It was a blustery, snowy morning the day I met Elena. There was a rawness in the air as the snow fell in huge wet flakes. Our ranching community of 100 Mile House was in a vast acreage of wind and cold. I was finishing notes on neuroscience research as I listened to the wail of the feathery drifts of snow against closed windows. The dim light from my retro cowboy lamp was one of the many pieces of western decor in my office at the Mental Health and Substance Use Clinic. Beside the lamp was a painting by a local artist of a cowboy and his horse on a hill overlooking the rolling golden hills of the Cariboo. He was gazing in awe and admiration at the beauty of the land.
My door creaked open, and the motion caught my attention. On cue, a smile lit up my face, as I waited to convey warmth to the person on the other side. My door dragged intermittently to a pause halfway open. Then the moment hung, and my whole being gravitated towards meeting the face behind it. Unknowing to me, it would be one of the longest moments of Elena’s life; the woman trapped on the other side of the door with anxiety symptoms. Her indecision held her in place, reverberating in shudders through the door to which she clung.
“Hello Elena,” I said, smiling.
The door to my office stopped midway with a creak. Nothing happened for several seconds.Then a mane of dark hair came into view again, as unruly as a lioness. She looked like a racoon with doe eyes with rivulets of mascara ran down her cheeks. She drifted cautiously, so that when she crossed the threshold, she hid her face from me.
“Would you like a glass of water?” I asked. She didn’t reply.
Rocking back and forth in her seat, her knees remained tight at her chin. She shook her hair so that tangled brown hair fell over her face, concealing her doe eyes, the mascara making tracks down each cheek. It was a defence mechanism that was getting in the way, and I imagined her face with the hair pushed away, listening intently. I sought to establish trust gradually with every word.
The Restorative Power of Heartmath
Elena was one of many clients with whom I introduced the restorative power of HeartMath. I saw how it changed her life and how she morphed into a strong, resilient and composed woman.
It was the tools of Heartmath that gave Elena room to calm herself when dealing with difficult emotions. The exercises helped to regulate her heart rhythm and gave her the mental space to reflect and assess situations without responding impulsively. The progress was gradual but sure, allowing her to tackle her anger, anxiety, frustration and self-doubt.
10 Minutes Twice a Day To Relieve Stress
Elena did ten minutes of heart focused breathing twice a day and did them during those minutes it triggered her during stressful events. This helped her to make better choices. One of the many gifts of the process was the carefree joy that was restored to her life and a tremendous increase in her self-esteem. Elena was an example of someone who had replaced her darker side with lightheartedness, resilience, and compassion. A trio that had affected her life and relationships positively.
“Do not anticipate trouble or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.” Benjamin Franklin
Resilience And Calm is a Practice
Seeing this progress in her after years of dedication fills me with a wholeness that cannot be replaced. I believe that resilience and calm in the face of adverse events and difficult emotions is a practice for mental and physical health. We must adjust as we go with the changing conditions of life, which is often uncertain. By learning flexibility, openness to change, and practicing the tools that work for us, they can equip us for any challenge that comes our way.
This technique treats the emotional turbulence quickly and works to ease stress through the heart’s intelligence. The exercises interrupt negative patterns by training us to change our heart rhythm.Shifting us away from our stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, we can then lean toward our feel-good biochemistry of serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins. With practice we create a new healthy baseline pattern to stay calm and balanced in the face of daily stressors. Follow your heart’s intelligence, rather than listen to the constant misleading chatter of your mind. The cognitive part of your brain gets bombarded with information and confused with false assumptions, ideas, and judgments. By pressing the delete button on that chatter and asking what your heart says and feels, you receive an uncomplicated answer. The wisdom of your heart is a powerful assistant that allows you to feel peaceful despite life’s uncertainties.
2) Imagine your breath is flowing in and out through your heart.
3) Continue to breathe through the area of your heart. As you do so, recall a positive feeling, a time when you felt good inside. This could be a feeling of appreciation and love toward a person or a pet, a place you enjoyed, or an activity that brought you joy. Allow yourself to feel this good feeling. If you can’t feel anything think about what you appreciate with a photo or video. Once you’ve shifted to a positive feeling try to maintain it by continuing to breathe in for the count of 4, hold for 4, exhale for the count of 4 and hold for the count of 4. With daily practice, instead of anxiety, you will have a new baseline pattern of relaxation and calm.
Kim co authored the #1 Bestselling book Emotional Intelligence: Mental Health Matters, which provides a set of supportive tools and inspiring stories to help women conquer negative influences and harness the power of psychological wellness.
In this complex and unstable world we need to have tools. Our prehistoric brain highlights fear, anxiety and negativity and works against us. Take charge through daily practice of re-framing thoughts and shift your mindset. Productive thinking boosts self-esteem and puts the clutter of negative thoughts in the trash where they belong. Our primal survival instincts get triggered, scanning in our environment for danger. Then we scare ourselves with irrational fear thoughts such as if the worst came true we would fall apart. We think when we go through a trauma or loss we are alone, but this is not true, our primal nature is to support one another with compassion. Use that same skill to have self compassion towards yourself. This lowers cortisol the stress hormone, and increases resilience during stressful events.
Acknowledge Painful Feelings
Recognize fear thoughts and replace them with safe and comforting thoughts by firmly directing your mind. Change and loss is natural and can lead to personal growth. Uncertainty can mean you’re on the right track and are opening yourself to new opportunities. When you use your imagination during a tough change or painful event to see the good and imagine that you’re creating something better in that space, you are changing the neural pathways in your brain. Acknowledge difficult and painful feelings as they come up and know this will change.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where stands in times of challenge and controversy” Martin Luther King
Focus on How This Change Brings You a New Perspective
A challenge is an opportunity when you look at it with a brand new perspective. If you are going through a tough change, find the good that came from it. When you visualize a positive outcome and move forward, it does not mean you erase the memory from your mind. You are now focusing on how this change brings alternative possibilities. It may have given you the gift of wisdom, knowing you’re resilient or an increased understanding of yourself. Acknowledge the fear and the courage it took to move forward. Looking for the good does not negate what happened to you. With your eye on a positive outcome you can gain perspective, and this will shift you into a better state of mind.
Develop True Grit During Tough Situations
When you put pressure on yourself to achieve a goal, your brain does its best to step up to the changing conditions. By changing habits, for example, you are perturbing the equilibrium of what was normal. Instead of going into high anxiety after a change, practice calming skills such as deep breathing, which connects you with your vagus nerve. Your reactive brain wants to go back to being the same and fear drives it. Welcome personal growth challenges under pressure to develop resiliency and develop a sense of true grit when the going gets tough. Train yourself to stay calm with forward moving energy. This provides stability during a sudden change or threat in your environment. You can learn how to be productive even during a crisis. This is something that takes practice as our brain is reactive. If you allow it to overreact with challenges, the flood of cortisol and adrenaline can deplete your energy.
Put the Challenge into Perspective with Others
As humans, we can reassure and support others. Engage your community with empathy by putting things in perspective, as this regulates emotions. Respond compassionately to somebody in distress. Without getting anxious with them respond with caring and connection. If you dive right in and become upset with them experiencing negative emotions, this can cause overwhelm. Respond with genuine warmth and concern expressing compassion. Sometimes bearing witness to their pain with empathy is all that someone needs. Put the challenge into perspective and offer decision-making skills. With practice you can nurture other people in their time of need by offering them the gift of your wise self with your supportive words. Helping others with warmth and compassion releases the neurotransmitter oxytocin, which is a hormone that promotes feelings of love, bonding and well-being.
Remember that the heart is the CEO, and can quickly bring you to a state of ease. Instead of trying to master your worry thoughts ruled by the cognitive part of your brain, learn to re-calibrate to a belief of safety and refuge through regulating your heart rhythm. In my experience, this is the deepest and most permanent way to feel better. When you do heart focused breathing, you put your heart in a coherent state with thoughts of joy, love, appreciation, gratitude, compassion and forgiveness. This is a higher level of thinking which puts your heart rhythm in a smooth even wave. If you stay in a lower level state of anger, despair and anxiety your heart rhythm is in an incoherent state or in a jagged wave which can cause stress-related disorders.
Shift Out of Your Primal Fear State
At any point in time we are in our primal fear state which is the fight flight zone of the sympathetic nervous system or we are in the healing and powerful state of the parasympathetic zone of the nervous system. This means we connect with the benefit of the restorative vagus nerve. Our primal brain limits us with fear, insecurities, doubts, worries and anxieties, as this is the cognitive part of our brain which is a lower level state. When we are overthinking things and getting into a worry loop, this can be mentally draining and effect health. At any point in time we have the choice to shift out of this primal fear state into the higher and healthier state of our heart’s intelligence, connecting with joy, creativity and inspiration.
Call to Action
1) Make it your personal challenge to stay calm despite misfortune and set an intention that you are strong and serene. This prevents our amygdala or our emotion centre from irrational over response. Accept life’s uncertainty and develop a calm response pattern overtime. Stay solution focused and calm when waters get turbulent in life. Equanimity takes training and practice, as our primal brain is normally reactive to keep us safe from harm.
2) Find music with a strong rhythmic beat. Music is a right-brain exercise, where nonverbal creativity, intuition, and perception live. Immerse yourself in a challenging and creative project. Distress and stress are a left-brain activity with solving mental tasks, problem solving and analyzing. The left brain can get fatigued, stressed, and strained. Engage your right brain with creativity to relieve distress.
3) Have compassion for others and use this same skill to have self compassion towards yourself. Treat yourself with kindness and understanding. This lowers cortisol the stress hormone, and increases resilience during stressful events. Compassion releases the neurotransmitter oxytocin, which is a hormone that increases well-being.
4) Sit where you can be uninterrupted for 3 minutes. Close your eyes and visualize yourself calm through mental rehearsal. Imagine what a composed person looks like and have an image of yourself as calm. The breath has both emotional and physical benefits. Oriental meditators believe breathing is the secret to longevity as it eases the strain on both the heart and vital organs. Learn to breathe and stay composed during unpleasant events and emotional upset. Easy, rhythmic breathing patterns can get you through challenging times.
6) Seek and find positive experiences for brain health, even in the middle of hardship and pain. Wonderful facts are still around you, even when life is difficult. With practice this builds strength, resilience, and boosts feel good brain chemistry such as serotonin. This benefits brain structure and health.
7) Whenever you are in your monkey mind with your thoughts are racing out of control understand that you are in a primal state and notice your negative inner dialogue. Say to yourself “OK, I am in a primal unhealthy state and I am now going to my powerful higher level state.” Put your hand on your heart, do heart focused breathing and know that your higher level of intelligence lies in the intuitive voice of your heart. Remember, your heart provides wiser counsel than the inaccurate primal chatter of the brain when under stress.
Kim co authored the #1 Bestselling book Emotional Intelligence: Mental Health Matters, which provides a set of supportive tools and inspiring stories to help women conquer negative influences, harness the power of psychological wellness and thrive emotionally.For more information go to:
Understand that fear during a change is normal, and something that we all share. We can learn how to overcome fear and anxiety and see it as something that can ignite creativity to find find dynamic solutions and propel you forward. We can condition ourselves to make forward motion the only choice. When you’re trying to accomplish something, do not think of everything at once. Many things at once can overwhelm your brain. Instead, pick one thing and focus on it for a block time. By staying calm when you are under pressure your brain is more efficient and accomplishes more with less effort.
“For what it is worth it is never too late or in my case too early to be whoever you want to be. There is no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing.We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you have never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view.I hope you live a life you are proud of. If you find that you are not,I hope you have the courage to start all over again.” Eric Roth; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Screenplay
Tension and stress is counterproductive and inhibits productivity and creativity. The minute you feel your jaw tighten with a fear stress reaction apply a relaxation technique. We want to work with ourselves and our challenges. You are capable when faced with complex stressors to move forward when under pressure.
“When we least expect it ,life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at any such moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait.Life does not look back. A week is more than enough time to decide whether or not to accept our destiny.” Paulo Coelho author of The Devil and Miss Prym
Challenge Yourself and Decide Your Action Plan
You can never have complete certainty. We must exercise the ability to take risk even though it’s uncomfortable and uncertain, and sometimes we have to decide without having every shred of available information. Once you decide, take every course of action you can to support it. The most important thing is that you’ve decided. Visualize the result you want and dive right in trusting your own instincts.
Change is a vulnerable time. When you reflect on your life, to overcome difficulties you had to be resilient and flexible. Recognize how strong you are. This resilience gets stronger as you exercise it. Remind yourself of your talents, inner resources and the support of family and friends. You have the power within you to get through your challenges and come to your own emotional rescue no matter what happens in life.
“You can’t rewind the past.The only way to learn the secret is to press play.” Jay Asher author of Thirteen reasons Why
Imagined Worries, Fears and Anxieties
When I was pregnant with my first child, those were beautiful and emotionally nourishing times knowing that a beautiful life was growing inside me. There was also an overwhelming fear because of uncertainty. There were various opinions of others offering advice, and I scoured books and websites for clues on what to expect. My mind filled in the gaps of imagining what could happen. As prepared as I was, I knew it may not go according to plan. During those times I needed to live in the moment, as allowing my brain to fast forward ahead with imagined fears and anxieties, could affect our baby, and it was my job to stay centred, strong and relaxed in the journey. The fact that I gave birth proved to myself I could overcome any challenge or uncertainty with my intuition and intelligent heart as my guide.It’s important to recall how well you overcame challenges and fears in the past.
Call to Action
1) Find something in the tapestry of your life’s journey you have overcome and recall it in great detail. You have overcome past challenges and were born with a great will to survive in times of hardship. Faced with great adversity many people have found strength and courage to move through change and so can you. Find an empowering affirmation and repeat it to yourself such as; “I am strong, resilient, and know exactly what to do”. Recognize that you have successfully used your resilience in the past and have the skills for future challenges.
2) Accept that change is inevitable. Never doubt your ability and power to overcome any challenge. Know that you have a courageous and strong survival instinct.
3) Write out what you want, the direction you want to go, and decide by making one action step.
4) Allow yourself to understand your feelings of uncertainty and have compassion for yourself, then step outside of your comfort zone. Acknowledge that when you are in the fresh new part of a painful event, there is a normal period of rocky emotions and feelings of uncertainty. Make this part of the voyage easier by holding your head up high and being determined. Surround yourself with people who inspire you!
5) Understand that like the wild horse, as highly developed herd animals we can be intuitive, sensitive and flow with change in the moment. Go with the changes and have a willingness to correct your course or stop and ask for directions. You can always change course and map out a new plan. Your adversity polishes you to become stronger and more resilient than ever.
About the Author:
About the author of this blog: Kim co authored the #1 Bestselling book Emotional Intelligence: Mental Health Matters, which provides a set of supportive tools and inspiring stories to help women conquer negative influences, harness the power of psychological wellness and thrive emotionally.For more information go to:
Gabe had a history of angry outbursts, and was staring at the smoking ruins of his marriage. He was a foreman for a large construction company, and his blind irrational fury with his employees, resulted with a large group of them quitting. When I met him, Gabe and his wife were separated as a result of his out of control anger issues, and he was well known for his yellow jacket temper. He had become addicted to rage, and it flared swiftly like a twister cloud. He blamed everyone around him for his state of mind. It’s safe to say I was meeting Gabe at his lowest of lows, and he was seeking Anger Management exercises. His doctor told him he had high blood pressure and if he didn’t manage his anger, he would be on his way to coronary artery disease.
“Hello Gabe,” I said with a warm smile, motioning him to a chair near the window.
“Very often in everyday life one sees that by losing ones’s temper with someone who has already lost his, one does not gain anything but only sets out upon the path of stupidity. He who has enough self control to stand firm at the moment when the other person is in a temper wins in the end” Hazrat Inayat Khan author of Mastery Through Accomplishment
He glowered at me, his fists were clenched. I didn’t need to guess what his feelings were as they were written all over his face. He crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair looking at me sideways. “I don’t know why I need therapy, it’s those guys that need their head fixed!” he growled. Immediately, he launched into a tirade of complaints about his employees. By this point he’d already been to traditional Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for several years. He knew his way around the therapy block, but something wasn’t working for him, this was evident. His quick temper always rebounded without improvement. Anger always been his primary addiction, and it swung around him in drunken circles.
“What are you going to tell me that I don’t already know?” he snarled, the slow glow of anger working up from his collar to his face.
An Effective Alternative to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy
“It’s what I will show you,” I said, as I organized the power points and biofeedback screen on my computer.
The Science of the Heart by Doc Childre is an evidence-based approach used by the HeartMath Institute in which researchers study human thoughts, emotions, and behaviours through studying the heart rhythm. I showed him diagrams of the science of the heart and brain and nervous system and explained what anger did to his heart rhythm and biochemistry. I then showed him his heart rhythm on the computer biofeedback screen, and showed him how he could change his chaotic rhythm to a smooth even wave, and improve his health. Towards the end of the counselling session with Gabe, after utilizing heart focused breathing, his facial expressions and posture changed drastically. One month later, after a combined effort of Biofeedback combined with my shortened version of Mindfulness Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Gabe’s wife approached me in my office.
“What did you say to my husband?” she exclaimed as she peered in the door.
I paused, and took in a breath my eyes wide open, scanning my mind.
“He has changed and is cheerful and actually smiling! I’ve really never seen him happy!” she said.
Gabe was now able to understand how his anger was affecting him emotionally and physically, causing his life to spiral out of control. Learning Anger Management Skills helped Gabe quickly gain control of his anger giving him tools to put things in proper perspective when faced with daily triggers. Having experienced benefits from these techniques, he continued with counselling and reunited with his wife. “I feel a freedom, I was not expecting”, he said matter of factly with a smile.
“Anger…it’s a paralyzing emotion..you can’t get anything done.People sort of think it’s an interesting, passionate, and igniting feeling — I don’t think it’s any of that — it’s helpless … it’s absence of control — and I need all of my skills, all of the control, all of my powers … and anger doesn’t provide any of that — I have no use for it whatsoever.” Interview with CBS radio host Don Swaim
Anger is a Signal You Need a Course Correction
Anger is a natural part of being human and is a signal that you need a course correction. It is a temporary emotion usually with the original intention to seek a solution not just to lose control and express angst. You can learn to deal with anger and problem solve without hurting others. When you practice anger management skills you are taking responsibility for your health and communication in your relationships. It is important to let go of anger instead of hanging onto it once the problem is over and done. Anger can be addicting and habit forming and this becomes unhealthy for heart health and relationships. You don’t want to hide or ignore your anger however you want to recognize it as part of your human nature and that it can be handled skillfully. There are many ways that people express anger which can become habit forming.
Anger Issues Affect Heart Health
If you go off the handle and go from 0 to 60 really quickly and stay angry for a period you should understand it is detrimental to heart health. When you avoid your anger it can also take its toll on physical and emotional well-being. Instead of avoiding anger you can learn healthy skills and use it as a useful tool for assertively standing up for yourself. Angry emotion affects the heart putting it into a chaotic rhythm. It also drains energy, so it is important to learn useful anger skills that are effective. Conflict can improve relationships when it is handled well, it is only a signal that things need attention and they need to be dealt with in an honest and open way. When anger is avoided, it can be turned inward with self criticism or self harm. Don’t be afraid of your anger as it is a human emotion that gives you an opportunity to set boundaries for safety. It is important to stand up for yourself if you feel pushed around or disrespected. Courageously stand up for yourself, take charge and say no to what you don’t want. Practice being very clear when you mean yes and when you mean no., This takes courage to be honest and open about what you want and what you don’t want. You don’t have to light up quickly with rage to get what you need. You can be quietly and assertively effective. Be wise. If you go off like guns blazing, and angry your defensive actions make you less credible and you could end up not being listened to.
Call to Action:
1)Tell the other person specifically what you want by naming the specific behaviour. Tell them how you felt. Tell them specifically what you would like to see as the outcome in the relationship. Do this in a calm tone of voice. If you cannot, take a break, go for a walk, and come back when you are relaxed.
2)Learn to be clear when you mean yes and when you mean no. If you’re not sure, give yourself time to think about it, and come back to the conversation later.
3)The next time you feel furious, instead of lighting up quickly realize the emotion you are experiencing, take a deep breath, and take a pause to give yourself that space to look at it rationally. If you need to apologize with your part in the disagreement, don’t wait, and speak from the heart.
4)Look for the warning signs when tension is rising. Stop ignoring the signs that anger is building and recognize when you are impatient and frustrated. When you ventilate in a sudden explosion, it rarely solves the problem and has you feeling worse as well as the other person feeling upset. Anger can be addicting due to the rush of adrenaline and every time you light up quickly you are training your brain to do it again.
5)When you feel these warning signs it’s time to take a time out and go for a walk, relax and let go of the physical and emotional tension. Breath in deeply, and do a long exhale as though letting go of the steam. Come back to the situation when you are calm, willing to talk quietly, slowly, and listen to what others have to say. With practice this gets easier and easier overtime.
6)Give yourself a chance to reclaim your emotions and accept that you are human. Make a commitment to notice anger and trust that you can deal with anger in a rational, healthy and assertive way.
The Key to Being Strong During This Challenging Time With COVID 19
The key to being strong in the face of adversity is to practice mindfulness by taking a step back outside of the situation and look at it as a quiet observer. Heartmath Quick Coherence Technique gives you a tool for that pause during this challenging time with COVID 19. When you jump into the problem, you are in a much less effective state to deal with it, than if you take a step out of it. Much stress can be prevented by practicing pause and calm. Pausing before responding to situations gives us a chance to be in charge, rather than be in a stressed out and reactive state, worse having a panic attack. Rushing, we can miss inner signals to pause when needed. Our mental and emotional energies can jam with anxiety, frustration or overwhelm and it is more effective instead to pause, and ask our heart’s intelligence what perception would give us inner balance and clear direction. I have found that when you learn non-reactivity without being carried away or swept away by external difficult circumstances you find wisdom instead.
By Regulating Your Heart Rhythm You Can Relieve Anxiety
Remember that the heart is the CEO, and can bring you to a state of ease, so instead of trying to master your thought process ruled by the cognitive part of your brain learn to re-calibrate a belief of safety and refuge through regulating your heart rhythm. In my experience this is the deepest and most permanent way to feel better, and one of the best ways to manage anxiety. When you do heart focused breathing you put your heart in a coherent state with thoughts of joy, love, appreciation gratitude, compassion and forgiveness. This is a higher level of thinking which puts your heart rhythm in a smooth even wave. If you stay in a lower level state of anger, despair and anxiety your heart rhythm is in an incoherent state or in a jagged wave which can cause stress-related disorders.
“Don’t let your mind drown out your intuitive voice, train your subconscious to be positive by using the hearts intelligence” Steven Redhead author of Unleash the Power of Your Heart and Mind”
Put your hand on your heart and focus your attention there.
Imagine your breath is flowing in and out through your heart.
Focus on the photo of this beautiful bunny and breath in the feeling of love into your heart.
Once you have shifted into a positive feeling, sustain this emotion by continuing to do heart-focused breathing. http://www.heartmath.com
Stop The Worry Loop
At any point in time we are either in our primal state which is the fight flight zone of the sympathetic nervous system or we are in a healing and powerful state of the parasympathetic zone of the nervous system which means we are connected with the healing vagus nerve. Our primal state is limited with fears or insecurities, doubts, worries and anxieties, as this is is the cognitive part of our brain which is a lower level state. When we are overthinking things and getting into a worry loop, this can be mentally draining and affect health. At any point in time we have the choice to shift out of this primal state into the higher and healthier state of heart coherence, connecting with joy, creativity and inspiration.
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Antoine De Saint-Exupery author of “The Little Prince”
Call To Action:
Whenever you are in your monkey mind with your thoughts are racing out of control understand that you are in this primal state and notice your negative inner dialogue. Say OK I am in a primal unhealthy state and I am now going to my powerful higher level state. Put your hand on your heart, do heart focused breathing and know that your higher level of intelligence lies in the intuitive voice of your heart.
There was an abrupt disconnect during the escalating emergency surrounding Jenna. It trapped her in a muffled silence, where everything else went on without her, and she froze. It had happened to her before, but never on her job as a paramedic. She had made sure of that, taking light volumes of sedatives that eased her usually anxious mind.
“The detection of a person as safe or dangerous triggers neurobiologically determined pro-social or defensive behaviours.Even though we may not always be aware of danger on a cognitive level, on a neurophysiological level, our body has already started a sequence of neural processes that would facilitate adaptive defense behaviours such as fight, flight or freeze. ”
― Stephen W. Porges, The Polyvagal Theory Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation
Someone was screaming her name. The voice bounced off the cold walls of her mind, muffled and drawn. Her hands were shaking. It was the only thing she could see. Her fingers, a supple glow and vivid contrast to the young man lying pale and limp against the white bed.
“Jenna!” Her mind snapped, and she rejoined the present. Loud alarms screamed from the surrounding machines. She was one of the two paramedics on that ambulance. This was an emergency. The teenager convulsing in the bed before her needed to be stabilized, now and not later. He was writhing, limbs flailing, cracking the stretcher underneath him, despite being restrained by her colleague.
“What’s wrong with you, Jenna! You just zoned out!” Her coworker and paramedic friend screamed.
Jenna had always known something was wrong with the world out there. Something wrong with its loud and demanding personalities that she avoided. But that question made her switch perspective. Maybe the problem wasn’t out there, perhaps the problem was within her. She loved her work more than anything. She was always primed in her white uniform, reciting every procedure mentally in her mind before arriving on scene. And then, suddenly, like a released spring, her mind started disassociating and freezing during urgent work situations.
It terrified her.
She stayed up that night with her knees drawn to her chin, her mind unraveling, replaying the horror that had unfolded in that ambulance. The disappointment on her coworker’s face remained with her, as she went over and over in her mind. The disgust and confusion in their faces etched in hard lines. She sat staring at her thoughts jutting out crazily in all directions. Her pale face stared at the wall as her doctor took her blood pressure. “I will put you on six weeks stress leave. First responders can suffer from symptoms of PTSD. I know of a ranch with horses run by a Registered Psychiatric Nurse and it would be the perfect therapy for you.” She wrote the note for the stress leave and the name of the ranch, and gave Jenna a caring smile touching her shoulder. Relief washed over her, as she needed time to heal. Jenna went home and quickly packed her riding clothes to spend one month at Chrome Heart Ranch to work with the Wise Women on Horseback program.
The Dorsal Parasympathetic Response
This is a primal response that keeps us frozen to survive when we feel death could happen. We have this response to keep ourselves alive until we can fight or flee again. This response also has the potential to have us feel disconnected, hopeless and spaced out. Heart rate and breathing might also decrease. Some people may not speak, have a constriction in the throat, or crawl into bed not wanting to move.
The freeze response is your coping mechanism when an event in front of you overwhelms you and it paralyzes you with fear. In seconds you know that you can either defeat the frightening event or run from it, but if not the experience can send the person into a state of freeze which can be full collapse,dissociation, or a more partial freeze such as an inability to think clearly or access words or emotions, or to move parts of the body. This can be momentary or short term.
When stress is very great, the sympathetic nervous system automatically goes to our primal fight-or-flight response. It can happen in response to the threat or the perception of a threat. Either fighting or fleeing can resolve the stress. If neither is possible nor successful, the sympathetic arousal can get so extreme that it is too much for the body to handle, leading to a state of a freeze response.
Some of my clients, have had extended freeze episodes after a traumatic event. An unwanted trigger or reminiscing over a painful event had led some to shut down sometimes for months at a time. Therapy, however, helps the nervous system regain its healthy balance and with help from a professional, climb out of the state of being disconnected. This trust-based compassionate relationship builds inner strength, and gradually resets the nervous system and helps regain a feeling of safety.
“Don’t react while you are upset because at that time your reaction will be based on negative emotions; but intuitive and positive thoughts flow when you are calm.” Hina Hasmi author of “Your Life a Practical Guide to Happiness,Peace and Fulfilment
Direct your emotions when your mind is unruly and untamed. It is essential to practice steadiness of mind on a daily basis to benefit health and well-being. Bring your wandering mind back to the present moment should you get lost in the swirl of worries and thoughts. Thought reframing as a habit becomes not only a great practice and a practical route out of these disruptive or maladaptive thoughts, it helps us radically shift our perspective. Reframing makes it possible to change our viewpoint by planting ideas, concepts and emotions with positive alternatives. This change in thinking patterns is therapeutic and allows us to connect more effectively with others both personally and professionally.
Your thoughts are only mental activity and chatter. Acknowledge them as they come up but don’t pay too much reverence to them as they are usually full of inaccurate material. Thoughts will always arise and then disappear as they follow this natural route. Disregard them, and like a pressure cooker instant pot, let them blow off steam with all the frantic drama. Remind yourself that your thoughts have no power over you, thank them for the feedback and then let them go.
Your attitude and the story you tell yourself matters, as it is your personal style that describes to others who you really are. For example, a persistent attitude has been attributed to determining successful outcomes. Keep and cherish the story you love about the unique and incredible person that you are highlighted at all times.
We are programmed to find meaning in our stories and make sense of things and this comes in the form of a story. If you don’t see the good with a positive vision of yourself, you may be unknowingly creating an unhealthy self image.The brain with its negativity bias relays inaccurate analysis or predictions about the present situation which can deprive you of joy and happiness. When you sense chaos, your brain’s natural tendency will be to create stories to gain a sense of order. A majority of these made-up stories however, are inaccurate and inconsistent.
In our present world our minds are overwhelmed with so many things happening each minute, information overload becomes too much for us to process, and we need to pick which elements to pay attention to. When experiencing stressful events, it is the positive stories that are healthy. Disqualifying the positives means that we are afraid to pay too much attention to sharing positive emotions. To recall positive emotions and beautiful memories takes practice because of our brains’ natural tendency to latch onto negativity. It is not your fault, but it is time now to take charge to feel lighter and happier.
Giving yourself thoughts of safety while in a swirl of emotions will help you stay grounded and calm despite your present circumstance. Having a consistent daily practice to challenge difficult thoughts changes both your neurochemistry and heart rhythm. This also works towards building your resilience overtime to stress and overwhelm. Our life is a work of art, and we can become the masters of directing our story.
Three simple steps to practice when in an uncomfortable emotional state:
“There is a magnificent, beautiful wonderful painting in front of you! It is intricate, detailed, a painstaking labour of devotion and love! The colours are like no other, they swim and leap, and trickle and embellish! And yet you choose to fixate your eyes on the small fly which has landed on it! Why do you do such a thing? C. Joybell C
The love of self clarifies the artistic beauty in each one of us. It helps us appreciate our authenticity and cultivate a habit of love for ourselves and others. Acceptance gives us the courage to share and celebrate our own stories. This gives us the freedom to be comfortable in our own skin making us feel like we truly belong and thus capable of a positive contribution. Do not measure yourself to an ideal image. You have a great inner resource of creativity and intelligence. Have a self-loving view of your quest for self-discovery. You don’t have to be anyone else as you are a shining star, and perfect just the way you are.
You are beautiful and unique in your own way and your life experiences like your footprints are second to none. So stop comparing and looking for validation from those within your circles. This not only disorients your life’s direction but also hinders your creativity. Be your own person and live your life only by your set of values. Let go of self-critical negative thoughts by removing doubts, fears, and insecurities. These could be your mental blocks and fears sourced from earlier experiences. Allow yourself to be optimistic and enthusiastic about your plans, using your ideas to build momentum toward your goals.
Social media has made ours an era of validation. We question our originality, as the race for speed, beauty, smarts, accomplishments, and perfection heats up. How then do we search within ourselves and cultivate habits that are both ingenious and unique to our productivity? How do we stand our ground and resist the urge to compare and find that inner peace that is derived from being in a productive relationship with ourselves?
Once the concept of self is changed things consistent with the new concept of self are accomplished easily without strain and learning ability would change accordingly. I saw pictures of myself in grade 7. I appeared tall and strong with a beautiful smile, but I remember having this belief that I was ugly and gawky. The concept of imagined ugliness or body dysmorphia is not uncommon. The typical reaction for a person dealing with these thoughts is that they are ugly in their looks creates debilitating wounds, and to to heal, a person must first learn how to undertake a journey of self-discovery.
What I see especially in young people, is that they put too much stock in what others think about them. They don’t have trust in themselves which harms self-esteem. Remind yourself that you are the only person with your thoughts and mind. It is therefore important to learn how to trust and believe in yourself. Associate yourself with people who are positive and supportive and let go of critical and negative people. This approach harnesses your assertiveness, and this allows you to up your game and set the tone about how you want to be treated. With practice, you can learn the art of communication and this will help you set clear boundaries and this leads to mutual respect.
Perception by definition refers to an individual’s recognition and analysis of sensory information. Perception plays an important role in creating personal experiences and helps understands a person’s character. For the most part, we will all perceive and approach our problems differently. This makes perception key in our attempts to realize holistic healing. Once you change the perception of the person you see in the mirror, you’ll have the ability to create your own destiny, and transform a fear, worry, and anxiety into a confident, positive energy.
“If you have the ability to love, love yourself first” Charles Bukowski”
It is rewarding to find someone whom you like, but it is even more essential to like yourself. Loving yourself fuels all your undertaking with such great vitality that if used well has the potential to create lasting experiences. We are quick to recognize the other person as better or decent but forget to view ourselves as equally good, loved and acceptable. Even as we delight in the discovery of others who we consider as worthy of respect and adoration you must not forget to be charitable to ourselves too. You cannot find yourself in the other person.
Learning to love yourself means that you are no longer responding to worry and fear and rejection with negativity. You are aware of your flaws and your strong personality makes you to be accepting and makes you show love even to those undeserving of love. Self-love means that you are never stressing about your vulnerability and that you can hit that unfortunate bottom and still share your feelings from a place of love and not fear or anxiety. We root our feelings of happiness in our self-image. If we start with accepting ourselves by cultivating self-esteem and confidence other areas of our lives will blossom and reduce our fear and anxiety by letting go of inaccurate self-assessments.
A myth about achieving happiness is that if we do this, get that or become this, it will make us complete and happy. The truth, however, is that we are already complete and self-sufficient just as we are in this present moment. By accepting vulnerability and imperfections we become genuine contenders to self-discovery. Self-esteem and self respect like planting seeds and watering them, requires cultivating each day. That critical inner voice is just your brain’s attempt to keep you safe but which ironically leaves you feeling worried and self-conscious. This is due to the negativity bias in the brain and its primitive ability to highlight the negative to keep us away from harm.
Four steps you can take to wrangle your inner critic:
1)Practice thought awareness that leads to a solution
Familiarize yourself with your thoughts and resist the temptation to pay attention to the unending narrative in your mind. You can get started with writing your most recurring thoughts and objectively dissect them and immediately reframe critical thoughts as they come up. Ask yourself whether these thoughts are exaggerated or biased as most of our thoughts are. If true, don’t admit defeat and start brainstorming ideas that can lead to a solution.
2) Take a break from the rumination
If the situation was questionable and embarrassing what good will come from repeatedly analyzing and replaying the same events in your head? Are you by chance thinking about the solution or just ruminating about the event needlessly? Stop trying to ‘not think about it’ as your negativity bias will keep you lurking around the very thing you’re looking to avoid. Instead, distract yourself with some activity. Go out for a walk or call that acquaintance you’ve been meaning to connect with for months.
3) Become your own advocate
What advice did you give your upset friend who felt mistreated from a sudden loss or disappointment? Project the same advice you’d give to someone desperate for help and compassion to your own problems and let your own wise advice work the magic.
4) Build on inner strengths
This is the integrity of character through the mental resistance to doubt or discouragement. The way to unleashing your inner strength is through nourishing your character. Make a list of the ten things about yourself that you are most proud of. It could be your physical skills, creative abilities, or any other attribute you can think of. Create a journal of self-appreciation and add to it each day, or as you think of a new attribute. Make a collage in the journal as a reminder of your self-worth and as an individual of merit who you are. Appreciate your history and story and meet it with compassion and understanding. Accept your circumstances and your flaws and shift into acceptance for what is happening right now. Think of how you will feel when you think enough of yourself to tackle the world on your own terms. Opt for courage in the face of adversity and don’t let fear influence your decisions. Be prepared to operate out of strength and use your authority to de-clutter your mind and create space for productive thoughts. Speak from your strength and you can handle any situation that comes your way!
I welcome your feedback, and please share with me your personal experiences and insights during this special week dedicated to Mental Health Awareness in Canada. From my heart, Kim
“Sometimes there is no time to wait for the sea to calm down! If you have to reach your target, let your voyage start and let the storm be your path.” Mehmet Murat Ildan
Julie Blackwater’s legs were going like pistons, a pure celebration of speed on her morning run. She pumped through the burn in her thighs, keeping her pace to the rolling tunes of rock music. The sun was high overhead; the heat pressed all around her. She gradually slowed to a stop and stooped over panting. Her muscles hummed, tingling as she stretched. Sweat was heavy on her lids, she swiped at them, and flicked her wrist to check her temperature on the screen of her smart watch. She blinked. She was burning up, hotter than the usual. As her breathing gradually dropped to normal, the adrenaline quickly dying out, her senses took in her surroundings. The air was different. She sniffed it, noticing a pungent scent. Her eyes strobed the area as her mind struggled to place it.
The first alarm went off in her head, when she realized her eyesight was hazy. It felt wrong. She keened her vision and picked out the feathery wisps of smoke. Smoke on a summer’s day? She downed the last contents of her water bottle. The cool liquid quickly disappeared down her dry throat, doing little to quench her thirst. She frowned down at the empty container.
Her gaze swept wildly a second time, coming up short of an explanation until she spun to the east. A few yards away from where she stood, a thick wall of smoke slowly crawled its way towards her, its ghostly mass swallowing trees as it hovered closer at a steady pace. The sight rooted Julie to the spot as her thoughts blanked, her frantic nerves struggling to piece reasoning.
Without thinking, she burst into a quick run in the opposite direction, climbing up a slippery slope on all fours until she had gained a few meters above level ground. She paused to glimpse back at it, and that was when she saw it, above the tops of the trees, a blazing wall screamed towers of thick smoke into the sky. The blood in her veins curdled, the shock pinning her in place, but only for a moment.
She cautiously swept a scanning gaze around her, realizing that the wall of fire stretched down south and beyond view. How had she missed it, she thought to herself, snatching the pods from her ears. The crackling of the burning forest and the roaring of the fire surrounded her hearing at once and the pulsating flames, though a distance away, beat sweltering waves of heat towards her.
Stress is a very distinct feeling in the body. We can get hijacked with an unexpected crisis along with a torrent of concerns with worry and regret. Emotions are natural and part of being human. However, when we remain in our emotional mind, upsetting circumstances and negative states can break away on us like a colt out of control galloping for home. When we have overwhelming emotions, just like the horse bolting out of control, they can take charge. Don’t clear away painful emotions, but shift them, and remain solution focused. When something unexpected happens, acknowledge that emotional shock wave that you’re feeling in that moment. You have earned the right to say WHAT! Are you kidding me? You must become aware of what you’re feeling before you can let it go. Acknowledge it, but don’t park yourself and stay there. It doesn’t hurt for you to take a pause, take a step back, and objectively and cleverly find a solution.
This doesn’t mean that you’re just suddenly all together and over the situation, and it doesn’t magically erase what happened, but by bringing a different perspective this now refocuses your mind. The Reticular Activating System (RAS) is the brilliant google of the brain. When you focus on a solution, ideas that you may have never thought of before will pop up, sorting and filtering through data on information that you are zeroing in on. In Julie Blackwater’s case, she needed those solutions for her very survival. This newfound strength and understanding is not a perfect science, but you always know that when you take a step back and trust your RAS as well as your heart’s intelligence, you will be OK. Despite the pain, accept that there are always things beyond your control and that you can make some room for what could be an opportunity in looking at your life differently. This insight may not happen overnight but be patient with yourself, as sometimes ideas take time to show up.
“Change the Changeable, accept the unchangeable, and remove yourself from the unacceptable”
In Julie’s case she was in crisis and there was no time for contemplation as the only option was for survival and to forge ahead with creative ideas. When we look at what crisis has happened, sit with some acceptance of it and not try to change it, anxiety lifts. By letting go of wanting things to be how you want them to be and free yourself of controlling events, you’ll spend more time focusing on what you want rather than what you don’t want, and feel lighter and happier. Take a good hard look at what happened and problem solve on what you can do. Immediately let go of what you can’t control about it, and take a giant step back outside of the problem, knowing that you are in the drivers seat with your RAS at your side.
Four Steps to Use in a Crisis: STOP
S: Stop: look at the situation
T: Take a giant step back in your imagination outside of the problem.
O: Observe your feelings, put your hand on your heart and name the emotion. This gesture reduces the stress response in the body.
P: Problem solve, by using your RAS which is the reliable google of the brain, and seek 1-3 solutions. Sometimes you have to think outside of the box.
I invite you to share with me in the “Leave a Reply” section at the very bottom of the page your experiences, and how you creatively problem solved through them.
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[…] one of the longest moments of Elena’s life; the woman trapped on the other side of the door with…
“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions” Oliver Wendell Holmes
I felt a menacing uncorked adrenaline as my horse Remington pirouetted under me. He was a bucking bundle of pent-up energy. Turning the reins in a circle, was my only exertion of control over him. Beads of sweat gathered under my helmet as nervousness wrapped around me like a wet rope. I could feel his sculpted muscles straining, as his hooves trampled the grass under us, quivering like a coiled spring. My body hummed with the excitement; senses tuned in to interpret the beating waves of beastly body language pulsing through the saddle.
Beside us, in a relaxed pose, was my endurance riding partner Georgia. Her body was poised athletically as she cruised upon her horse. Her horse pranced high with fixed long smooth strides that spoke of refined horsemanship. His fountain of jet black mane danced in the breeze, as he gleamed spotless in the morning sun, his nostrils flaring. Now and then, he would flare a sneer with his nostrils at his opponent. It drove Remington wild.
Both horses were two worlds apart but yet had perfect timing when riding together even though very different from each other. Remington was a 16 hand Anglo Arab horse with every vice imaginable. He took sharp gigantic trots with an attitude to match. Georgia’s mount was a stunning National Show Horse who looked like Black Beauty, and yet somehow both horses trotted together in perfect synchronicity during their training together.
The Helldiver Endurance race was about to begin. There was a feverish pitch in the air, a mix of sweat and fear, all the horses on high alert. The pause was endless.
Earlier that day, Georgia and I had both been up at the peaceful quiet of 4:00 am in our gumboots. The horses were relaxed and munching on their Timothy hay, nuzzling each other as the best of friends, and we fed them beet pulp, vitamins and electrolytes. Now, I could feel the high octane oozing off Remington, and he was ready to go. I saw my partner was ready, her Boz saddle was equipped with red saddlebags, water bottles and a red bandana.
Cinching up my girth, Remington was twisting his neck wildly, not wanting to wait a moment more. After my last safety check, it was time. The breath in my chest was held tight and my fingers were clammy through my leather gloves, the thoughts in my mind frozen in time. I knew once Remington took flight; I was a passenger humbly aboard, and there was nothing but the wind, the reins and the trails ahead. There was no turning back until the end of the race.
That morning I feared being in control of this wild and unpredictable horse, a lightening bolt of power with massive forward motion. I learned valuable lessons from all of our horses, but Remi taught me the most about fear. He was cantering on the spot like a raging dancer, challenging my will, wanting to launch, but I held him back with all my might, afraid. When I relaxed and loosened the reins, and worked with his energy, we both flew in forward motion with ease and in sync. It was a beautiful rhythm to experience.
I symbolize this moment as a metaphor for life. When you hold yourself back in fear, worry and self-doubt, it becomes the pent-up bundled energy of a horse cantering on the spot. Recognize when you hold yourself back and cling to the safety and comfort of certainty, you elude new and exciting adventures in your life. The time is now to loosen your grip on what is holding you back and enjoy coasting toward a new experience with forward moving energy. To step through a door to uncertainty can be a beautiful fusion of fear but also freedom. Take that powerful force within yourself and channel it into relaxing and letting go into flowing forward motion toward your goal.
1) Pick an area of your life you would like to improve upon.
2) Ask yourself this question. What one subtle slight change in your behaviour could you do to change it? It could be very small as though you hardly notice at all. Write it down.
3) Commit and do it. Make sure it is small, reasonable and doable. When you lean into a micro movement, it is moving forward.
4) Measure the action, by making a statement and being specific on what that action looks like; i.e. I walked for 15 minutes at noon.
5) Have a powerful and positive word that inspires you.
I invite you to share with me; what ways have you recently let go of fear and put yourself outside of your comfort zone?
Difficult people will challenge you with their judgments, old behaviours and patterns along with projecting their opinions. If you’re not grounded in confidence, clear and strong within yourself, you may be triggered, prodded and poked with your emotions in every direction, until you find yourself stewing in an angry reactive emotion. This can be stressful, physically exhausting and wreak havoc with your nervous system.
Anger Can Drain Our Energy Quickly
Reactive angry emotions can drain our energy extremely quickly. Let’s look at ways that we can release this old familiar pattern that is reactive, and drawn into people’s drama. You can learn ways of thriving in every situation, joyfully without fear and create a different perspective. You have everything you need to experience life with your feet planted firmly on solid ground, without being tossed and pushed around by circumstance, people’s negativity and your own thoughts.
Reacting to a Negative Event Causes a Chaotic Heart Rhythm
If you go over and over in your mind about a negative incident that happened after being harmed emotionally, you are adding more pain to the already traumatizing event. Ruminating of how things could have gone differently in an interaction, is illogical, as no amount of thinking about it changes the facts it is a past event. The sooner you let go of it, the better it is for your health. Reacting to a negative event causes a chaotic heart rhythm, as well as a flood of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which can lead to stress-related disorders such as heart disease, anxiety, depression, insomnia and weight gain. Some people are bad for our health.
Learn The Fine Art Of Bold Communication Skills
Associate with people who are positive and supportive and if it is possible, let go, modify contact, or assert yourself with critical and negative people. Think of this as a step you take for your physical and mental well-being. It is important to identify who these people are and take action. Setting clear boundaries can improve your relationship with them. By learning the skill of assertiveness, you are saying to yourself and others that you value yourself, and it will set the tone for mutual respect. With practice, you can learn the fine art of bold communication skills, and this will help you set clear boundaries.
Quick Emergency Exercise After An Argument
1) Imagine that there is a drain at the bottom of your feet.
2) Exhale out any negativity and see it disappear outside of yourself as it goes out of the drain at the bottom of your feet.
3) Inhale again breathing in fresh clean air and white light.
4) Keep exhaling negative material out of the drain and inhaling the clean white light until you feel clean, clear, and lighter.
5) Stay there for one minute and notice the peaceful and clear feeling you have.
Through repetition, you become skilled with developing a filter that allows things in that make you feel good, and filtering out what is harming you, or could cause you harm. By taking on another’s negativity you’re harming yourself. Pay attention to how good it feels to have a peaceful feeling that is strong and wise. Each interaction in your life is teaching you valuable life lessons. Protect your well- being like gold.
I invite you to share with me your wisdom, experiences and insights.
The morning I met Annie started out as usual. A quiet and mild misty June morning on the ranch, I made coffee and set out two horsey mugs with cream and sugar, with two western placemats on the log table on the deck of our heritage log home on Abel Lake. My greens shake in hand, and our dog Karma at my side, I sought to start the day early with Annie who arrived to the ranch late last evening from Vancouver for counselling. To the chorus of the morning birds, I wandered the grounds searching for her. She was not at the cabins. Her bed was made, almost as if no one had slept in it. The worry shook whatever slumber I had left in my eyes. Retracing my steps, and resorting to check the last place I expected her to be, I left the cabins and picked my way in the misty cool of dawn across the property to the great heritage barn doors.
Usually the horses were quiet in the mornings, but I knew something was different that morning, as a few neighs alerted me when I approached. I paused in the doorway and my eyes searched the dim-lit barn. Almost instantly, my eyes settled on the small figure of a woman sleeping beside our mare SS Prime Tyme.
Her beat-up hat concealed half her face as I neared her, also noting her pointy toed cowboy boots. Her small arms stroked Tyme’s neck, and the sight pinned me in place. There was a softness in the connection between the two, one I had never seen of Tyme; a feisty Pinto Arab Saddlebred that resisted almost everyone that dared to tame her, and yet, there she was, lying in the shavings next to a small stranger, quiet as a mouse, still as a statue and in love.
I startled her. Big frightened eyes tossed my way as she stepped back. Tyme snorted and stood up, her long white mane covered in shavings.
Annie and I had only met briefly the night before, when Annie had come down to the ranch to see me. Her tired eyes had avoided contact and her arms almost never left her side. The rims around her eyes suggested a lack of sleep, and the lip biting told much about the anxiety turbulent within.
I offered her coffee, promising her we would come back to see Tyme. She fidgeted all the way back to the ranch house, keeping distance as I tried small talk, sifting for a common opening through which we could communicate. Her eyes never left the ground along the way and her replies never surpassed two syllables.
Once she had settled onto a chair at the table, with a simmering cup of coffee before her, I could tell her thoughts were afloat. Her eyes searched the room and her shoulders quivered now and then.
“You know, I’ve never seen Tyme so calm with anyone like that.” I smiled. She reciprocated weakly, keeping her eyes on her cup. Slowly she raised it to her lips and inhaled. Then she drank deeply. The liquid must have struck a chord for she beamed up at me with the brightest smile I had seen that day. Beside her, on the floor, Karma wagged her tail enthusiastically, watching her with knowing eyes. Annie reached out as if to touch her but then receded.
“No, it is quite alright.” I urged. She touched her lightly, and Karma’s warmth and soft eyes radiated onto her and she smiled again. Our conversation truly began after she had downed her cup of coffee. Gently, I inquired, needing her to be free with me if I was to help her. She only divulged a bit of information, before suddenly, she clammed up and beads of sweat began to form on her brow.
It was then I decided we both needed to drink in the beauty in front of us. We walked down a path to the shore of the lake. Watching the peaceful water returned the calm expression to Annie’s face. This bit of her I had only seen in small flashes back at the kitchen.
“Annie, suites you perfectly,” I smiled, taking in her soft facial features and those trusting eyes. Her face lit up briefly, a faint smile graced her lips, one that told tales of a beautiful young woman with a dark present and an uncertain future. It worried me she had sat out in the barn alone and in the cold, clinging to Tyme.
“What brought you out so early?”
“I was feeling breathless back at the cabin.” She grimaced and her eyes glistened. Her pain was vivid in her eyes, circled by tender swollen skin. “Something hangs heavy over me, smothering me. I can’t break free. I was going to come to see you at the house crying but, the lake…” She paused, casting a wistful gaze over the spread of glass before us. “And the sounds.” We both listened, the loons had not yet begun their orchestra. Then the crickets drummed and, in the distance, the coyotes yipped.
“There’s a peace here. It’s like coming home. Which is strange as I have never been here”
But she was about to understand why, because I had already decided when I first saw her I would and must help her. I offered another cup of coffee and her favourite breakfast of fruit and avocado whole grain toast. She drank her coffee intensely as I sat beside her and we talked. Annie’s attention shifted uneasily throughout our discussion, there was an underlying edginess that kept her at bay, especially when she talked about her traumatic experiences; memories she couldn’t shut out.
I realized this was not of an external force but of her own doing. Most of the people that came here were tied down by painful memories of the past that they could not let go of, and Annie was no different. Each reminisce made her shudder and averted her attention. It became too difficult to continue talking about them. That day as I taught her how to groom, saddle up and ride, I started introducing to her lessons in the Science of the Heart.
A Few Years Later:
The birds came alive in the trees as the sun rose on the horizon over the lake, radiating a newness across the ranch. Mid spring cooed soft whisperings over the rolling pastures with the shimmering long grass waving. This promised the calm of new beginnings, the joy I would share in the company of one of my strongest clients, a woman named Annie. Her waif like smile floats to mind as I think of the haloed intensity in her eyes, and her bravery willing to take life by its horns. Her hearty laughter carried across the ranch as she gave me a beaming smile, the morning light shining on her face untouched from makeup, her light from within. She had just arrived from our heritage log cabin beaming with triumph. But the joy in her eyes did not conceal the emotions of the night before, and I quickly noticed puffy, tender skin surrounding her eyes. Had she had been crying? The pause in my chest only held a moment, as I quickly learnt her tears were that of joy. “I feel so safe here, it really is like coming home”, she said, her cowboy hat weathered from her past adventures, her long dark hair curling around the edges. Stretched in front of her were the same cowboy boots, a dusty red and denim blue with pointed toes scuffed with pride.
Annie had been struggling over the past few years with appreciating her original character and beauty. She had been frail, and withdrawn when I first met her, with hollow eyes that fled from any eye contact and small shoulders that carried a weight much too heavy. My heart felt her pain. But with it, out-poured hope, hope I could do only my best to help her, and I gave her the intelligent heart tool. The progress she made was transformational, and gradually, I could see her vibrant self piecing back together.
We spent our time marvelling at the ethereal blue of a beautiful morning sky, creating animals from puffy clouds, while listening to the calling of the coyotes in the hills. As she pulled on her chaps and sipped her coffee, our dog Karma licked her face and knocked her avocado toast off the log table. Instead of reacting, she tossed her head back and her laughter rung musically. For her to experience her joy first hand, one that was non-existent years ago, is something that I cherish.
“Karma you are a bulldozer!” she exclaimed! We both laughed, as Karma smiled and wagged her tail.
Later, we wandered out at the shore of the lake where a still sheet of dark glass reaches across to the other side of a tree line. The lake is surroundedby tall silhouette spires, the forms of sleeping trees. The stillness only lasts a moment as yodelling drifts across the calm surface. Mating calls from the loons, their hooked necks stay afloat the water as they communicate. We remain wrapped in this dreamy musing state, until she says in a flat and almost mournful voice,
“I wish we could roam the hills and the pastures beyond it. I could get lost and never come back.” Her eyes glisten with both a golden but sad joy. I feel it too, the yearning to mount one of our horses and run free. The ranch sits secluded by surrounding hills and trees, by our lake in the Cariboo, somewhere in the backcountry, with miles of land to explore just minutes away. The idea tingled at my fingertips. I was more than delighted at the thought of this.
I had packed brown bag lunches of peanut butter and honey wholegrain sandwiches, some nuts and cans of V8.
“Let’s take a coffee down to the barn and say good morning to the horses!”
She brightened a little more as I said this and, in that moment, I recalled her dedication to the animals. She had been falling apart when she first met SS Prime Tyme, our spicy Tri coloured Pinto Arab Saddle-bred, but we call her Tyme for short. Tyme is one of the few horses with spirited wildness on the ranch; fierce and poised in stature. I never could have imagined that these two would have been a match, but they were from the first day a few years ago. Somehow their hearts met halfway and from that day, Annie found herself engrossed with giving Tyme her all, spending day after day in devotion to caring for her, giving her baths and brushing her long white mane and tail.
In many ways, the process mirrored her efforts to regain herself; each gentle stroke across Tyme’s back, echoed subconsciously within her, consoling and invigorating the frail child within her that was left from her psychological trauma.
She raced me to the barn, stopping momentarily as a burst of flapping wings sounded over our heads, heralding a flock of barn swallows taking flight, with the soft chirping of their younglings calling after them. Their nests sat a few feet above our heads in the old rafters of the heritage barn’s roof. You could almost see the small pink beaks of their chicks, snapping from above the barn door, with their sleepy heads peeping over the brim of their nests.
A familiar neigh from inside reeled our attention, and it was Annie’s turn to take flight. Annie’s small arms wound tight around Tyme’s neck, not nearly long enough to make it halfway.
Tyme whinnied joyously, leaning into the hug. Annie only let go to stroke her neck. I gave the two friends their moment.
“What about if we just ride out and never come back?” She beamed back at me, eyes sparkling.
“If you had a choice where would you ride to?” I asked amused.
“I guess I just want to leave everything behind, to leave the tedium. But I like the fact of coming home and having a place to go to. And as you’ve said before, happiness is found within, no matter where you are. It’s that calm in the midst of chaos and confusion; a completeness that never fades. It’s not your circumstances that call the shots and tell you what your state of mind should be. Peace of mind is a choice and a commitment.”
Her wisdom and insight astonished me. For a moment, profound joy fills my heart, and my eyes water.
“You see Kim, I have been listening to you all these years.” She added with her genuine smile, a smile that reached with instant magnetic connection.
Annie, a petite woman with three children, had been shaken with grief when I first met her. Her abusive husband had just died. The trials of domestic abuse had broken something in her, somehow her personality shifted, leaving in place a frail child, one that wished to shut the world out. More than often, she would disappear, leaving friends and family worried. She wore her emotions on her sleeve, erupting into tears, rage and frustration at the slightest whim. Her unstable state was her undoing, one that kept her from help.
It was the tools of Heartmath that gave Annie room to calm herself when dealing with difficult emotions. The exercises helped to regulate her heart rhythm, giving her the mental space to reflect and assess situations without responding impulsively. The progress was gradual but sure, allowing her to tackle her anger, anxiety, frustration and self-doubt.
How? Annie learnt that ten minutes of heart focus breathing twice a day and did them during those minutes it triggered her during stressful events which helped her to make better choices. One of the many gifts of the process, was the carefree joy that restored to her life and a tremendous increase in her self-esteem. Annie was an example of someone who had replaced her darker side with a lightheartedness, resilience, and compassion. A trio that had affected her life and relationships positively.
Seeing this progress in Annie after years of dedication fills me with a wholeness that cannot be replaced. I believe that resilience and calmness in the face of adverse events and difficult emotions is something that needs to be practiced, not just for emotional health but mental and physical health. We must adjust as we go with the changing conditions of life, which is often uncertain and unpredictable. By learning flexibility and openness to change, and practicing the tools that work for us, we are equipped for any challenge that comes our way.
The techniques of Heartmath are unique from traditional therapies such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, because rather than ask you to reframe your thoughts cognitively, it treats the emotional turbulence directly and works quickly to ease stress through the heart’s intelligence.
Heartmath exercises interrupt this negative pattern by training us to change our heart rhythms. This shifts us away from our stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline towards our feel-good neurochemicals such as serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins. With practice we can create a new healthy baseline pattern that allows you the ability to stay calm and balanced in the face of daily stressors.
It is more effective to follow your heart’s intelligence, rather than listen to the constant misleading chatter of your mind. The cognitive part of your brain gets bombarded with information and confused with false assumptions, ideas, and judgments. By pressing the delete button on that chatter and asking what your heart says and feels, you receive an uncomplicated answer. The wisdom of your heart allows you to feel peaceful despite life’s uncertainties. Heartmath is a powerful assistant for any of our life challenges.
“The power of the heart is capable of overcoming without effort every negativity. To start using the power of the heart is the most significant choice you will make in life” Steven Redhead ; author of “Unleash the Power of Your Heart and Mind.”