News Junkies: 6 Ways to Change Your News Habits and Improve Your Health

What time of day you consume news, what drives you, how your body reacts, and what you do with the news you learn. Part 2 of 3: Too Much or Too Little News: Either Can Be Bad for Your Health. Last blog, I explained how not tuning in to the news can be bad for your health.

Tuning into negative news can be bad for your mood,  your health and your outlook on life.

After consuming bad news for only 3 minutes, you may experience depression, with a 27 percent more chance of having a bad day. The psychological effects of consuming negative news can include acute stress disorder in the short term, post-traumatic stress in the long term.

Reading or listening to bad news can send a jolt of adrenalin into your bloodstream, signaling to your body to increase your heart rate, breathe shallow, and prime your large, gross muscles for action.

If there is no corresponding physical exertion, the adrenalin builds, and over time, cortisol is added to the mix. When a person has had cortisol coursing through his or her veins for a sustained period of time, certain conditions arise that set people up for diabetes, heart disease and cancer and other debilitating disease.

Your news habits are hurting your health if you are:

  • Becoming sadder and more anxious.

  • Not sleeping and/or experiencing nightmares.

  • Engaging in obsessive consumption, for instance watching a traumatic event again and again.

  • Cutting oneself off from family and friends.

  • Making decisions based on avoiding unlikely catastrophes.

  • Feeling guilt over not experiencing the trauma yourself.

British psychologist Dr. Graham Davey specializes in the psychological effects of media violence. In a Huffington Post article, he explains how violent media exposure “can exacerbate or contribute to the development of stress, anxiety, depression and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“Negative news can significantly change an individual’s mood, especially if there is a tendency in the news broadcasts to emphasize suffering…,” Davey told The Huffington Post. Negative news can put a damper on how you perceive the world,  increase your anticipation of more bad news, and make your own problems seem heavier.

The violent images of negative news can trigger sadness and anxiety. “A 2001 study found that watching the events of 9/11 on television was enough to trigger PTSD symptoms, such as worrying about future terrorist attacks and reduced self-confidence… Severity of symptoms…was directly correlated with the amount of time the subjects spent watching television.” What Constant Exposure To Negative News Is Doing To Our Mental Health, by Carolyn Gregoire.

Even journalists, whom you might think are hardened to violence from repeated exposure, showed signs of PTSD during research studies on effects of seeing violent images, resulting in more depression, distress and drinking alcohol.

Whoah! So we should stop listening to negative news right away, right?!

Not if you have read Part 1: Tuning In or Tuning Out The News: Both Can Be BAD for Your Health. You know that ignoring what is going on outside your own bubble can also be bad for you and your family’s well-being because so many decisions are being made that directly affect your health care, income, taxes, security and more!

Why do we pay more attention to bad news?

Most media businesses use research to determine how to keep their viewers coming back. The more a person clicks, or the longer he or she “stays on a page,” the more money the news companies can charge advertisers.

Words like “never” and “worst” capture more attention than good feeling words. “Negative superlatives work 30 percent better at getting your attention than positive ones. The average click-through rate on headlines with negative superlatives was a staggering 63 percent higher than that of their positive counterparts.” Bad News: Negative Headlines Get Much More Attention, by Shawn Paul Wood.

Here’s why you might be compulsively reading or watching too much news:

1) Dopamine. Our brains are drawn to seek new information and to ignore what we have already seen. Seeking novelty releases dopamine, which makes us go in search of a reward, which makes us continue to seek novelty.

“This novelty seeking, is quite addicting. When you are reading a new news article, or this article now, your brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine doesn’t produce the feel-good people normally associate with it, but it causes the craving for the feel-good. This craving can even continue when the pleasurable effects of a stimulus are non-existent…Even though there is nothing in it for you anymore, you keep doing it anyway.” Why Avoiding The News Makes You Smarter, by Martjin Schirp.

2)When we spend our time consuming disturbing and sensationalistic news stories that have no real relevance to our lives, these effects are likely: desensitization, sensitization and hypofrontality.

Desensitization is needing more and more of the same thing to feel the reward. Sensitization is being triggered by certain cues, which release dopamine, to repeat the behavior, looking for the “fix.” Like, glancing at your phone and having to check the news. Hypofrontality is caused by desensitization plus sensitization, where the frontal lobe activity stops working as well, making self-control harder. Repeated exposure to violent video games appears to cause hypofrontality as well, numbing out emotional reaction.

3) Hyper-vigilance is a state of being on guard, ready for more emergencies. “More” because people tend to feel hyper-vigilant because they have already experienced trauma. If you find yourself staying plugged into news at all hours, or if you’ve signed up for so many breaking alerts that your phone pinging puts you in danger of whiplash, you are probably worried that if you miss some crucial piece of information, you, or someone you love, might die, as in die-a-death-preventable-by-you. The drive to survive can be that deep and powerful, especially when you have suffered a severe trauma in the past. 

There is no doubt that human society is entering a new era. Social media and access to the internet have made every bit of news from all over the planet available to us in every minute. As well, our society is in conflict over so many issues that many families and  marriages are breaking apart. The brutally divisive election of 2016 and its aftermath has been magnifying all these changes.

Listening to your body will bring a healthy balance of news consumption to your life.

1)Bring awareness to your body when you are engaged with the news. Notice your body’s sensations. For example, check your eyes, jaw, shoulders, stomach, legs and describe what they are feeling: tension, gripping, twitching, heat, cold, etc.

Also, notice the difference in how your body feels while engaged with different types of media: holding a newspaper, listening to the radio, scrolling through newsfeeds on your smart phone versus sitting at a computer. How does your body feel watching news or documentaries when you are sitting on a sofa and your television set is across the room? How do your fingers and the palms of your hands feel after tapping and scrolling for a while? How do your eyes feel after holding a phone or tablet up to your face? How do your neck and shoulders feel after sitting at your computer?

If you ignore your body, you will not be able to respond to the signals it is sending you.

Your body sends you signs of discomfort because it wants you to respond to the news you are exposed to. Taking in small bits of news, feeling your body, then reacting appropriately makes more sense than just mindlessly scrolling and absorbing thousands of bits of useless data.

Think of a balloon just filling and filling with air. At some point, the balloon will burst. If you are sitting and just taking in the news, more and more, your body and mind do not have the chance to process it.

2)Uncover the root of what is driving your news consumption. Is it novelty seeking, chronic habit, fear of missing out, or hyper-vigilance? Are you afraid that you won’t know when to head for your nuclear bunker? When you know why you are driven to consuming news more than is healthy, you can channel that drive into solution generating actions that will ultimately be better for you.

3)Keep a log of how many hours a day you are looking at a screen versus looking at the 3-D world around you. Is it 1 or 2? 3 or 4? Or 10, 15, 20? Set a limit for yourself then vow to plug into your 360 degree world more. Getting enough exercise, sleep, connection with human beings (especially including eye contact and physical touch) and time in nature will invariably feed your soul more than interfacing every free moment with news, especially via technology.

4) Limiting WHEN you consume news can make a world of difference. The time of day you DON’T tune into news can matter a great deal.

a) “Many of the world’s most successful people avoid checking their cellphone, email, or social media for several hours after they’ve woken upInstead, they engage in creative work, physical exercise, strategic planning and goal setting, and spending time with loved ones.”6 Things You Need To Recover From Every Day, by Benjamin P. Hardy.

b) To get the most optimal sleep, do not engage with technology 1 to 2 hours before sleep. The light rays stimulate the brain into a more wakeful state. Many very successful people read a physical book for a half hour before bed, instead of doing technology up until lights out. Since most people get their news through technological mediums, that means turning off the news in the evening and giving yourself a break. Choosing to read something un-news related will help you sleep better overall. Not having images of destruction, political conflict and trauma right before bed will benefit you.

c) Not plugging into media when you are with friends or family:

This could go without saying, but the more you disconnect from media and actually look into people’s eyes, listen with focused attention, give hugs and pats on the back, the more your body can relax and reset your parasympathetic system. Your “rest and digest” system will get your heart rate to slow, breathing to deepen and digestive system do its job. Connecting with the real humans around you can do more to improve your disposition, your mood, your health and longevity than staying glued to “News of The World.” (Unless, of course, your friends and family drive you nuts. That is a different problem to solve.”

Here’s how to ensure that consuming the news is not so bad for your health:

Solutions Based Journalism

6)In the past few years, a new form of journalism has been arising out of the criticism that news is too negative, and that it leads more and more people to feeling depressed and powerless. A more wholistic form has sprung up called Solutions Journalism, or Constructive Journalism which gives readers options to help solve the problems that are tackled in the news article. Solutions Journalism also frames interviews with victims that allow them to show their strengths and not just the crushing aftermath of a tragedy.

Start your day off with inspiring stories instead of negative news. You will be doing yourself a favor.

“Those who watched transformative stories… reported having a good day 88 percent of the time.”

The Benefits Of Positive News Ripple Far Beyond The First Smile by Gabriel Arana.

Here are some positive news websites to check out:

Positive News

Yes Magazine

Ted

MSN Good News

Good News Network

USA Today Kindness

Sunny Skyz

Huff Post Good News

The Optimist Daily

Today

Gimundo

Happy News

How we feed our minds makes a difference in how good we feel from day to day, as much as how we feed our bodies. Making conscious choices about what kinds of news we focus on, what times of day we consume the news, tuning to how the news affects us physically, and what we do with the information we take in will all make a big difference in the quality of our lives and how healthy our bodies are.

Feed your mind, feed your body, feed your life!

Part 3 will go deeper into how to be a discerning media consumer and what to do with the news we hear to be healthier, more empowered and contribute to making the world a better place for the common good.

If you would like help balancing your news junkie addiction, call, text or email me. 

Alicia Swaringen, LMBT, Founder of Bodywisdom Therapy. 541-543-5615.  alicia@bodywisdomtherapy.net. Since 1995, Alicia has helped hundreds of clients, using Acupressure and Process Oriented Psychology, unravel the messages of their bodies, find relief and valuable insight, and put those messages into practice.  http://www.bodywisdomtherapy.net.

 

 

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Tuning In or Tuning Out The News: Both Can Be BAD for Your Health

Part 1 of 2 Parts

Have you proudly “sworn off the news?” Or, perhaps are you a news junkie that plugs in at every opportunity?

Common sense says that overconsuming news can deal a blow to one’s health, but how could NOT listening to the news be harmful?

Major decisions being made by government and business leaders will affect you and your loved ones for years to come. When you don’t understand these decisions, you are as a leaf sailing through the air, buffeted by the winds of their policy choices.

In the health care field, we professionals rarely speak about our rights as citizens, our civic duty, or the roles we play in our society. Yet, we are at a crucial time in history, maybe more so now than ever, where individuals are being called upon to engage in civil discourse. In other words, it is imperative that we citizens no longer leave the big decisions to politicians, corporations or industry to decide our fate.

A growing sense of urgency is rising, for the role of concerned citizen to speak out and speak up for one’s health and the health of one’s family, one’s community, one’s nation, one’s planet.

Access, affordability, quality and choice of health care are all aspects that affect each one of us, are in the news, and being debated right now.

So, tuning out, and not participating in the decisions being made in our congress, our hospitals or by insurance and pharmaceutical companies, means we have less power and less control over our lives. It even means we could face avoidable life and death struggles if congress passes legislation that knocks us off our insurance carriers, or allows premiums to rise so high we can’t pay them.

Having less power or control over one’s life is NOT good for anyone’s health. Feeling a lack of control is stressful and proven to contribute to deteriorating health. Feeling a measure of control over one’s circumstances has shown to offset the negative effects of less education on longevity of life. 

“I would encourage you: be informed – knowledge is power.” Matt Bevin

If listening to the news has felt overwhelming, yet you are willing to consider how avoidance could lead to bigger problems, here is one thing you can do right now to help yourself tune in.

Close your eyes, take a breath, and listen to your body for a minute or so. See if your body has any sensations going on. Notice any tension or relaxation, any achiness or pain. Allow any sensation to be just as it is, without trying to change it. Give yourself some time to breathe and sense. Breathe and sense. Breath and sense.

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When you have reached a place of allowing, ask yourself the question: when I tune into news, how do I feel? Imagine watching news on tv or the internet, or reading the front page of a paper. Imagine a story that caught your attention. Then notice: what is happening inside your body, are you holding your breath? Are you frowning? Smiling? Is your jaw clenching, or perhaps your stomach feels tied in knots?

One of the main reasons that listening to news is so bothersome, is that mostly news is focused on problems. “News content is predominantly negative because humans tend to be more attentive to negative information,” according to a study by Steve Soroka and Stephen McAdams. News is news because it comes as warnings, threats to our well-being, and we are neurologically predisposed to being on guard for our own safety and survival.

On the other hand, when a Russian news site, City Reporter, posted only good news for a day, readership dropped by two thirds. Psychologists and other analysts have posited theories about why humans are drawn to reading bad news, but the important detail to note is that news media know this and therefore supply us with more negatives, (plus a smattering of positives to keep people from total despair.)

So, if you notice that your body is uncomfortable while absorbing news, consider this:  your response is a natural, human reaction. If you feel like escaping, saying “to heck with this” and shunning the news altogether, keep breathing. Keep noticing. Stay with that feeling and give it some room to just be.

Then, tell yourself that short term discomfort will help you to better prepare for the future. Put a time limit on how much news you expose yourself to, perhaps 15 minutes to start.

If it is health care issues that are drawing your attention that day, then scroll the headlines until you find one that focuses on that subject. Or, you can do a search for “health care news.” As you read the article, stay in touch with your body’s responses. Are you feeling angry, upset, scared? Stay with that feeling and name it. Acknowledge the sensations that go with that emotion. Are your eyes, your jaw, your throat talking to you? What is the threat, the warning that could affect you or your loved ones?

The next step is an action step. Whatever you are feeling, turn it into a response to the information you just took in. Did you just read that your hospital is divesting itself from your insurance company? Or, did you see that politicians want to allow insurance companies to raise rates for pre-existing conditions? Did you hear that a toxic site nearby is not being dealt with?

Determine who to call and express yourself to. Hospitals have patient feedback representatives. Insurance companies have customer service support. Cities have departments of air and water quality. The federal government has the EPA. Politicians have aides that answer the phones. Sometimes you have to leave a recorded message. If you want to start a dialogue, rather than just express yourself, make sure you leave your name and number. You might have to call back. Again. And, again.

Whatever step you take, let your body guide you. If you have a feeling of anger, fear or anxiety, express your emotion to the person who you decide to call. Tell them how you or those you love will personally be impacted. Tell them how much this matters to you. Your voice may be a drop in the bucket, but buckets fill up and spill over when enough people speak up. And, just as water over time carves into rock, so do the voices of people carve out change.

Another way to take action is to join others who have the same concerns as you. There are online forums as well as groups to gather with in person. There are tremendous health benefits to joining a group of like-minded people. Strong social relationships can increase not only your mental and physical health, but add to the years of your life. It’s the sense of trust and support, as well as the feeling of belonging to a group that brings the most benefit. Avoiding early death and disease is a great motivator for coming together with others, and your efforts to improve our health care system get multiplied. Do a search of health advocacy groups in your area to find some options.

I can promise you that women working together – linked, informed and educated – can bring peace and prosperity to this forsaken planet.” Isabel Allende

Showing up to a group of people you have never met can be a little nerve wracking, so bring a friend for moral support if you can. Regardless, most groups will be excited to have new members and will be very welcoming. If they aren’t, check out a different bunch.

Becoming a news consumer can be good for your health, if you tune into your body and channel its messages into action. The alternative is being at the mercy of the people making choices for you, and these days, we can no longer trust those in charge to make the best decisions for us all.

“I know it sounds weird, but my definition of ‘sexy’ has changed as I’ve gotten older. And, being smart and informed makes me feel sexier than any outfit.” Sarah Shahi

Part 2 coming up: Too Much News Can Be Bad For Your Health, Literally! If you have comments or questions, please leave them below.

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Politics, Paralysis and Embodying Your Power

For the foreseeable future, I am going to be addressing some of the concerns that have been showing up in my clients’ lives in this new, uncertain, political landscape. I have become aware of a common thread of current issues for many people. While these specific issues may have no bearing on your life right now, I want to share with you these approaches so that you can be ready if you find yourself facing similar matters.           

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             If you are feeling anxious these days, you are not alone.

            Not only am I hearing from clients that they are worried about the future, I am reading about it in stories from around our country. One such Time article, Americans Are Still Stressed About the Election, by Alexandra Sifferlin, analyzes a new report that says most Americans are stressed about the election, as well as the future.

            Undoubtedly, change is in the air. So much change is unsettling to all but the most iron willed stoic.         

            Not knowing if health insurance premiums will go up or down, or whether the preexisting clauses will be dropped is creating a lot of distress and confusion for many people. Then, there’s the polarization of opinions among family and friends, investigations into Russians hacking the elections, loss of jobs, loss of rights, protests in the streets, deportations, banning of Muslims, climate change and potential war. The number of big problems we are facing as a nation seems to be larger than ever.

            With so much on the table, many of my clients have felt paralyzed. This is a normal result of feeling threats or overwhelmed. When confronted by stressful and confusing events, the human body releases adrenalin, noradrenalin and cortisol to engage one’s survival mechanism. Flight, fight or freeze responses affect all the major organs. Increased heart and breathing rates, intensified blood flow to the muscles, dilation of the pupils and slowing down of the digestive tract are some examples.

             Which route your body chooses: running away, fighting back, or playing dead, is predicated on a number of factors. Your personality, your heredity, your role models for conflict, your resilience, the quantity of stressors you already face, and your outlook on how much power you have to change larger forces at work in the world will dictate your emotional reaction to national and global news.

            Think about it: when facing conflict, is it your tendency to escape, to stand up and push back, or to numb over as if it isn’t happening?

             Any hazard, menace, or problem initiates chemical changes in your body, including your muscle tissue. Adrenalin fills up the larger muscle groups so that you can kick, punch, or run as fast and as hard as necessary. If, while under threat, you do not use your physical strength, the adrenalin, noradrenalin , and cortisol will still be there, causing your blood pressure to rise and your nervous system to stay on alert. Health problems can arise when these chemicals aren’t disbursed. If this is your pattern, your health can suffer from smaller issues at first, like increased colds and flus, insomnia and digestive disorders. Unaddressed long term stress can turn into bigger, life threatening issues like heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

            So, it is very important, especially in these times of uncertainty, that people take the time to physically release the stress hormones. Physical exercise that makes you breathe hard and cause your heart to pump faster are crucial, ideally, 30 minutes three times a week at least. But, even five minutes running from your car at the edge of a parking lot into a store, a great romp in the hay, abandoned dancing to funky music, or chasing your kids or grandkids around the park are just as helpful as formal exercise. Movement is life. Vigorous movement will add to your years.           

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             However, what do we do in those moments when we can’t get up and get going? Like being trapped in a traffic jam, lying awake at 3 am, sitting for jury duty, or in church or a lecture, when the mind is free to wander and it starts mulling the current state of affairs? What if you know that you need physical activity, but you just can’t motivate yourself to get going?

            If you are feeling paralyzed, what do you do?

            This is what I recommend: Allow yourself, for a little while, to give in.

            Let yourself focus on what is making you feel overwhelmed, and let yourself fully feel the paralysis. Sink into it. Notice the physical sensations of not being able to move. Try not to fight it. Surrender. Where in your body do you feel it, your torso, your arms, your legs? What physical sensations go along with that, a heaviness, fatigue, emptiness, heart racing?

            With your eyes closed, allow your imagination some freedom. Ask yourself: “What or who is paralyzing you?” See if any images arise of something holding you down, externally, or if there is some kind of weight or pressure, internally. See if there is a person or object that might be causing the paralysis.          yellow-chain.jpg

            If there is something that bubbles up, great. Go with that. Explore it a little. See its size and shape and color. If it is a person, see if you recognize them, or if it is someone random.

            The next step might be a little harder. Try becoming the object or person which is keeping you in place. Imagine taking that little leap of faith and seeing if you can be that force paralyzing you. Make it a little stronger. Amplify the feeling as much as you can.

            This might sound crazy, but try it anyways and see what happens: Ask yourself, as that object or person which is holding you down, “What is my purpose? What am I paralyzing you for?” If you get an answer, keep going. Notice everything that comes into your mind. Then, you will want to apply that answer to the problem that is most plaguing you.

            These steps are the gist of how I help clients get in touch with their reactions to life events. If you find it difficult to follow these steps, that is understandable. If you are not used the these sorts of processes, many questions can arise like “Am I doing this right?” “What does this mean?” or even, “Isn’t this stupid, nuts or nonsense?”

            The very thing that feels oppressive to us holds the key to our liberation.

            Paralysis has important messages for us. When we take time to allow the part of us that can’t move, can’t make decisions and doesn’t know what to do and is overwhelmed, we can experience valuable insight into the nature of being human. Allowing what is there to take up space, without pushback or judgement, gives us the jewels that have been buried.

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            What jewels could possibly be buried in paralysis? Some of the answers have been: to feel safe, to feel secure and comforted. To avoid loss, to avoid death, to avoid pain and suffering. The impulse might be: to stay put, to keep one’s head down, not be seen. To remain hidden.

If I stay very still, then I can be invisible, and no one will see me and attack me.

Yet, just as there is yang and yin, opening and closing, light and dark, when we recognize and permit one side of our being to be felt, acknowledged and accepted, there is a balancing effect that occurs.

            The most amazing thing is that when we give ourselves permission to be paralyzed, to really sink in and not move, not grow, not change, keep everything in place, a tiny crack of light appears. Eventually, the spirit grows tired of being immobile and begins to speak up. Being quiet and unnoticed starts to wear thin and become unsatisfying, even boring. Because? Change is inevitable. A law of physics, as well as of human emotion, is that nothing stays the same.

            When we give ourselves the gift of no movement, no change, the safety of the known, that is precisely the moment when our spirits will want more. Out of the known, the safe and the familiar, will arise a curiosity. There will be movement toward what is unknown. The questions become: What is around that corner? What does that look like, taste like, feel like?

Humans are wired for consistency AND growth, security AND change, safety AND risk.

            The opposite of paralysis is growth, change and risk. What growth is your spirit urging? What change must you make? What risk is being asked of you?

            The second part of this exercise is to really dive in and, for a short while, become “The Paralyzer.” Is it chains, ropes, a heavy block holding you down? A gorilla? Or, someone from your past or present, a parent, teacher, or boss? When you become the menacing boss, the gorilla, or a boulder, you can tune into the power that has been holding you in place. Feeling that power in your body, notice the sensations. Do your arms feel tight? Are your hands gripping? Is there motionlessness or movement? Feel the force, the strength. gorilla-monkey-ape-zoo.jpg

            By distilling these sensations, you can extract the message. To neutralize the paralysis of what is overwhelming you, your solution might be to grip the problem tightly and not let go. If health care insurance has got you worried beyond belief, then immerse yourself in the issue. Educate yourself as deeply and widely as you can and become a gorilla or a boulder. Hold on, be persistent. Talk to industry officials and hear their arguments. Grab ahold of the issues and keep focused. Study what is working in other countries and write lists of what makes the most sense to you. Hold your representatives accountable. Don’t let them squirm away from the truth of your experience. Speak to your congress people relentlessly and meet with others who feel the same.

            Rapid CHANGE is here and we cannot turn back the clock. Nothing we have taken for granted is going to stay the same.

            After you have taken on the role of the Paralyzer, you may find that, from time to time, you need to back off and give in again to paralysis. When you take risks, when you take a stand, when you stick your neck out, you may find your nervous system is unused to feeling the sensations. Your voice may get shaky. Your hands may tremble. Your knees may knock. This is the release of the same hormones that told you to “freeze,” to roll over and play dead. Only, this time you are standing your ground and fighting back. When you have done this, you will probably need time to recover and go back into hiding for a little while and regain your equilibrium. All the reasons why you did not speak up in the past might flood your thoughts and try to keep you down for a while. Give in, listen and allow yourself the ebb and the flow. Process what you said to your allies, your congresspeople and industry reps, and how you would like to say it better next time.

            Paralysis is a message to keep our heads in the sand, pretend as if nothing is happening and go back to business as usual. Understandable for a little while, yet potentially life threatening if we ignore the dangers completely.

             A complacent, overwhelmed or paralyzed citizenry is exactly what the people who are making the most money want us to do. As long as we are asleep, as long as we are overcome with helplessness, and as long as we feel as if there is nothing an individual can do to change any of this, then those who do not have our best interests in mind will continue to have total influence over lawmakers. They will not protect our water, our food, our children, our healthcare.

          Paralysis is a momentary state. Change is not. Change is here. Will you take the risk and feel?

            If you are feeling paralyzed, call, email or text me. I can help you untangle the ropes that are keeping you stuck. Out of hopelessness and despair, let me help you take your unique steps to power and effectiveness. And, have fun doing it!

 Alicia Swaringen, LMBT, Founder of Bodywisdom Therapy. 541-543-5615.  alicia@bodywisdomtherapy.net. Since 1995, Alicia has helped hundreds of clients, using Acupressure and Process Oriented Psychology, unravel the messages of their bodies, find relief and valuable insight, and put those messages into practice.  http://www.bodywisdomtherapy.net.

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Drinking the Poison: How feeling bad can lead to a better life

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Some shamans drink poison and survive. Snake handlers in West Virginia evangelical churches get bit and sometimes live. Mithridates IV inured himself to poison by ingesting small quantities over time.

     The Cure is in the Poison.

A pharmakon can be both medicine and poison. “The remarkable thing is that ‘the cure is in the poison’; that is, the healing is contained within the very process that plagues us through sickness, self-delusion, stuckness, fear, despair, pain.” Holographic Godforms: Holographic Archetypes by Iona Miller

Spiritually, the two snakes teach a healing lesson. As homeopathic and other therapeutic practitioners know, the administration of a small amount of the poison which caused the problem can bring healing. In ancient snake healing practices, snake priests and priestesses allowed themselves to be bitten by their poisonous charges.

This practice propelled them into altered states of consciousness while over time allowing them to build up immunity to the poison. Then they were able to utilize the snakes and their poison in healing rituals and treatment. This may also have been the case in Asklepian practices. The healing principle is this: What poisons us can also heal us; what heals us can poison us. The ancient oracle of Apollo declared this same wisdom: “He who wounds also heals.” Healing Then and Now | Myth As Metaphor

            While we might shy away from so-called “negative” emotions, new research is showing how important these uncomfortable feelings are. Each negative emotion has the power to hurt us, yet it also contains the power to improve our lives.

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Anxiety: Use Anxiety to Help You Solve Problems

          If you are worried about a potential problem, research shows that the heart rate grows more rapid, bringing blood into the muscle tissues, ready to escape. It’s great if you can take a walk, swing your arms, dance around a bit and support your body’s needs.

         Anxiety can motivate you to get prepared for upcoming important events. According to William Meek, in How Anxiety is Helpful, “If you did not fear negative consequences that led to feeling some anxiety, it would be unlikely that you could be dedicated to the rules of your workplace, be able to complete schoolwork, or become motivated to do something that does not sound pleasurable.

          As you give into the physical impulse, allow your mind to “chew on” the problem. Chewing a problem can release creative ideas to form solutions to your  problem. As you let the problem roll over in your mind, check out each solution and play it out. Watch your body’s reactions to the solutions you envision. Whenever you find yourself sighing, or relaxing, that is a clue as to which solution holds the most promise.

      Even you are in bed awake at 2 am, it can be really helpful to get up, move around your apartment or house (in dim light is better than bright light) and let your body release the pent up energy.  Writing or taping all the thoughts swirling in your mind and getting it out of your head is also very effective. The next day, analyzing those thoughts can lead to the light bulb going on.

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ANGER: Use Your Anger to Get in Touch with Your Needs

    Much of the time, people are angered when they feel their rights, personal space or territory is being threatened or taken advantage of. “How dare he treat me that way?”

     Anger is often like cooking. Hot anger boils over. Cold anger simmers inside. Either way, it can be used as an opportunity to make connection with another being.

     Why many people are afraid of anger or try to avoid it is due to seeing or experiencing the destructive effects of unbridled anger. However, anger can be expressed without violence. Anger can be expressed without shouting, name calling, throwing things, the evil eye or baring one’s teeth. It is challenging to feel anger and love at the same time. Next time you are angry, see if you can feel warmth in your heart. It might be impossible in the moment, but the thought of that can temper your expression so that you do not say things to hurt people purposefully.

     Answering  “What steps can a person take to be able manage anger in conflict situations so that it doesn’t get the best of them?” Craig Lunde, in Anger and Conflict, lists ways to express your frustrations so that conflict can be resolved.

     By speaking up about what makes you angry, you give the other person the chance to take your concerns into their consideration. In any healthy relationship, we care about each other’s needs. If the other person really listens to what you are angry about, the two of you can find a way to build a bridge that meets both of your needs. If the other person doesn’t want to hear your concerns, or doesn’t want to address them, then this is information about the nature of your relationship. A friendship, marriage or job which is one sided is not based on a foundation where both people matter equally. Everyone needs to feel that they matter, whether they realize it or not. Feeling that your life is of value is a basic human need.  

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SADNESS: Use Sadness to Remember Details

    One of the reasons some poetry is so vivid is that a lot of poets use their times of sadness to record their feelings and their observations. Research is showing that many people have a heightened sense of detail when feeling sad.

     “Findings from my own research suggest that sadness can help people improve attention to external details, reduce judgmental bias, increase perseverance, and promote generosity,” writes Joseph P. Fargas, in Four Ways Sadness May Be Good for You. He goes on to explain how, as an adaptive emotion, sadness can help us make decisions and choose actions that will improve our lives. In contrast, the state of happiness can lead us to make more mistakes, perhaps because our happiness makes us more complacent and accepting of the status quo.

          When sadness comes your way, allow yourself to appreciate the small things around you, like the way the sunlight filters into the room, or the way a strawberry tastes. Feel what happens in your body as you notice details, they may take on a soothing poignancy.

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  GUILT: Use Guilt to Listen to Your Conscience

      For many years, therapists have been counseling patients not to feel guilt, to get over guilt, that guilt was bad. And certainly, religion has done its part in creating guilt as way of life.

       However, new research shows kids who have a little guilt are better citizens. “They’re getting better grades in school, engaging in more volunteer work, they’re less prone to racist attitudes,” says  Suffolk University professor Jane Bybee.

       Never feeling guilt can be a sign of psychopathology, an inability to feel remorse when hurting others. On a biological level, if humans did not have empathy and guilt, we probably would have died out thousands of years ago.

        Having a moral compass includes having the pinch of guilt occasionally to let you know when you have done something or not done something that needs your attention. When you can accept your feeling of guilt, then you can make amends to improve the situation. Saying “I’m sorry,” is not a popular action in our society, yet it has the capacity to heal the hurts of our lives. Taking right action to rectify the mistake can be the balm to relieve the stab of guilt.

         After you’ve made amends with the injured party, forgiving yourself is the most transformative act of all, which often comes down to accepting the imperfection of the human condition. Being human is to make mistakes. Being whole is to accept that we mistakes and learn from them.

      Fighting against negative emotions is futile.

Nadja Geipert, M. A. Psychology, explains why fighting against negative emotions is futile. “Years of research strongly suggest that emotions are adaptations that serve a fundamental purpose to our survival,” she writes. Emotions are the human organism’s biological way of letting us know what it needs. If your needs are not being met, you will feel bad.

   In 3 Steps to Unlock the Power of Bad Feelings, Geipert suggests accepting how you feel, verbalizing your feelings, and exploring your feelings will help you “uncover the real you.” Once you know what it is that you need, asking for and getting that need met, either by yourself or others, will complete the loop.

“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.” Pema Chodron.

Call or email me to learn how use your poison to create a better life.                                                   Alicia Swaringen, LMBT, Founder of Bodywisdom Therapy. 541-543-5615.  alicia@bodywisdomtherapy.net. Since 1995, Alicia has helped hundreds of clients, using Acupressure and Process Oriented Psychology, unravel the messages of their bodies, find relief and valuable insight, and put those messages into practice.  http://www.bodywisdomtherapy.net.

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Feeling Bad is Okay

Are you thinking there couldn’t be anything good about feeling bad?

The instant you feel bad, you start craving chocolate, or a beer, or a friend to talk to or a game to watch on tv? Or, you think, “What’s wrong with me? I have a lovely life, everything I need, why do I not feel better?” Or, maybe your life sucks right now, things are bad, but no one wants to hear about it anymore?

The good news is: feeling bad is okay. As a human, it’s a necessary part of life and sometimes it’s absolutely the most perfect response to what life is bringing.

Even though contemporary culture gives us the implicit and explicit messages that we should be happy all the time, we are not wired that way.

When I started working on this topic, I flipped through a book of Rumi poems, and this is what I turned to (It’s part of a longer poem entitled “There’s Nothing Ahead,” with many layers of meaning):

The cure for the pain is in the pain.      

Good and bad are mixed.

To be free of an uncomfortable feeling, we must, paradoxically, dive into it. Instead of ignoring, suppressing or diverting it, feel it. Take some time, feel your emotion, feel where it shows up in your body. Allowing the feeling to be there, not fighting it, or judging it, is powerful. Keeping your focus on the sensations in the body, breathing into those sensations, helps the mind loosen its grip on whatever has gotten trapped.

There are some good reasons we push against negative feelings. The most common reason clients seem to want to avoid a negative feeling is that it just plain doesn’t feel good! Of course, this makes sense. As biochemical creatures, we are set up to move toward things that feel good, and away from things that feel bad.

A “bad” feeling has a message for us that something needs addressing. A feeling of anger could manifest in the body as clenched fists, tight chest and frowning eyes. A feeling of anxiety could include knots in the stomach, shortness of breath and overall jitteriness. A feeling of grief could have a choked sensation in the throat, tears in the eyes, and an ache in the heart. If we explore the clenched fist, we might find that you want to punch your boss. If we listen to the knot in your stomach, we might discover that you want to ball up in a fetal position and avoid a bullying mother in law. If we tune in to the choked feeling, we might understand that you are afraid if you let out the wail stuffed in there you might never stop crying.

Negative feelings often tell us a truth that means something in our lives matters to us. If things are going to get better, we must accept that truth and give ourselves permission to express it. It takes a certain bravery to admit out loud how we feel about some things. When we do allow ourselves to share our real feelings, we might encounter blowback. We might face negative feedback, even hostile or threatening reactions. Most likely, however, the biggest thing we have to fear is how our lives might change. We don’t know what will happen for sure until we say it out loud. When we do, we might find ourselves out of a job, ending a marriage, or facing the impending death of a loved one. Not reactions to be taken lightly.

However, the price we pay when we hold in and hold back the things we are really thinking and feeling, is that the negative feelings don’t go away, they end up coloring every experience we have.

If we don’t honor our uncomfortable emotions, they can simmer beneath the surface of our days, stewing and eating away at the fabric of our lives, creating a semi-anxious state. The source of that anxiety can be hard to put a finger on. It can be submerged beneath the surface of our conscious thoughts.

Then, suddenly, one small event triggers an outpouring of stale, rotting gunk that gets emptied on some unsuspecting telemarketer or slow driver or whiny child.

The Rumi quote, “the good and bad are mixed,” means to feel the “good” feelings, we must also feel the “bad” feelings. Both are a part of being human. To suppress one side of our humanity is to suppress both. When you let your uncomfortable feelings have room in your life, you create a deeper vessel for pleasurable feelings to travel through, giving yourself the gift of a life full of rich experience.

If you need some help getting in touch with your feelings, getting in touch with the sensations in your body, allowing your feelings some breathing room, give me a call, text or email me. I have helped hundreds of people, people who have felt disconnected, stuck and out of touch. The freedom to feel the emotion you are feeling is so liberating, it’s a transformative fire, a total paradigm shift.

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Seven ways to avoid uncomfortable feelings

When you find yourself feeling things you don’t want to feel, like shame, embarrassment, frustration, anger, disappointment, even hatred, sometimes you might wish for an off switch. Well, here’s how to avoid uncomfortable feelings:

1.     Ignore the feelings.

This is more along the lines of, “I know what I am feeling, I just don’t want to feel this, so I am going to ignore it.” With this goes ignoring the sensations in your body. If you are experiencing heartbreak, ignore those achy-breaky feelings going on in your chest area. Ignoring bad feelings is easier if you also take the following action.

2.    Distract yourself with self-soothing activities.

A cigarette, a slot machine, a shopping spree, a fast food binge, the ways you can divert your attention away from feeling rotten are practically endless. It’s not to say that all diversions are necessarily self-destructive behaviors. Going swimming with buddies, playing a sport, listening to pleasurable music, reading a great book, rolling in the hay can all boost the body’s endorphin levels, taking the sting out of negative feelings and diverting them. The important thing is to keep your mind distracted. If you do something quiet, like meditation, and frankly, a massage, your mind might just tend to go back to that bad feeling place, like a tongue that searches out the aching tooth. Make sure the activity you engage in is something which is very mind absorbing.

3.    Swallow the emotion.

While you are swallowing your emotions, and any words that would like to shout at someone, eating as much as you can, as quickly as you can, will go far to avoid the uncomfortable feelings. Eating comfort foods like cheese, ice cream and bacon will release chemicals that induce comfort.The body rewards fatty, salty, sugary foods by releasing endogenous opioids, which help control pain. A study published in Nature Neuroscience this year suggested that high-fat, high-calorie foods affect the brain in much the same way as cocaine and heroin.” Why eating a lot feels so darn good, by Madison Park. When you feel totally stuffed, go ahead and take a nap.

4.   Pretend you don’t have those emotions.

When someone asks you how you are, say “fine” even if you’d rather say, “I’m a seething mass of turmoil.” Putting on a happy face and pretending you are fine can hold off feeling bad. “Fake it ’til you make it” can work, at least temporarily, until you have the opportunity to crawl back to your cave and fall apart.

5.    Harden yourself.

Keeping a “stiff upper lip,” being stoic in the face of adversity, has its advantages. By tightening your body, you can hold back your feelings. A “tight ass” will tuck the tail bone under during times of stress and contract the pelvic muscles, taking control of fear and protecting the lower, more vulnerable parts of the torso. Just like animals tucking their tails when afraid, humans tuck the vestiges of their tails, the tail bones, and squeeze the gluteal muscles. As well, a “tight neck” will stiffen the neck and shoulders, forging ahead to take care of business. Bracing oneself, literally, stiffening one’s spine, can give you the power to shut down those icky feelings.

6.   Suppress the uncomfortable feelings.

Holding the breath is perhaps the number one way that people do that. When my son went into first grade, he found that when he cried, after being kicked in the shins during a soccer game, he was laughed at. The following week, he told me, “Mom, I figured out how to keep from crying when I get hurt! I hold my breath and it stops me from crying!” He was very happy he had learned how to suppress his emotion and thus avoid the trauma of ridicule. Of course, how sad that a child 6 years old has been made fun of for expressing a natural human emotion. Yet, it works. Try it out. The next time you feel something you don’t want to feel, hold your breath as long as you can. Tighten your chest, breath shallow, slow breaths, and the uncomfortable feeling will subside. Don’t take deep, full breaths. That will make you start feeling your feelings. I will also add that to keep tears from welling in your eyes, you can try rolling your eyes skywards. Of course, if anyone is watching you, this maneuver can be misconstrued as impertinent or rude, or a bit off. So, you might have to excuse yourself to do it in private.

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7.    Fight the feeling.

Tell yourself to get rid of it and that it is really dumb to have this stupid feeling. Wrestle it to the ground! Demand of yourself to let it go. Over and over. And over. And over…

You may have guessed that I have been writing “tongue in cheek.” Well, you are right! I have observed all these avoidance activities in hundreds of clients I have worked with, and many of them in myself! It is very human to want to get away from bad feelings.

There are times when putting one’s feelings on hold can be a positive thing. If there is a crisis, like a car accident, overcoming fear can be necessary to save lives. When a child is in distress, putting aside one’s own frustrations in order to attend to the child is the kind of sacrifice a parent signs up for. At work, expressing every emotion is not always seen as “professional” and might result in getting fired. (Although some work environments would be healthier if the climate were more accepting of people’s feelings.)

The unfortunate truth is that avoiding uncomfortable feelings only works, if at all, temporarily. To ignore, sublimate, suppress, repress, avoid or fight your feelings is to fight yourself. In fact, there is usally a domino effect that happens from avoiding uncomfortable feelings. Things actually get worse, if avoiding is kept up for more than a short length of time. And, the bottom line: longterm avoidance of negative feelings equals shutting down even the positive feelings.

Humans are wired with feelings for a reason. Feelings are an important feedback tool to let the mind know that the body or spirit needs something. How we interpret our feelings is key. How we express our feelings is an art. Feelings give us clues to our values and how we want to live our lives.

Suppressing feelings in the long run is bad for your health. Escaping feelings through the use of diversionary tactics can lead to addiction. Swallowing emotions with one’s food can lead to obesity and digestive problems. Pretending you are fine when you are not can lead to depression. Hardening one’s body, wear emotional armour full time, can lead to heart disease, chronic pelvic pain, muscle spasm and more.  A pattern of holding the breath and shallow breathing can raise your stress hormone levels, and create a whole host of health problems from insomnia to high blood pressure to thyroid dysfunction.

If you find yourself avoiding uncomfortable emotions as a pattern, I can help you learn how to feel the sensations of those feelings in your body, decipher the messages and put them into action. Sure, everyone wants to avoid feeling bad, but wouldn’t you rather feel whole?

Call or email me now to get that support:

Alicia Swaringen, LMBT, Founder of Bodywisdom Therapy. 541-543-5615. alicia@bodywisdomtherapy.net. Since 1995, Alicia has helped hundreds of clients, using Acupressure and Process Oriented Psychology, unravel the messages of their bodies, find relief and valuable insight, and put those messages into practice.http://www.bodywisdomtherapy.net.

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Emotion, in our culture*, has a bad rap.

“Don’t be so emotional!” “Big girls/boys don’t cry.” “Don’t be so angry.” “You better not pout, you better not cry…” “Don’t worry, be happy!” “Drama Queen!” “I’ll give you something to cry about!”

The pressure to feel good, only good, never bad, anxious, sad, or mad is very prevalent on social media, in magazines, in our culture. Happiness seems to be the only sanctioned mood, or some variation of it, like peace or joy. Indeed, the pressure to be happy at the expense of all other emotional states is taking a toll on our populace.

“‘One of the biggest mistakes in American culture,’ says Todd Kashdan, a psychology professor at George Mason University in Virginia, is that, ‘People are incredibly susceptible to the persuasiveness that being happy will capture all of your problems.’ People have what Kashdan calls a ‘comfort addiction’ – from bigger shower heads to scientifically-precise coffee makers to thermostats on our phone. All these things have made us less resilient than our ancestors at coping with reality.” Crane “The Happiness Racket: When the Pressure to Be Happy Makes You Miserable.” Sept 26, 2014.

Why we learn to thwart our emotions:

From the time we are little creatures, bubbling, drooling, wailing, pooping little beings, the adults around us try to get us to zip it.

When babies cry, when toddlers scream, when teenagers sulk, we, the parents, feel an urgency to make them stop. We don’t want our kids to be the ones that make scenes in public, in school, in church, in the grocery store, for Pete’s sake! We want our kids to fit in, to be socially acceptable.

And yes, the crying of a baby triggers many of us to save the little person and tend to its needs. Thankfully! We care for the tyke. Do what the baby needs, the crying will stop. (Here’s a technique on how to calm a crying baby.)

As babies grow up, things get more complicated.

Watching small children, you can see how most of them are unselfconscious about expressing themselves. Many children will ask for whatever pops into their heads, even things that aren’t good or appropriate for them, and emote with gusto when they are denied. They often spout their honest opinions like “I like to eat my boogers!” while picking their noses. Or, “I need that Ninja Turtle Play station and I need it NOW!” while clinging to the box in the toy aisle and shouting vehemently, stubbornly, desperately.

And, when asked to do something they don’t want to do, they can be freely fervent: “I hate Grandpa Gus. He’s smelly!” while shoving away the proffered hug; or, “I’m not going to say my prayers. Prayers are stupid!” articulated with a whine and arms crossed; or, “I don’t want those peas. They are yukky!” while throwing them on the floor.

It can take years and years of social conditioning to teach children to hold back, hold it in, have a little self-control instead of grabbing things, taking what they want away from other children or spitting, biting, screaming or throwing things when they are mad. To go from being like small wild animals, using teeth and nails for self-preservation, to big tame animals, using thought to comprehend human rules and follow them, is a time intensive journey.

The Downside: Suppressing Emotion is Stressful

The downside of all this training is that suppressing emotion is stressful. As adults, we can still feeling like not hugging smelly Granpa Gus, or throwing things when repairmen says “That will be $1000,” but when we are conscious of our impact on other people and  we make choices to rein in our feelings.

When feelings are held in, tension builds in the body. Unpleasant side effects of repressed feelings include tight jaws, neck, shoulders, chest, back. Even gluteal muscles can get locked up. Ulcers, heart palpitations, migraines, insomnia. In fact, suppressed emotion can show up anywhere in the body, any muscle, any organ, any system.

Research is showing that alexythimia, which is a condition where a person can’t express emotion, is connected to tissue inflammation. In one Finnish study, “The levels of inflammatory markers high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) and interleukin (IL)-6…were significantly higher in alexithymic than in nonalexithymic subjects.” Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.  What this means is that holding in emotions can create inflammatory conditions in the body, which are implicated in diseases as widespread as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), arthritis, heart disease, dementia, cancer and more.

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Anger can feel like a volcano erupting. Something pushes up from inside and wants to get out! With grief, the body creates the desire to cry, to wail, to release tears. With fear, the body trembles. With joy, one has the desire to jump and shout.

To hold back an emotion, you must physically tense your muscles.

Tension builds, creating aches and pains, knots in the stomach, tightness in the jaws, sleepness nights, panic attacks, high blood pressure and more. Frequent bouts of high blood pressure strain the walls of the aortas, which can lead to heart disease.

High blood pressure is more related to avoiding one’s feelings than to addressing them, according to Samuel J. Mann, M.D., professor of Clinical Medicine at the Hypertension Center of the New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. After working with thousands of patients with high blood pressure over the years, he has written a book, Healing Hypertension: A Revolutionary New Approach (Wiley 1999), about how repressing old, unhealed traumas affect one’s health.

Because our large muscle groups (like the heart, biceps, triceps, quads and hamstrings) receive dollops of adrenalin, which signals the muscles to get the heck out of Dodge, when we are in the throes of strong EMOTION, one of the best things we can do for ourselves is to put our bodies into MOTION. Do some big movements with your large muscle groups

On the other hand, emotions are messages, telling us what is important to us, our values. Flushing the chemicals of emotion through the body is helpful, but listening to what your body is feeling, and honoring those feelings are crucial to living the life you came here to live. Read more about how negative feelings can give you important information in my next blog.

If you would like support in hearing what your body is trying to tell you, feel free to email or call me.

Alicia Swaringen, LMBT, Founder of Bodywisdom Therapy. 541-543-5615. alicia@bodywisdomtherapy.net. Since 1995, Alicia has helped hundreds of clients, using Acupressure and Process Oriented Psychology, unravel the messages of their bodies, find relief and valuable insight, and put those messages into practice. http://www.bodywisdomtherapy.net.

*It’s the American culture, that of the United States, that I am referring to, which I realize is made up of hundreds of ethnic, social and religious groups. However, I am talking about the whiteish, anglo-saxonish, protestantish, with brownish culture mixed in, culture-at-large. Some call it the “Dominant Paradigm.”

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Why do we have emotions?

If an emotion is a message, then the message is: Something important matters to us. Emotions are signals that something is calling for our attention. Something is asking for acknowledgement. Something needs expressing. Emotion is a signal, often, that something is changing or needs to change.

My ten year old son and I saw a movie recently called DSC00709Inside Out. The main characters were 5 emotions experienced by the 11 year old girl, Riley, whose story of moving from Minnesota to San Francisco with her parents changed her. Joy was in charge, as she seemed to have been there with Riley from the moment she was born. The other emotions were Sadness, Disgust, Fear and Anger. As the movie progressed, Sadness took center stage.

JOY: 1. the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires. 2.  the expression or exhibition of such emotion. 3:  a state of happiness or felicity. 4. a source or cause of delight. Merriam-Webster.com

There weren’t a lot of surprises for me because my son had gone to the movie with a really good friend this summer, for her birthday, and afterwards she had described to me, in detail, all the main parts. She thought the graphics were on the dull side, but overall, a good movie. My son enjoyed it too.

As someone who works everyday with people and their emotions, I found Inside Out to be a delightful and helpful portrayal of the inner world. I especially liked how the Core Memories, things that were really important which had happened to Riley at key moments, were shown as these type of oversized crystal balls that were colored by the main emotion that she experienced. A second piece I liked was that her present state of mind could actually change the color, the tone, of a core memory. A third concept I appreciated was how the memories went down a chute at night while she slept and pieces of them got choreographed, by a director on a movie set like backdrop, into her dreams at night.

One of the images that stands out most for me is how Anger expressed himself. Over the past several years, I have experienced anger in a similar way, noticing it as a sensation of heat inside my head, a pressure that builds up like a volcano getting ready to explode out the top of my head, or to steam out my ears. To see the Anger character do just that was quite satisfying. I felt happy watching his features build into a furiousness, the red glowing brighter and brighter, until the top of his head just blew open and spewed. There was something so comforting, so alleviating to watch that I found myself smiling, even as the rational part of my brain was saying “Uh oh!”

ANGER: 1. the ​feeling people get when something unfair, painful, or ​bad happens. 2. a ​strong feeling that makes you ​want to hurt someone or be ​unpleasant because of something ​unfair or unkind that has ​happened. Cambridge Dictionaries Online.

Acknowledging feelings, recognizing and accepting them, is a human need. We crave acceptance of our feelings whether we realize it or not. Sometimes our greatest judges are inside of us and won’t let anything out. Perpetually holding everything in eventually leads to external explosions or internalized melt-downs. Learning to let things out without creating tsunamis, unless a tsunami will somehow heal everything, is an awesome human and personal accomplishment, starting with childhood when we must learn self-control. Fear of punishment and severe reactions like those we experienced as small beings cause many of us to pull inward tightly, like an ultra-sensitive snail.

One of the main points we can glean from this movie is that allowing the emotion to have its say, to express itself, is better than trying to shove it aside. To say, “Don’t worry, be happy,” or “Be positive, don’t dwell on the negative,” is a message that permeates our culture at large. I can easily hear Bobby McFerrin whistling and singing “Don’t worry, be happy.” Or “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, it is such a catchy tune, it’s hard not to let it be uplifting. The problem is that if happiness is the Supreme Goal, then not being happy can feel like a failure.

SADNESS: 1) a feeling of unhappiness or grief, sorrow or mourning. 2) a feeling of loss, longing unrequieted or melancholy. 3) a feeling of being downcast.

On the other hand, getting stuck in the negative, feeling depressed, fearful, disgusted, or angry, day after day, can be debilitating. So, we find ourselves turning to simplistic attitudes like “Don’t worry, be happy,” to point the way to a quick solution in our fast culture, where instant gratification is expected.

Our Emotions are messages. Charles Darwin believed that emotions are part of the human survival mechanism, giving us signals to keep us safe and alive, perpetuating our species and keeping the human population from extinction. This is to say, happiness would be a signal leading us towards survival, whereas fear would indicate moving us away from a danger. Same with all the emotions. Every emotion is a message giving us information how to maintain life and avoid death.

FEAR: 1. a distressing emotions aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imaginary; the feeling or condition of being afraid. 2. concern or anxiety; solicitude. 3. something that causes feelings of dread or apprehensions. 4. anticipation of the possibility that something unpleasant will occur. Dictionary.com.

Strangely enough, this most basic experience that most humans share, that of having feelings, is not exactly understood, nor are its purposes agreed upon by those who study human behavior.

However, there is a relatively new field of research on emotion that is gaining credibility, called Emotional Intelligence. “Emotional Intelligence can be defined as the ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.” Coleman, Andrew (2008). A Dictionary of Psychology (3 ed.). Oxford University Press. We need emotions to tell us how to get along in life and in our relationships. And, we need to be able to understand and interpret them in order to use them appropriately.

If an emotion is a message, then the message is: Something important matters to us. Emotions are signals that something is calling for our attention. Something is asking for acknowledgement. Something needs expressing. Emotion is a signal, most frequently, that something is changing or needs to change.

Like the leaves changing colors signalling the coming of autumn, so too do our emotions signal the changing of our inner seasons, our inner states and how we experience life.

In my 20 years of working with clients, what I have seen is that people’s body symptoms, like headaches, stomach cramps, nausea, shoulder tension, usually have a corresponding emotional message. Something is trying to express itself through the physical body and gets stuck. It might be a message like “My shoulders are tense, because I am protecting myself from my boss yelling at me, and I go home and my wife yells at me.”

Or, it could be that “I am gaining weight because it is time for me to be bigger in the world but I am afraid of having more influence so instead I will just let my body grow.” Or, it could be that “My headaches are there when I force myself to sit at my computer because I have deadlines, instead of getting up frequently enough to disperse the tension gathering at the base of my neck and I don’t feel I can take the time to take care of me or I am afraid I will lose my job.”

Many times, these emotions and physical symptoms won’t go away because the underlying message is that a change needs to occur. And, this change would require things that a person does not yet feel ready to accept.

DISGUST: 1. a strong distaste, nausea, loathing. 2. a repugnance caused by something offensive; strong aversion. Dictionary.com

There are times in our lives when we are called to accept what is in front of us. Perhaps a spouse left, a parent got dementia, a house burnt down. Dramatic change is often out of our control and we have to rise to the occasion and do our best, or else be crushed. However, there are always opportunities for us to make different choices. While there is an uncomfortable adjustment period, in the long run, new and different choices, rather than the habitual, known choices, will bring us much more satisfaction, and ultimately, happiness.

Yes, Happiness, Joy, Elation, all the positive emotions are a Golden Beacon in life. That which brings us Joy is often very good for us. Good for our health, our families, our world. Yet, we are not just two dimensional creatures. We are not just happy or unhappy. We have an enormous range of emotion. Who knows if we have even named all our potential emotions?

DSC00701The first step to dealing with emotions is to give yourself some space and time to feel them. Feeling the sensations in your body that go along with the emotion brings you into the present moment. Presence is one of those keys to living a full, rich life. Ideally, noticing, feeling and acknowledging emotion is an effortless motion, with swells and ebbs, informing us of our values and expressing them to the world so that we move towards what we love and away from things that harm us.

Next week, I will be writing about what happens with emotions that are so uncomfortable, we don’t want to acknowledge, feel or express them. If you have this reaction to some or all of your emotions, please feel free to contact me for a session in Bodywisdom Therapy, either over the phone or in my office, where we will tap into the wisdom of your body, and give you the insight and support to bring you closer to Joy, Health and Well-Being.

Alicia Swaringen, LMBT, Asheville, NC. alicia@bodywisdomtherapy.net. 541-543-5615. bodywisdomtherapy.net. Alicia has worked with hundreds of clients since 1995, using Acupressure and Process Oriented Psychology to help people unravel the messages of their body symptoms and put those messages into practice.

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Do you ignore your body’s messages?

Do you ignore your urge to pee? Do you ignore your thirst? Your hunger? Your body’s desire to stretch? Do you frequently hold your breath? Do you ignore the sensation of fullness, and continue to eat?

One thing we all have in common as humans, is that we all have bodies. This body you were born with, it’s your primary relationship.  And how you treat your own body, is the foundation for all other relationships in your life.

When we ignore our basic urges, to eat, to sleep, to drink, to stop eating, to stop drinking, to relieve ourselves through pee and poop, we not only set ourselves up for physical ailments, we send our bodies the message that its needs are secondary. And, when we treat our bodies as though its needs don’t matter, we send a message to our psyche that our lives don’t matter.

Many people these days are suffering from a lack of self-esteem or self-confidence, depression or even suicidal thoughts. Beginning to really listen to your body, to respond to its needs as a loving parent would to a baby, this can build a love and respect that may be missing in your life. Caring for your body lovingly, treating it with kindness, not putting its needs on hold, sends a message to your body and your spirit, your emotional  well-being, that you are worthy, you deserve to be taken care of, you matter.

I start each treatment by having my client “check in” with his or her body, from head to toe. Noticing where the sensations arise and noting the qualities of those sensations is a quick way to ground yourself. A quick “how am I” check in can put your day right back on track. It gives your deepest self the message that your body, your life matters. You matter!

It only takes a minute. Where in your day can you take that minute to check in with your body?

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