I want to value the things I have and not want for things I don’t need. I want our home to be warm and inviting with minimal intrusive “stuff.” I now realize that happiness from stuff is fleeting, only to drive the want for more stuff. Going without, without unnecessary stuff, foregoes the wanting. The wanting limits present moment joy that comes only from within. I will cherish and embrace such a valuable lesson.
My joyous memories, my loved ones, my creativity, and my drive is what truly fulfills me. And, from this great loss, I find new enlightenment.
Thank you for my story reading,
Thank you to all the volunteers and first responders. Your generosity and compassion do not go unnoticed or unappreciated. Thank you, Andy you are a rare and true friend. Thank you, to Jenn & Jules. You got my back! Thank you, Michael, for your generous efforts to replace our ski gear. Thank you, Julie for setting up a gofundme page. And thank you for all for your love, support and well wishes. It is truly comforting as well as appreciated.
The videos below offer another perspective of why you can’t lose weight especially when calorie restriction does not work. No matter what you do to get healthy, it takes discipline. If you cannot self-discipline, it is likely a mental health issue that can take shape in many forms.
Pay Attention to Avoidance Behaviors
For example, avoidance of feeling your emotions deeply, trying to ignore your anxiety or depression, denying you are in a bad relationship (making due), externalizing (blaming others or situations), self-punitive behaviors (calling yourself names like fat or stupid) can all harm your physical health as well as your mental health.
So, after you watch these videos and you say to yourself that this is nuts or there is no way you could do this, that may be the sign that you are avoiding authenticity and/or healing in other areas in your life.
What are Your Thoughts?
After watching these videos, I would love to learn how they impact you or someone you know. Please comment (at the beginning of the post), sign up for the Wisdom Room Blog, and share on social media. Hey, you never know how a positive deed can help others feel better.
If you are trying to figure out why you are anxious, depressed, have relationship issues, or are worried about what others think about you, this video can give you some clarification. Don’t forget to leave a comment and share your thoughts. You never know how you can help someone else!
Pain is a physical or psychological event that happens to you. According to Meerwijk, Ford, and Weiss (2013), neural networks for psychological pain overlaps to some extent with brain regions involved in physical pain. For example, if you break your leg or a loved one dies these are events that happen to you and can be very painful to experience. Expereincing pain is a part of being human.
Pain is Inevitable
On the other hand, suffering is how we react to the pain. Suffering is the interpretation or story that you tell yourself about the pain. For example, if someone is treating you poorly and causing you emotional distress, you have a choice of how you react to their behavior. Your reactions to physical or psychological pain, through your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, are what is or is not causing suffering.
Suffering is Optional
Click on the video for further explanation:
Meerwijk, E. L., Ford, J. M., & Weiss, S. J. (2013). Brain regions associated with psychological pain: implications for a neural network and its relationship to physical pain. Brain imaging and behavior, 7(1), 1-14.
Please share this post. You never know how you may be helping some in need! To contact me, Catherine Cleveland, about mental health counseling services please call me at (585) 432-0313
The author of this post, Dawn M. Stone, has given me written permission to publish it and use her name. Thank you, Dawn. Your words will effect change in someone’s life!
So here we are after major surgery number 2. She is in Eastside nursing home and rehab center. I was feeling very upset that she is basically in a nursing home. Then I worked through my feelings about it. Anger towards her and her boyfriend for not taking the time she needed to heal in the first place. And that always presents guilt…that I didn’t do enough to help her.
I Remember, I am enough
But then I remember that I am enough. I do my best every day to be a good person, a good daughter, mother, sister, etc. And I am forgiving my mom as she was doing her best too. I bought her a card and she loves it and has shown it to the rest of the family. The card says that when tough times are happening we do our best to get through them. I hope that when this is over, you can see yourself as I do, a strong, brave, and amazing person. And I will be here doing everything I can to support you and care for you, and hope for the best for you. She loves it so much. And I was able to Express to her how I really see her, as my strong, independent, and brave mom who takes problems head on.
I Thank You
I thank you, Catherine, for helping me to see past guilt and shame, and become the person I am today. I know I did a lot of the work, but you have given me a lot of tools to use. I am almost constantly mindful of how I am feeling and how I am handing what ever is going on.
I Look Forward to Every Day
I look forward to every day and I think this whole situation could have really had me an emotional and physical mess, but instead i know when i am overwhelmed or when the negative feelings try to take over my mind and I deal with it in a healthy way. And I even joke, boy it would be a good day to get drunk, but I know that is not how I chose to deal with life and all it throws at me anymore.
I am Strong
And, I love that my daughter believes I am strong and amazing like I do my mom. Because i believe i am too. More and more people respect me and i know that is because i now respect myself. I know I am not perfect. Far from it. But i am ok with that today. Everyone is a work in progress, and I love that i can walk this journey with confidence and joy now. Have a wonderful day, my friend.
Thank you, Dawn. You words are deeply touching and I appreciate how hard you work especially in the face of difficulty. Respectfully, Catherine
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Is your voice being heard? Are you getting the help and support you deserve? Women in Agriculture Group is a safe, supportive, collaborative, and confidential space for you to get the emotional help you deserve.
Women in Agriculture Group Session Details
Dates: every other week beginning Tuesday, October 29, 2019
Time: 6:00pm – 7:30pm
Location: Cleveland Emotional Health, 61 Main Street, Suite 4, Geneseo, NY 14454
Group Size: 6-8 members (additional groups will be made available to accommodate interest)