Sleep, a Natural Way to Reset Your Sympathetic Nervous System

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Your body does more than you can even imagine when you are asleep. During your nightly rest and repair your brain collates and processes information, it lowers your cortisol levels, moves you from REM to Non-REM, and it even locks your muscles during REM so you don’t accidently hurt your partner while you’re fighting your dragons. Ever have sleep paralysis? This is when your body forgets to unlock those muscles and leaves you in a half sleep half waking state where you can’t move, wake or sleep but you get the joy of acid free hallucinations you will not forget in a hurry. But I digress.

Sleep is a huge part of your mental health in that it allows your Sympathetic Nervous System to relax, let go, and rest. Your sympathetic nervous system is in charge of your fight, flight, freeze, and fawn trauma responses. When the sympathetic nervous system resets, these four trauma responses also have time to rest, giving your brain and body a much-needed respite from your daily high alert trauma response. What can ruin this sleep generated relaxation response come morning is a harsh alarm or any other startling or high-speed morning activity. Get an alarm that plays something pretty on a soft volume and grows in volume so you are awakened slowly and without a startle response. By avoiding a morning startle response, you avoid releasing adrenaline and will have a calm, more productive day. Another tip is to move slowly through your morning. I pray, meditate for half an hour and then slowly move through my house, doing all the things I need to do to get myself up and out the door with a mindful calm. Think, “I am meditatively walking into my day and I set the intention to remain calm and relaxed.”

Eight hours is the doctor recommended number of hours of sleep the human body needs each night. Personally, I like to sleep for nine hours each night. I’ve found that nine hours is the perfect number for me. If you have a history of trauma, it’s highly likely that you will need more sleep then next door’s Suzie, who had nice parents and a cute dog to pad her perfect childhood. And a good sleep hygiene protocol will tell you to go to sleep at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. Also, avoiding caffeine is just a good rule of thumb if you have trauma. All stimulates will help keep you in high alert and help activate you four trauma responses causing your body to spiral through aggressive hormone flooding and the shaky aftermath were taking care of yourself feels next to impossible. And if you have a partner who thinks it’s fun to scare you…find someone new. Anyone who thinks triggering your trauma responses is funny doesn’t deserve you.

I love you. Get a good night’s sleep. Walk and move with calm. Be peace to know peace.  

Birth of an Empath

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The floor boards creek under my weight. I walk as carefully as I can, choosing the floorboards that creek the least. Our house is old and I am small, still a child, but the floorboards creek anyway. I feel her before I see her, she’s like an ice fog drifting in from the darkened living room, a sort of gauzy uncomfortable energy that warns there’s a bear in there, step back slowly. Pray it is asleep. But she’s awake and I have been spotted.

“What are you doing up?”

“I just need water.” I fill a glass and drink it down too quickly, fear from being spotted and the jolt of cold water hit me stomach in the same moment, making me nauseated. “Do you want a light on? Can I get you anything?” I go into people pleaser mode because the energy I’m reading is angry, brooding and needs a victim and I’m the one out of bed.

“Stop trying to butter me up.” It’s her usual phrase for when she has caught me trying to make things ok. I have done nothing wrong but I can feel I’m in trouble. So, I stand and wait, wondering if I will be up all night or sent back to bed. I feel her eyes on me and my need to fix the situation is so huge that I’m almost shaking.

“Let me get you a blanket.”

“I have one. Your father is snoring, I can’t sleep. Never get married.” She is talking so I sit quietly beside her on the couch and prepare for a long night of listening.

I was a two-years-old when I first began serving my mother. I brought her water and snacks from the kitchen and wet wash rags for her forehead because being pregnant with my sibling made her too sick to care for me so I was parentified and cared for her. I was such a good little girl. She told everyone how helpful I was. I didn’t know then that she was menacing, frightening, and mentally ill. She was my mother and I both feared and loved her.

It was the fear the taught me to read a room before I entered it, to see if she was in a safe mood or a dangerous one. Of course, her moods could flip in a moment and there was no reading when that would happen. As a teenager I enjoyed triggering her and fighting her. It was a sort of sick revenge, but by then I had learned to hate her for all the years of fear and punishment I had endured at her hands.

An empath and a people pleaser are both made through fear. One feels for what they are about to face and the other prepares a litany of appeasing acts, words, and gestures to help calm and sooth the situation. I learned early on that if I baked a pie my parents would eat and stop fighting. Empaths and people pleasers are not weak big hearted love bugs who just can’t help being kind. We are survivalists who will go to any lengths to ensure that the one who holds the power is happy. If they’re happy we can creep off and find somewhere safe to live, some corner in our dangerous households where we can pretend that we are okay.

One morning when I was about 18 my sibling ran into my room and jumped into my bed. We sat frozen and listening. Mother was moving through the house, her loud foot falls sounding a warning.

“You can always tell which mother we will have to deal with by the way she walks,” My sibling said.  In that moment I realized that I was not the only one who found mother to be incredibly terrifying.

If you are dating a people pleaser the kindest thing you can do is not let them do anything, just help them feel safe and protected. After a while they will settle in and begin to relax. Empaths and people pleasers make wonderful partners and parents. And please notice when they set boundaries, and respect the fact that they have. When your PP or Empath partner sets a boundary and holds firm to it, that means they are well on the road to recovery. There are no boundaries in abusive homes. A home with boundaries and respect is a home where healing and happiness is possible.

I love you. We’re evolving. Create your Eden wherever you are.

Moving your Body to Clear your Mind

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I did my research and found that nothing I read about the effects of exercise on emotional regulation was at all helpful. Most articles focused on preventing life threatening illness. While prevention is great, it calls to mind the myriad calamities we humans face everyday and if my blog is about anything, its about healing and faith not fear and illness. So, I decided to wing it.

First off, I walk every day. Sometimes I cry, sometimes I cry and pray, sometimes I cry and pray out loud and talk to a nearby shrub or hug a tree. I am that lady who looks perfectly normal until she says to an unoffending shrub, “Dear God please help me survive today. I’m in your hands and you are all I have.” This is generally how my morning walks go. I walk to release my grief, to breath fresh air, to connect to nature, to connect with God, and to connect with my body in a deep and meaningful way. Half way through my five mile walk I feel a sense of calm come over my mind as if both hemispheres of my brain have stopped fighting. The color of the trees become more vivid and that inoffensive shrub I poured my heart out too looks almost angelic. We’ve become very close.

I don’t stop walking when my mind calms and my grief subsides. I keep walking, setting my sights on a distant garden hidden by trees where I can sit on a park bench and meditate. I keep walking because reaching my five-mile goal will make my body and mind relax for the day and give me the peace I need to soldier on. Once I reach my private garden my eyes are dry and my mind is calm. I can go into deep meditation, connect with God fully and completely, and end my meditation feeling at peace.

Whether you’re having a mental breakdown, suffer with mental health issues, or just feel bummed or anxious about the state of the world, exercise will help. Do what you can, start small, work up slowly, and most important of all, take the deep belly breaths that calm your central nervous system. Today I lifted weights, walked my town, and did some yoga in my micro studio, which was an adventure in itself. And please remember as you move in your own special way that your Creator, by whatever name you use, is with you. Faith is healing even if you choose to pray to a convenient houseplant or an unassuming shrub. Faith will always see you through. So, please remember that… You are held. You are blessed. You are important and needed in this time of change.

Keep going. I love you. You got this.

Self-Compassion: Turning Self-Hate into Self-Love

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We were trained to be hard on ourselves, to reach for the stars and kick our own ass’s if we didn’t touch them. We normalized trash talk in sports, and looked our girlfriends up and down to make sure they were cool enough to be seen with us. We watched our weight, we watched our friend’s weight, and we persecuted ourselves if the scale tipped in the wrong direction. In school we either got great grades or flunked every class and we made certain that everyone knew how fantastic we were or that we were anarchist losers ready to take down the system, and when we slipped in our roles…well that’s when we were the hardest on ourselves.

Each year one in five students has thoughts of killing themselves, making suicide the number two cause of death among students age 15-24. Our children are suffering from test anxiety, eating disorders, self-harm, depression, and so much more. It’s time that we taught ourselves and our children to be kind to the person we’ve become. It’s time we chose kindness over toughness because none of us are tough enough to face the pressures of today without a lot of support and self-love.

Self-Compassion is not a new concept but it is being presented in a new way by Dr. Kristin Neff in her book, The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook. This is the single most effective self-help book I have ever read. All my negative self-talk is gone. I have to repeat that. All of my negative self-talk IS GONE! After years of not feeling thin enough, pretty enough, smart enough, good enough, worthy enough, outgoing enough, I now know that I am enough exactly as I am.

In the opening chapter Dr. Neff says, “Self-Compassion involves treating yourself the way you would treat a friend who is having a hard time.” It’s that simple. From there the book leads you through meaningful practices in mindfulness, releasing resistance, developing loving-kindness, and so much more. And if you’re worried that this may be one of those impossibly difficult to read books, it’s not. It reads like a child’s how to, on the proper care of a kitten. I think I loved that best about this book. It took the thing that tortures and kills us every day, our lack of self-worth, and it solved it with a practice so easy to follow that a child can understand it. Everything about Dr. Neff’s The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook, is loving, simple, and above all, compassionate.

We really don’t have a choice anymore. Our mental health impacts our physical health, our spiritual health and the overall health of our families and our community. As I travel through my own healing journey, I will share with you what has worked and what has not. For me, Dr. Neff’s The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook is a must read/must practice book to keep with you all your life. Share it with your family, share it with your friends, share it with the world. We only have one life in this body. Let’s live it with more love and Self-Compassion.

You are Strong. You are Worthy. You were made for these times.

I love you. Keep going. You got this.