Search Results for “mindfulness”

July 10, 2019

Adverse Childhood Experiences Can Detrimentally Affect Health

Even when current stress is low, the lingering effects from adverse childhood experiences can detrimentally affect health. We’re often reminded that current or ongoing stress is bad for us, but the stress we experienced long ago can be just as significant. Researchers who conducted The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study concluded: “We found a strong graded relationship between the breadth of exposure to abuse or household dysfunction during childhood and multiple risk factors for several of the leading causes of death in adults”.1
woman
This week I’m going to give you information about the study. Next week, I’ll talk more about real-life scenarios that are playing out in the statistics. With adverse childhood experiences affecting more than half of us, this is a very big topic. And with the increase in chronic disease, it seems important and timely.

How The Study Came About

As sometimes happens, a doctor set out on one mission only to have his curiosity piqued by something he discovered along the way. This eventually led to the groundbreaking ACE Study. Vincent Felitti, head of Kaiser Permanente’s Department of Preventive Medicine in San Diego, set out to determine why the dropout rate of participants at Kaiser Permanente’s obesity clinic there was about 50% even though all of the dropouts successfully lost weight under the clinic’s program.

While conducting interviews with people who had left the program, Dr. Felitti discovered that a majority of some 286 people he had spoken to reported sexual abuse as children. Felitti wondered if weight gain was being used to cope with depression, anxiety, and fear. He decided to learn more.

Participants in the Study

With a team, Dr. Felitti and the CDC’s Dr. Robert Anda interviewed 17,337 study participants asking five questions relating to personal trauma and five relating to trauma within the family. About half of the participants were female; 74.8% were white; the average age was 57; 75.2% had attended college; all had jobs and good health care. Each positive response to a question counted as one point. The resulting total is the ACE score.

About two-thirds of participants had experienced at least one adverse childhood event. Of those, 87% (almost 10,000) had experienced more than one. Over 15% of women and 12% of men in this mostly white, middle and upper-middle class, college educated group had experienced more than four.

According to the CDC, rates of child abuse and neglect are five times higher for those who live in families with low socioeconomic status as compared to children in families with higher socioeconomic status. That means the original ACE rates of occurrence may be much higher in some segments of the population.

Questions That Were Asked

The questions asked included physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect, a parent who’s an alcoholic, a mother who’s a victim of domestic violence, a family member in jail, a family member diagnosed with a mental illness, and the disappearance of a parent through divorce, death or abandonment. All of these are major stressors chosen in part because they had been identified in earlier research, but they are not a comprehensive list of adverse childhood experiences.

The study did not address food insecurity, homelessness, loss of a caregiver other than a parent, surviving a severe accident, recurring hospitalization, a medically fragile family member, neighborhood violence, living with a hoarder, drug addiction within the family, involvement with the foster care system, racism, bullying, watching a sibling being abused, witnessing a father being abused by a mother, witnessing a grandmother abusing a father, or involvement with the juvenile justice system. All of these events and others that create toxic stress can increase the risk of long-term health consequences.

How Answers Relate to Health Risks

Through 2015, more than 70 publications have expanded on the knowledge gained through The ACE Study and parallel research has shown the effects of traumatic stress on children’s developing brains. In general, an ACE score of 4 or higher increases the likelihood of chronic pulmonary lung disease 390%; hepatitis 240%, depression 460% and attempted suicide 1220%. Yes, you read that right. The risk for attempted suicide increases over 1000 percent.

In addition, children who experience four or more categories of exposure compared to those to have none will have a 4- to 12-fold increased health risk for alcoholism, drug abuse, and depression; a 2- to 4-fold increase in smoking, poor self-rated health, ≥50 sexual intercourse partners and sexually transmitted disease; and a 1.4- to 1.6-fold increase in risk for physical inactivity and severe obesity.

Costs of Adverse Childhood Events

While the greatest cost of ACEs is to the individual and, by extension, the family, societal costs are also great. According to the CDC, “In the United States, the total lifetime economic burden associated with child abuse and neglect was approximately $124 billion in 2008. This economic burden rivals the cost of other high profile public health problems, such as stroke and type 2 diabetes.” And it appears that it contributes to those high profile health costs as well.

There are also intangible costs. ACEs affect our classrooms, our friendships, our marriages, and our ability to work well with others. They can also be self-perpetuating. A child who does not feel valued may not value the lives of others including his/her children. Without intervention or mitigating circumstances, the cycle repeats.

Addressing the Problem

The CDC has developed a technical package that identifies a number of strategies to help communities prevent and reduce child abuse. They include strengthening economic support, providing quality child care & early education, enhancing parenting skills, intervening to lessen harm & future risk, and changing social norms.

We Have a Long Way to Go

At this moment, I cannot stop thinking about the two-month-old child living in Missouri who is being kept at home by a total stranger while her parents vacation in the Caribbean. There is significant risk in this scenario. Yes, the caregiver works for a service and, in theory, has been vetted by the employer, but the parents will not meet him/her in advance.

On top of this, the mother’s housekeeper has observed this baby being repeatedly left alone in bed in her room all day other than feeding time. When she cries, she is not talked to, picked up, or comforted. It’s easy to say: she’s too little to know the difference; kids are resilient; she won’t remember; I’m sure they usually pick her up; her parents have plenty of money so she’ll be fine…. But taken together these are red flags that are significant and indicative of insidious neglect that often flies under the radar.

My cousin who is a psychologist relayed the story of this baby to me a few weeks ago. She and the mother are friends who share both a yoga class and a housekeeper. She is concerned, but there is a stable home; the baby is changed, fed, bathed, and dressed in cute clothes; and she sees the pediatrician as scheduled. There is simply no documentable problem.

I’m not sure how to help this baby. My high school friend whose daughter has become addicted to opioids after back surgery struggles to determine how to and how often to step in to help her son-in-law with the grandchildren who live 3 hours away. In the past year, I’ve seen babies removed from parental care while lying in CVICU. They may be legally fostered by a physician, but they are experiencing traumatic procedures in a noisy, unfriendly environment without a consistent caregiver to comfort them. It is heartbreaking.

The only ACE questions I’ve seen in a healthcare setting were on a proposed opioid risk assessment recently reviewed by the PFCC Hospital Advisory Council on which I sit. I cannot recall ever having a physician ask me a question related to ACEs. In spite of the strong relationship between ACEs and health risk, in the 20 years since the original study, we have not managed to incorporate this important piece of patient history into routine preventative care.

It feels like we are spinning our wheels in a place where we have plenty of data to support systematic change, but not the will or courage to implement it. Instead, we continue to spend billions to fight chronic disease without including programs to reduce or mitigate the effects of adverse childhood experiences.

We Can Make a Difference With Simple Changes

We may not be able to prevent every occurrence of child abuse, but we can improve overall community health by including ACE assessment questions in our patient information forms, then providing trauma-informed treatment for those with high ACE scores.

We can lose the us vs them language of mental health care. Saying abuse “changes who you are” is not productive, helpful, or even true. Abuse and neglect change how you respond to the world, but they do not change the person you can get back to with healing. Calling a patient’s response to a wound inflicted by someone else a “disorder” or “mental illness” is uninformed. It makes his/her adaptation for survival (an internally heroic thing) sound like a defect. Many victims already feel defective. Confirming that feeling does significant damage. Detrimental behavior that results from adaptation can still be dealt with, but in a different manner. The ability to reframe past events can make the difference between hope and hopelessness.

We can train all health professionals, social workers, teachers, human services workers, and law enforcement professionals in Mental Health First Aid.

We can focus on mindfulness (shown to change the brains of PTSD patients) in fitness and mental health programs and let weight loss be a side effect.

Gynecological exams can begin with a conversation while the patient is clothed before proceeding to the physical exam. I think this is good policy no matter what the patient’s background, but can be extremely important for some survivors of childhood sex abuse.

Pediatricians can include questions regarding indicators of attachment in well-care exams and instruct parents regarding the importance of bonding.

Breastfeeding education can include information regarding the benefits of holding a child close and looking into his/her eyes while feeding in addition to the health benefits of consuming breast milk.

Parents can be gently reminded that they must comfort, sooth, protect, and respond to their child’s needs before the child can learn to sooth itself. Withdrawing into itself is not the same as self-soothing. It may mean the child is quiet, but it is dysfunction.

We can stop trying to make ourselves feel better by dismissing subtle signs of distress in our grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and students. Acknowledging a problem is the first step toward fixing a problem.

And we must remember that it is extremely stressful to make life and death decisions; to care for ill and dying patients; to go into homes of severely abused children; and to watch an addict relapse. If we expect professionals to approach patients with compassion, we have to provide them adequate emotional support and safe environments in which to voice their feelings.

Compassion is Always Appropriate

More than likely, you interact with multiple people who had adverse childhood experiences on a regular basis. You may not even know who they are. Some of them will suffer health effects. Some of them will not. Some will act out. Some are doing their best just to get through the day. A high ACE score is both an indicator of risk and a call to practice compassion and patience with everyone you encounter-especially the difficult ones. Compassion is a great starting point for improving health.

Stevens, Jane Ellen (8 October 2012). “The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study — the Largest Public Health Study You Never Heard Of”. The Huffington Post.

https://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(98)00017-8/abstract
Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults
The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study
Vincent J Felitti MD, FACPA,*’Correspondence information about the author Vincent J Felitti, Robert F Anda MD, MSB, Dale Nordenberg MDC, David F Williamson MS, PhDB, Alison M Spitz MS, MPHB, Valerie Edwards BAB, Mary P Koss PhDD, James S Marks MD, MPHB

https://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/

https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/childabuseandneglect/acestudy/about.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4917040/

April 15, 2019

Preparation for Healing: When it Comes to Healing, Words Will Often Fail Us!

When it comes to healing, words will often fail us. I love words. They have, in fact, had a profoundly positive effect on me. But I also know from experience that when it comes to healing, words are a shortcut at best and at worst a shield or subterfuge.
no words
We like to think that words are the key to healing. They are useful. We use them to communicate our symptoms to physicians. We use them to describe how we feel to therapists. Once we’ve done this, we will be on the path to healing, right? Maybe, but not necessarily.

If you’ve ever had the experience of misdiagnosis or no diagnosis for years in spite of multiple attempts to describe your problem to the doctor, you know that your words are not always sufficient to communicate what is happening in your body. If you have lingering wounds from traumatic experiences, you may have no words regarding those wounds. You may have only intense feelings that flood back unexpectedly.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that words can fail us. Think back to some moment of extreme excitement. Were you more likely to say, “I’m excited!”, or to jump up & down and squeal with delight? Think back to a moment of extreme fear. Did you say, “I’m afraid!”, or did you scream, shiver, or freeze? What happened when you felt extreme grief or tenderness? Could you speak around your tears? Deep emotions often find their expression throughout our tissues and our most profound moments often leave us speechless.

But the inability to voice our most deep seated wounds may be a result of the changes trauma makes in our brains. In “The Body Keeps the Score”, Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk describes brain scans that show the Broca’s area goes offline when a flashback is triggered (1). That is the area of the brain that allows us to put our thoughts and feelings into words. No wonder we refer to horrific events as unspeakable.

This means that the deeper and more meaningful the healing work, the less likely it is that language will be a sufficient carrier of information. Art and music can help some of us express those things we can’t describe. But perhaps it’s more important to know that we can heal without relying on language.

Sometimes it is the feeling encased in a memory that is more significant than a remembered event or image. Allowing the body to process these feelings without slowing down to describe the process is not always a bad thing. Not only can it reduce anxiety, it can reduce chronic pain, lower blood pressure, and possibly reduce inflammation as well as promoting better sleep quality and reducing the risk for depression.

In an era during which we are reexamining the treatment of chronic pain, it is important to note that according to the Institute for Chronic Pain: “As a group, people with chronic pain tend to report much higher rates of having experienced trauma in their past, when compared to people without chronic pain. It is a common and consistent finding in the research.” They go on to state that at least 90% of women with fibromyalgia syndrome and 60% of those with arthritis report trauma in childhood or adulthood; 76% of patients with chronic low back pain report at least one trauma in their past; and 58% of those with migraines report a history of childhood physical or sexual abuse, or neglect.(2)

As our exposure to violence increases through the myriad outlets for viewing violence, it becomes even more critical that we understand the limitation of using intellect and words to heal from any resulting trauma. Traditional counseling may not be helpful to survivors of a mass shooting, and some psychiatrists have come to view medication as nothing more than a band-aid.

On the other hand, in many circles, talk therapy is still viewed as the most important path to healing from emotional distress. Even in more progressive trauma treatment like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EDMR) and Progressive Counting, participants are asked to describe a memory before the eye movement or counting process begins.

Last year, I was exploring the possibility of traveling for an intensive therapy retreat with the Trauma Institute & Child Trauma Institute. The founder of that institute, Ricky Greenwald, PsyD developed the technique of Progressive Counting. The process of Progressive Counting begins with your earliest traumatic memory. You describe that, then the practitioner begins counting. Once you have resolved that trauma, you move on to the next one you remember. The idea is that clearing the old traumas first will make the more recent ones quicker to heal because the early baggage is gone. The Institute’s website states most clients are able to achieve true healing in a couple of days to a couple of weeks. That sounded appealing.

Then came the reality. Count me on the two week end of the spectrum or more like 3 weeks. After my assessment, I was looking at an estimated 21 days and $20,000+ of treatment. But the depth of my disorder is not the point. The point is that they administered a phone assessment during which I was asked to relate something typical my mother had done that felt traumatic to me.

I could not speak. In fact, I could not think. I was silent on the phone. I moved into a feeling of distress. I couldn’t even find my voice to tell them I could not answer. When I could speak, I was aware I sounded like a crazed person pushing past tears. I also knew I was doing the best I could and they had asked me to do something that wasn’t possible.

The assessor (actually there were two of them on the phone) quickly and deftly moved me away from the past and back to the present. But because they had made a request beyond my ability to perform and I had entered fight/flight/freeze/fawn mode and because this vulnerable state was only acknowledged by quickly moving me away from the moment rather than providing support through it, I felt diminished, dismissed, and distanced — the same feelings that come from neglect.

I have experienced a similar response to freezing from other therapists. I’m not sure whether it’s because the inability to talk is viewed as a voluntary refusal to participate or talk is just valued as the only path to improvement. Whatever the reason, the failure of professionals to provide support in the moment affects my ability/willingness to trust them and the process. Do they not understand what is happening (are they competent and well trained) or do they not care (are they truly compassionate)? Either way, my distrust in this instance was too much to overcome. These women had failed to earn the right to know my most vulnerable parts. Needless to say, I opted out.

That does not mean that Progressive Counting would not be effective for someone else or even for me with a different practitioner. And that experience was the opposite of the experience I had with a Somatic Experiencing Therapy practitioner in which I felt totally supported. In other words, that experience does not mean I was left with no path to heal.

What all of this comes down to is I want you to know that I know how it feels for words to fail you. I understand that if that happens in the presence of a professional who does not respond in an understanding or supportive way, you may view the process as harmful. If so, you can leave that particular opportunity behind. There are other paths.

If you believe that such an experience confirms that you deserve to be harmed, be invisible, or be unsupported (or whatever you tell yourself when bad things happen), that is not my view. You deserve to be treated with respect, have your concerns heard, and never to be dismissed or made to feel less than. If that is not the care with which you are being treated, I am so sorry and it is okay to say no to a particular provider and/or method. You know best what feels appropriate for you.

It is worth repeating that like mindfulness practices, healing is a process you can tailor to your specific personality and experience. If you are at a loss for words, or when they fail you, Somatic Experiencing or Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE®) Therapy (also known as trembling) may be appropriate. Yoga or neurogenic yoga may also be helpful in supporting all other therapies.

Even if you struggle to communicate your distress, the body provides a path to healing when words fail. I am grateful for that!

(1) Van der Kolk, B., MD. (2015). Looking into the Brain: The Neuroscience Revolution. In The Body Keeps The Score (pp. 39-44). New York, NY: Penguin Books.

(2)http://www.instituteforchronicpain.org/understanding-chronic-pain/complications/trauma
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5848846/

https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/mental-health-psychotherapy#1

http://therapyretreat.org/

https://traumaprevention.com/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/3351-2/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/preparation-for-healing-managing-expectations-begins-with-setting-clear-intentions/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/preparation-for-healing-what-is-readiness/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/never-surrender/


Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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March 20, 2019

Preparation for Healing: What is Readiness?

I want to circle back to our exploration of the healing process with a simple question: How do you know if you’re ready to heal? Even if you recognize that readiness is crucial for healing to begin, how do you know if you’ve reached that point?

We all like to think we’re ready. Some of us are but think we can’t be because we haven’t done any deliberate prep work. Some of us have spent years preparing and still aren’t ready. I know that defies logic. The path to healing is not logical.

Clear, sound reasoning-a logical path-comes from the mind. Healing involves the whole being working in concert. Often, it is the disconnection of body, mind, and spirit that generates the need for healing in the first place.

What is readiness if not being prepared?
ready
Readiness is a state of willingness.

Duh, huh? I hate it when people say things like that. I never know what they really mean. To more clearly see how willingness relates to readiness to heal, try asking yourself the following questions:

Am I willing to stop avoiding?
Healing will sometimes mean feeling all of those emotions we work too much, sleep too much, drink too much, eat too much, watch TV too much, and medicate in order to avoid. Sometimes we are not willing to give those things up. If not, we are not ready to heal.

Am I willing to clearly state my intentions?
We have already explored the process of setting intentions. A willingness to set intentions is an indicator of readiness.

Am I willing to let go of expectations?
Staying married to the expectation of a certain outcome will hamper healing. Being willing to let expectations go shows a level of readiness.

Am I willing to trust my body?
You may not trust your body right now. That is okay. The real question is, are you willing to learn to trust it by exploring methods like somatic experiencing and mindfulness practices?

Am I willing to allow feelings to flow?
You may not be able to do this yet. If you have lived in danger, you may have had to suppress, disassociate, or hide your feelings in order to survive. It can take a long time to be able to feel and let the feelings flow. A willingness to try is all you need to get started.

Am I willing to stick with the process?
A healing journey can take you into territory that you may not immediately understand on a cognitive level. If you stick with the process, this will work itself out eventually. If you are not willing to stick with the process you can quickly get stuck in a cognitive loop. The mind cannot make this journey alone. Sometimes the body must lead.

Am I willing to stop muscling through?
It is possible to white knuckle your way through many things for a period of time, but that is not a sustainable method for change. Pushing yourself to confront your fears, for example, will have a different long term result than allowing fear to bubble up, acknowledging it, and sitting with it until it dissipates.

Am I willing to feel momentarily unsafe in order to ultimately feel more whole?
No one wants to feel unsafe, but we can all tolerate it in small doses as long as we are willing.

Am I willing to treat myself with respect and kindness?
Deep emotional and spiritual work can be as physically draining as lifting weights or running. Giving your body nutritional support, regular gentle exercise, plenty of sleep, and planned moments of beauty and pleasure are especially important for supporting the journey. A willingness to examine and revise self-talk when needed can boost your mood and energy level.

Am I willing to see what is?
This is a big thing. It sounds so easy. I’m in touch with reality. I’m sure you are too. Obviously, we see what is, right? Unfortunately, we may not. We all have blind spots and a great capacity for denial. If you come from a destructive, dysregulated, or dysfunctional family, seeing things as they actually are can be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do.

It is painful to see your mother’s repeated and prolonged cruelty toward you for what it is – cruel, unloving behavior. You just want her to love you. You will bend yourself into any shape, do anything, make any excuse that allows you to believe that she does…or will someday.

It feels impossible to reconcile your husband’s verbal abuse with the fact that he says he loves you. It’s easier to morph what you’re hearing into a scolding you must need and deserve.

The sadness of neglect might simply consume you if you didn’t develop the ability to weave imaginary connections.

We learn early how to cushion ourselves from the harshest of realities. A willingness to release ourselves from the skills we developed for protection is part of the healing process. Because we internalize both the wounds from other’s destructive behavior and the skills we use to survive, releasing ourselves from these can feel like we’re losing ourselves and our story. We may experience grief, loss, uncertainty, and unbridled terror.

While we may know we are also releasing the things that prevent us from fully becoming our best selves, there will be moments in which it is difficult to hold that thought in our minds. When the lower brain is triggered to fight, flee, freeze, or fawn, we cannot force our way out of that state (over time we can change our relationship with the trigger points and hopefully reintegrate traumatic memories). If it were as simple as thinking our way out of this spot, no one would suffer from PTSD or complex PTSD.

Seeing what is may also mean seeing ourselves differently. Recognizing our blind spots and our contributions to dysfunction when we’re already feeling vulnerable is asking a lot.

Again, seeing what is is a BIG thing. It is not easy. You may feel more willing to explore this when you remember that on some level you already know anything you are becoming willing to see. This idea could be restated as a willingness to know what you know. You know how your mother’s cruelty feels. You know how your husband’s abuse affects your self-confidence. You know the ache of feeling invisible.

You may only recognize these things on a subconscious level. They must move to your conscious awareness for you to see them. Conscious awareness brings the feelings to the surface where you can make a decision regarding your response. This is how you will shift from the feeling position of a wounded victim to the feeling position of a powerful self-advocate. This is how you gain or regain yourself!

Am I willing to face any relationship consequences that may occur?
Once you see what is, you will have the opportunity to reevaluate your relationships. Some will be toxic and need to end. Some will need to be minimized. Some will morph into deeper, more supportive levels of love and concern. Being willing to let relationships evolve will allow you to find support for healing.

Am I willing to let go of the payoff I get from dysfunction?
Once we see what is, we may discover that we rely on unhealthy behavior to gain attention, feel supported and loved, solicit assistance, advance at work, or control our family environment. When we give up the unhealthy behavior, we will also give up the payoff.

Willingness does not require mastery of any skill. It does not require a certain level of understanding. It is not a declaration that you’ll do any particular thing. It is not an obligation or a timeline. Willingness is simply a state of being open to exploring whatever may come as you allow yourself to shift and heal. If you are willing, you are ready.

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/preparation-for-healing-managing-expectations-begins-with-setting-clear-intentions/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/preparation-healing-manage-expectations/

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July 24, 2018

Speed Kills

Remember the ad campaign, Speed Kills? I can’t remember if I first heard the term in an anti-drug campaign or an attempt to reduce speed limits. The phrase has been used for both. This week, I’m thinking of Speed Kills in totally different terms.

Last weekend I went to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor. This movie chronicles the career of Fred Rogers, the creator of MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD. There was nothing speedy about Mister Rogers. His slow pace stands in stark contrast to other children’s entertainers. This was deliberate. It was also significant.

Mister Rogers understood that very important things happen when we’re still and quiet. He included long pauses and silence in his television program. This is considered a no-no in the TV world, but as someone observed in the movie, there were many times when nothing much was going on, but none of the time was wasted.

On some level, parents and children must have sensed the significance of this. They certainly responded. Mister Rogers became hugely successful in spite of doing everything “wrong” for a television audience.

In my home, I observed that when my boys watched MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD their behavior was markedly different than when they watched He-Man. He-Man led to an afternoon of hitting each other, breaking toys, and generally violent behavior.

MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD, on the other hand, had a calming effect. After watching, the boys were kinder, gentler, and quieter. They played together instead of fighting. My house was infinitely more peaceful.

At the time, I didn’t take time to analyze why this was true, I just did the practical thing and banned He-Man. If I needed the kids to have screen time so that I could clean up the kitchen or do the laundry, we opted for MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD or the video disc Free to be You and Me.

Now, with much more experience under my belt including many years of working long hours, never missing an event, frequent travel, work-work-work-play-play-play and rarely saying no, I understand the importance of being still. Being present requires taking pauses to notice what has happened and how it makes us feel.

I know you may read that and say, “duh,” but look at how we live. We rarely pause between activities, much less during them. We fill our waking hours with movement, noise, and electronic distraction.

One of my grandchildren has 4 structured activity classes per week – he’s 9 months old! Will he be able to lie on his back, stare at the clouds smelling fresh-cut grass and feeling the solidness of the ground supporting him when he’s three or will he be lost without constant activity?

It seems we have some level of awareness that we need to increase our sense of well-being. Ways to increase wellness are often featured on morning TV. The number of people practicing yoga in the US has doubled since 2008. The mindfulness movement touts the health benefits of meditation.

In contrast, we see our friends, neighbors, and family members numb themselves with work, gaming, social media, TV, sex, food, alcohol, and drugs on a regular basis. Sometimes we see ourselves doing the same. If we know we need to feel better, and we know that slowing down to reflect and be present in the moment will help, why do we keep speeding forward?
speed
What’s difficult to admit, much less discuss, is what lies underneath a need to speed through life at a level of maximum distraction. If you have lived in an environment of chaos and/or danger to your physical or emotional well-being that you could not escape, it is excruciatingly hard to sit still and be present. It is also necessary if you are to heal the wounds your spirit has suffered.

It is in this context that I now view the phrase – speed kills. Speed kills our connection to our spirit. This removes us from knowing, accepting, and loving ourselves. It removes us from the very best parts of ourselves. At its worst, this disconnect allows us to act out our anger, hurt, and frustration in vindictive, destructive ways.

In the face of a tragic, hostile act, we often wonder – what kind of person would do that? Often the answer is simple: someone who has suffered in ways you cannot see and may not be able to imagine.

Remaining present and emotionally open in the face of violence, humiliation, rejection, neglect, or shunning, is intolerable for most everyone. It is absolutely healthy in those situations to engage in fighting, fleeing, freezing or fawning in order to protect yourself.

The problem is many, not just some, MANY of us have lived in an environment in which violence, humiliation, rejection, neglect, or shunning were the norm. Living in persistent, unrelenting physical and/or emotional danger creates wounds that are both physical and emotional and result in disconnection from ourselves. Constantly being in a state of fighting, fleeing, freezing or fawning creates long-term barriers to calm, peace, connection and joy.

When we have the strength and courage to sit still and be present, it opens the door for all the emotions we have been avoiding to come rushing in. This is a great opportunity to release those emotions and the hold they have over us. That’s easy to say, but terrifying and hard for many of us to do even if it is worth it in the long run.

I’ve spent years unraveling the knots in my stomach and my spirit. I know that I did not choose the environment that created them. I was born into it. Accepting this hasn’t eliminated the seemingly bottomless well of sadness I feel in my solar plexus. It hasn’t removed every trigger that can send me into an emotional flashback that I simply can’t outthink. (I know this isn’t some particular defect in me. Signals from the amygdala can override executive function, but it still feels terrifying and out of control.)

Mindfulness has helped me rewire my brain away from anxiety toward noticing small ways in which I feel good. I feel less braced for the (as I learned to view the world) next inevitable attack. My new level of awareness lets me deliberately shift my focus in order to feel better in a given moment.

I am painfully aware how difficult it can be to find support for a healing path. Even places we expect to provide a cushion for processing trauma, grief, depression, anxiety, and somatic symptoms – the therapist’s office, doctor’s office, church, or support groups, may not provide the type of support we need. Feeling unseen, unheard, dismissed, targeted, or misunderstood can leave us feeling even more alone and, sometimes, revictimized.

Healing can bring immediate improvement, but I do not know of a straight or swift path to wholeness. That journey is a process unique to each of us. The best support along the way is to be seen and accepted just as we are at any given moment.

Perhaps this is why I so appreciate Mister Rogers simple affirmation that he likes us just as we are. But I cannot fully receive that message unless I am sitting still.

http://www.doitnow.org/pages/psas.html

http://focusfeatures.com/wont-you-be-my-neighbor/

https://www.fredrogers.org/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_to_Be…_You_and_Me

https://tricycle.org/trikedaily/untold-story-america-mindfulness-movement/

http://childhood-developmental-disorders.imedpub.com/systematic-review-of-mindfulness-induced-neuroplasticity-in-adults-potential-areas-of-interest-for-the-maturing-adolescent-brain.php?aid=8553

https://seattleyoganews.com/yoga-in-america-2016-statistics/

https://www.speakcdn.com/assets/2497/domestic_violence2.pdf

http://besselvanderkolk.net/the-body-keeps-the-score.html

http://www.traumasensitiveyoga.com/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5518443/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/yoga-perfect-home-workout/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/sometimes-stop-order-start/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/travel-tip-17-stay-home/

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