Bessel A. van der Kolk, a leading trauma expert, said, “As I often tell my students, the two most important phrases in therapy, as in yoga, are “Notice that” and “What happens next?” Once you start approaching your body with curiosity rather than with fear, everything shifts.”
Through my clinical work over the past 10 years, I have found the body to be one of the greatest teachers in helping clients to connect with, and heal from, trauma that is stored in the body. Stored trauma often manifests itself physically, such as with anxiety, panic attacks, nightmares, fear, and other “uncomfortable” emotions. Consequently, our bodies are often feared, rather than embraced as the wise teacher it is.
I have found one of the most powerful tools in helping myself, and my clients, stay in a state of curiosity, rather than fear, of these bodily sensations is the breath. When triggered by these bodily sensations mentioned above the body typically moves into the sympathetic, or fight or flight nervous system. Often, clients with trauma have learned to operate in this nervous system more often than is useful. The breath is a powerful bridge between the sympathetic and parasympathetic, or “rest and digest,” nervous systems.
Next time you find yourself filled with anxiety, I challenge you to take four deep “box” breaths, where you breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, breathe out of four counts, and hold for four counts. After which, maintain the deep breathing pattern and notice what is happening in your body physically, and breathe into any tension you find. Then, remain curious and ask yourself what is needed to help you feel safe and secure in the present moment. At that point you may ask, “what happens next?” Take note of what inner child wounds or beliefs may be surfacing, and allow yourself to sit with that wound to find truth. Learning to become curious about thoughts that once seemed overwhelming, scary, or insurmountable can be an empowering exercise when you start unwinding unhelpful past conditioning.
Sometimes with trauma, clients may find themselves feeling stuck at certain points of traditional talk therapy. If that has been the case, it is helpful to explore other modalities to help release trauma on a cellular level, such as EMDR. Other movement based interventions such as yoga, tai chi, qigong, and dancing have also been found to be helpful in healing trauma. If you have found yourself stuck in processing past trauma, please feel free to reach out to see if we can explore some additional healing modalities. You can schedule by calling 801.944.4555.
In 1949, Hank Williams composed the song, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” The single reached # 4 on the Country charts that year, and many great legends followed to record the song as well; Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley just to name a few.
As you read and ponder the lyrics below; what memories and emotions come to mind?
Hear that lonesome whippoorwill He sounds too blue to fly The midnight train is whining low I’m so lonesome I could cry
I’ve never seen a night so long When time goes crawling by The moon just went behind the clouds To hide its face and cry
Did you ever see a robin weep When leaves began to die? Like me, he’s lost the will to live I’m so lonesome I could cry
The silence of a falling star Lights up the purple sky And as I wonder where you are I’m so lonesome I could cry.
A recent article in Harvard Business Review entitled, “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic,” reports that there is good reason to be concerned about social connection in our current world. We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet the rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980’s. Loneliness is a growing health epidemic. Another article (this one in Psychology Today) expresses it this way: “Even though our need to connect is innate, some of us always go home alone. You could have people around you throughout the day or even be in a lifelong marriage and still experience a deep, pervasive loneliness. Unsurprisingly, isolation can have a serious detrimental effect on one’s mental and physical health.”
What is Loneliness?
Loneliness has been described as a social pain and an unmet longing to connect, physically and emotionally with someone else. It has been linked to depression, anxiety, paranoia, panic attacks, sleep problems, tiredness, lack of motivation, cognitive decline, heart disease, and even suicide. People who are lonely often share certain characteristics. These include having experienced trauma and loss during their lifetime and having spent their childhood years being cared for by individuals who have harsh, critical and negative parenting skills. In children, a lack of social connection is directly linked to several forms of antisocial and self-destructive behavior.
How is Loneliness Treated?
Doctors are recommending that individuals who experience loneliness be evaluated for possible symptoms of depression and anxiety; as well as receiving treatment from a mental health professional if warranted. Don’t allow loneliness to impair your physical and emotional health or affect your rate of mortality. Our therapists here at Wasatch Family Therapy are available to treat loneliness and improve your quality of life.
Q: I recently lost my dad around Christmastime, so I know I am going through a grief process. One of the things that happened to me recently is when I heard of the Japan quake. Then looking at other news, it was about the supermoon. Then my mind was flooded with all these things in the world and I had a panic attack. I mean I was truly scared and normally I do not think of these things, it lasted maybe a day…all night and the next day . Is that from realizing my own mortality? In the death of my dad ? Or am I maybe just losing my mind … a little?
A: I am so sorry for your recent loss of your father. I don’t think you are losing your mind. The death of a parent is a huge life event and often brings a sense of your own mortality to the forefront and upsets your view of the world. It makes sense that after the loss of your father, the person who is often experienced as the “protector” in the family, you’d feel for a time that the world had become scarier and less safe.
Stressful situations, like the death of a parent, can sometimes precipitate anxiety. While panic attacks usually peak at about 10 minutes, it is possible to have clusters of them. Since you don’t mention specific symptoms I can’t be certain if it was a panic attack or another kind of anxiety disorder. I suggest that you seek out a mental health evaluation to determine whether or not you have developed an anxiety disorder and if so, to get treatment. Also, I highly suggest attending a grief support group. Hospitals, hospices, and community clinics often host groups to help grieving family members find support by sharing their experiences with others who are going through similar losses.
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