Finding Purpose in the Slowness of Winter

Finding Purpose in the Slowness of Winter

Finding Purpose in the Slowness of Winter

MBHA Newsletter

Once the days begin to shorten and darkness pervades our evenings and mornings, it’s common to hear people express their desire to stay home more often. Absence of natural sunlight, combined with the lowered energy that accompanies our lack of drive to be out and about zaps us of the extra umpf we feel during other seasons.

Somewhere in our American story, we learned that these things are inherently bad. Our lack of sunshiney disposition amid the grayer days became viewed as problematic rather than as a human extension of the world’s progression through the seasons.  Likely, this negative connotation is related to the lessened productivity that accompanies our desire to stay in and cozy up. However, when we remove the pressure to produce and succeed that is linked to the American ethos of effectiveness and prosperity we begin to see that maybe the winter doldrums serve a purpose.

When you use nature and the body look at the patterns of life and growth, you will notice these moments of sleep and wakefulness, energy and rest. If we consider winter as the sleepy season, then we can appreciate what is happening beneath the surface of our quiet times at home. Perhaps we can replace the negatively associated words like “lazy” or “low energy” or “depressed” with ones that indicate what is happening in our minds, bodies and souls.

Consider the body’s natural wiring for sleep: the brain and body must sort the intake of each day and decide what to keep for future use and what to flush out of the system. This process is what triggers growth and healing, and it’s only in “shut down” mode that the brain and body can be fully effective at doing it.  This happens when we sleep long enough to achieve the full benefits of multiple sleep cycles. The longer we sleep, the more REM (rapid eye movement) cycles we get through and the longer each REM cycle lasts.  Think about sleep as the growth that happens beneath the surface of a plant in the colder months.  

A growing body of research is reframing depression from a pathology to a framework that finds healing and health within it. The rumination and low energy for external things that are hallmarks of depression is now seen as the body and mind’s way of turning inward to focus maximum energy on healing mental and emotional wounds.  The body does not allow energy for non-essential activities as it needs it all for healing and problem solving.  Once the hurt is healed or the problem is solved, depression begins to alleviate. This explains the episodic nature of depression and the unexplainable spontaneous recovery people experience.

Looking at winter as a season of inner reflection as opposed to outward results and depression (especially “winter depression”) as a restorative time shifts how we feel about both. It could be that an effective winter season includes pervasive moments of internal reflection that don’t involve a visible result. It might be that the “work” of winter and depression, is a drawing inward to understand the true self before attempting to shine that outward to the world in the sunnier seasons.

*****Certainly there are dangers from dipping too far below the surface; symptoms of depression such as lethargy, apathy and social isolation can become problematic and prevent individuals from enjoying day-to-day life. We don’t advocate that you ignore symptoms, but rather lovingly treat your body and mind’s response to the season as asking for a chance to do some inner work, even with the help of a trained therapist or mental health professional.  Call our office or the crisis hotline (888.936.7116) if you have any concern that your symptoms are beyond what you can cope with in healthy ways.

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July 2018 Newsletter

July 2018 Newsletter

July 2018 Newsletter

The Mind-Body Connection: Explained

EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a form of mental health treatment that has primarily been used to address the effects of trauma.  At Mind Body Health Associates, all of our clinicians are trained in EMDR and use it in their office as a form of therapy. While this treatment modality has been effective for a subgroup of our clients, it’s important to know that at MBHA, EMDR is more than a form of treatment – it’s a philosophy that informs our treatment approach with all clients.  Every session is held with the understanding that the body and the mind work together to restore health, which affirms the starting point of EMDR.

EMDR

The brain, all day, every day, takes in sensory information. As it takes in our surroundings and daily events, the mind establishes a narrative around it. Essentially, we each tell ourselves a story about our life and this forms or supports the pieces that make up our identity.

While sleeping, those events and that narrative is processed; essentially they are broken down, made sense of, and either stored as longer term memories or flushed through our system. The important pieces of information find a home within our mind, forming memories. The unessential flow outward. (Research is still new in this area of how these moments get removed from our system, but we have some indication that it’s through the lymphatic system of our bodies.)

People who have survived trauma have experienced moments so terrifying that the mind does not know how to process or make sense of them. By definition, a trauma is something life threatening that does not make sense, is unpredictable, and is out of our control.  Instead of getting processed and “flushed out” during our nightly REM stage mental clean up, these moments essentially get stuck and processing is left unfinished.   The presence of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline contribute to the “sticking” of these experiences.  The brain continues to take in new information about each day, but all of these new moments pass by the the traumatic reference on their way to finding their home as memories. Some new memories can accumulate around the stuck experience, slowing the process of brain function.

However, it’s not just Traumatic experiences (commonly involving loss of person or power, such as grief or abuse) that can clog up the nightly flushing process. Holly Schweitzer Dunn refers to these as “big T Trauma” and explains that most people experience “little t trauma” at different moments in life. Jayne Williams chimes in: “we all have moments in our lives that are hard, and it depends on how we are able to process them that determines how they affect us.” Some “little t trauma” moments that aren’t able to be vocalized with close friends or family members in a supportive environment can also get lodged into our minds in a similar manner. This creates negative beliefs about ourselves and/or the world.

Usually, there comes a point where the brain becomes so overwhelmed that daily experiences cannot be processed appropriately. A person in this state cannot sleep, sees changes in appetite, experiences difficulty functioning in daily life, sometimes with symptoms of depression or anxiety. This is often when someone will call the office for help.

But as humans, we have amazing capacity for healing, and our bodies and our minds constantly work towards health. Our cut skin will grow back together and heal – unless it’s blocked, like when we experience a splinter. Even that small shard will prevent healing until it’s put in its appropriate place.

Similarly, our experiences and the way they are processed into our bodies are programmed for healing. Until the problematic experience is fully processed, our body and our subconscious mind will keep returning to it in an attempt to process it. It could be through the rumination symptom of depression, when our minds keep playing it over and over. Or, at a level less obvious to our awareness, we could simply be attempting to process an experience as we take on negative beliefs about ourselves and our world. For example, perhaps you were told at a young age that yellow was an ugly color. You might not have outward feelings toward the color yellow, but you might regularly have moments where you avoid the color yellow when given a choice, because the color yellow is that unprocessed memory coming to the surface, asking to be stored or discarded.

As a therapy tool, EMDR re-processes the memory with a different emotion or belief about the self. In a safe and supportive setting, we use the calming effect that movement has on the nervous system, such as moving the eyes, to begin to move the experience through channels of the mind. Much like a car stuck in the ruts of mud, we use movements to get the neural networks of the brain moving.

By keeping one proverbial foot in the present moment and recalling the past, we are able to attach new meaning to our experiences that draw up different emotions and beliefs about ourselves and the world. Working with a therapist to notice the sensations of the body when thinking about the color yellow, for example, we can notice the way these sensations also show up in other ways. Perhaps our belly clenches and our jaw gets tight when we think about the color yellow, but we also feel those sensations when we hear loved ones argue. Through the act of noticing, we can begin to tell ourselves a new story – not just about the color yellow, but about what is true when we feel these sensations. A clenched belly and a tight jaw can be translated, and we begin to say, “oh, I feel that thing again. What is happening around me that I might not realize is causing me to react?”

Whether or not your therapist and you agree to get out a light board or utilize sound tones in a formal EMDR session, much of your work with any clinical issue in our office centers on the function of past experiences and present sensations. We bring awareness of our body into treatment because it helps us to understand the story we’ve been telling ourselves about who we are and the world around us. And once we understand that story, we can address the negative and positive elements of it.

For further understanding

A household favorite is the podcast On Being with Krista Tippett. In this episode she interviews Bessel van der Kolk, Medical Director of the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute in Brookline, Massachusetts. He’s also a professor of psychiatry at Boston University Medical School, and the author of The Body Keeps the Score.

Listen Now

Pairing Treatment with Yoga

Yoga can help you manage symptoms of a taxed nervous system and give you tools for relaxation. Our EMDR-based approach leads us to recommend individuals to take up a yoga practice, either at home, in a local studio, or privately for several reasons:

1. It’s bi-lateral movement, which calms the nervous system and preps the body to be able to better process our experiences, past and present. Mindful movement helps us dislodge our belief patterns in a way that sit-and-talk therapy doesn’t do by itself.

2. It teaches us to notice sensations in the body. Thanks to a well-developed nervous system, our bodies are always able to tell us something about how we feel at the current moment. Sometimes the simplicity of a yoga practice helps us to tune into how we’re feeling in a way that a more complex activity, such as playing sports, does not.

3. It’s breath-centered. Nothing brings you into the present moment and reaffirms your safety like a deep breath. Just 60-90 seconds of deep belly breathing can calm the hyper-arousal of the sympathetic nervous system “fight or flight” response. An hour or 30 minutes of mindful, breath-based movement brings your body and your mind into a calmed state to more easily process events.

Talk to your therapist about the benefits of pairing your treatment with yoga. Michele, our in-house yoga instructor, has worked with individuals dealing with issues of trauma, grief, addiction, and disordered eating. A season of private sessions might give you the confidence and the tools to take your practice into a studio setting, or set you up for a simple home practice. If you’re already wanting a studio-based practice, Peggy at Hot Yoga Findlay uses EMBER, a trauma-sensitive approach to yoga.

What Now?

Perhaps this new understanding has you wondering if you could benefit from EMDR, and this might be the case. Another option is to explore ways your body can help you navigate stress.

  1. Sleep more. A minimum of 8 hours, and more when necessary. Sleep is when the brain flushes most effectively, so give it ample opportunity to release unhelpful memories.
  2. Move more. Engage your whole body through walking, running, hiking, yoga, biking, swimming, or even simply bi-lateral movements or stretches. Let your body give your brain the nudge to process the days’ sensations and memories.
  3. Sit more. A practice of sitting comfortably and noticing your breath and the sensations of your body quiets the bodily systems. Here you can shift away from the problem-solving side of your brain. You’ll decrease the amount of stress hormones washing through the body and find a sense of relaxation needed to help your overall processing of your thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

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May 2018 Newsletter

May 2018 Newsletter

May 2018 Newsletter

The Pace of Life

Everyone is busy. No one has time. This seems to be the norm, but this does not make it healthy. This month, we focus on the pace of life and how to take your foot off the accelerator.

Keeping Pace with Dis-Ease

Culture is moving at 90 MPH, flying through the days like we’re on the Autobahn. Therapist Landon Dunn asks, “what would it like to be running at 70 instead?”

We can still speed along with a sense of accomplishment, but  a more sensible pace will help decrease the risk of negative outcomes. If you crash going 90 mph, the injuries will be substantial. According to a local mechanic, if you run a vehicle at 90 mph all the time, it will overheat and burn more fuel, much less efficiently. The same concept, when applied to your body or your lifestyle, leave you consuming more and more but not allowing your body to work in a healthy way.  This leads to increased rates of heart disease, addiction and other physical manifestations of stress.

Perhaps that’s why 72% of Americans are considered overweight or obese. Our speed encourages us to eat on the fly, and rarely are those quick bites rich in nourishment. After a dizzying day of stimulation, it’s common to count on food  to bring us “down” with a sense of comfort, often with a numbing effect.
Instead of slowing ourselves down to deal with the intake of information and experience in a given day, it’s easier to turn to pharmaceuticals as a means of getting by.  While sometimes it’s helpful in the short-term, relying on medication is no substitute for doing the inner work necessary to return to a state of ease in life.

Creating habits of meditation and movement can help you slow the pace of your day. Even 20 minutes of sitting mindfully and a quick 10 minute walk will put gaps in your daily routine that allow for a sense of pause and freedom.  While you can feel the benefit of slowing in the midst of these moments, you might also be aware of the spaciousness you find as the day continues, allowing you to slow through the morning staff meeting or the afternoon soccer game (even with terrible referees).

Choosing to put yourself in a slower lane helps protect you from the erratic drivers sharing the road. Just because the traffic is flowing at a high speed doesn’t make it healthy. You can still move efficiently without the risk that comes with excessive speeds.

Make it a Mantra:

Make Space

Holly Schweitzer Dunn, LISW

One way to shift the pace of life is to begin to add space. Imagine your day like a stone path.  By spacing the next step further from the current place, the pace of your walking slows. An added benefit: your attention on the present moment increases.
Adding space can be between activities, creating a margin before and after leaving the house to feel settled and fully arrive. Or, put some space between thoughts: by noticing a thought and letting it rest, as opposed to acting on it immediately, you can make purposeful decisions about your ideas instead of being pushed by them. Finally, adding space in your physical environmentlessens the feel of of the world pressing in on you. Eliminate unnecessary items, which overwhelm your senses, and experience the freedom of enjoying the sights, sounds, smells, and company of your home, car, and workplace environment.


Finding a Workplace Pace

For many people, the biggest challenge to finding a sustainable pace of life lies in the demands of their professional life (or kids activity schedules – but those generally lie outside of our control). How do we establish rhythms that allow us to be productive, efficient and reach new successes while at work?

As a staff we experience this as much as we teach it. There’s a push-pull relationship between running a business, helping others, and maintaining boundaries to protect a healthy personal life. As we share our best practices, perhaps you will also benefit from ways to find ease within a rigorous work schedule.

Holly: By being fully present to each moment of my work – keeping my mind focused on my client or report, rather than what is coming later that day – I’m engaging with my work at a level that doesn’t require me to drag it home later. Work isn’t something to “get through” until the “real life” begins, but something in which I participate. When I’m done for the day, I’ve had my fill and can move on to our next thing.

Laura: I try to “close up” my day, straightening my desk, finishing my notes before I leave the office each day. I’m careful to pay attention to the transition to my commute so that when I arrive home, I’ve finished my workday and can enjoy my home life. Some people use rituals – a treat in the car, for example – to have a sensory experience of the transition. For those who work from a home office, even making a physical change (think: Mr. Roger’s switch from outdoor coat to indoor sweater) might help draw the lines around work life to keep it in its place.

Jayne: I keep a lot of white space in my schedule during seasons where I know I’m going to be more mentally stretched, such as when I’m completing trainings or have had several new clients. The demands of self-management, specifically in an entrepreneurial role, take a different skill set, and you have to see the value of your time as productive, even when that hour doesn’t have specific income tied to it.

Landon: I’ve learned to detach myself from much of the scheduling and allow others to keep me from over-working. By having the correct team in place, I can do my best work, because the processes and people keep the flow at a sustainable and beneficial pace.


Looking for signs of spring

As spring ‘sprung,’ therapist Laura Abraham spent childhood afternoons at local parks, or even in her own backyard, as her mother encouraged her to “look for signs of spring.” They trekked through nature, listening for birds, looking for little sprouts of green, smelling the blossoms, and feeling for the crisp air on their cheeks and the dew beneath their feet. As a child, Laura was taught to become aware of the changing seasons and the beauty of life in its simplest forms.

This activity inspired mindful awareness.  Of course, it was fun.  After a long winter, it fulfilled a yearning to get out and play; however, Laura’s mom also created an opportunity to slow down as a family and to take time to be present and aware. She had, without knowing it, developed her children’s ability to practice mindful existence.

We often get so caught up in the day-to-day responsibilities that we overlook the importance of slowing down to notice our surroundings. As an adult, Laura still finds herself noticing “signs of spring”, on the way to work each morning; it’s amazing how this simple childhood experience carries into the modern-day world.

Jenelle Hohman Color Me Happy Walk & 5K 2018

Join Mind Body Health Associates as we raise money and awareness for mental health services in Hancock County while having fun and getting exercise. Join Team Jenelle when you register and you will sport a bright red (like her lipstick!) t-shirt at the event.

The race is Saturday, May 19 at 9 AM. Meet us at Riverside Park.

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Growing in Health & Happiness

Growing in Health & Happiness

March 2018 Newsletter

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