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Is positive psychology really effective?

When we experience loss, it is normal and natural to feel sad.  It is also normal and natural when we are under stress to use safety seeking strategies such as pulling back from support structures, such as friends and family.  At the same time, it can sometimes be difficult to move through such normal experiences and rediscover the joys in life.  We can get stuck under the weight of loss and stress, feeling alone and on edge, especially when the stress is chronic.

Reminders of loss often arise at this time of year, whether it is the loss of the innocence of our childhood or the loss of someone that we loved.  Mix in the stress of the holiday season, when our “To Do” list grows long, and it is a recipe for pulling us down into the gloom and making us more susceptible to falling ill.  It can be especially challenging when experiencing this sense of spiraling downward when we don’t have any tools to support us in turning it around.

When we feel alone and don’t want to bother anyone with our troubles, where can we turn to support our navigation through such powerful emotions that tend to knock us off balance?  Is it truly possible to use positive psychology to get us unstuck and back in balance?  Can the technology wave of online help deliver such life balancing tools, allowing us to take this journey from the privacy of our homes?

Well, a new randomized controlled trial took a look at a facilitated online positive emotion regulation intervention with caregivers responsible for people with a diagnosis of dementia.  It was a 6-week intervention that focused on testing the effects on positive emotion, depression, anxiety, and physical health.  This study demonstrated that there are tools that can teach us to experience a more positive attitude and when we have a more positive attitude, it reduces the powerful emotions of anxiety and depression!  This study supports the use of online, remotely delivered programs to support the navigation towards psychological well-being through the use of positive psychology tools.

If you would like to read more about this research, click on the link below:

Do emotions have a role in healing childhood trauma?

I sense that most of us are aware that our brain, especially the rational part (i.e., prefrontal cortex) does not reach full development until age 25 or so, which implies, by default that until that age, we tend to operate more from the emotional parts, such as the amygdala.  And, as our brains develop, the connections between the two (emotional and rational) centers are still developing as well.  What we may not be so aware of is the impact of childhood trauma on such connections.  We also may not be fully aware of many of the situations that are now understood to be traumatizing to children.

Let me start with the latter.  Extensive research has been ongoing since the original group of participants were recruited for the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study between 1995 and 1997 in California.  Although the study ended in 1997, most states continue to collect such information through the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.  The information collected focuses on child abuse and neglect and other household challenges, including intimate partner violence, substance abuse and mental illness in the household, parental separation or divorce, and if a household member was incarcerated. This research has resulted in the inclusion of a new diagnosis of Complex posttraumatic stress disorder, also referred to as developmental PTSD, within the International Classification of Diseases, 11th Edition, recently officially endorsed by WHO’s World Health Assembly and set for implementation outside of the US in 2022.

This is a HUGE step forward in identifying the underlying cause of most challenging symptoms to mental health, including anxiety and depression, and how these symptoms link to most chronic physical diseases, such as heart disease and cancer!  I have been known to say we don’t need a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders, we simply need The Book of Trauma.  When we all can embrace the idea that there is nothing wrong with us and instead can understand it is what happened to us when we were little that makes it so difficult to live a life full of joy and meaning today, there will no longer be any stigma to seeking support and we can begin the process of healing by shedding the shame and suffering we have been carrying.

Now to expand on the awareness of the impact such developmental PTSD has on the growing connections between the emotional and rational parts of a child’s brain.  When we are little and presented with trauma (as defined above), the emotional input to the brain is overwhelming to the point where we only ‘feel’ and are unable to ‘think’ because the developing rational part of the brain is hijacked by the emotional part, cutting off the connections that encourage a more balanced perspective.  The most familiar and natural fear responses of ‘fight or flight’ in many cases may not be an option for children.  Therefore, the ‘freeze’ response may be the most accessible, especially in young children.  The freeze response is used when the presenting danger cannot be escaped or beaten down, and if either were to be attempted, might actually increase the risk of harm.  The freeze response is a survival response that encourages stillness and silence to avoid being seen and offering a mental escape instead.  What this normal response to danger also does is narrow the range of emotional awareness to flavors of fear and shuts down the development of a more diverse range of emotions, including engagement, joy, comfort, confidence, empowerment and enthusiasm.  When the freeze response helped us to survive the traumas of our childhood, it also stunted our emotional intelligence (aka alexithymia), locking us in a world where danger lurks around every corner, even as adults.

So what can we do to unlock the door to the fear chamber and open it up to a safer, more peaceful existence?  In order to facilitate improvements in trauma-specific symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, dissociation, impulsivity, and interpersonal problems, emotions need to be welcome to express themselves.  Working with a therapist that embraces the intelligence of emotions, through perhaps using Emotionally-focused therapy, can address the emotional challenges associated with alexithymia and thus, begin to resolve issues of childhood trauma.

To read a little more of the research on how working with emotions heals childhood trauma, click on the link below:

 

 

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 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!

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:

Might direct neurofeedback be worth a try?

I’m a big believer in our innate ability to heal ourselves, the power of the human body and mind to continually work together towards homeostasis and health.  I also have personally experienced the chaos created in both by trauma, challenging my body and mind to maintain that state of equilibrium and well-being.  Through my own healing journey, I have discovered tools along the way that have worked to reinforce that innate ability to heal and feel sense of encouragement when the research supports personal experience.  Direct neurofeedback is one of those tools.

Trauma comes in all shapes and sizes, whether you experienced abuse or neglect as a child, grew up on a home with one or both parents suffering from a mental illness or addiction, or were a witness to domestic violence while living with adults or going through a contentious divorce.  The enduring nature of the trauma from such interpersonally violent upbringings stems from the impact on the developing brain and nervous system.  When we embrace this fact, then we can also embrace the fact that sometimes the mind cannot talk itself out of such experiences when not involving the body in the process.

The brain, along with the spinal cord, forms the body’s main control center of our central nervous system.  This control center is where incoming stimulus is evaluated and decisions about what action to take are made.  It is the neurons in the brain that support the mind’s awareness of sensations, emotions, thoughts and ultimately behaviors when they communicate with each other.  When our neurons communicate, they produce electrical pulses referred to as brain waves.  These brain waves can be compared to the radio waves and the various stations that we tune into to listen to the radio.  AM stations work on a lower bandwidth, while FM stations have a higher bandwidth.  Our brain waves change according to what we are “tuned into”, with our slower brain waves being the AM stations and our faster ones being the FM stations.  Therefore, the brain is the main body part that is driving our beliefs, perceptions and reactions.

Understanding this very complex organ has taken some time as we waited for science to catch up with the personal experience of many.  With the advent of the electroencephalogram (EEG for short), we are able to see the various brain wave activity and now research has been able to identify the brain wave patterns associated with various neurological and emotional conditions, including ADHD, anxiety and depression.  This information created the opportunity to identify and work with tools to change or modify those brain waves, supporting the brains natural tendency towards balance and health.

Therefore, we are now better able to understand that when our brain waves are out of balance we will experience dis-ease in our minds and bodies, creating an unnatural, unhealthy environment that jeopardizes our overall well-being and health.  This understanding allows a more specific focus on tools that change or balance our brain waves to return the brain to its natural healthy state and thus creating an atmosphere for peace of mind and strength of body.  It helps us to appreciate the past experience with psychotherapy (or “talk” therapy), where it has been shown that changing our perceptions changes our experience of the world.  It also better explains the use of drugs (prescription or otherwise) to alter the brain’s ability to function and alleviate symptoms of dis-ease in the mind and body.

A newer approach to what ails many in the Western world is the use of more traditional Eastern practices such as yoga, meditation and deep breathing, which research is now able to show that these practices support the brain’s natural balance by modifying the brain wave patterns that create the imbalance.  In addition to these techniques, which work best when implemented as daily practices over the long haul, direct neurofeedback is showing success in altering brain waves more quickly that underlie the symptoms of a wide range of conditions, offering more immediate relief.

If you would like to read more about the research to determine for yourself if this tool might be worth a try, click on the button below:

The Legacy of Childhood Trauma – Transgenerational Impact!

I had a dear colleague once say to me “We didn’t know what we didn’t know.  When we know, we do better”.  I hear myself repeating this phrase often, because blame and shame are not healthy, period.  Yet, if we don’t look back to reflect on the need for change and growth, then we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.  I have written reflections in the past on the research around the impact of adverse childhood events (ACEs) on the individual and today I want to share the research that shows the impact of such events doesn’t stop with the individual!

Both of my own parents experienced childhood trauma and stressors, which thwarted their emotional growth trajectories, yet they didn’t know that about themselves and neither did society.  However, I definitely sensed that something was off and, as little ones will naturally do, I attempted to fill in the gaps.  Impossible, I know now, but I didn’t know then.  How ironic.

With this new research from UCLA reflecting a strong association between children’s behavioral health problems and their parents’ adversity histories, we now know better.  When our awareness grows around our past, it brings a deeper understanding of our experiences and our normal, natural adaptive responses.  With that deeper understanding, our hearts can begin to heal from events that our conscious minds were not even present to directly witness, yet stuck in our bodies instead.  We can create opportunities for ourselves to challenge those strongly guarded, unspeakable beliefs that there must be something wrong with us or that we are not worthy of acceptance and love, which keep us from a meaningful connection with ourselves and to others.

So, if you currently suffer from symptoms of trauma, such as anxiety and/or depression, and are not aware of experiencing any adverse childhood events yourself, perhaps consider exploring any that your parents might have been subjected to as they grew up.  Please remember that this exploration and what it might uncover is not meant to blame your parents.  It is meant to shine a light on the blame and shame that you might be carrying and that is feeding the self-judgment that is holding you back from a life full of connection, meaning and health.

To read more on this research, click on the button below:

Neurofeedback – Promising non-pharmaceutical intervention strategies for anxiety and depression!

Many people that I connect with express a desire to try other approaches to address symptoms of anxiety and depression before turning to medications, especially when it is their children that are suffering from such symptoms, as all prescription medications come with undesired side-effects.  As a psychotherapist and yoga teacher, I share the research with them that shows the effectiveness of integrating these two (yoga and talk therapy) healing arts to support the shift in focus toward health promotion for those who prefer to take a more natural, holistic approach to healing. Now I am excited to share recent research that demonstrates combining neurofeedback with heart rate variability training (e.g., deep slow abdominal yogic breathing) provides another viable non-pharmaceutical approach to address the symptoms of anxiety and depression.  And the research showed a reduction in symptoms for both children and adults!

Neurofeedback is not new and is a form of biofeedback, where instruments are attached to the body to provide information to the individual on the functioning of their body.  Biofeedback, including neurofeedback, as a field of study has been growing since the 1960s.  Neurofeedback (or EEG biofeedback) is the form of biofeedback that enables people to change the brain’s electrical activity.  An EEG (electroencephalography) is the device that captures the real-time brain wave activity so it can be displayed and assessed for any unhealthy patterns that might be contributing to symptoms, such as anxiety and depression.  Being able to offer a way to change unhealthy brain wave patterns through neurofeedback is of special interest to those of us working with clients to relieve such distressing symptoms because the brain is a central contributor to the emotions, physical symptoms, thoughts and behaviors that define many problems for which people reach out for support.

Yoga and it’s slow, controlled deep abdominal breathing is also not new.  What is new is the research that is showing how this yogic breathing impacts heart rate variability (HRV).  HRV has been shown to be linked with an increase in cardiovascular disease, specifically when the variability is low.  (Please refer to last month’s Reflection to learn more about HRV.)  Stress and anxiety increases the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, the system responsible for the flight-fight response in the body, leading to increases in heart rate and a lowering of heart rate variability. On the other hand, activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, the system responsible for the rest-digest response in the body, has been shown to decrease heart rate and increase heart rate variability, specifically through the stimulation of the vagus (Cranial X) nerve that controls the heart, lung and digestion.  It is the controlled breathing found in a regular yoga practice that stimulates the vagus nerve, bringing balance to the activity of the sympathetic nervous system activity.

Even more recent research has brought these two healing modalities together to assess the impact of stimulating both the brain with neurofeedback and the vagus nerve with deep abdominal breathing on symptoms of anxiety and depressing in both children and adults.  The results showed evidence that such training may provide an effective, non-pharmaceutical approach to reducing such symptoms, with some additional benefits such as improving blood pressure!

To read the full research article, click on the link below:

Does the ability to be self-aware of our inner emotional world contribute to our mental health?

In March of last year, I explored alexithymia when reflecting on how this difficulty in identifying, describing, and feeling our emotional world may be a factor in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), specifically how early childhood trauma impacts the developmental ability to integrate thinking and feeling.  I find myself revisiting this topic again due to recent research that suggests alexithymia has a role in anxiety and depression in general, placing an even greater emphasis on the importance of the intelligence of our emotional experiences and the need to promote both self-awareness, and cultural acceptance of emotional expression as a way to improve mental health.

From my own personal experience growing up, I spent a great deal of energy navigating between the emotional overload of one parent (AKA chaos) and the emotional desert (AKA rigidity) of the other.  Initially, rigidity was winning the battle as I did everything that I knew how to in order to suppress my emotions, including disassociating from them altogether and relying heavily on logical intelligence to figure life out.  What rigidity taught me was how to be on my own, embracing the cultural value of independence and discounting the need for human connection (or is it the human need for connection?).  What I came to understand many years later is that you cannot ignore your emotional world for long without severe consequences.

In holding on to my basic right to autonomy so tightly, I kept the door closed to connecting with others, viewing their emotional needs as monsters that would eat away at my independence.  I used to say “I don’t need anyone.  I may want you in my life, but I certainly don’t need you!”  At that point, all I understood was that if I was not independent, I would be judged as co-dependent and needy, which was not acceptable and dangled rejection over my head.  I didn’t know that neither end of the spectrum (from dependent to independent) was ideal for my overall health and well-being.  When I started to learn that humans are part of a complex system that requires interdependence to thrive, I was able to start the journey towards wholeness, unlocking the doors that had been holding my intense, seemingly uncontrollable emotions out to be heard.  The anxiety that I felt for most of my life was because I had rejected those parts of myself that I thought would make me unacceptable in the world.  As I learned to listen to my emotions and the wisdom they had to offer, I was able to accept all parts of my human self and to open my heart to deeper connections with others.

The lessons of both my familial and societal cultures had impaired my emotional self-awareness and my sense of the emotional experiences of others and thus my ability to emotionally connect with others, creating a great deal of anxiety.  With the support of a kind and patient therapist, I was able to allow myself to feel again, learn to reconnect with my emotions by giving them names, listen for understanding as to why those emotions arose, and, perhaps most importantly, that by allowing them to flow through me instead of denying them, learn to value them as much as my logical intelligence bringing more balance and compassion to my experience of the world.

So, how excited was I when I read this research that reflects how experiencing difficulties with identifying, describing and feeling emotions (alexithymia) explains the association between finding the healthy balance of interdependence (autonomy-connectedness) with anxiety and depression as it validated my personal journey.  Prior to this research, evidence showed that the concept of autonomy-connectedness was related to anxiety and depression, yet little was known about the underlying causes.  The results of this research offer guidance to mental health practitioners when supporting people experiencing anxiety and depression, specifically assessing, supporting, and increasing emotional awareness.

If you would like to read more on this research, click on the link below:

Increasing stress and anxiety in children – can yoga help?

Although my adolescent days are several decades behind me, I still clearly remember the stress I experienced during those years, not only from the academic pressures but from the social pressure to “fit in”, while trying to manage potentially conflicting expectations from family and friends.  Unfortunately, I was not taught ways to manage that stress, although I had to take PE classes and voluntarily participated in sports regularly after school.  So, when I moved through my early adult years and began to work full-time, I attempted to continue to participate in those sports to help relieve the chronic stress I felt, only to discover that it wasn’t working.  The only relief I discovered at that time was planning and taking vacations, where I found I didn’t want “to do” anything but relax.  And there was simply not enough vacation time to effectively create the required balance in my life to reduce the growing anxiety I was experiencing.

It wasn’t until I found yoga – in mid-life – that I experienced an immediate sense of release of tension, stress, and anxiety.  I still tell people that ask me about yoga “I wish I found yoga at 4, instead of 40!”, although I am eternally grateful for finding it at all, as it truly has been a life saver.  So when I read the recent research on how yoga can help children cope with stress and manage their anxiety symptoms, my heart’s sense of gratitude grew even more.

Eight published studies were reviewed together and found that school children who regularly practice yoga show an improved ability to cope with stress and anxiety.  And with the majority of children reporting growing academic pressures to achieve, along with more challenging family life with both parents needing to work outside of the home, it’s about time we offer our children a life-time tool to create more balance in their bodies and minds.  What makes yoga different than the typical physical education classes currently offered in schools is that it is a meditative movement practice and it does not have a competitive focus.  There are no winners or losers.  There is no forming of teams, leaving some children feeling inadequate in some way when they are picked last (or not at all) to join a team.  It is most often practiced in a group setting, yet the practice encourages and welcomes individualized, unique experiences.  It is a practice that can be done by everyone, regardless of size, shape, strength or flexibility level, and/or any other physical limitation, such as chronic health conditions, including asthma or diabetes.

The review article looked at the interventions, which incorporated postures, breath, concentration, and meditation that are different paths or parts of a full yogic practice, and came to the conclusion that these combined features of yoga, when practiced regularly by children, provide an accessible tool to reduce stress and anxiety.  The author also recommended that yoga should be integrated into schools.  It is my personal belief that by offering yoga to children – even before they enter school – sets them up not only for success in life but happiness too.  And don’t our children deserve that balance!