3 Ways tuning into your body can increase your resilience.

Much of your resilience comes from the way you are able to manage when your brain and body react to stress and throw you into a fight/flight/freeze/fawn response.

The stress response has little conscious control, most of it is below your level of awareness. But there are things you can do once you learn to identify the signs your stress response has activated.

It is worthwhile learning to pay attention to your body.

What are you noticing about it?

How do your hands feel? Are they hot or cold? Are you clenching your hands, moving your fingers or anything else you notice?

What about your feet? Are they hot or cold? Are you tapping them, or clenching them or do they tingle? Anything else you notice?

What about your legs? Your arms? Are you aware of them being hot or cold? Are you aware of any movement in them? Do you feel any tingling or pain or any other sensation?

Observe your trunk. Are there any feelings in your tummy, or back, or public region? What about your breathing? Does your heart feel like it is pounding? Is there tension anywhere?

Pay attention to your neck. Is it tight? Do you feel you are drawing your shoulders up towards your ears? Do your shoulders feel stiff? Do you feel like you have something on your back?

What about your face? Your head? Is there any tension there? Particularly notice your jaw, that is a favourite area to carry tension. Does your forehead feel tight or hot?

It is really helpful to form a picture of what your body does when you are under stress or feeling panicky.

Observe any thoughts you are aware of. Maybe you can identify some words or statements running through your thoughts. Maybe you have a sense of something scary, or something bad. Maybe you have a sense of being incompetent or a failure. The list is endless.

Over time, you can learn to watch out for these sensations and thoughts and spot the signs of a fight/flight/freeze/fawn response when it is about to start, or in its early stages before it starts.

Here are three things you can do when you become aware of this response:

  1. Breathe.

That may sound patronising. How many times have you been told glibly to “just breathe” but the right type of breathing is helpful.

When you are in a fight/flight/freeze/fawn response your breathing becomes shallow and you breathe in the top of your chest. This sends messages to your brain that keep you in this stress response.

What you need to do is to focus on slowing and deepening your breath.

This may not be easy, but the more you do it the easier it will get.

Consciously breathe in so that you feel your stomach rise. Try to breath to the slow count of 4 to ensure you take in a slow enough breath.

You will notice the sensation of breathing more in one part of your body. It may be in your nose, your throat, your chest or belly. Pay attention to that part of your body as you breathe.

Focus on a deep breath in to the count of 4, holding for 4 and then breathing out for 4. It can be helpful to breathe out through your mouth and in through your nose. This allows you to focus better on the breathing and increases its effectiveness. Notice all the time the sensation of the breath entering and leaving your body, and notice the sensation of it sitting in your body.

Focus on these sensations and say thank you to your breathe for keeping you alive.

  1. Sigh Deeply.

Sighing releases tension and helps reset your nervous system. Research has shown a deep sigh helps to calm the stress response in your body.

To do the sigh, breathe in fully to the count of 4, hold for the count of 7, then sigh out the breath to the count of 8. This helps calm your nervous system down.

Sighing is a great tension reliever and worth using when you need to.

  1. Touch

When your nervous system puts you in a fight/flight/freeze/fawn state it puts you into a state of fear. You lose the sense of being safe, of being able to trust your own ability to be safe. Touch that is safe helps to release oxytocin. This is an antidote to Cortisol, the hormone we release in response to stress.

Touch is often referred to as our Mammalian Defence System because it is present in Mammals and is our first go to response when we feel threatened.

All mammals automatically reach out to others for comfort. It is only when you can’t get that comfort that the fight/flight/freeze/fawn response is activated.

You can use touch to bring yourself out of your stress response.

Touch, being close to others, and making eye contact with others gives you the message that you are safe and everything is okay.

Touch can involve a hug, a touch on the arm or hand.

If there is no-one there to touch you, you can touch yourself. Wrapping your arms around yourself, touching your cheek, putting your hand over your heart, holding your arm are ways people frequently use to get that touch. You can do that too.

So next time you find yourself falling into a flight/fight/freeze/fawn response pay attention to what is happening in your body so that you can be more aware in future of the signs this is about to happen.

Breathe, Sigh and Touch as well.

The better you get at noticing when you are falling into the stress response the better you will get at calming it down or preventing it.

The better you get at practising Breathe, Sigh and Touch the quicker you will be able to calm down and the more control you will have over your reaction to stress.

You will find you can increase your resilience in the face of stressful events.

You may find counselling helpful to process trauma that is triggering your stress response. You may also find counselling helpful to learn how to put Breathe, Sigh and Touch into practice.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with this, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

Losing a friend. Losing a mother

My blog today is personal. It is about losing a friend. And a mother. And finding time to grieve.

It is a situation we are all likely to face in life. Maybe you have faced it already. Maybe that is yet to come.

Last week a dear friend died. Her children, living on the other side of the ditch, jumped on a plane to see her and got to spend the last day of her life with her.

Her funeral was organised three days after her death. The children flew home late the following day.

There were several things about my friend’s passing and funeral that I wanted to share and talk about.

I thought of the children racing to get to Australia to say goodbye to their mother. Leaving their own children behind to make the dash to see their mother. They lived a long way away. Communication was often tricky and relationships were not always ideal. But at the end, they rushed to her side and spent time with her. A precious gift from them to her and for them also.

Many years ago I remember another friend trying to get from a remote Asian island to Australia to be with her dying mother. She left her children at home and just took her youngest, a baby, with her. The Aian airline system at the time was in disarray. It took her three days flying from place to place, baby in tow, before she was able to connect with a plane to Australia. She was able to spend a few precious hours with her mother before she passed.

I too made a journey many years ago from Europe to Australia to be with my dying mother. I left my family in Europe to make the lonely trip back.

The long journey you have no control over is a time of great anxiety. Will mum still be alive when I get there? Those who have had to get on a plane and desperately dash to be beside their dying parent can relate to that fear and anxiety.

The next stress is being so far away from your own children and home. Having to stay in strange places and negotiate systems that may not be familiar to you. In the case of my friend the systems were totally unfamiliar to her children.

Because my friend’s children had to return home and there was no other family here in Australia, they had to pack up her house in the few days they had after her death. They needed to empty the house to hand it back to the landlord.

These young adults didn’t even have time to grieve for their mother. They could take time out for the funeral, then they had to get back to packing up the house. They had no time to sit with what had happened. To sit with their mother’s belongings.

They had to work day and night to pack them up to dispose of them. They had to identify important documents, sentimental things and what was to go. They had to find where to send all that to.

On top of all that, it was Mother’s Day and they were hours away from their own children.

When my mother died, it was Mother’s Day and I was on the other side of the world from my own children. Mother’s Day is forever linked to memories of my mother’s death. It will be the same for my friend’s children.

When someone you love dies you do what you have to do. Often that involves having to put aside your own grief, the shock and disbelief, the devastation, to attend to the tasks of living. That usually means the funeral, the clearing of the house, all with a deadline.

The tasks you have to attend to after a loved one’s death don’t allow you time to sit with your grief.

So what do you do? You do what you have to and then you take time to be. Make time to be. Just be with the loss. You need to allow yourself time to feel and process this. There is plenty of time later to get on with life. But once you have attended to the immediate post death tasks, the time is right to feel and process.

What about losing a friend?

I miss her so much. We had busy lives and didn’t see each other much. But we always knew the other was there. We could arrange coffee together, or send each other messages. Now that will never happen again.

I was so shocked when I heard she had died. I was out and not in a place where I could just sit and cry and be with the news. So later in the day I took time out to just sit and paint. This is my favourite way to process my emotions. To honour what has happened. My favourite medium is water colour.

I made time to go to her funeral with a mutual friend. We were so glad we went. It was so special to say goodbye. We could have skyped the funeral, but going in person felt so much more important. We were lucky we could go.

I sat down that evening and painted again.

Then I travelled again to my friend’s house to bring home all her books to find homes for them. Being in her house. Feeling her there. Bringing her books into my home. I felt she was still there. I was still holding on to her.

Today I knew it was time to let her go. So I had a small smoking ceremony to release her and I painted another painting.

I will always miss my friend. I have such dear memories of her. I know from experience that it was important to honour her in my way. It was important to sit with my feelings and allow them to be there. It was important to honour those feelings, which I did with my paintings.

People have other ways to do that. My dear friend’s children are going to have to find time to sit with their feelings. To honour them. To process them. They will do that in their own unique way.

I am sure that every Mother’s Day I will remember my mother’s passing and my dear friend. And there will be many more paintings.

My coping strategies worked against me

I was reading an article recently about two women who were sexually abused as children by the same man. He was the brother of one woman and the uncle of the second.

What I found really sad about the experience of these two women was how the law failed to support them and how little understanding there is in the community about how trauma presents.

One of the biggest hurdles is finding the courage to tell someone. Few cases of sexual abuse are reported at the time. In fact it can take decades for an abuse victim to tell anyone. There is little understanding of how shaming and disempowering the abuse is. There is little understanding of what a victim has to go through to be able to speak out. Often, having taken the courageous step to speak out, their stories are dismissed or brushed aside.

If the abuse was within the family, the victim may find themselves estranged from their family when the family choose to support the perpetrator instead of them.

For a child seeking justice for sexual abuse or an adult seeking justice for rape the legal system is incredibly traumatising. Court cases are often delayed, victims have to repeat the details of their experience several times to the police, courts, in cross examination. They can be required to give specific details and their behaviour, appearance and past experiences may even be examined by the defence team.

It is a difficult situation. There is a need to protect the small minority of innocent people accused of sexual crimes they haven’t committed. But what about the genuine victims of actual crimes? Research by a criminologist comparing historical sexual abuse trials to current ones. It found that victims, in particular female victims, were more likely to be asked about their behaviour, what they were wearing, history, appearance, family background. Boys tend to be asked for the facts and are never asked about their clothing.

Another worrying finding was that cross examination of victims is much longer than in the past. Even child victims are questioned three times longer than in the past.

Even just reporting the abuse is hard. The older woman in this article told how she put on a brave face so she appeared okay but physically she felt her heart was going to burst out of her chest.

It took two years for the charges to be laid and the brother to be charged. Then there was the court process. Talking to the police was a cause for great anxiety. But there long periods of time when nothing was happening was also a time of great anxiety. She found she could never relax.

When the committal hearing started it was even harder. The prosecutor was new and did not know her. Whereas the police she was in regular contact with realised she appeared stoic and calm with small signs like redness in her neck to indicate her extreme distress, this new prosecutor had no idea.

This coping strategy of appearing outwardly calm was something this woman had used since she was first abused as a child.

In addition there were aspects of the assault that she found so confronting that she was unable to relate them to the court. Her mind shut down and she dissociated. She felt she wasn’t really there. When she was asked questions she knew the answer to, she couldn’t answer due to her distress. Instead she said she could not remember. She was so angry with herself over her inability to speak in court. Good counselling and a good understanding of how normal her reactions were would have made a big difference to how she felt about herself after the hearing.

Her case never made it to court. The Office of Public Prosecutions decided she was not a strong witness so they dropped the case. Good counselling and support would have helped her to give her story.

Her niece was able to give evidence when her case went to court, although she found it confronting having to describe in detail to a room of people – some strangers- things she had never told anyone. She described it as feeling she was being undressed. She was well supported by family and ultimately found it empowering to be able to give her evidence.

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse learn many strategies to cope with the trauma of the abuse. The older woman in this story learned to “put on a brave face”. She learned to keep an outwardly calm demeanour while inside her body was in flight mode. She also learned to dissociate, something she probably did during the abuse.

She is not alone in those coping strategies. They are really common ways to survive with an overwhelming trauma. It is also not uncommon for adult rape victims to have similar coping strategies.

People do not understand these coping strategies. To the person using them, there is full awareness of their level of distress. But to someone watching they appear calm. It is not surprising that uninformed people watch this calm exterior and decide the person is completely unaffected.

If you are in that situation, be kind to yourself. The trauma you have been through is terrible and you are doing the best you can. It helps for people having to face court cases over sexual abuse to understand their coping strategies and identify ways to work with those strategies. If you can use a remote witness box do that. It is less confronting giving evidence that way.

You may decide to not take your sexual abuse to court. Whether you go to court or not, counselling is essential to help you heal.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with past trauma, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

The Journey of Demeter

In a matter of weeks I will be running a grief and loss group in my rooms in Buderim. As I prepare the material, I have had time to reflect on the passage through grief and loss and the experiences of those who have previously completed the course.

I have a collection of reflections on loss from the people who were part of the group. Today, I would like to share them with you. Maybe you will find them helpful.

J.K. wrote that grief is more than missing someone. He felt it was an unrelenting ache for reality to be different and for the impossible to come true.

So true. This really struck a chord with the rest of the group.

Suzie just said that not a day goes by without saying “I Miss You”.

Jacky wrote that of course we grieve the person we lost. But she felt there was more to it than that. She felt those who have never grieved don’t understand there is so much more that is lost. When her partner died she found that everything they had together and shared together was gone. Those things were still there, but they were not the same. All those things they had looked forward to, the marriage of their daughter, the birth of the first grandchild, retirement together and so much more. There was a future they had planned to have together. That togetherness was all lost.

Max reflected on Paul McCartney’s song “When I’m 64” and how Paul McCartney never got to experience that with Linda McCartney. He wondered how Paul McCartney felt about losing that future. He agreed with Jacky. The lost future is so hard to come to terms with. It had never occurred to him before his wife died that the future was another loss.

Paula looked at this lost future from another perspective. She considered it to be a double whammy. You lost the person you love and they are no longer in your life. You feel so alone and lonely. But she also grieved for the things her partner, Pam, was missing. It hurt to realise Pam was missing the things she had so looked forward to. She felt so guilty enjoying the things Pam was missing.

Larry wrote that he had just seen grief as a sad time following the death of this person you have loved. He had considered all you had to do was push through the grief until you reached the other side. That is certainly what our society teaches us.

Larry came to the course because he could not find the other side and he was expecting to find the other side. Now he was realising that there was no other side.

He realised you didn’t battle on and push through. There was surrender to the all-consuming grief. There was adjustment to the new reality. There was acceptance of what was now.

He wrote that he saw that grief was not something to complete. Some task on a to do list that you finished and moved on from. Grief was something he was finding he had to endure. Grief had become part of who he was. It had changed who he was and how he saw the world. He had come to realise he was a different person now, and always would be.

There was a new reality now.

Kyle’s reflection was particularly poignant. He was angry when his daughter died. He was angry at the unfairness of death. Why was something he constantly asked. He had questions, doubts and fears. He asked death and was met with silence. When he wasn’t angry he was so broken. He felt his heart would never mend. He struggled to accept the reality of losing his daughter. He found the anger had passed, but he would never be okay with his little girl’s death. He found that his love for her was tinged with the pain of grief. He wrote that the anger had passed and all he was left with was the overwhelming wish to have her here.

So powerful.

A vivid description of the tumultuous nature of grief.

I find these reflections so powerful and pertinent. So often I have people come to see me who are finding it really hard to deal with these things that the group participants talked about. It is such a struggle particularly to accept the things your loved one will never get to do. It can feel like a betrayal when you enjoy these new things and they can’t.

That is a really difficult thing for people to learn to live with.

The other thing that so many talk about is the loneliness. It is not a pleasant loneliness. It is a loneliness that cries of loss and pain. A loneliness that is really hard to be with. It doesn’t matter if the loved one was a partner, parent, child or friend. That loneliness. That feeling of not wanting to be alone. That is very real and very present for many people.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief journey, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

“Demeter’s Journey” my grief and loss group, will be running with limited numbers in May. More information will be posted in the next few weeks.

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

A basic guide to dealing with loss and grief

I post frequent blogs about aspects of grief but have not posted a basic guide. I have had requests to do that so that is what I am writing about today.

No matter where you live, no matter who is around you, it is highly unlikely you will get through life without ever losing someone or something that matters to you.

You can lose belongings, your job, your home, your car, friendships, your familiar environment if you move away, your country if you emigrate, a beloved pet, a close friend, a grandparent, a parent, a sibling, a child and so on.

It doesn’t matter how young or old you are. It is hard losing something or someone. It is shocking, hard to believe, sad, a cause for anger, upsetting, painful, disorienting, devastating and many more feelings to numerous to mention.

You will respond to loss differently to another person, even one who has experienced the same loss. You may feel such intense feelings you feel you are going to explode. You may feel numb and empty. You may find it hard to stay still. You may feel you can’t eat. You may find it impossible to sleep at night. You may feel unwell and even get sick. You may feel you are learning to live with it and then something will happen and the feelings will come flooding back.

The most common belief about loss is that it relates to the death of a loved one. That is a major loss, but not the only one. As I already mentioned, there are many other ways we experience loss. For ease of understanding, I will refer to loss as due to death. But you can apply what I write to all the above situations and more.

Losing someone/thing involves a shattering of trust. It may just be a small trust issue or it may involve your whole world. The world you trusted in has just let you down. Someone you have loved is not there any more. You trusted the world to deliver the certainty of each day being as you wanted and the people in it carrying on as always. But that hasn’t happened. Now the world is an uncertain place and that is hard to comprehend.

Alongside this are your feelings. How do you handle all the terrible feelings you are experiencing? You may want to cry. A lot. You may just want to lie in bed and never get up. You may not feel like eating. You may feel guilty if you feel happy, or laugh at something. You may find just the act of living overwhelming. You may find you are focused on keeping on going and worry you are not upset enough.

Remember, everyone grieves differently. You have things you need to do. The world does not stop moving. As Paul Kelly wrote in his song “Feelings of grief”

I go about my day

There’s always somebody to pay

They just won’t go away

Nor will these feelings of grief.

The world does not stop because you are grieving.

How do you manage this grief and loss?

The first thing is to allow yourself to cry. Don’t try to hold all the feelings you have in. If you want to be angry, be angry. If you want to cry, cry. If you want to laugh, laugh. All feelings are valid. Don’t judge yourself for the feelings you have.

Ignore those who tell you that you should be over the grief by now. Or you should ignore the feelings in get on with life. You know your needs. Don’t expect to be miraculously feeling better for a long time.

Allow yourself time to yourself away from the world if that is what you need. Allow yourself to spend time alone if that is what you need.

Be okay smiling and laughing, and even having the occasional moment of light heartedness. This does not mean you are uncaring and forgetting the one you have lost. It is part of life to have different moods.

It is really important you get your chance to say goodbye. Not everyone can go to the funeral of a loved one. Even if you do, it may not be the right time to say goodbye. Find your way to say goodbye in your time.

Allow yourself to share your feelings with a trusted friend or counsellor. It is important you not suppress your feelings and deny them. Do not tell yourself other people need more attention than you do. You need as much attention as everyone else who is grieving. If you are caring for others, it is vital you attend to your grief needs or your ability to care for others will be impaired. You matter and your needs are important.

Be kind and compassionate with yourself. You need time to recover. You need understanding for the times when your emotions impact your behaviour and coping ability. Give yourself some slack.

Avoid taking alcohol or drugs. They may dull your pain, but they also prevent you from feeling it and attending to it properly. They will delay your healing and prolong your pain.

Try not to take out your feelings on others. Try to maintain an awareness of what is happening and give yourself space when you feel overwhelmed.

Never hide your feelings because you think another person will be harmed by seeing you sad. You can have your feelings and be supportive of others. In fact, you will be more supportive if you share your feelings.

I have included the lyrics to the song “Feelings of Grief” by Paul Kelly.

Feelings of grief

Breaking over me

Wave after wave like the rolling sea

These feelings of grief

Time without end

I’m gonna miss you, my friend

How do you suppose this world will ever mend

Or this heart play again?

I go about my day

There’ s always somebody to pay

They just won’t go away

Nor will these feelings of grief

Feelings of grief

Blinding me with tears

Everything that’s dear, piece by piece disappears

And all that remains are these feelings of grief

All I have, feelings of grief

Grief

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

What if anxiety is a good thing?

You know the feeling. You start feeling frightened and scared. Your heart starts racing. Your mouth feels dry. You don’t feel comfortable.

All these are symptoms of anxiety.

It may be a reaction to a particular situation. Or it may be a regular feeling you feel most of the time.

Anxiety is not a pleasant feeling.

That is the way your body designs it.

It is a feeling you are required to pay attention to. To respond to.

If you never learned in childhood to see anxiety as a positive thing, then it is unlikely to feel positive now in adulthood.

If that feeling accompanied traumatic events in your childhood, then you are unlikely to see it as positive.

Anxiety may well be a sign you have been triggered and thrown into a reaction you cannot control.

That type of reaction is one you will probably only learn to control with counselling.

But there are other times when you feel anxiety, even times when the anxious feeling comes before you are triggered.

These are the times you can work with.

I mentioned earlier that our body designs anxiety to be paid attention to.

What if you saw anxiety as something positive. As your body producing energy to allow you to meet a challenging situation. Your body getting ready to attend to the challenging situation.

What if you realised that the more challenging the situation is, the more energy your body produces to attend to the challenge.

When you were a child, you did not have the skills to attend to those challenges without help. If you had help, then you learned anxiety was something you could handle.

If you didn’t have help, you learned that anxiety was something you could not handle.

Now you are an adult and you can handle the anxiety and the challenges that come with it.

Try welcoming those anxious feelings next time. Tell them you know they are there to give you the energy to meet the challenging. Thank the anxiety for letting you know it is there to help. It won’t feel pleasant, but you might find you meet the challenge.

And after the challenge, thank the anxiety for showing you that you were able to handle the situation.

This is no magic pill, but over time it will help you change your attitude to anxiety.

As for those major triggers of your trauma, with counselling you can learn how to work with them too.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your anxious feelings and trauma triggers, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

6 lies society tells you about Grief

Before you lost someone you loved, what did you believe about grief?

Did you believe that you got over it?

So now you have lost someone you love.

Do you still believe you can get over it?

Do you believe you are living in the past when you remember the one you loved?

Do you believe you are developing some terrible “grief disorder” because you don’t feel like moving on with life?

About 8 years ago one of the major manuals that lists mental health disorders, the DSM, released a new update, Number 5. In this update it listed grief as a mental health disorder. At the time there was widespread criticism of this pathologising of a totally natural life event. One thing it did was give people no time to get over their feelings of grief.

Sadly, I notice that its narrow view on the time span of grief is being adopted by many practitioners including your local family doctor.

So what are the current lies about grief?

1. You should be able to just bounce back.

Really? You deeply love someone. They have become part of your life, a part of you. Your brain has developed neural connections to that person. Then they are gone. Part of you has died. Those neural connections are still searching for that person.

Other people can’t see the damaged parts. But they are still there. You are different. You don’t fit the “old you” mould. You are now a different person with the bit your loved one occupied missing.

A neuroscientist will tell you that your brain has to rebuild the neural networks that connected you to the one you loved. That physically hurts and it throws your brain into confusion. And that brings me to the next lie.

2. You should be able to just slip back into your old life and routines.

Really? Your brain is working hard breaking down old neural pathways and developing new ones. This throws you into confusion as all the neural pathways that connected to the one you love’s special pathway have to sever their connections too.

You have changed. You are different. Your brain is in total confusion. You may even have lost the purpose you once had in life. You may have lost the reason you get out of bed in the morning.

But you are still expected to front up to work. You are still expected to celebrate all those events in life that you once felt happy about, friend’s happy events, the Christmases, the New Years. The list goes on. But be a good person and be happy for everyone else.

You will be expected to accept that when you cook dinner, you may cook a smaller dinner. When you wash your clothes, the washing machine may be less full. When you go shopping, you mayneed to buy less and even not buy things that only your loved one used. You may see something in a shop your loved one would have loved and then remember they are not here anymore for you to give it to them. And you will be expected to accept that.

People will expect you to make them feel comfortable, so no unexpected tears.

You will experience pressure to carry on as if nothing has happened and you will think you are wrong because everyone is telling you to do this.

3. You should be over it by now.

Should you? Do you have to get over it? Do you want to get over it?

Never forget that you are the only person who has the right to tell you what you should be thinking.

I understand that it is not pleasant to feel so miserable. I get that sometimes you may cling to what someone is telling you about getting over it already, because you are so tired of feeling miserable.

You will never really get over it. That part of you that was occupied by the one you love will always hurt. Maybe you will not cry as often as you have, but that loss of that loved one will always be there.

4. You should stop thinking about, talking about, reminiscing about your loved one.

Ever noticed how uncomfortable people are about talking about those who have died?

Ever noticed how this becomes a taboo subject?

Many people draw great comfort from talking about their love one, particularly in the early days, weeks, months, years of losing them. Just as we will reminisce with friends and family about stories from our earlier years, so we will reminisce about those who are no longer with us.

Talking about someone also honours them. I loved it when my grandmother talked about her brother who died in World War 1. It made him alive and I liked that. Our connections to the past are important.

What I find curious is that reminiscing about a funny event from childhood is considered normal, but reminiscing about something done with the one you love is treated like living in the past and terribly unhealthy.

I wonder at the discomfort of those who try to shut you down at times like this. What are they so frightened of?

5. You have to stop this grief nonsense and move on with your life.

Why?

This statement is often accompanied by some comment about how much your pain is hurting others and should be stopped immediately. This just heaps guilt on to you, because suddenly you are being made accountable for the feelings of others. Their feelings are not your concern. Your feelings are.

Don’t allow yourself to be rushed. It is not unusual to need to just sit in the remains of your old life and spend time there. Some day, you will build a new life. It won’t look like the old life, but it will be your life.

6. I could have stopped this/prevented this.

This one is a goodie. It goes well with its partner “should have”. I should have seen this coming. I should have told him not to go there. I should have checked she had her bike helmet on before she went out. I should have gone too.

As if you have that much control over other people and what happens to them.

Time to let go of the idea that you have control over your life and accept that there is much of life that is uncertain. Then give yourself the time to grieve.

Right now you don’t trust life very much. It wasn’t so reliable as you thought it was. Now you add that to the list of things you need to process on this grief journey.

7. Time will heal the pain.

This is a good one. As time passes you will begin to feel more in control, able to feel happy, able to laugh. That much is true. But time will not heal the pain. You will always hurt over the loss of your loved one.

Your life has been forever changed.

Maybe in ten years you will remember something you and your loved one did. At that moment you will maybe shed a tear or two. You may feel an incredible sadness. You may feel a deep love for them. You may even laugh at the humour of that moment. This doesn’t mean the pain is healed. It just means you have been able to build a life that includes that pain in it.

I saw a lovely quote once by a man called John Green. He said “Grief does not change you … It reveals you.”

I love that quote. With the grief I have experienced I can see that quote expresses it so well. I have become the person I am today because of the ones I loved who are no longer here. I know that I could not have become that person I am today if those I have lost in the past were still here. I have allowed grief to guide me and allow me to be the person I am today. And I have those I have lost in the past to thank for that. This is their legacy.

5 steps to being a calmer driver

In our busy lives there is much to trigger our ancient defence mechanisms of fight or flight. Unfortunately that can lead to a range of outcomes from road rage incidents to increased stress.

It is particularly hard to stay calm when there is heavy traffic, or when you are stuck behind someone driving well below the speed limit on a single lane road.

But using mindfulness can help you to stay calm. The more you practice it, the easier it will become.

Here is how you can use mindfulness to calm down while driving:

  1. Take a slow, deep in breath into the bottom of your chest and belly. Then let that breath out slowly. This sends your brain a calm down, everything is okay, message. This gentle pause allows you to stop and think. It allows you to decide how you are going to respond, rather than blindly reacting.
  2. Ask the question “What do you need”? It is an important question and helps you to think about how you will respond to what is happening around you.
  3. Act on what you need. Maybe you need to relax. Give your body a quick mini shake and allow the tension to leave. Is there anywhere in your body that is particularly tense? Focus on releasing the tension. It can be helpful to tense that part and then release it. Continue your slow, deep in breaths. As you breathe and release tension in your body, say things like “May I feel calm, may I feel safe, may I feel relaxed”.
  4. Now notice the other cars around you. Recognise that the drivers in those cars want what you want. They want to get to their destination. They want to be safe. As you continue to breath slow, deep in breaths, say to the other drivers “May you feel calm, may you feel safe, may you feel relaxed”.
  5. Continue to focus on slow, deep inbreaths. Monitor your feelings. If you start to feel frustrated or upset, pay attention to what is happening there and attend to it.

Using this method regularly, as well as daily mindfulness practice, will help you to learn to be a calmer, less stressed driver.

What takes the place of what sorrow has shaken from your heart?

“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.” ~ Rumi

That is a radical thought. It is also, for the person struggling with grief, somewhat trite and quite a put down.

This is a quotation I would never give to someone who is in the first few years of grieving the loss of a loved one.

What is this quotation really saying?

The first sentence is that Sorrow prepares you for Joy.

Not something you wish to hear when you are grieving.

But there is more to it than the first sentence suggests.

Sorrow violently sweeps everything out of your life. Rumi suggests that this creates a vacuum that allows a space for new joy to enter.

Sorrow shakes the old dead and dying leaves from the bough of your heart and makes room for new leaves, fresh and green, to grow.

Sorrow pulls up the roots in your life that are rotten. It allows the new roots room to grow.

Sorrow shakes much from your heart and allows better things to take their place.

I have mentioned I would never give this quotation to a person in the first few years of grieving.

But I might consider giving it to someone who has come to the point of spending more time on the tasks of living than on the tasks of grieving.

Such a time is inevitable. There will come a time when you start to feel you are living again. A time when the love of the person you have lost is less likely to feel like a knife through the heart.

There is a point in the journey of grief when the griever wonders if there will every be a life lived in the sun again.

This quotation is a beautiful reminder of life after grief.

Yes, you will want to laugh again and not feel guilty.

Yes, you will want to make plans and do new things.

You may even be able to love other people again.

Your life will continue and far better things will take the place of the pain and sorrow.

You will always miss that person, but you will live again.

When the road of grief has been long and tiring and you just want to know there is a point where it will not be so hard, remember this. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with finding life after bereavement, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

The freeze defence response

Some time ago I wrote about the fawn defence response.

This is most commonly seen as people pleasing, where a person changes their behaviour to not cause offence to others.

Many of my readers found this really helpful to understand their people pleasing behaviour as a defence response.

Today I want to talk about the next least known defence response.

This is the freeze response.

This happens when your brain decides social connection, fight, flight or fawn will not work to keep you safe.

We have all heard the stories of the person who “froze as though dead” when running away from a bear.

You often see this response in injured animals. The animal “plays dead”. It freezes and you may think it is dead. It may however recover once you are gone.

In a person the freeze response may cause them to collapse. Or they may remain upright but totally unresponsive. They may just look as though they are not there and not respond to you.

If it happens to you, you may be aware of other people but unable to respond to them. Or you may dissociate. That means you will send your mind somewhere else. Somewhere where it is safe. You may feel numb. You may have no sensation of pain.

You may experience this response in many situations.

Being attacked is an obvious one.

Being threatened by another person is another one.

Your freeze response may be triggered by events of the past. If you were an abused child, you may find it hard to leave a situation where another person is speaking to you abusively.

You may go to a family get together and find yourself unable to walk away from a family member who was abusive in the past. You want to walk away, but your body won’t respond.

You may find yourself unable to walk into a situation that frightens you, such as a meeting with the boss.

You may find yourself out with a group of people, going along with them but wanting to leave and finding you are not able to make the move to leave.

These are all freeze responses.

The freeze response is not always understood.

One sad story I heard was of a woman who had been raped when younger. He had a knife and was very violent. She was terrified. She found herself unable to move and fight off her attacker. All she was able to do was lie there and hope he didn’t kill her. She felt frozen.

She was experiencing a freeze response.

Years later she told her daughter about the event. Her daughter was astonished. Why didn’t you fight him, or run away? The woman tried to explain, but her daughter could not conceive of being unable to move. She did not understand the freeze response.

That woman felt so inadequate. She felt she had done something wrong.

She questioned whether she had tried hard enough to get away.

When she came for counselling she was able to learn that she had done nothing wrong. Her body had frozen to protect her.

We can’t always prevent bad things happening, but our bodies can sometimes work to minimise the damage.

That is where the fawn and freeze responses work. Sometimes we come to no harm, other times they minimise the harm.

If you have been in a freeze response, you have been in a terrifying situation. You will often need counselling to help process and heal what has happened.

As a trauma trained counsellor, I have the skills to help you attend to what needs to be healed. If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz