I hear more and more people talking about stress. Increased feelings of stress. I hear it on Facebook, emails from friends and family, even in everyday conversations. I spoke recently on the topic of self-compassion and stress-management at a major corporation in Houston. After I finished, I was amazed at the number of women that came to talk with me about their own struggle with stress and anxiety. The number of personal stories validated the stress in our society and the feeling of being overwhelmed as we attempt to manage too many expectations.
Most people experience an abundance of stress. The election and approaching holidays add an extra layer of stress and worry. The stressors are not going away, but we can use helpful tools to take extra care of our relationships and ourselves.
3 Types of Stress
Before we talk about balancing stress, it is helpful to understand how stress functions in our daily life. In simple terms, we face three types of stress: balanced, acute, and chronic. Whenever I talk about types of stress, I like to use the example of a zebra.
- Balanced Stress: When a zebra is lion-free, he is in a balanced state. A balanced state is the ability to relax and also be ready for threat when stress is present. The zebra can relax, eat juicy nutrient grass, enjoy his zebra companions, and play with his zebra kids and wife. Balanced stress is like getting the temperature just right on a thermostat.
- Acute Stress: When a zebra senses a nearby lion, everything centers on the threat of the lion. Stress chemicals and hormones release to focus all energy toward reacting to the lion. All internal systems shut down to focus energy on escape. The zebra will not sleep, digest, enjoy intimacy, or relax until the threat has been averted. When the lion leaves, the zebra’s body readjusts to a normal, balanced state. Eating, intimacy, relaxation, and play resume.
- Chronic Stress: In the zebra world, chronic stress does not exist. Chronic stress would be similar to the experience of a lion stalking the zebra 24-7. This chronic stress negatively impacts the zebra’s digestive system, sleep, intimacy, and leads to chronic fatigue. Imagine driving a car continuously even when the temperature gauge shows the car overheating. Keep driving, and the car will break down.
What does a zebra have to do with me?
The human body’s threat system is much like a zebra’s threat system, except for some important factors that maintain chronic stress and make it difficult to rebalance:
- The stressors at work, home, and in our society do not go away.
- We have the ability to replay past mistakes or rehearse worry about future threats.
- We can be harsh with ourselves in our own minds. Some of us talk to ourselves in a way that we would never talk to a loved one. Negative self-talk is like having a lion in our heads 24-7.
How does chronic stress impact our bodies?
When we are in a state of constant stress, our bodies continually stay in threat mode. Like the zebra, all of our internal systems are diverted to face the threat. We keep driving our bodies even though the temperature gauge is redlining. Unaddressed chronic stress impacts our digestive system, our ability to sleep, intimacy, our ability to think clearly, as well as our joy in daily life.
Adjust the thermostat
The first step in compassionate stress management is to take a moment to notice. Where is my internal temperature gauge right now?
- Issues with digestion
- Relationship difficulties
- Sleep difficulties
We can feel so rushed that we may not notice what is happening in our own bodies. Can we give ourselves permission to pause at least a couple of times during the day and check in? Allowing ourselves to notice may be challenging. The stressors can seem too big. For instance, what if I feel torn between my work and my responsibilities at home? What if my marriage is struggling? These issues take time to explore. Reaching out to a counselor can offer much needed support to take a close look at some tough areas. The counseling process organically creates options for moving forward and reducing stress.
The second step is to respond with care. What do I need? Explore different tools and see what brings some needed stress relief.
What are my choices?
Over the next few weeks, I will continue to explore tools that have proven helpful to rebalance stress. If this topic resonates with you, please let me know via Facebook or Twitter. I want to offer tools and resources that really connect with where you are right now. Also, see my website for a number of helpful tools:
Emotional Freedom Tapping, or EFT, is very easy to learn, and will help you:
- Alleviate Negative Emotions
- Reduce Food Cravings
- Reduce or Eliminate Pain
- And Implement Positive Goals
Emotional Freedom Tapping, or EFT, is a form of psychological acupressure, based on the same energy meridians used in traditional acupuncture.
Simply tapping with the fingertips on the head and chest inputs kinetic energy onto specific points while you think about your specific problem – whether it is a traumatic event, an addiction, pain, or anxiety. Tapping is paired with voicing positive affirmations. This combination of tapping the energy meridians and voicing positive affirmations works to clear emotional blocks and restore your mind and body’s balance.
When triggered, we feel exposed and experience painful emotional and physical symptoms:
- Increased body temperature – a warm flush or even a “hot flash”
- Heaviness in the chest – perhaps to the point of feeling anxious and panicky
- Poor eye-contact and hesitant speech patterns
- Body minimizing posture – trying to hide shape of body or look invisible
- Low energy levels – work hard to excel and feel exhausted most of the time
Shame Resilience researcher, Brené Brown, has studied the impact of shame for more than a decade. In her TED Talks, “The Power of Vulnerability” and “Listening to Shame,” she shares how to create resilience that move us through the experience of shame toward deeper connection and “whole-hearted” living.
In the clip below from “Oprah’s Lifeclass,” Brown says people who have “high levels of shame resilience” — meaning they can acknowledge and move through shame — have a few things in common. We can follow their lead by taking these three steps:
- Talk to yourself like you talk to someone you love. “I would say to myself, ‘God, you’re so stupid, Brene,’” Brown says. “I would never talk to my kids that way.”
- Reach out to someone you trust.
- Tell your story. “Shame cannot survive being spoken,” Brown says.
Becky Hein‘s recent article, Sleep Your Anxiety Away, Part I: You’ve Tried the Rest, Now Get Some Rest, discusses the impact of sleep deprivation on anxiety. If anxiety is a challenge, improving sleep is an excellent place to begin the focus of your efforts. She includes the latest research and helpful tools to improve your sleep habits as well as your mood. According to the article, “Getting adequate, quality sleep is extremely important for emotional regulation and processing. Fortunately, it is relatively easy to make changes in this area.”
To learn more, check out Sleep Your Anxiety Away, Part I: You’ve Tried the Rest, Now Get Some Rest.
The light stream is a relaxation meditation used to calm distressing sensations in the body. It is also a body scan that allows you to be compassionate and mindful of what you are experiencing and feeling in this present moment. This is an adaptation of Francine Shapiro’s original Light Stream.
A loving kindness prayer uses words and images to evoke feelings of loving kindness toward oneself and others. According to the article, “18 Science-Based Reasons to Try Loving Kindness Meditation Today,” a consistent practice of a Loving Kindness meditation can decrease symptoms of PTSD, improve wellbeing, and bolster the immune system.
The following Loving-Kindness meditation is inspired by the virtues celebrated during the weeks of Advent: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. This form of a prayer focuses on God’s loving kindness toward us and how we then become a vessel of His love toward others.
“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” Melody Beattie
I have so many reasons to be thankful:
- My husband and I sipped coffee together before we started our day.
- I enjoyed a long walk by myself at Memorial Park.
- Our teenagers have found their groove at school and are enjoying soccer pre-season.
- I am currently savoring a bite of dark chocolate as I type.
In 2012, I decided to incorporate an intentional habit that did not depend upon my mood or daily circumstances. I started a gratitude project and began experiencing the powerful benefits of an active practice. My husband and I have both been amazed at the positive impact a gratitude habit has had on our marriage and other relationships over the past three years.
I can tell you from personal experience that gratitude will change your life. The following list, compiled from a growing body of research, describes the powerful impact an active gratitude practice can have on your health and relationships.
Seven Ways Gratitude Will Change Your Life
- Gratitude boosts health and wellness: “ “Grateful people take better care of themselves and engage in more protective health behaviors like regular exercise, a healthy diet, and regular physical examinations. Grateful people also tend to be more optimistic… studies link optimism to better immune function.” (Elizabeth Heubeck, Boost Your Health With a Dose of Gratitude)
- Gratitude protects against depression: “Gratitude supports the neurochemistry of well-being, and protects against depression. It builds resilience, so we get less rattled by events and bounce back faster. And gratitude turns us toward others as we appreciate the people we care about.” (Rick Hanson, What Are the Health Benefits to Thankfulness?)
- Gratitude increases happiness: “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” (Harvard Health Publications)
- Gratitude can help you through hard times: “Expressing gratefulness during personal adversity like loss or chronic illness – as hard as that might be – can help you adjust, move on, and perhaps begin anew. Although it may be challenging to celebrate your blessings at moments when they seem least apparent to you, it may be the most important thing that you can do.” (Sonjia Lyubomirsky, Eight Ways Gratitude Boosts Happiness)
- Gratitude increases satisfaction and longevity of relationships: “It starts within our own self. When we consciously foster feelings of appreciation for our loved ones—whether by doing a gratitude mediation about them every morning or by deliberately focusing on specific things we love about them—our relationship improves.” (Cristine Carter, A Surprisingly Simple Way to Feel Madly in Love)
- Gratitude increases satisfaction of parenting: “I am happy and proud to say that my relationship with my teenager is better than ever! Now he seeks me out to tell with me stories and jokes. He listens to me intently when I give him guidance. I can’t tell you how much this simple practice has changed our relationship. In retrospect, while teaching my family about this principal it also affected me positively. I noticed how my attitude towards him changed and softened because I started seeing him through a gratitude lens.” (Debbie Lyn Toomey, Gratitude Tip for Positive Parenting)
- Gratitude increases self worth: “Grateful people have a higher sense of self-worth. I think that’s because when you’re grateful, you have the sense that someone else is looking out for you—someone else has provided for your well-being, or you notice a network of relationships, past and present, of people who are responsible for helping you get to where you are right now.” (Robert Emmons, Why Gratitude Is Good)
Create Your Own Gratitude Practice
- Start a gratitude journal. Write down three items each day that make you grateful.
- Share gratitude at the dinner table. My family shares “Highs and Lows” every night during our evening meal to stay connected through the week. If not with your family members, pick a friend and share a high point and low point each day.
- Say “Thank You” often: Look for ways to express gratitude to those who cross your path every day. Express thanks at the grocery story, gym, at home, or just about anywhere.
In the recent podcast, “Restoring the Body: Yoga, EMDR, and Treating Trauma,” Krista Tippet interviews Bessel van der Kolk about how the body restores and heals from trauma.
Excerpt from interview, “Restoring the Body: Yoga, EMDR, and Treating Trauma:”
“The psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk is an innovator in treating the effects of overwhelming experiences on people and society. We call this trauma when we encounter it in life and news, and we tend to leap to address it by talking. But Bessel van der Kolk knows how some experiences imprint themselves beyond where language can reach. He explores state-of-the-art therapeutic treatments, including body work like yoga and eye movement therapy. He’s been a leading researcher of traumatic stress since it first became a diagnosis in the wake of the Vietnam War and from there was applied to other populations. A conversation with this psychiatrist is a surprisingly joyful thing. He shares what he and others are learning on this edge of humanity about the complexity of memory, our need for others and how our brains take care of our bodies.” (Krista Tippet, Restoring the Body: Yoga, EMDR, and Treating Trauma)
Click here to listen to Krista Tippet’s interview with Bessel van der Kolk.
I am excited to do something a little different this week. Kim Fredrickson, counselor and author of the book, Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend, has graciously contributed a guest post about the how to develop greater compassion with our own selves. Her message has been both inspirational and healing for me personally and to many throughout the world. Thank you, Kim, for blessing us with your generous contribution:
Self-Compassion is Vital for a Healthy Life
Life can be rough without the comfort, balance and guidance of a self-compassionate friend on the inside. Lack of self-compassion affects our relationships and our well being in profoundly negative ways. What a difference it makes to go through life with a kind friend on the inside rather than an internal critic or bully!
So What Exactly is Self-Compassion?
It is the idea that we can be kind to ourselves when we fail and treat ourselves with the caring support we would give another who is struggling. Out of self-compassion flow self-care and protection from harm.
Self-compassion is a balance of truth (Yes, I made a mistake) with grace (I have worth and value, and I will address mistakes directly).
Grace and truth together mean you acknowledge what happened without either minimizing it or making it more than it was, and at the same time apply compassion to yourself. Self-compassion helps us handle our humanness and the situations we are in with empathy, concern, understanding and kindness.
Self-compassion is a gentle way we relate to ourselves both when we’re struggling and when things are going well. It’s like treating yourself as you would a friend who is struggling, learning something new, scared or confused.
Many Positives Result from Self-Compassion
Treating ourselves with compassion produces benefits to ourselves as well as our relationships. Many experience an increase in emotional resiliency, self-worth and contentment; reduced stress and healthier relationships
When we come into relationships being our own compassionate friend, we become better friends, spouses, parents, bosses, co-workers, etc. We handle disappointments more smoothly and we won’t require the other person to have the perfect response in order for us to be ok.
Lack of Self-Compassion Costs Us
Lack of self-compassion is linked to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, lack of resilience, inability to forgive oneself, problems in relationships, vulnerability to the opinions of others, difficulty letting go of mistakes, and problems recovering from painful experiences.
As you can imagine, walking around with an inner critic who is negatively evaluating you for the mistakes you’ve made in the past, how you are goofing up in the present, and how you’ll likely mess up in the future is quite depressing, and produces a lot of anxiety.
Not only is having a bully in your head depressing, it can also feel hopeless…like there’s nothing you can do to change this negative self-talk. Most likely you’ve already tried positive thinking, trying to quiet your internal bully and telling yourself the truth…often without much success. Most people work very hard to combat this inner critic, but feel so defeated.
The missing link is not having a compassionate relationship with yourself. Self-compassion helps to soothe those dark places, brings truth and grace to the heart, and brings hope and a way to get better. We are with ourselves 100 percent of the time. The way you interact with yourself has a greater impact on you than any interactions you have with others.
Many people struggle with depression and anxiety for lots of reasons. Self-compassion helps prevent depression and anxiety, as well as reduce its effects. Imagine how you would feel if you had a compassionate friend on the inside who empathized with you, helped you take good care of yourself, and showed you how to be kind to yourself?
When our shortcomings and mistakes are met with compassion and understanding, we will have more energy and space inside to forgive ourselves, find solutions and repair relationships. When our shortcomings and mistakes are met with self-judgment and condemnation, we experience a lack of hope and begin to shut down emotionally.
Someone who practices self-compassion might say something to themselves when they make mistakes, goof up or regret their actions:
Yes, I wish I’d acted differently. I’m using this experience for good in order to grow and learn. I can grant myself grace while still doing what is necessary to right this situation. I’m not perfect, and I don’t need to be. I am loveable and acceptable even when I make mistakes. I will take a look at what made me vulnerable to act in this way, and take steps to learn from this experience and repair any damage I have done. I can be a good friend to myself while handling this situation.
Reasons Why You May Not Have Learned Self-Compassion
Most people struggle with negative self-talk and lack of self-compassion, so realize you are in good company. There are really good reasons why you did not learn how to be compassionate with yourself:
- History of Being Criticized
Repeated criticism creates a challenge because we may have internalized and accepted critical messages we heard growing up. This critical and harsh way of being dealt with then becomes our model for how to deal with ourselves when we make mistakes or struggle.
- A Bully on the Inside
A part of us has taken on a “bully” stance toward our mistakes, weaknesses, and areas of struggle. It is very important to realize that the “bully” inside is actually trying to help in the only way it knows how. These harsh good intentions attempt to keep us out of trouble, help us perform well, and not be lazy, to name a few. These harsh strategies developed when we were young and often carry into adulthood. How wonderful it is now, to learn new ways to motivate ourselves tin ways that are healthy, not harmful.
- Didn’t Learn Healthy Motivations for Change
We may not have been taught a different motivation to change besides being hard on ourselves. Believe it or not, there are other positive reasons that can motivate us to grow and change:
- Wanting to be the most honorable and caring person possible
- Not wanting to hurt others
- Wanting to be as spiritually, relationally, and emotionally healthy as possible
- Wanting to be a safe and trustworthy person in our relationships
- Wanting to grow in order to fulfill our potential
Note that these reasons are in direct contrast to trying to change because we see ourselves as bad, a loser, or a misfit.
- Didn’t Experience Compassion
If we weren’t treated with compassion or watched others treat themselves with compassion we won’t know how to treat ourselves that way instinctually. You’re not supposed to know how to do this if you haven’t been taught.
Don’t get down on yourself for not knowing how to respond to your humanness with compassion. It’s not too late to learn! Here’s a compassionate way to talk you to yourself right now:
Yes, I do tend to be really hard on myself. I say horrible things to myself to try to get myself to do the right thing. Sometimes, I even punish myself on purpose for being such a mess-up. I didn’t realize until now that I can relate to myself in a different way. I actually feel some compassion for that small bullying part of me that had to develop to keep me out of trouble. Although I can’t even imagine trying to motivate myself to change because of positive reasons, I am starting to believe maybe it’s possible. I guess it makes sense that if I never had a model of how to be both truthful and compassionate with myself at the same time, I wouldn’t know how to do it. I have some hope that I can learn a different way.
It’s Not Too Late To Learn!
- Realize it is a process
Considering treating yourself with compassion is a first great step.
- Notice the way you talk to yourself
We can’t change what we aren’t aware of. You may be surprised by how much time you spend saying negative things to yourself.
- Say STOP to negative self-talk
Say “No” when you begin to say something mean to yourself… “I’m not going to talk to myself like that anymore” is a great step, even if you don’t know a compassionate thing to say in its place.
- Ask yourself…what would the kindest person I know say to me about the mistake I made, or the thing I regret? Say this to yourself.
- Get help knowing what to say and do
Read about self-compassion and start to treat yourself differently a little bit at a time. My book, Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend is filled with stories about different scenarios we can all relate to. I share lots of examples of what it sounds like to use grace-filled compassionate language with yourself…kind of like having a self-compassion coach alongside you.
- Take care of yourself
Make time to do things that are calming and soothing for you…relaxation, reading, walking in nature, doing your favorite hobby, time with affirming friends…whatever you have noticed brings you encouragement and comfort.
Kim Fredrickson, MS, MFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFC 22635) Kim recently closed her 30-year counseling practice due to serious health issues. Despite this sudden change in her health, Kim remains optimistic, hopeful, and positive.
Kim is the author of Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend. She enjoys sharing about the transforming power of self-compassion integrated with faith. Connect with Kim on Facebook, Twitter, and her blog, Self-Compassion for Real Life http://www.kimfredrickson.com/blog/
What is EMDR?
The mind can often heal itself naturally, in the same way as the body does. Much of this natural coping mechanism occurs during sleep, particularly during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Francine Shapiro developed Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) in 1987, utilizing this natural process in order to successfully treat Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Since then, EMDR has been used to effectively treat a wide range of mental health problems.
What happens when you are traumatized?
Most of the time, your body routinely manages new information and experiences without you being aware of it. However, when something out of the ordinary occurs and you are traumatized by an overwhelming event (e.g. a car accident) or by being repeatedly subjected to distress (e.g. childhood neglect), your natural coping mechanism can become overloaded. This overloading can result in disturbing experiences remaining frozen in your brain or being “unprocessed”. Such unprocessed memories and feelings are stored in the limbic system of your brain in a “raw” and emotional form, rather than in a verbal “story” mode. This limbic system maintains traumatic memories in an isolated memory network that is associated with emotions and physical sensations, which are disconnected from the brain’s cortex where we use language to store memories. The limbic system’s traumatic memories can be continually triggered when you experience events similar to the difficult experiences you have been through. Often the memory itself is long forgotten, but the painful feelings such as anxiety, panic, anger or despair are continually triggered in the present. Your ability to live in the present and learn from new experiences can therefore become inhibited. EMDR helps create the connections between your brain’s memory networks, enabling your brain to process the traumatic memory in a very natural way.
What is an EMDR session like?
EMDR utilizes the natural healing ability of your body. After a thorough assessment and development of a treatment plan, you will be asked specific questions about a particular disturbing memory. Eye movements, similar to those during REM sleep, will be recreated simply by asking you to watch the therapist’s finger moving backwards and forwards across your visual field. Sometimes, a bar of moving lights or headphones is used instead. The eye movements will last for a short while and then stop. You will then be asked to report back on the experiences you have had during each of these sets of eye movements. Experiences during a session may include changes in thoughts, images and feelings.
With repeated sets of eye movements, the memory tends to change in such a way that it loses its painful intensity and simply becomes a neutral memory of an event in the past. Other associated memories may also heal at the same time. This linking of related memories can lead to a dramatic and rapid improvement in many aspects of your life.
What can EMDR be used for?
In addition to its use for the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, EMDR has been successfully used to treat:
- anxiety and panic attacks
- sleep problems
- grief and loss
- pain, including phantom limb pain performance anxiety
- feelings of worthlessness/low self-esteem
Can anyone benefit from EMDR?
EMDR can accelerate therapy by resolving the impact of your past traumas and allowing you to live more fully in the present. It is not, however, appropriate for everyone. The process is rapid, and any disturbing experiences, if they occur at all, last for a comparatively short period of time. Nevertheless, you need to be aware of, and willing to experience, the strong feelings and disturbing thoughts that sometimes occur during sessions.
How long does treatment take?
EMDR can be brief focused treatment or part of a longer psychotherapy treatment plan. EMDR can be easily integrated with other approaches in which your therapist might be trained, such as Psychodynamic psychotherapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or Cognitive Behavior Therapy. For best effects, EMDR sessions during the actual reprocessing phases of treatment usually last from 60 to 90 minutes. Positive effects have been seen after one session of EMDR.
Will I will remain in control and empowered?
During EMDR treatment, you will remain in control, fully alert and wide-awake. This is not a form of hypnosis and you can stop the process at any time. Throughout the session, the therapist will support and facilitate your own self-healing and intervene as little as possible. Reprocessing is usually experienced as something that happens spontaneously, and new connections and insights are felt to arise quite naturally from within. As a result, most people experience EMDR as being a natural and very empowering therapy.
What evidence is there that EMDR is a successful treatment?
EMDR is an innovative clinical treatment which has successfully helped over a million individuals. The validity and reliability of EMDR has been established by rigorous research. There are now over nineteen controlled studies into EMDR, making it the most thoroughly researched method used in the treatment of trauma, and The American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, Department of Defense, Veteran’s Administration, insurance companies, and the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies recognize EMDR as an effective treatment for PTSD. For further information about EMDR, point your Internet browser to www.emdria.org or www.emdr.com .
Adapted from information at www.getselfhelp.co.uk and www.thetraumacentre.com
Light-Stream: The light stream is a relaxation meditation used to calm distressing sensations in the body. It is also a body scan that allows you to be compassionate and mindful of what you are experiencing and feeling in this present moment. This is an adaptation of Francine Shapiro’s original Light Stream.