The Mind Body Connection

meditating-1170645_640The mind and body are inextricably connected. Modern science is showing us how our thoughts, feelings, and behavior impact the way our bodies feel and function and vice versa.

We now know how chronic stress impacts the brain and immune system. The brain sends signals to the immune system by releasing neurotransmitters which carry communications to the immune cells. A stressor can trigger the release of various neurotransmitters that tell the immune system what to do. Conversely, immune system cells release their own chemicals that have an effect on the brain, which in turn tells other cells and systems in the body what to do. The stress hormone cortisol suppresses immune cell ability to replace DNA that is lost during cell division, making individuals under chronic stress  more susceptible to illness. In addition, research has shown that the effects of stress can be conditioned such that even after the stressor is removed, immune suppression can continue. In short, our brains impact our immune systems and vice versa.

There is growing evidence of the way in which the mind and body interact to impact health. We have found that certain chronic diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis, IBS, asthma and fibromyalgia, can worsen in the presence of depression and anxiety. Helplessness and hopelessness are correlated with decreased rates of survival in individuals with life threatening illness. There is research showing how mindfulness meditation can lower blood pressure and decrease nausea and chronic pain. Biofeedback has been associated with decreased severity and frequency of migraine headaches in children. We also know that counseling, stress management education, relaxation training, attending worship services, and having a strong sense of spirituality are correlated with increased lifespan as well as decreased symptom severity or reoccurrence in individuals with serious illnesses such as cancer, HIV, and cardiovascular disease.

It makes sense then, that we address the whole person – body, mind and spirit – in the services we provide to people suffering from stress and/or illness. Consumers are also indicating a growing interest in these integrated services. Fortunately, more and more of us are recognizing the mind-body connection and its importance in health and wellbeing.

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Heart Talk: Better By Monday

“It’s not who you are that holds you back. It’s who you think you’re not.” -Unknown

The clients in my private counseling practice have all started therapy with differing levels of pain. I have a few clients who arrived in my office this year needing a level of healing that seemed to rival open heart surgery for their emotional pain.

The metaphor of needing open heart surgery is powerful – their hearts are broken, and the emotional burden weighs on them creating a heaviness which most of our hearts won’t sustain without damage. Dying (or not living well) of a broken heart can be the result of not attending to the things which keep breaking us down.

There is a range of pain tolerance for the level of broken heartedness we’ve experienced. When clients know that they are in pain, explain the pain, and also can describe what magnifies the pain, they begin mending. The degree to which the heart is broken depends on how we think about our brokenness.

In his song lyrics, Al Green, asks the question, “How can you mend a broken heart?”. Many people coming to therapy are asking that question too. It’s a great question because living and loving can cause bruises and make us feel too fragile to try again. It can be challenging to try to love and be loved and to feel the positive and negative experiences living brings us.

The Gottman Institute has a booklet called How to Avoid the Four Horsemen for Better Relationships. The Four Horsemen are behaviors like Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling, which damage hearts. These four behaviors are problematic, not only when they come from someone who loves us but also when we do them in our own minds. What the mind thinks the heart feels.

One Thing to Do: Take a few tips from the Gottman Institute booklet and let your head be kinder to your heart. Use gentle self-talk, take responsibility for your own thoughts/feelings, know what your personal needs are, and use self-soothing techniques.

Dawna Daigneault

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S., LPC.

Zest of Life, LLC. Professional Counseling.

 

Growth: Better By Monday

“Tolerating the pain involved in growing; mobilizing yourself toward growth you value and aspire to; soothing your own hurts when necessary, without excessive self-indulgence; supporting rather than berating yourself.” –Dr. David Schnarch

Differentiation, as Muray Bowen described, is the ability to recognize “self” with realistic dependence on others, having thinking which is “rooted in a careful assessment of the facts.” The choices are based on a thoughtful process not a reaction to pressure, it is not pushy or wishy-washy but oriented by a strong sense of self and relation to others.

To be more differentiated is to know yourself very well. Because you know who you are, you know what you accept. This orientation helps you reject being controlled, manipulated, or bullied into a decision by others. It also helps you not over-function for others or be overpowering.

We live in a social context and therefore get to know who we are by the ways we are different from the people around us. An important aspect of differentiation is personal growth, as defined by Dr. Schnarch in the quote at the beginning of this article.

He includes: not avoiding pain (such as the emotional pain of learning you hurt people sometimes), pursuing growth within a belief you value, self-soothing when things don’t go your way but not dropping into a victimized narrative, using positive self-talk instead of harsh criticism.

One Thing to Do: Think about what helps you with your growth goals. Use the following questions to self-assess your hesitancy or readiness to take action towards personal growth.

  1. Is my fear keeping me from taking action?
  2. Am I accountable to myself for the actions I take or don’t take?
  3. Have I let others change my plans?
  4. Does the action I want to take add value to my life?
  5. Can I handle the setbacks which might occur once I take action?
  6. What words can I use to stay realistic and motivated?

 

Dawna Daigneault

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S., LPC.

Zest of Life, LLC. Professional Counseling.

Negativity: Better By Monday

“Always turn a negative situation into a positive situation.” -Michael Jordon

The Client Intake Form I use in my counseling process asks the new client to list her strengths and limitations. Many clients can fill up the section on limitations, and a few have added negative items by utilizing the margin. It is curious why so many of us can label negative aspects of ourselves, or perceived negatives, more easily than listing strengths.

I remember hearing a lecture in one of my college classes about not using the word “weaknesses” to identify any shortcomings of a client. Limitations, as a category, was decided to be less harmful and therefore adopted by the professionals who created my Intake Forms.

Some of the limitations clients have written down over the years include, lazy, overweight, afraid, anxious, too angry, too sad, overwhelmed, underpaid, bossy, controlling, pleaser, tired all the time, too trusting, can’t trust, and no motivation. There are at least a hundred more limitations which I have seen listed.

McKay and Fanning in their book, Self-Esteem, 3rd Edition, have readers write alternative language for their list of personal limitations. A list they use for an example of a client’s self-talk included having Buckteeth, Blabbermouth, Wishy-washy, and Know-nothing.

The exercise to reduce or rename the negative qualities includes using specific language about each one. The labels a client uses to define herself can become damaging descriptors. The following is the list of derogatory labels with a correction added.

I. Buckteeth became Prominent front teeth.
II. Blabbermouth became “On two occasions In the past year I told something I shouldn’t have.”
III. Wishy-washy became “Tend to defer to others who have strong opinions.”
IV. Know-nothing became “Know little about current events or history; don’t read the newspaper. Know a lot about psychology, pharmaceuticals, children, modern dance, making a family work.”

The new list of limitations is fact based without being a criticism. It helps a person to see how the language they use about their self-perception can cause harm. Also, it helps them see that a fact-based version can be true without being hurtful.

One Thing to Do: Make a list of your limitations and then use filters to write an honest but kind version of each item on your list. (Self-Esteem by McKay and Fanning page 50-51)
1. Use accurate language, not pejoratives.
2. Be specific about incidents of occurrence of the limitation.
3. List exceptions and corresponding strengths.

 

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S., LPC.

Zest of Life, LLC. Professional Counseling

Inferior: Better By Monday

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” –Eleanor Roosevelt.

Self-esteem seems to cause confusion among parents and professionals. Some professionals say it is necessary, others contradict its essential goodness and say that the self-esteem movement has created false positives for young people.

An article in Psychology Today about the downfall of self-esteem by Dr. Jim Taylor argued that “Self-esteem is commonly thought of as how we feel about ourselves, our appraisal of our own self-worth. But real self-esteem is a complex attribute that has become one of the most misunderstood and misused psychological characteristics of the last 40 years.”

Self-esteem is misunderstood because it is more than having a positive feeling about yourself. If the feelings you have are good and a less than good performance doesn’t change your appraisal – are you using facts to make that assessment? When we protect ourselves from feeling less capable, we set up the belief that when we are less than capable – we are bad or wrong. If we hope feeling good will carry our confidence forward without the skills to back it up – we start feeling fear. Confidence comes from being true to self, not from pretending skills exist before they do.

Dr. Taylor goes on to address this problem, “Sometime back in the ’70s when the “self-esteem movement” started, a bunch of parenting experts said that raising well-adjusted children is all about self-esteem. And I couldn’t agree more. This is also when America’s self-esteem problem began because parents and other influences on self-esteem (e.g., teachers and coaches) got the wrong messages about self-esteem from those experts. Instead of creating children with true self-esteem, our country has created a generation of children who, for all the appearances of high self-esteem, actually have little regard for themselves (because they have little on which to base their self-esteem).”

Learning a new skill, practicing it, and enjoying the feeling of being a little more capable is the fuel of self-esteem. Not everyone wins the game, but that doesn’t make the team who lost losers. However, making both teams believe that there is no difference between a win and loss (to protect self-esteem) replaces esteem with a false positive.A faulty equation is: Winning feels good, kids deserve to feel good, so let all the kids win.

The better equation is: Reality is grounding, winning and losing happens but doesn’t change your worth, let kids learn from developing skills which help them win games and handle losses.

On Thing to Do: Don’t attach labels about personal worth to playing a game. Enjoy winning and learn from losing. Achieve a better sense of self for all of your efforts.

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S., LPC.

Zest of Life, LLC. Professional Counseling.

Sunniness: Better By Monday

“Happiness is an inside job. Don’t assign anyone else that much power over your life.”  -Mandy Hale

Many of us believe in the pursuit of happiness. When we set a goal, we have begun a pursuit of something we hope brings us more happiness. Pursuing something creates energy.  However, when the goal stays out of reach, or we fail several times on the journey, we discover that happiness can be elusive.

There is more than one type of happiness. My positive energy increased just looking at some synonyms (there are 994 at http://www.powerthesaurus.com) like; delight, pleasure, joy, bliss, enjoyment, contentment, satisfaction, ecstasy, glee, exhilaration, amusement, well-being, and nirvana.

If we take this short list of happy words and put them on a continuum which assumes the level of energy required or generated for that type of happiness, we will see three different levels of feeling happy.

The lower energy level words are contentment, satisfaction, and well-being.  Middle energy level words are delight, pleasure, enjoyment, and amusement. Higher energy levels include joy, bliss, exhilaration, ecstasy, and nirvana.

You may reject the idea of only three levels or dislike my inclusion of some of the words in one of the categories – make your levels of happiness continuum work for you.  This discussion, so far, is to create awareness of how happiness is more than a single experience.

The next step I want to take in this article is towards your happiness, at least at level 1, being purposeful and available daily. You can start a habit that will increase your happiness without the patience long-term goals require.

When we focus on the positive, it helps us appreciate the better things in life. You may “pay closer attention to positive events down the road and engage in them more fully—both in the moment and later on when you can reminisce and share these experiences with others. Reflecting on the cause of the event may help attune you to the deeper sources of goodness in your life.” (GGSC, The Science of Happiness, 2014)

The happiness creating exercise reported to make a real life difference based on studies conducted by Positive Psychology experts, Seligman, Park, Peterson, and Steen, is included at the end of this article.

One Thing to Do: Make positive thinking a tradition. The exercise (below) is from The Science of Happiness course available through the Greater Good Science Center.

Happiness Practice #1: Three Good Things.

Each day for at least one week, write down three things that went well for you that day and provide an explanation for why they went well. It is important to create a physical record of your items by writing them down; it is not enough simply to do this exercise in your head. The items can be relatively small in importance (e.g., “my co-worker made the coffee today”) or relatively large (e.g., “I earned a big promotion”). To make this exercise part of your daily routine, some find that writing before bed is helpful.

As you write, follow these instructions:

  1. Give the event a title (e.g., “co-worker complimented my work”)
  2. Write down exactly what happened in as much detail as possible, including what you did or said and, if others were involved, what they did or said.
  3. Include how this event made you feel at the time and how this event made you feel later (including now, as you remember it).
  4. Explain what you think caused this event—why it came to pass.
  5. Use whatever writing style you please, and do not worry about perfect grammar and spelling. Use as much detail as you’d like.
  6. If you find yourself focusing on negative feelings, refocus your mind on the good event and the positive feelings that came with it. This can take effort but gets easier with practice and can make a real difference in how you feel.

***

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S., LPC.

Zest of Life, LLC. Professional Counseling.

Growth: Better By Monday

“Tolerating the pain involved in growing; mobilizing yourself toward growth you value and aspire to; soothing your own hurts when necessary, without excessive self-indulgence; supporting rather than berating yourself.” –Dr. David Schnarch

Differentiation, as Muray Bowen described, is the ability to recognize “self” with realistic dependence on others, having thinking which is “rooted in a careful assessment of the facts.” The choices are based on a thoughtful process not a reaction to pressure, it is not pushy or wishy-washy but oriented by a strong sense of self and relation to others.

To be more differentiated is to know yourself very well. Because you know who you are, you know what you accept. This orientation helps you reject being controlled, manipulated, or bullied into a decision by others. It also helps you not over-function for others or be overpowering.

We live in a social context and therefore get to know who we are by the ways we are different from the people around us. An important aspect of differentiation is being able to “hold onto yourself” through personal growth, as defined by Dr. Schnarch in the quote at the beginning of this article.

He includes: not avoiding pain (such as the emotional pain of learning you hurt people sometimes), pursuing growth within a belief you value, self-soothing when things don’t go your way but not dropping into a victimized narrative, using positive self-talk instead of harsh criticism.

One Thing to Do: Think about what helps you with your growth goals. Use the following questions to self-assess your hesitancy or readiness to take action towards personal growth.

  1. Is my fear keeping me from taking action?
  2. Am I accountable to myself for the actions I take or don’t take?
  3. Have I let others change my plans?
  4. Does the action I want to take add value to my life?
  5. Can I handle the setbacks which might occur once I take action?
  6. What words can I use to stay realistic and motivated?

 

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S, LPC.

Zest of Life, LLC. Professional Counseling.