Can Stimulating the Prefrontal Cortex Calm the Default Human Survival Flight/Fight Response?

When humans encounter situations that they perceive as threatening, the parts of the brain responsible for our survival (i.e., amygdala, hippocampus) kick in to determine if running away from the threat is possible, to fight if not, and if neither is possible to stand still, hold our breath to be quiet and ultimately faint.  This flight/fight/freeze/faint response is not only the default position of our brains, it can be so activated over time from trauma and stress that it stays turned on even when we are not in harm’s way.

As someone that grew up in a home that would now be described as chaotic, I found myself in a series of situations that I either ran away from or fought, with a few where I found myself frozen in fear.  As a young child we don’t understand how these experiences are effecting our development, we just do what we have to – anything to survive.  As a young adult, I began to sense the amount of pressure I held in my body and used that energy to drive myself forward, sometimes to the point of exhaustion.

Through several years of psychotherapy, I discovered that the survival response in my brain, when activated (which happened to be most of the time), reduced my access to the parts of my brain that helped me to focus and communicate.  I subsequently learned that this is referred to as ‘amygdala hijacking’ and I describe it as the amygdala literally turning off the light switch leaving it in the dark to fend for itself without being able to see that there is access to support, specifically the prefrontal cortex.  And when you can’t access this part of the brain on a consistent basis, it loses its ability to offer a more balanced perspective of life.  Remember that saying “If you don’t use it, you lose it”, well it applies here too.

When I discovered yoga, I found a way to keep these two parts of my brain connected and when I did, it reduced the level of anxiety in the moment and began to strengthen the bridge that allows space to response, instead of react.  One of the most powerful tools that I learned from my time on the yoga mat was deep belly breathing, which was the first tool that I took off of the mat and into my everyday experiences.

Research has shown that practicing such breath techniques has neurophysiological impacts through respiratory vagus nerve stimulation.  The vagus nerve is the main part of our parasympathetic autonomic nervous system that is responsible for rest and digest processes and when stimulated is closely associated with emotional balance, mental flexibility, empathy and attachment.  It does this through decreasing hippocampal activity among other things, reducing the reactivity in the fear center of our brain, making access to the prefrontal cortex easier.  Now, what I have to admit is that I practiced such breath techniques for years until I began to consistently experience the emotional balance I so craved.  So, from personal experience I know it works, yet it can take time.

So how excited was I when I read the recent research in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Psychiatry that looked at this bridge from a different perspective – stimulating the prefrontal cortex in order to allow it to stay online and calm the fear center of the brain when experiencing threatening circumstances, reducing anxiety.  This research looked at the effects of transcranial direct current stimulation, such as used in direct neurofeedback, of the prefrontal cortex on amygdala threat activity in people who experience chronic anxiety.  Neuroimaging was used to assess the impact and the results reveal a direct connection between the ability of the prefrontal cortex to regulate the fear response in the amygdala.  These findings offer more support to the neurocognitive mechanism contributing to the positive effects of direct neurofeedback and offer much hope to more directly and quickly reduce anxiety through such a non-pharmaceutical treatment option.

5 Intention-setting Ideas for Professional Wellness Month

When we start to attach our identity to our work, job and/or employer, we are teetering on a tight rope without a net.  Today, more than ever, it is vital to our well-being and longevity (both at work and in life) to find ways to maintain a balance between who we are and what we do!

Many employers, in an attempt to build a more harmonious work culture, encourage employees to socialize outside of normal working hours.  However, such encouragement from employers can create an internal conflict for those employees that are unable to join such social gatherings due to other commitments outside of the workplace.  It can also create a perceived sense of preferential treatment for those that do attend such gatherings versus those that don’t – or can’t – participate.

Employers would better serve their employees by supporting such things as flexible work hours, encouraging workers to go home after an 8 hour day in the office, requiring workers to take regular breaks and vacations, creating spaces in the office where workers can go for a few minutes of peace and quiet throughout the day, like a meditation room, a garden and/or a walking path, and offering regular group exercise opportunities during work hours, such as yoga, Tai Chi, or Qigong classes.

Until all employers buy into the research that indicates such things enchance a worker’s physical, emotional, and mental well-being, boosting productivity, focus, memory, and creativity, below are intention-setting ideas for you to implement for yourself, to remind yourself every day that you are so much MORE than what you do and avoid burning the candle at both ends:

  1. Walking meetings.  If you find yourself either needing to schedule a meeting with a colleague or are invited to one, ask your colleague if they would mind making the meeting a walking meeting.  Take the walk outside and, if possible, into an area that has some greenery, like trees or flowers, or near water, such as a lake or water fountain.  Perhaps you can locate a bench outside that you can stop at and sit for part of the meeting.  Even if you are able to make one meeting a week a walking meeting to start, before long this idea might catch on as others begin to feel the difference it makes in their day!
  2. Take multiple short breaks.  Consider taking a one-minute break every hour.  You can set an alarm on your phone or a reminder in your calendar.  Some ideas for each one-minute break include:  closing your eyes and taking several, long deep breaths while visualizing something that brings you joy; bringing in a jump rope and/or hula hoop and using it for one minute; doing some seated yoga poses at your desk; and/or listening to a guided meditation.
  3. Ask a co-worker for support.  If you find the support of another as motivation to hold you accountable, ask a co-worker to start an at-work health challenge with you.  It could be around the number of steps you take at work (think taking the stairs instead of the elevator) or the amount of time you hold a challenging shape, such as wall squats, plank or balancing on one leg.  It might also be eating more healthy, such as getting points for eating fresh fruit or a salad instead of a taco or hamburger.  If stress is an issue, maybe consider keeping track of the number of meditations you participate in (by taking those one-minute breaks every hour!).  Don’t forget to set a goal, perhaps the ‘winner’ at the end of the month treats the ‘other winner’ to lunch.
  4. Start a gratitude circle.  I know when I worked in the corporate world, it was very easy to get caught in the experience of complaining about work to my co-workers, whether it was about other co-workers not pulling their weight, the unrealistic work expectations, and/or the lack of communication.  Although at first it might have brought some temporary relief, such complaining did not change anything.  Therefore, consider turning complaining on its head the next time you find yourself looking for a co-worker to vent with by challenging yourself to identify something that you are grateful for from your experience at work and sharing it with another.  Better yet, start a gratitude circle with several co-workers, scheduling a 5 minute gathering at some point in the day where everyone gets to share what they felt gratitude for that day (limiting the time to 1 minute or less for the sharing).
  5. Play music.  No, not your favorite dance music or rock or rap album.  Find some music without lyrics that you might enjoy and make sure to play it at an ambient noise level to avoid disturbing your co-workers.  It might be jazz or classical or it could be nature sounds, like the ocean or the sounds of the forest.  Research has shown music to improve mood, which impacts productivity and creativity

What does your attitude about crying say about you?

Take a moment and ask yourself which of the following four statements reflects your belief about crying:

  • Crying is healthy
  • Crying is controllable
  • Crying helps one feel better
  • I hate crying

Recent research reflects that your beliefs about crying reveal your attachment style.

When I grew up, I got mixed messages from my family about crying.  My mother would cry all of the time and I would presume that she would identify with either the ‘crying is healthy’ and/or ‘crying helps one feel better’ beliefs.  Whereas, my father on the other hand would never cry and most likely would identify with ‘crying is controllable’ and/or ‘I hate crying’ beliefs.  More recently, I heard several quotes that stuck with me, one within my yoga roots by Kripalvanandji “One who knows crying, knows spiritual practice.” and the other “Crying is how your body speaks when your mouth can’t explain the pain you feel” which appears to be from an unknown author.

Crying is a universal human attachment behavior and starts at birth.  As little ones, crying notifies our caregivers that we need something, to relay important information to our attachment figures, such as food or sleep.  As we grow up, crying is a part of emotional processing and acceptance of loss.  The act of crying tends to elicit care and comfort from others throughout our lives.  But what happens as we grow when our caregivers have different beliefs about crying and they may not respond to our needs with care and comfort as intended?

I remember times when I was crying and my father’s response was something like ‘I won’t speak to you until you stop crying’, which implied to me that he was not available to provide care and comfort and somehow I must find a way to do that for myself.  I also witnessed that same response when my mother would be crying and he would not provide her with any comfort.  I quickly learned that crying does not elicit comfort and care in my family and, instead, makes the source of comfort and care unavailable.  As you might suspect, I tried my best to ‘stuff’ my emotions, especially my fear and sadness, and tried to rely on my words to explain my responses to the world.  But what happens when words fail?

Another memory comes back to me when I was a young woman working in the corporate world and I found myself feeling unsupported at work, even bullied.  I approached Human Resources and started to use my words, until my tears starting flowing and the dam broke.  I could not stop crying and I felt ashamed.  The HR person even alluded to the fact that my tears made it difficult to navigate the circumstances.  Well the research findings now show that the beliefs we develop about crying as a result of our experiences with our attachment figures have implications for interpersonal and intrapersonal functioning throughout our lives, impacting all of our relationships.

Learning and embracing the wisdom of Kripalvanandji helps us embrace our humanness, which includes the capacity to feel and experience emotions, and release any shame around crying.  It is a normal, natural human response to loss – whether we learned to deny/avoid the pain that comes with loss or cry more and stronger when we experience loss, hoping to get the care and comfort we all deserve – that has the power to heal.

If you would like to learn more about how your beliefs about crying may reflect your attachment style in relationships, click the box below:

5 Intention-setting Ideas for Helping Kids Reduce Anxiety

Each May, I feel it is so important to promote Mental Health Awareness month, as it is a belief of mine (backed by recent research) that when we support the health of the brain/mind, our bodies respond in kind.

This year I would like to focus on the 2018 Children’s Mental Health Report from the Child Mind Institute, reflecting on the significant increase in child and adolescent anxiety disorders.  Below are some of the highlights:

  • In the past 10 years, there has been increasing recognition of anxiety in young people by health care providers, including a 17% increase in anxiety disorder diagnosis.  Yet anxiety symptoms are minimized or ignored. As little as 1% of youth with anxiety seek treatment in the year symptoms begin.
  • At some point, anxiety affects 30% of children and adolescents, yet 80% never get help.
  • Untreated anxiety disorders are linked to depression, school failure and a two-fold increase in risk for substance use disorder and suicide.
  • The average age of onset for Separation Anxiety Disorder and specific phobias is age 11.
  • The average age on onset for Social Anxiety Disorder is age 14.
So, even if we don’t have children of our own, all of us interact with children at some point, whether we see them while taking a walk or shopping at the supermarket.  How might we help?  Below are some intention-setting ideas you might consider modeling as body-mind self-care tools known to reduce anxiety.  You never know when a child is watching, listening, and learning!
  1. Practice Relaxation Exercises.  If your begin to feel yourself getting stressed out over something, maybe you get stuck in traffic or you feel overwhelmed by the amount of work (think homework!) ahead of you, consider cutting off the stress-to-anxiety circuitry by taking a breather!  Bee’s breath is a fun one that kid’s love because they get to make sounds and visualize themselves flying back home to the ‘family hive’ for a sweet treat.  Take a few moments to learn how to do it yourself and add it to your toolkit to do in front of your kids, inviting them to join you to clear their minds and soothe their bodies.
  2. Face Your Fears.  We all have them, whether we are afraid of spiders or dogs or flying or thunder and lightning or being alone.  Knowing that fear is part of the basic human condition brings with it some comfort in understanding we are not alone in this experience.  So, if we can admit we have one and then take a step towards our fear (instead of running away from it), we model our ability to experience both fear and confidence in our ability to conquer our fear.  And, don’t forget to reward yourself afterwards to provide additional motivation to lean into our fears, reminding ourselves that fear is an emotion that will pass if we let it.
  3. Mindfulness.  Anxiety arises when the mind gets caught in the ‘what if’ loop, whether about the future or the past.  So, helping the mind to break that loop, by focusing on the present moment for even a few moments, will help in reducing the level of anxiety.  Again, we can do this with our children so they learn this self-care tool from us.  Consider practicing right now – sit comfortably and begin to allow the awareness of the mind to focus on all of your senses.  Maybe start with the sense of touch, where the body is connected to something whether the ground beneath the feet or the body resting in the chair.  Move to what your eyes can see, noticing the colors and textures of the items in your view.  What might you be smelling or tasting?What do you hear – perhaps noticing the sounds in the distance first and then moving to the sounds closest to you.  Last, you might consider allowing yourself to sense into the body and simply labeling what you might be feeling, such as tension in a part of your body, or a temperature, or even a sense of that fear or anxiety.  Practicing this together once a day, even when you are not feeling anxious (perhaps right before going to bed) for a minute or two will give the gift of mindfulness for a lifetime!
  4. Self-talk.  We all talk to ourselves and setting an intention to be more transparent with it can be transforming.  Consider talking out loud, expressing your thoughts verbally to the universe.  The first thing we might notice is how biased (towards self-harm) our thoughts might be, which starts to raise our awareness around the energy these thoughts carry. Once aware of such energy, begin a dialogue with yourself to challenge those heavy thoughts, by offering yourself a different perspective, one that a dear friend might offer you.  Once you have practiced this for awhile, you might begin to demonstrate such dialogues in front of your children, admitting that you too have negative thoughts yet you create space for different ways of looking at things and how you might respond to someone you care about that might also have such negative thoughts.
  5. Self-compassion.  One of the most powerful gifts we can offer to and model for the next generation is the practice of self-compassion.  It is important to not only acknowledge our successes, but also our failures, without beating ourselves up.  It is only through the acceptance of our humanness, with both gifts and flaws, that we truly step into our authentic skin and be the shining light in the darkness.  Owning and expressing our imperfections to others is quite powerful, as it begins to empower others to step onto the path of self-acceptance.  We are spiritual beings having a human experience and, as such, we will trip and fall and make mistakes along the path as this is how we learn.  Reminding ourselves – and our children – that in order to discover our true gifts, sometimes we need to stumble through the heap of mistakes.  Consider setting an intention to use a mantra of “I am (you are) human and perfectly imperfect” as a response to mistakes, failures and flaws!

What type of yoga is best?

As a Hatha yoga trained teacher under the umbrella of the Raja type of yoga, I am often asked if one style of yoga is better than another.  It has always been my belief that all yoga has mind-body-soul benefits and recent research appears to support such a belief.  However, what I think is important to understand is that yoga does not just include the physical poses or shapes that most of us first think of when asked ‘What is yoga all about?’.

Sacred yogic texts offer that there are four types of – or paths to – yoga, which is often defined as the union of body, mind, soul and spirit.  Raja yoga is the type of yoga that includes techniques, such as movement, meditation, and mudras, and is what is most often practiced here in our Western world.  Bhakti yoga is the type of yoga focused on devotion, also referred to as the path of love.  Jnana yoga is the type of yoga focused on the attainment of knowledge or wisdom through study and self-inquiry.  Karma yoga is the type of yoga focused on action without attaching to the outcome of your efforts, also referred to as the path of selfless service.

With this basic understanding of the four types of yoga then, when we think of yoga practices we start to realize it is all yoga.  When we focus on the yoga most practiced here in the US, Raja yoga, then we can begin to broaden our perspective as to what is included in this particular type, beyond the physical movement we do on our mats in a yoga class.  Yoga practices or techniques can include breath (pranayama), intention setting (Sankalpa), visualization (Bhavana), mudra (body/hand positions), mantra (chanting/sound), meditation (all kinds!), and how we interact with others and ourselves.

When we do take a moment to focus on the physical movement on the yoga mat, within the Hatha yoga style of Raja yoga, multiple yoga styles have emerged, which makes this type of yoga available to everyone.  Options run the gamut from Vinyasa flow, which is a faster-paced, sweaty practice to Restorative, where bodies are supported by blankets, bolsters, and other props to find comfort and held for at least 10 minutes.  Other classes might simply focus on breath practices or sound healing through musical instruments or chanting/singing.  Even others might offer guided visualization meditations.  Yoga class descriptions might represent the offering as a Beginner’s class or a Level 1 class.  Newer trainings include Yoga of 12 Step Recovery and Trauma-informed Yoga.

Therefore, my answer to the question is ‘Whatever works for you!”.  Not all yoga is equal.  Yoga is not the vanilla flavor of union and instead has evolved into a more ‘flavor of the month’ approach to broaden its reach and appeal.  And, the more we learn about the roots of the ancient tradition, we come to realize that it was originally taught in a one-on-one format, passing the knowledge of the guru to student, most likely taking into consideration that student’s individual needs.  So, in reality, yoga (with all of its techniques or ingredients) is meant to be a personal practice, customized to what is needed in the moment.  With this understanding then, my answer might include a response such as “You are your best guru, so listen to your body and allow it to join the mind in making the decision as to what feels best in the moment”.

If you still believe just one type or style of yoga is best, I encourage you to click on the link below to read more about the research that concluded that the choice of yoga style can be based on personal preferences and availability:

5 Intention-setting Ideas for Allergy Season

As we move into Spring, the air begins to warm and Mother Nature begins to blossom once again.  And here in southern California, after our deliciously wet winter, the flowers are already in full bloom!  For many, this season can bring tears to their eyes just thinking about the flowers, not from their simple beauty but because of the misery they bring to the body due to seasonal allergies.

If you experience an increase in nose and ear congestion, sneezing, and/or itchy eyes and/or throat during this season, I offer 5 intention-setting ideas below for a more natural approach to reducing the suffering that accompanies such allergies:

  1. Honey.  Consider adding honey to your daily food intake.  And not just any honey – it must be LOCAL honey.  Bees create honey from their immediate environment and it contains trace amounts of the environmental allergens that your body may be trying to flush out through your allergic symptoms.  So, by adding honey either to your tea, smoothie, or oatmeal in the morning, over time you will build up your immunity to such substances and with a whole lot less pain than allergy shots!
  2. Bee Pollen.  Bee pollen is similar to honey and offers an alternative to how you ingest these substances.  You might consider adding bee pollen to your salads or other fresh fruit or vegetables.
  3. Nasal Cleansing.  Using a neti pot to rinse your nasal passages with a saline solution has been shown to not only relieve sinus symptoms due to allergies, but research has also shown using a neti pot can prevent several upper respiratory conditions, such as the common cold and seasonal allergies.  Not sure how to start such a practice, I recommend purchasing the Health And Yoga stainless steel pot that comes with a DVD for guidance.  If you still don’t think this is a practice you would want to try, consider using a saline nasal spray on a daily basis to wash away the irritants.  Personally, I got over my fear of pouring water up my nose and I no longer experience allergy symptoms and I believe I have successfully warded off a couple of head colds after traveling on airplanes!
  4. Apple Cider Vinegar.  Amongst many other uses, Apple Cider Vinegar has been shown to support your immune system, facilitate lymphatic system drainage, and reduce mucous production.  If the taste is too hard to take, try diluting one tablespoon in a glass of water with lemon juice and drink this concoction several times a day to relieve seasonal allergy symptoms.
  5. Nettle Leaf.  Adding nettle leaf to a tea has been shown to act as an anti-inflammatory and naturally blocks the body’s ability to produce histamine, which are the chemicals the immune system produces to get rid of something in the body it does not like and cause the symptoms of seasonal allergies.

Are you looking for a magic pill for anxiety, but without the pill?

As a yoga teacher, you might expect me to tell you that meditation is the answer.  And, although meditation has absolutely been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety, many people who suffer from anxiety get anxious just thinking about the idea of meditation.  Instead, non-invasive brain stimulation (i.e., direct neurofeedback) might bring more immediate relief of symptoms, creating space in the mind to contemplate meditation and even begin to practice it!

As someone whose nervous system tends to lean towards anxiety, my yoga practice including but not limited to pranayama, meditation and self-inquiry has brought me much peace over years of practice.  Yet, when chaos would begin to brew as it will and I would begin to feel a sense of overwhelm, I would greet my fear all over again, like a familiar (yet not comfortable) old friend.  I wondered if all of my body-mind-spirit practices would ever be enough to soothe my root chakra to the point of simply accepting fear for what it is – an early warning system meant to guide me to safety.

It wasn’t until I experienced direct neurofeedback that I sensed that shift in my relationship with fear.  I came to understand that trying to train the mind when the brain is caught in a deeply patterned dysfunctional loop can only do so much to soothe my nervous system and create new neural connections.  Operating from the conscious mind, we quickly discover that making the unconscious conscious is really hard heart work!  Awareness brings understanding and understanding creates an opportunity for choice, yet our unconscious mind can throw so many barriers up to prevent such awareness for fear of breaking our hearts.

When we can work with the body directly – specifically the brain – we can address the root source of the problem, circumventing the barriers of the mind while supporting the body’s self-healing abilities.  For anyone that has tried acupuncture, this idea may sound familiar.  By soothing the fear centers in the brain, the mind begins to notice space where there was none before.  Space to consider our experiences (past and present) in a new light with a new perspective.  And when we venture into those places of fear, such as chaos, we have a greater capacity and ability to stand in our own power and not get swept up in that sense of overwhelm.  From this place of power, we being to experience a greater sense of connection, to our authentic self as well as to the larger collective consciousness, realizing we are not alone.

When we truly can accept that ‘we are not alone’ into our belief system and we add ‘interdependence’ and compassion to our value system, the fears of uncertainty and unpredictability that underlie anxiety can be replaced with equanimity.  With the help of direct neurofeedback, I no longer found myself plagued by the belief that independence is the source of happiness, where shame is abundant when asking for help or support, or the thoughts around needing to be perfect in order to be acceptable and loved, which drove me to exhaustion.  Direct neurofeedback appeared to create space in my mind for new beliefs and values much more quickly than psychotherapy and/or yoga alone.

Recent research on non-invasive brain stimulation such as direct neurofeedback in generalized anxiety disorder is beginning to explain such results.  If you are interested in reading more, click on the link below:

5 Intention-setting Ideas for Creating Healthy Boundaries

What I have experienced since learning about and setting healthy boundaries is much more freedom and less stress in my life!

However, before a healthy boundary can be created, we need to understand what a boundary is and is not.  Boundaries are anything that limits something.  For example, time is a boundary, because there are only 24 hours in a day.  No matter how much we might want to negotiate for more, Mother Nature is not going to budge!

On the other hand, boundaries are not selfish.  In fact, boundaries can be quite empowering.  I was once offered a way of looking at setting boundaries as a gift that I can give another person, to help them reconnect with their own autonomy and competence, building their self-confidence.  This way of looking at boundaries does not mean that we stop helping others out when they are in need; however, it does ask us to deploy our skills in discerning what the best choice is in each moment.

When we can embrace the idea that setting boundaries is self-care (not selfish), then we can begin to take steps toward identifying the boundaries we want to create that will benefit both ourselves and others.  A mantra I was offered to assist me in shifting from the belief that it is selfish to prioritize my needs over the needs of others is “Say no, so others can grow”.  Take a moment right now and write this mantra down on a piece of paper or index card and place it somewhere that is accessible to you on a daily basis.  Now, think about it for a moment longer.

If you are still not buying it, here is an example that I think most people will be able to connect to.  Imagine a child is ready to learn how to tie their shoes.  You begin to teach the child how to do it.  Each day you teach the child, you watch them trying it on their own, showing progress and excitement as their fingers start to cooperate.  Now comes the hard part – the day you have to tell them “No, I’m not going to do it for you anymore, because I know you can do it by yourself”.  It hurts you to hear their protests and see their tears, but you stand your ground.  Now envision their face when they come back into the room and want to show you how they were able to tie their shoes by themselves.  Can you feel their joy!

Think of this example when you begin to explore setting healthy boundaries, remembering that when you say no, you are creating space for another person to figure something out for themselves because you BELIEVE in them, that they are capable of doing it without you doing it for them.  I know first hand that this sounds easier said than done, so below are some intention setting ideas to support your efforts in establishing, clarifying, expressing and reinforcing healthy boundaries:

  1. Identify Boundaries.  Many of us may have grown up in families that did not explain or demonstrate healthy boundaries, so we might need to take a moment and think about any boundaries we might have established or are aware of in our lives.  For example, the walls, windows, and doors of our houses create a boundary that we call home.  Our bodily reactions might have not allowed pets or certain foods in the house due to allergies.  Our spiritual roots might have offered rules of conduct that limit our behaviors, such as no public display of affection.  Creating time to identify some boundaries that exist in your life, starts to grease the wheels of the healthy boundary making machine because the growing awareness invites in choice.  For example, just because you might be allergic to cats, doesn’t preclude you from having a dog!
  2. Explore Emotions.  When you sense you are having an emotional response – whether positive or negative – stop and explore!  Emotions are the part of our intelligence that informs us about what is working and what is not working in our lives.  Emotions are the best guide to knowing when a healthy boundary is needed.  When an emotion arises, ask yourself ‘What is this emotion I am experiencing in this moment?’, ‘What is it telling me?’, and ‘Do I want more or less of it in my life?’.  When the powerful emotions such as anger (and all of its variations), pain and fear arise, the universal message is that your needs are not being satisfied.  Consider taking a moment to identify some recent situations where you felt one or more of these powerful emotions arise and write them down in the context of what brought them up.
  3. Clarify Your Needs/Values.   Now comes the hard part.  When we realize our emotions arise in response to our needs, whether they are being satisfied or not, it means we now need to own the fact that we have needs (AND WE ALL DO) and we have a responsibility to identify exactly what those needs are if we want to deepen the connections we have with ourselves and others.  Another way to view our needs is to consider them our core life values – what is it that we value enough to fight for in our lives.  To help you get started in this area, there are some universal human needs:  autonomy, connection, physical well-being including safety, honesty, peace, play and purpose.  If you would like to take a look at a longer list of such needs/values, Marshall Rosenberg has a Needs Inventory that I would recommend.  Reflect on this list along side of your emotional responses to help you narrow down the list to your top 4 values that will help guide your healthy boundary creations.
  4. Communicate a Healthy Boundary.  Now that you are armed with the knowledge of your needs/values and what happens when those needs are not being met or worse, being ignored or disrespected by another, the next step is to plan for an appropriate confrontation in order to express your healthy boundary.  Keep in mind that confrontation does not equal conflict and that you have a right and responsibility to ask for what it is you need.  Also keep in mind the other person might not be able to give you what it is you need; however, that must not stop you from at least asking and trying to negotiate a healthier space.  To help you craft your healthy boundary, consider using the 4-step process developed by Marshall Rosenberg which was designed to diffuse emotionally-charged situations by reducing blame and shame.
  5. Make a request.  It is not enough to tell someone that your needs are not being met and expect them to know how to respond to such a communication.  It is important to clearly ask for what it is you would like from them in order to have your need be met.  For example, if you determine that you value beauty as reflected by a neat and clean home and become distressed when when your need for beauty in your home is not being honored, the request might be “Will you help me clean our home or keep our home clean?”.  Such a request might lead you into a negotiation about the specifics (e.g., frequency, specific tasks, etc.), so consider making requests as concrete as possible (inviting a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response) such as “Will you help me keep our home clean by washing your dishes in the sink?”.  One last thought – when you start to clarify and express your healthy boundaries, it may seem awkward for both you and the other person because it might be a new way of interacting.  Some suggestions to support success include:  start with setting a healthy boundary around something that feels relatively minor on your emotional scale, write out the process (including your feelings, needs/values and request) and have it in front of you when speaking to the person, and know in advance that you will most likely have to communicate your boundary more than once (often several and sometimes many times) before the person fully integrates and consistently implements the request agreed to initially!

As always, if you try any of these intention-setting ideas for holistic health, I would love to hear about the impact they might have had for you.  Please send me an email at linda@sanctuary4compassion.com to share!

Tame Your Dragon with Compassion-focused Therapy (CFT)!

Do you sense that you are your own worst enemy?  Is your inner critic’s voice loud and obnoxious on most days?  Are you challenged to accept your flaws as a human being?  Do you find yourself berating yourself when you make a mistake?  Is most of your energy and time spent on trying to be perfect in order to avoid making such mistakes?  Well, you are not alone and Compassion-focused Therapy (CFT) might be the prescription that the doctor orders!

Talk therapy, or psychotherapy, can take many forms, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Emotionally-focused Therapy (EFT), and Narrative Therapy, and Compassion-focused Therapy (CFT) is one of the newer kids on the block.  However, the research is very promising and CFT is making a name for itself within the field of psychotherapy!  It evolved as an approach to healing for people experiencing high shame and self-criticism that creates mental health challenges, such as anxiety, depression, and addictive, impulsive behaviors.  And, having been a perfectionist in the past that suffered from anxiety growing up in an environment born from chaos, I can personally attest to the peace that comes from quieting the inner critic and accepting my imperfections as a normal, natural state as a spiritual being having a human experience.

So if you are tired of trying to be perfect (whatever that is?!?) and feeling like a failure when you make mistakes, all hope is not lost.  If you are thinking that you might need some help in challenging the shame that your inner critic brings up, then you might seek out support from someone that will work with you to expand your ability to experience compassion through CFT.  As a psychotherapist that looks through such a compassionate lens, it has been my experience that it will feel awkward at first because it is something new and different.  Yet, it is exactly that feeling that indicates there is much room for growth and healing through compassion.

Although I have not done any research of my own, I can personally attest to the shift I have experienced as well as the shifts I have seen in my clients when our hearts began to open to the idea of our common humanity through compassion.  For those of you that need a little more evidence, click on the link below to read a review that summarizes the findings of research where CFT has improved the mental health in clinical populations: