A Self-soothing Recipe for Nighttime Freak-Outs
Having an anxiety disorder sometimes means that I get to wake up in the middle of the night feeling high anxiety or the beginning of a panic attack. These episodes can be triggered by real or imaginary concerns and fears. One way or the other, that’s certainly not the best way to spend my time in bed at night, especially when I should be healing and recovering my energy through peaceful sleep.
One of the most effective methods I employ to trick my mind into relaxing and falling back asleep is the same technique I started using years ago to help release sciatica and osteoarthritis pain: I soothingly guide myself to sleep with positive affirmations (silently, in my mind), as a form of self-hypnosis.
Although my affirmations are customized to different circumstances, I usually start repeating something along these lines, as I take deep breaths:
“I am not my body... I am not my aches and pains or health conditions...
I am not my mind...
I am not my fears...
I am beyond my mind and physical body...
I am health... I am wellness... I am wholesomeness...
I am perfect in my imperfection...
I am loved... I am loved... I am loved...
I am love... I am love... I am love...
I AM... I AM... I AM...”
Occasionally, depending on the level of anxiety, I have to repeat this exercise more than once to achieve the desired effect. More often than not, however, I fall asleep in the middle of the first set, as I start relaxing and feeling relief from anxiety and physical pain.
This simple technique is just as effective for daytime anxiety or panic. Although it’s often recommended that hypnotic suggestions are made as affirmations, rather than stated in the negative, in this case it feels empowering to first acknowledge limiting beliefs by denying them, and then affirm that which is true.
What self-soothing techniques are effective for you?
© Gisele Marasca-Vargas; 04/21/22
Photo by Alex Shute on Unsplash
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What’s in the way of following our bliss?
Surely, it’s easy to come up with a long answer to this question, as we can list countless reasons why we find ourselves incapable of making positive choices in life and being happy. But the truth is that most humans get a kick out of being miserable. No point in denying this simple fact; scientific studies prove that our brain is wired for negativity (please see What Is the Negativity Bias? Article under References).
Research also shows that our default tendency is to say “no” and protect ourselves from change. According to an article from Psychology Today (The Power of No; please see under References), “the human brain is hardwired to respond to No more quickly, more intensely, and more persistently than to a positive signal. No is stronger than Yes.”
Of course, knowing when to say “no” is an important survival skill. The problem is when we get stuck on the “no.” Since change is the fiber of life (and one of the only constants in our lives), that means we tend to spend a lot of our time and energy resisting change by trying to avoid or control it, which is a sure recipe for misery. As misery loves company, we often contribute to making others around us miserable by resisting the changes they might be ready to make, trying to hold them back or resenting them when and if they do manage to change their lives. In turn, they do the same for us.
Another reason that prevents us from finding our bliss and keeps us stuck in misery is not being able to let go of the past. Past trauma can lead to PTSD and other serious issues that often need to be addressed with professional help. However, there’s always a choice to be made: Seeing ourselves as victims and refusing to let the past go, or acknowledging, accepting and working to heal from past suffering, remembering that our past experiences helped shape who we are.
So what’s the solution?
6 Rules for Leaving Your Misery Behind:
- Being willing to use “no,” while at the same time going with the flow. Developing and maintaining healthy boundaries is vital for allowing ourselves the space to seek self-fulfillment and live well. On the other hand, misery ensues when we keep saying “no” to the flow of life. The trick is to tap into our inner and higher guidance to find a balance between “no” and “yes.”
- Accepting change as a fact of life without trying to control it. Remember Ben Franklyn’s ol’ adage, “nothing is certain, except death and taxes”? The word “change” should be added to that saying. No point in digging our heels; it’s gonna happen...
- Becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. Life is full of discomfort. Trying to constantly avoid it doesn’t serve us well; it just makes us afraid and keeps us stuck.
- Reconciling with the past with the help of some core work. We can use tools we’ve familiar with (such as forgiveness) and learn new tools or get professional help.
- Sharing our story with the right audience as part of our healing process, and as a means to help inspire and guide others through their own challenges.
- Consciously choosing to leave misery behind! It does take a conscious choice or decision on our part. Less misery means more room for bliss!
© Gisele Marasca-Vargas; 05/26/22
Photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash
What Is the Negativity Bias?
The Power of No
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…But Being Defined by Labels Can Become a Deficiency
Never before have we had access to so much information about… well, pretty much everything. That can be helpful and useful in many ways, if we have the discernment to sift through the overload of available information and determined what’s accurate, what’s inaccurate, what’s distorted by the sponsors behind the information being disseminated, and so forth. If we do manage to come out on the other side of the maze, there’s plenty of reliable information we can access on our own or through reputable healthcare professionals to help answer our questions.
Due to the outspread availability of information, it has also become easier to label conditions, even when those labels mean that current knowledge doesn’t have all the answers and healthcare professionals don’t really have a clue about what’s going on or how to cure it. Still, there are plenty of labels that get thrown around in relation to diseases and illnesses with internal, external and unknown causes that doctors can’t quite define or understand, from autoimmune to brain-related/neurological conditions such as RA, Fibromyalgia, Autism and Alzheimer’s, to name just a few.
On one hand, it’s important to know as much as possible about health issues and conditions that may limit our lives in any way. Knowledge is power; it can enable us to manage such issues and maintain a healthier, more fulfilling lifestyle.
On the other hand, being defined by such labels can become a deficiency if that instills fear in us, preventing us from living life to the best of our abilities. It can become a deficiency if we accept these labels without question and feel limited to the point where they are used as excuses to stop growing, to justify the belief that we’re not capable of pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone, trying to overcome our circumstances and doing better every day. Labeling can lead to resignation that makes us forget the power of the mind and spirit.
As someone who deals with frequent anxiety and even the occasional panic attack due to OCPD, and who has discovered as an adult that I might be on the lower end of the neurodivergent spectrum (in addition to having physical issues such as herniated disks and hip repair surgery), I understand how difficult it can be to deal with and manage a limiting condition. Because I don’t want to take medication, managing myself takes a combination of alternative therapies (hypnotherapy, aromatherapy, flower essences, essential oils, etc), along with regular meditation, breathing techniques, etc. Exercising and practicing yoga also help; so do writing and coloring book therapy. In other words, proper self care is vital; that includes establishing priorities and strong boundaries that involve plenty of quiet time, while not neglecting to stay connected with loved ones. I also developed the habit of deliberately shifting my thinking when I start obsessing and feeling anxious about something; I try to focus on the ultimate goal, set my intention and simply say to myself: "I give this to God (or my guides, Angels, Source, Universe, etc)." That opens the space to receive clear guidance and be able to follow it, even when it’s unsettling. Not beating myself up for not being perfect is also key!
Of course, each individual has different needs and needs to find their own ways to cope or recover; but here are some additional tools that have been effective for myself, my clients and others who have tried them:
- Rather than reminding myself of why I can't do something, I make sure to constantly re-frame that thought by teaching myself how I can do anything I set my intention to accomplish.
- Hypno-coaching can help jump-start healing on a subconscious level by using scripts such as Gateway to Healing by Linda Bennett and Self-Health by A. Chips.
- The Emotion Code is a simple technique to help release trapped negative emotions from the body: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3g7pRNLJKh4
- Mel Robbins' 5 Second Rule and other similar techniques are effective shortcuts to trick the brain into doing what I want it to do: htthttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nI2VQ-ZsNr0
- The morning pages exercise (also known as brain drain or mind dump) is a powerful method of uncluttering the brain and opening the space for creative solutions to life’s puzzle:
Here's Everything I Learned From Doing Morning Pages Every Day
FINAL WORD: We are all works in progress, doing the best we know how at any given moment. Whatever challenges we deal with on the physical, mental emotional and spiritual levels, we are the only ones with the power to define ourselves; and that in itself is an organic, ever-changing process. Let’s not get stuck on a label!
© Gisele Marasca-Vargas; 09/28/21
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash
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More Than Best Friends
After the shooting at the Pulse nightclub on June 12, 2016, a local Lutheran church which has an outreach program with the LGBT community joined forces with other churches and organizations around the country to invite 12 comfort dogs to come to Orlando. These wonderful dogs were brought to work with injured victims and their relatives, the family members and friends of those who lost their lives, and the emergency workers in attendance. They helped provide temporary calm and consolation to those in need during a traumatic week. It was heart-warming to see them at work, to watch their interaction with so many people in need of healing. Many people would just start crying as they petted the dogs. Comfort dogs (and animals in general) have the capacity to pick up the emotions of those who pet them, and are great listeners who don’t judge and offer unconditional love. They also help make it safe for people in pain to drop their guard and express their feelings.
Humans and animals have always shared a strong bond. Anyone who has a connection with their animal companions understands how rewarding it is. This bond has often been a source of solace and relief for those who suffer from physical or emotional pain. But a growing body of scientific research is showing that our pets can also help make us healthy, or healthier. That helps explain why Pet Therapy (which includes Animal-Assisted Therapy or AAT, and other Animal-Assisted activities) is a growing field, having gained a lot of popularity over the last few years. There has been an increasing use of animals (mostly dogs and cats; but also horses, birds and fish) in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, jails and mental institutions.
According to Aubrey Fine, a clinical psychologist and professor at California State Polytechnic University, the use of pets in medical settings dates back more than 150 years. But it was only in the late 1970s that researchers started to discover the science behind it, and a great number of studies have been published since.
For years, animals have been used with great benefit in the treatment of the elderly and the terminally ill. Animal-Assisted Therapy has also been shown to help children who have experienced abuse or neglect, as well as patients undergoing chemotherapy or other difficult medical treatments. These days, AAT is also helping sufferers of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The use of pets for assisting veterans and their families who are struggling to cope with the effects of wartime military service is becoming more common, due to the many success stories of pets helping PTSD patients greatly reduce their symptoms. Studies reveal a high success rate with the use of dogs, cats, birds, horses and even dolphins in PTSD treatment. According to an Elements Behavioral Health’s blog article (Animal Therapy Is Making Strides In The Treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), “in one study of the effect of dogs with patients, psychologists noted an 82% reduction in symptoms. One particular case noted that interacting with the dog for as little as one week, enabled a patient to decrease the amount of anxiety and sleep medications by half.” The studies have been so encouraging that the Department of Defense is investing close to $300,000 in this type of treatment.
Pet Therapy can also help patients with OCD and other psychiatric conditions. Here’s a touching video from America's Got Talent featuring a contestant with a disabling form of OCD who says that his dog has changed his life. They obviously share a strong connection, which anyone can notice when they perform together:
America's Got Talent 2016 Patrick & Ginger The Most Talented Dog in the World
Some of the many reasons why Pet Therapy works:
1) Animal companions require care and attention, which keeps the patients busy, active and distracted from their health challenges. They also reinforce rehabilitation behavior in patients (for instance, by getting them to walk or throw a ball).
2) Animal companions offer unconditional love, which is the most healing feeling anyone can receive.
3) Animal companions inspire altruistic love. By doing something for another being, a person can reduce depression. Loving others is a depression antidote.
4) Animal companions are wonderfully accepting creatures. As I mentioned above, they make great non-judgmental listeners, providing a safe space for emotions to be expressed.
5) Animal companions lower blood pressure, relieve stress, reduce anxiety, boost the immune system and more. Countless studies show the health benefits of riding a horse, playing with a dog or a cat, etc.
In short, Pet Therapy can promote healing of mind, body and spirit in many children, adults and seniors suffering from countless different issues. And one of the best things about therapy that involves animal companions is that it goes both ways. Animals also benefit from their special bond with their human companions and can find healing along with their caretakers; especially animals commissioned from shelters, who often have a history of abuse and neglect. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.
© Gisele Marasca-Vargas; 06/29/2016
NOTE: This blog article was published on the September 2016 issues of Natural Awakenings - Central Florida/Orlando Edition (link below)
Natural Awakenings CF - September 2016
Article: Animal Companions - Pet Therapy Offers Many Benefits; pgs. 32-33
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The Pet Effect on Mental Health Conditions (Stress, Anxiety, Depression, PTSD, Trauma) - HABRI - Human Animal Bond Research Institute
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