Stress Getting the Best of You? Just Breathe.

Breathing-Medium-1080x675When first introduced to breathing as a relaxation technique, we wonder how something so simple can work.  My favorite story about “breathing” was finding my 10 year-old daughter playing the deep breathing/relaxation CD I’d made to a friend who was spending the night  and having trouble sleeping.  She said, “Just listen–you’ll feel better.”  Fifteen minutes later, they were both asleep.

Deep breathing works so well because we spend so much time physically  and emotionally stressed.  Psychologist Alice Domar states that the average US adult experiences the fight or flight response 50 times daily.  While adaptive for cave-dwelling ancestors running from saber-toothed tigers, the flood of stress chemicals through our bodies makes us edgy, irritable, and more vulnerable to physical and emotional health problems.  Likewise, it results in short, shallow breathing which fuels rather than diminishes the stress response.

The busier we are, the truer this is, especially for moms with small children who already feel physically and emotionally depleted.  The more rundown we are, the more likely the fight-flight response is to trigger.  Research has shown that five minutes of deep breathing several times a day leads to lower stress hormones by day’s end.  Why wait?  If we can delay bedtime to pick up the house, certainly we can take 5 minutes, 3 times a day, to improve our physical and emotional well-being.  Although it may feel strange at first to be still and breathe deeply, it feels good.

This week’s mantra: “I always have my breath to destress.”

Click here for my “Simply Breathe” YouTube exercise

Article from Well & Good on “4 Yoga Poses and Breathing Exercises that can help you get better ZZZ’s”

I Cannot Be This Person

In honor of National PTSD Awareness Day, please read this brave Marine’s story below:

***NOT FOR RESALE OR DISTRIBUTION*** Laura Hendrixson, 29, a former marine that was raped in the military and suffers from PTSD, alone at home and with her husband Craig, 30, in San Diego, Ca. on July 20, 2013. Laura was a US Marine, stationed South Carolina (or somewhere in the south) when she was sexually assaulted by "friend" – someone in whom she had recently confided some deeply personal information.  This was traumatic enough but the way the military handled it compounded the problem.  She was confined to barracks - to the same barracks as her attacker.  She was told to wear baggy sweats so as not to attract men.  She had to continue working with her attacker.  She was denied promotions and labeled a trouble maker for having reported the incident.  She became a pariah.   The result was that she left the military deeply afraid of the world, unable to do much – she rarely went out, was afraid to sleep with the light on, or take a shower, etc.  Therapy has helped her a lot.  She is still pretty timid but she now holds a job and is working toward a college degree.  She is married and has a Chihuahua.  She is getting better at doing the little things.   Shooting her will be a bit tough.  She doesn’t do a whole lot.  She doesn’t want us to shoot her at work.  I’m thinking that we’ll shoot a lot of details of her home – the showerhead dripping, lights on the ceiling, etc. to represent the stuff she could not do.  We’ll also shoot her studying and may go with her to San Diego State University where she is a student.Finding it hard to be home alone or feel comfortable in public places, Marine and MST survivor Laura Hendrixon is determined to get better for her family.

Laura Hendrixon had always thought PTSD came only after combat exposure–until it happened to her. “After being in the Marines for a year and a half, I was sexually assaulted by another Marine who was also a co-worker and a friend of mine,” she said. “It’s embarrassing to talk about, but I don’t want to be scared anymore. I want to be stronger.”

The trauma affected her so much that she was afraid to take a shower when she was home alone. “…I would basically be in panic mode the whole time,” she said. “I would think…”Oh my gosh, I want to get a shower, but I can’t get a shower because I’m home by myself, and if I’m in the shower, I’m not going to be able to hear if somebody comes in the house.” I would get scared to the point that I wouldn’t close my eyes when I’m taking a shower.”

Laura was diagnosed with PTSD. Her doctor at VA suggested she get into treatment. “I finally had a doctor point out to me that, you know, it would be really good if I went through this treatment,” she recalled. “I knew I needed to do it because I can’t wait to have kids, and I was like, “I cannot be this person with kids. I’m going to, like, wrap them up in bubble wrap.”

Laura’s treatment at VA was a form of talk therapy called Prolonged Exposure (PE). In PE, the goal is for the patient to have less fear about her memories. It is based on the idea that people learn to fear thoughts, feelings, and situations that remind them of a past traumatic event. By talking about her trauma repeatedly in a safe environment with a therapist, the patient learns to get control of her thoughts and feelings about the trauma. She learns that she does not have to be afraid of her memories.

“I made a list of things I needed to be able to do: make left-hand turns, ride in an elevator, go somewhere by myself, get showers. It’s like, I need to learn how to deal with this stuff, now,” she explained. “It was very difficult at first. I had to go back to that moment and, you know, describe exactly how I felt, and emotions and fears, and everything about the moment. It did get easier. You actually record yourself, and then you listen to it, so in some way it tricks your brain into accepting that this did happen to me and, you know, I’m going to be OK, and it’s going to get better.”

Laura also credits her husband for much of the progress she has made. “My husband is a lifesaver,” she said. “We’re going to counseling together, and they’re helping us talk through some of the daily struggles that I have with PTSD. He’s so good for me; he encourages me to do things I’m not comfortable with. I definitely plan to keep moving forward with it. I’m always thinking, like, “Just do it!” I can do all kinds of stuff.”

You can see the entire AboutFace video profile of Laura Hendrixon on YouTube.

For more information on PTSD and ways to raise awareness of this mental health problem during June and throughout the year, professionals and members of the public can visit our PTSD Awareness page.

“Climb Out of Darkness” to Reduce Stigma of Mental Health

By Diane Sanford, PhD

Last week, I blogged about “Teens Tackle Depression Stigma,” and what two Michigan teens are doing to reduce stigma about what I call “emotional health” conditions (depression, anxiety, addiction, bi-polar, eating disorders, etc). Click here to view the post.

This week I want to mention two events that are occurring in June also aimed at reducing stigma. The first is “Climb Out of Darkness,” sponsored by Postpartum Progress.  This event, started by Katherine Stone, focusses on raising awareness and diminishing the stigma associated with “emotional health” conditions affecting pregnant and postpartum moms.

“Climb Out of the Darkness is the world’s largest event raising awareness of postpartum depression, anxiety, PTSD, psychosis and pregnancy depression. The event was created by and benefits Postpartum Progress Inc., a registered 501c3 nonprofit organization that raises awareness and supports pregnant and new moms with these illnesses.” Click here to learn more about it, find a climb near you, and register.

The other event , “KNOCKOUT STIGMA,” offers St. Louisans a fun, interactive platform to raise awareness about mental illness, one of the most unrelenting human diseases. While raising awareness to combat the negative effect of STIGMA, this event will connect our community to the worthwhile work of Independence Center. Held at The Title Boxing Club in Rock Hill, participants will enjoy a fun one-hour workshop while benefitting a good cause. Click here for more info.

DID YOU KNOW? One in five people worldwide have a “mental” disorder at some point in their lives. Over 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental illness among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.Treatment works, but nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental illness never seek help from a licensed professional. STIGMA, DISCRIMINATION and NEGLECT prevent care and treatment from reaching people with mental illnesses. (World Health Organization Report, October 2001)

While we’re making progress in reducing stigma, there’s still to do. Please help support these events, and those you know with “emotional health” conditions.

Namaste.

 

Teens Tackle Depression Stigma

By Diane Sanford, PhD

A month ago, one of my colleagues mentioned that her daughter had an article which was about to run in a very important publication. She said she couldn’t tell me where yet, but sent me a link just before Memorial Day to her daughter, Madeline’s piece with the other co-editor of their high school paper, Eva, which was published in The New York Times.

If you haven’t seen this already, click on this link-http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/22/opinion/depressed-but-not-ashamed.html?ref=opinion&_r=0. Until more of us speak up about our personal experiences and encourage our family and friends to do the same, we support the conspiracy of silence which contributes to people of all ages and stages of life with “mental illness” including depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, addictions and eating disorders feeling alone, isolated and flawed. The word alone makes you feel bad

As I tell my clients, no family is untouched by “mental illness.” Everyone has emotional health vulnerabilities inherited from their gene pool,  and under the right circumstances, they develop into clinical conditions. In my family, several generations have experienced clinical depression and anxiety, and I experienced some mild depression following the birth of my first child.

In fact, women often  experience clinical episode during times of hormonal and major life changes-puberty, pregnancy, postpartum and menopause. To encourage childbearing women to say something and not “suffer in silence, ” when experiencing postpartum depression, New Jersey created their “Speak Up When You’re Down” campaign. For more info on this program, click on this link-http://www.state.nj.us/health/fhs/postpartumdepression/pdf/PPD-brochure.pdf. Or, visit Katherine Stone at Postpartum Progress and find a Climb to help support your recovery.

To hear more about Madeline and Eva’s editorial and the story behind the editorial, listen to their NPR interview by clicking here- http://www.npr.org/2014/05/24/315445104/students-struggle-with-depression-and-with-telling-the-story

And, let your voice be heard. Namaste

Heroes Among Us: Finding Our Inner Strength

I was very touched by a couple of the posts on our site last week. One written by Stacey on Thursday  (click here), was about Ryan Ferguson, a young man who spent 10 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Yet, instead of becoming bitter and resentful, he chose to find meaning in his experience by speaking up about it so that other families might not suffer the way his did. The other written by Jennifer McCullough on Saturday (click here), was about her emotional struggles after becoming a mom and losing her own mom several months before giving birth. She described how her self-care and self-esteem suffered, how she slowly rebuilt her life and finally, reclaimed her self-worth and began practicing self-care again.

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As I grow older, I am less in awe of people who accomplish extra-ordinary feats and more by “ordinary” people who weather the storms life thrusts upon us and emerge intact, often stronger and wiser than before. Some of these “heroes” become known to us like Ryan Ferguson. Others may not be known publicly like Jennifer but they are no less heroic or accomplished in what they have done. In fact, there are many heroes among us, perhaps even ourselves, who go unacknowledged but are no less deserving of our admiration and praise.

Robert Kennedy said, “Some men see things as they are and say why? I dream things that may never  be and say why not?” Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.” These quotes define what heroism means to me and provide inspiration when I experience a “dark night of the soul” like Ryan and Jennifer went through which Stacey wrote about on Friday (click here).

This week, take  time out to reflect on what heroism means to you? Who are your heroes? When have you been heroic in your life? What did you lose? What did you gain? Let us know.

Namaste.

Mindfulness For Self-Care: Informal Practice

I’ve been teaching my new mindfulness class “Don’t Worry. Be Mindful.” for the past two days so I thought I’d share some of the info here since mindfulness can be one way of practicing self-care. If you’re new to mindfulness, it’s defined as “paying attention to the present moment on purpose without judgement.” Now, if this sounds like something more to add to your to-do list, it’s not. One benefit of mindfulness is that you can practice it while you go through your day without adding anything.

We call this “informal” practice. For example, when you’re showering, direct your attention to the sensory experience of taking a shower-sounds, touch/feeling, smells, sights and taste (well, maybe not taste although when shampoo gets in my mouth…). If thoughts occur, note them by saying “Thought-Planning-Overthinking, etc,” and then re-direct your attention back to the sensory experience of the shower. At first, you may spend most of going from thought to sensation, thought to sensation and back again. Don’t worry, that’s completely normal. The idea is to let whatever happens happen without judgement which is another benefit of mindfulness. It teaches you to treat yourself with self-compassion instead self-judgement or self-loathing which we in the western world are ever so good at.

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As in mindfulness, self-compassion or self-love is a key aspect of self-care. Likewise, letting go of your worries and thoughts and just allowing yourself experience the richness of the moment you’re in, helps nourish you-mind-body and spirit. Research has shown that practicing present moment awareness, i.e. mindfulness, diminishes stress, tension, pain, depression, and anxiety and strengthens your ability to cope with life changes, improves your health and immunity, and increases feelings of joy and well-being.

Last week, Time magazine ran a feature article about “The Mindful Revolution” which you can read by clicking on this link-http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2163560,00.html.

This week your assignment (should you choose to accept it), is to pick one activity you do on a daily or regular basis, like showering, doing the dishes, driving to work, and focus on your sensory experience of the activity rather than the thoughts or “tickertape” running through your head, as one class participant described it Saturday. Do this without judgement, understanding that your mind is likely to drift from thought to sensation and sensation to thought frequently. Remember, mindfulness is realizing your mind has wandered, so when this occurs, stop, take a breath, and re-direct your attention to the moment you’re in. That’s mindfulness!

Namaste.

Celebrate Your Awesomeness with Kid President

I was looking for something fun and inspiring to kick off “February is Self-Care Month” when this Kid President video arrived in my e-mail. It’s about what he would tell someone if it were her “first day here.” I think that if you follow his advice and say these things to yourself, you’ll feel better and more accepting of yourself, which Buddha reminds us “you as much as anyone else in the universe deserve your love and affection.”

Please watch this video until you’re convinced of your awesomeness. Play it as often as you need to quiet your inner critic. It’s a great way to practice self-care. Enjoy!