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.
“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
“I promise you nothing is as chaotic as it seems. Nothing is worth diminishing your health. Nothing is worth poisoning yourself into stress, anxiety, and fear.”
Steve Maraboli; Author of Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience
President Harry Truman dealt with stress remarkably well during World War II. His stressful job did not appear to have aged him, and he still had a youthful vitality. When asked how he did it, he stated “I have a foxhole in my mind.” His explanation was, that as a soldier needs recuperation and rest in a foxhole, he needed a retreat into his imagination to recover and rejuvenate from pressure. We can create this foxhole in our minds when mentally exhausted and drained by redirecting our thoughts into a movie of our own making. As your nervous system does not know the difference between a real or imagined experience, you can release yourself from worry and strain, with a two minute mental vacation.
My forehead quilted in the tension,and I took a deep inhale after a stressful staff meeting. I went for a coffee break, in a quagmire of baffled cerebral congestion. While listening to the familiar, comforting slapping of Marlie’s clogs down the hallway, my mind is now travelling.
In times where everything I’ve known crumbles away, giving way to disorder and chaos, I remind myself of a distant memory; one I carry along with me on my mental journeys. A memory of a place untampered by civilization. An island away from the rest of the world.
This place was a secluded beach I and Glenn had found, close to Cabuya, Costa Rica. We were the only souls there, besides the creatures that held us in wonderment.
There was a vast stretch of white untampered sand, strewn with stones and adorned with seashells, the lapping waves washed the pebbled shores a crystal white, and the weeping jungle reached out from the tree line towards the sea, with howling monkeys dangling from its lean branches. Parakeets hopped along on the higher branches, quickly scurrying away when the capuchins neared them. The Capuchins were smaller monkeys than the howler monkeys and a native to the area. My curiosity led me to them, but I stopped short when the nearest one bared vicious canines at me.
Across the sand, crawling creatures emerged to witness us. Iguanas skittered away as we crossed the girth, bobbing their heads in mutual curiosity at us, and skittering further away when we neared them. Out in the distance, across the waters, massive aerial harpoons descended from the skies, pelicans aimed for prey. The minute display spun my mind.
This place is away from the rest of the world, a part of the earth allowed to grow untamed, closed off by nature itself, its thick vegetative arms cradled the bay, and stretched as far as vision carried till it transcended to jutting rocks that rose high into steep terrifying cliffs, a home to a diverse array of fauna and animals. The shrill calls of life from the trees were almost lost to the rushing roars of crashing waves, and the gentle stroking of cool and whistling salt breeze.
In my mind, this place is wild and far-reaching, unbridled in it’s growth, reminding me of how unruly and untamed our minds can be. Every time I find myself with cluttered thoughts, I’m reminded of this place and of the essence in practicing steadiness of mind daily. Bring your mind gently back to a peaceful place when it gets lost in a swirl of thought and worry.
By finding a peaceful and quiet sanctuary in your imagination you positively shift both your neurochemistry and heart rhythm which benefits health. Our life is a work of art, and we can become the masters of directing and creating our story.
Whenever you feel tension mounting, give your mind the break that it deserves with beautiful memories. Create a two-minute experience to boost your brain chemistry, and practice it regularly. Studies show this can increase your productivity and effectiveness at work by reducing stress. I invite you to share with me your thoughts in the comments below. Where will you go on your next vacation?
Dr. Jeffrey Thompson who is the founder and director of the centre for Neuroacoustic research has over 30 years of clinical experience with successful auditory, kinesthetic and visual therapeutic work. His programs in Sound Healing address a variety of health issues such as stress reduction, cardiovascular disease and neurological conditions. Joshua Leeds author of “The Power of Sound” is a researcher and educator in psychoacoustics, which is the study of the effect of sound on the human nervous system. Leeds stated “There is more on sound science than ever before. We know what is happening molecularly. In the future what we know as sound healing will be called frequency medicine.”
The tools that Dr. Thompson uses are precise, using sound to affect brain wave patterns, which balance the automatic nervous system and synchronize the left and right brain hemispheres. I became interested in an article he wrote called “The Science behind Healing with Sound.” Dr Thompson explains that different frequencies target the various density tissues in the body. Using vibroacoustic sound, it has been discovered that certain frequencies elevate the cells in the body to a higher level of healing, helping to rebuild tissue. These healing effects are especially interesting to me in view of my work for 33 years as a Registered Psychiatric Nurse and study of neuroscience and biofeedback. I have observed steady and lasting improvement with people through Heartmath, and I was curious at the effect that sound has on neuroplasticity. If the brain changes according to it’s experience, it made sense that we could make positive changes in our mind and body through sound. I was inspired to examine the link between our deep and innate connection to nature and the profound physical and emotional healing that it can create. I had experienced a life changing horseback riding accident that required a long recovery, and the journey of healing my body took longer than I anticipated.
I knew I needed true grit, determination and to summon courage and perseverance to get to the other side of the injuries. There was a unique gift from this education I was receiving in my life. Brene’ Brown says beautifully in her book “Rising Strong” that we have “arena moments” or “the reckoning”. She says in this very wise book that these are the times that we find ourselves face down on the floor of an arena, those moments that are painful, but that we need to pay attention to these moments, as it is significant in showing us where we are. It is through this vulnerability that we can rebuild our lives. This well expressed metaphor has stayed with me. It was an arena moment that day I was swiftly face down in the mud. In an instant that was slow motion, shod hooves ran over my back and head with a frighteningly loud crack of my helmet,and the frantic sound of galloping and sheep bleating fading in the distance. Yes indeed,this for me was a continuation of the life lessons to embrace uncertainty, as it opens up a whole new way of seeing the world. I had to re-evaluate my safe and comfortable life and was reminded that what was safe and predictable could change in a minute flat. This was not just a nudge, and brought about some interesting questions. I have had horse accidents over the past 30 years, each one with it’s own unique and wise message. But this one was different. The horse is moving forward in a powerful direction, but I had been stuck in one spot. My cousin said to me one day with a knowing gaze, “It is like one long yoga pose”.
Fear of the unknown and the uncertain is natural.I realized that this accident was a wake up call, that I was stuck in my safe and familiar arena in 100 Mile house. Sometimes a drastic change can be what we need to point the arrow in a different direction. The fall was an important lesson, and after being hurled face down in the mud I was now listening. What I do know is there is nothing like being close to death to have you evaluate everything. The more that a stagnant state is allowed to continue the more difficult it can be to grow, learn and challenge yourself as well as experience new things. What I loved about traveling to Central America is that it pushed me way out of my comfort zone. Once that comfort zone muscle has been exercised fully what I do know is that it gets easier to plan strategies for other challenges that come your way. But, it is not pretty, it is very gritty, and the brain resists change due to fear. Instead of allowing the same well-worn path of thinking and doing that is safe and familiar, trying new experiences outside of a routine can give depth and color to your life that you never thought possible. Travel and expanding my experiences and having an appreciation for breathtaking beauty in another culture not only stretched my mind,but I also discovered that the sounds of nature in Cabuya had a profound healing effect on my body.
When dawn breaks in the quiet fishing village of Cabuya, Costa Rica at 4:30 am you not only hear it, you feel it come magnificently and raucously alive. From our house bordering Cabo Blanco Reserve, the jungle is vibrant, surging with repetitive, soothing and synchronized sounds of life. The sky opens up with a magnificent chorus of the many species of colourful birds. I hear a loud basal squawk, look over and see a pair of large parrots lounging together among the tropical trees. Howler monkeys boom their glorious morning call through the jungle, their babies clinging with perseverance as they swing from the vines. Many troops of monkeys echo their call and communicate to one another from different areas of the vast jungle. Large iguanas, camouflaged to the colour of the earth, perform their morning stretch on the roof, One swishes its long tail through the lush foliage with following babies.Another quickly travels into the house and hides behind the fridge. Cicadas chime with the geckos and they sing and chirp in unison. The parakeets cover the trees in a joyous chorus while the larger colourful parrots settle in the trees while the parakeets flow in a different direction. There is an elderly Cabuya rooster with a crackle in it’s crow that starts at 4 am and will stop when the 5 am birds begin. With practice I keenly tuned into the sounds of dawn which strengthened my ability to notice and listen to the quieter and more peaceful rhythms all day long.
The jungle reminds me how things become more beautiful as your perspective shifts. In the winter seasons that I have spent in Costa Rica since 2012, early morning yoga and meditation was my natural routine while waking to the call of monkeys. I open the large doors to the stone terrace and walk out with Moringa tea and a Kale smoothie. Respectfully greeting the yoga mat in a natural surrounding daily gives me the steadiness of mind to meet any challenge that comes my way. I accepted the meeting of the mat in physical and emotional discomfort, and trusted in my body’s ability to heal. In this beautiful country of Costa Rica, I have experienced an inward shift. I have slowly turned a page in the intriguing book of my life and have found an unexpected pearl of wisdom. The rhythms and sounds of the jungle have allowed me to see a beautiful path to a happier, joyful life despite adversity. I believe that peaceful steadiness of mind, enhanced by the acoustic rhythms of a beautiful, natural environment can lead to powerful physical and emotional changes.
It has been well documented that ancient cultures were aware of how consistent rhythmic sound had extremely powerful healing benefits. Brain entrainment dates back thousand of years. Scientist Melinda Mayfield Phd, found that drums beat at a steady rate of 4.5 beats per second, shifting the brain into a 4.5 Hz brainwave frequency. This is a low Theta brainwave state that induces deep relaxation and creates an environment for healing in the body.
Another fact that intrigued me, was the healing of Gary Denham’s broken ankle in 2011. With ultrasound which is a high frequency sound, the ankle healed completely in 4 months. Normally this fracture would have taken 6-12 months. Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Angus MacLean stated” We use it for difficult fractures, the ones with problems with healing, and it is a very simple painless treatment that we can give. It’s a very interesting scientific development, and there is good evidence that it just vibrates the cells a little which then stimulates healing and regeneration in the bone.”
High powered thundering tropical rain roared as it hit the roof. Lightening cracked loudly, flashing through the windows in our house. I lay in bed, the room flashing with the lightning, a medium size lizard climbing on the rock wall of the inside of the house. The power was out, and the fans lay still, the humidity rising by the second. There are frequent water and power outages in Costa Rica, and we collect water in our milk jugs as a backup. Despite the raging storm, the neighbour’s rooster had started his call on-time this morning, managing to crow throughout the storm.The many iguanas sometimes end up in the house, behind the fridge, and drop from the roof beside you when you are sliding the big open air doors to the jungle sounds.
In the morning following the storm I walked outside, barely able to see my bare-feet in the dim light. I could see the silhouette of howler monkeys above me, jumping from tree to tree. In the shadow of the Guanacaste tree, out of my view, began the call of the bird who whistles like a man. This low baritone melodic tune imitates the sound of a man whistling in the field, tending to his crops. After much research, I am still unable to find out the species of this beautiful bird, but I continue to search for the name of this mysterious species. I looked forward to its exquisite serenade like the song Trinity each morning. This highly intelligent sound is perfectly timed at 5 am for 5 minutes, and then disappears.
We walk up the river of Rio Lajas near Cabuya seeking swimming holes and a waterfall. We climbed over rocks and through a shallow river, with vines draping down from the lush foliage. Howler monkeys send their booming call above and crash through the trees, watching us from above.
A blue Morpho butterfly fluttered above, illuminated by beams of light filtering down through the trees. A warm and potent breeze washed across our faces. Large hummingbirds and brilliantly coloured butterflies dance from plant to plant, searching for the flowers with the brightest crimson glow.
Large brilliant blue birds fly through down the river and land in the water for their bath. I see a Capuchin monkey screech, and then cross the river, and look at me with his human-like eyes, and then leap into the trees with her troupe, a small baby clinging to her back. A soothing sound of the natural cascading river among large earthy round boulders, roots and vines has me feeling very grateful for it’s mystery and beauty. I know that science has demonstrated that the brain does not know the difference between a real or imagined experience, and that listening to my audio recordings of monkeys and jungle sounds will take me here in my imagination, and this can also have a profound healing effect.
There is flow, simplicity and beauty in Costa Rica. My concerns are so very small in comparison, as I am a quiet observer in this raw, and undeveloped perfection. There is untamed freedom of the jungle, with rock and silt and leaves beneath my feet. We climb over, and around large boulders, wading through the water leading to the soothing sound of waterfalls. I know that you can make a comeback at any stage in life, no matter what happens. When you are thinking it, the change has already begun.
“Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.” Arthur Golden
“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination” Jimmy Dean
Mindfulness is the practice of the ability to be in the moment, letting go of any judgement. It has been my experience that horses are highly intuitive and sensitive animals that flow with change and course correction, and live in the moment.
This to me is why I continue to seek knowledge and wisdom from the spirit of the horse. If you can observe objectively, you have the ability to change course and map out your course.Costa Rica presents opportunities to mindfulness practice and meditation, which Glenn and I both did daily with Yoga and Pilates. When my overactive mind is swirling with thought, I return to the cherished images of the beauty and peace that I felt in Costa Rica. I look at my photos like a precious jewels, and have a bowl of pink shell sand collected on our hike to El Chorro Falls in between Montezuma and Tambor, Costa Rica.
The hike is magnificently alive with wildlife, with tropical sounds and brilliantly coloured butterflies. It took us about 6 hours of hiking round trip bordering the reserves, including a lunch stop at Piedra Colorado beach, and a glorious swim at the waterfall.There is horseback riding available to this exquisite destination.
The sand turned from white and pink shell beach, to black sand, to a rich golden colour. The waterfall cascades from the cliff to a tide pool trickling to the ocean. The ocean breeze held an invisible current of happiness and health.
After traveling to Costa Rica, Belize and Panama, Glenn and I have made our course correction to the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica. It is in a Blue Zone which is defined and described by Dan Buettner in his book ”The Blue Zones; Lessons for Living Longer from People Who’ve Lived the Longest”, as “Places in the world where there is a high concentration of persons over age 100, and there is a substantial disability free and disease free life expectancy”. Gilbert Brenes of the Central American Center for Population describes the people of the Nicoya Peninsula as having longer telomeres than the rest of the Costa Ricans. It is described in CNN news as “the longer the telomere the longer the life.” I have experienced rapid healing there, details which I will describe in a future blog. It has proven to us in the years that we have journeyed to this area of the world, how physically and emotionally healing it is to be there. This blog is about our challenging and purposeful journey shifting from a small ranching community in the Cariboo to the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica.I look forward to sharing my next adventure with you!