Breathing is seriously underrated. Did you know you could improve your mood, contain anxiety, enhance sports performance, and pump the breaks just by taking a few breaths?
In previous posts, I have talked about the vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system. In short, the vagus nerve connects the brain to everything from the tongue, pharynx, vocal chords, lungs, heart, stomach, and intestines to different glands in the body that produce enzymes and hormones, influencing digestion, metabolism, and much more.
The vagus nerve's influence on your lungs and heart and the connection to your brain is pretty awesome, considering this trio combined controls your body and governs your mind. To manage your state of mind and stress levels, all you have to do is activate the calming parasympathetic branches of the nervous system.
Note: we typically do not have direct control over our nervous system, and we can't just press a button to turn the parasympathetic pathways on like a light switch. However, if you try to hold your breath for just a brief moment and then intentionally exhale very slowly, you can stimulate the vagus nerve and begin to feel grounded within your body and mind.
In other words, I am encouraging you to train your breath. Swimmers are exceptionally good at this skill. Yoga is another activity that focuses on breath with movement. By actively focusing on your breath and the movements of your diaphragm, your autonomic nervous system will begin to communicate with your lungs, heart, and other organs for instant relaxation.
Try to activate your own vagus nerve! How? Simply breathe out very slowly. Can you feel how your heart rate slows and your mind relaxes instantly?
Although I am writing about a new skill, I am still encouraging you to learn from yourself. You are your best friend. Nobody knows you and your situation better than yourself. If and when you need the support, I will be here for you. Just let me know if I can help.
What are the Yips?
The yips are technically defined as sudden motor skill failure. A perfectly executed pitch is necessary to strike out the opponent at bat; a football kicked in between the goal posts can be the game winning goal; or a single short putt is necessary to win the tournament. Suddenly the athlete's hands or feet cramp up, and the shot or pitch goes wide. There is no clear explanation as to why pro athletes become inflicted by the yips, but studies suggest the yips are due to abnormalities in the electrochemical dialogue that occurs between neurotransmitters in the brain.
From a mental health perspective, overthinking appears to intensify the yips. In other words, concentrating too much may overshadow other important areas in the brain activated during sport, such as balance and timing. From my experience, athletes have a unique responsibility to compartmentalize on and off the field. With this in mind, sometimes the mental real estate being occupied and compartmentalized become overwhelmed. Thoughts, stressors, traumas, and underlying mental health issues such as anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder begin colluding with the areas of the brain that are focused specifically on sport performance. In my professional opinion, this is where I have found to be the sweet spot where athletes will get in his or her own way of performing a skill.
From my experience working with many athletes who have struggled with the yips, it is my professional opinion that athletes are not all doomed the first time they feel like they are experiencing this level of sport anxiety. I encourage coaches, athletes, and sports personnel alike to talk about the yips and mental health. Working with a mental health professional, or coach for the brain and body can greatly help athletes address the underlying issues causing the yips so he or she can get back in the game.
Signs and symptoms of the Yips:
-Physically responding in sport with jerking movements or freezing on a skill that was previously easy to execute
-Muscles feel tight or sore, interfering with ability to complete a skill
-Anxiety, tension, and feeling overwhelmed about completing a skill or task
-Performance anxiety about what others will think
-Repetitive and intrusive thoughts about the outcome of a skill and/or incompletion
Most frequently, the first line of defense is to search for quick fixes, promising lasting results with high rate of failure and relapse.
Welcome to a new week! I want to briefly revisit a really cool moment I had this past weekend. The way the sky transformed during sunset on Saturday evening reminded me of something super important: without darkness, you really can't appreciate the light. Try and repeat the words in the sentence out loud:
Without darkness, you really can't appreciate the light.
If you notice the contrast between the two images below, you can really observe how the colors in the sky become even more vivid as the sky begins to darken. With this being said, we all experience dark moments in our unique lives. As a therapist, I generally notice the most significant pain my clients have endured stems from a moment in time he or she lost hope.
Instead of taking a "what is wrong with you?" approach, I specifically become curious to learn "what is strong in you?". THAT right there is the source of light. If a client can give himself or herself permission to touch the wound and go towards the darkness just for one moment, he or she can truly begin the healing process. Gradually clients can then begin to understand his or her story with greater compassion and appreciate just how strong he or she truly is. SPOILER ALERT: therapy doesn't "make" someone stronger. Good therapy empowers a person to become self-aware and recognize that he or she already has tremendous strength.
This is a personal thing that I do as a therapist and each therapist has his or her own style of conducting therapy: I frequently check in with my clients and evaluate the progress he or she is making in therapy. Checking in during the thick of the therapeutic process is critical in not only ensuring that a client and therapist are on the same page but to also offer a moment to pause in therapy and celebrate progress the client has made since the first session. No matter the speed or direction, progress is continuous movement towards a desired goal.
Last Saturday I was so fortunate to take part in a Pure Barre class at the Jacksonville Jaguars Flex Field. The class was led by the owners of the Jacksonville and Ponte Vedra Beach Pure Barre studios and the field was packed! Pure Barre among other activities such as looking for shark teeth, surfing, are just some of the ways I nourish my own wellness. When I am well, I am able to connect with my clients, be more attentive and creative in my work. In taking time to prioritize my own wellness, I am able to be authentic and nurture my razor-sharp ability to attune to the needs of my clients.
Wellness is one of the critical factors in being a mental health care provider. Wellness is especially important because mental health providers are one of the primary instruments in their own work. I feel it is incredibly important to walk the talk when it comes to offering a model of wellness or self care for clients.
There are a variety of existing methods already in place to improve self-care. However, self-awareness is the first step to identify and configure a formula that will work best to create homeostasis between work, play, giving and receiving, accomplishing tasks, and doing absolutely nothing. The key to ongoing and lasting change is to pay attention to you and your body. Whatever profession you are in, the work itself can get in the way of your own wellness. And although you may be full of wellness tips for others, knowledge doesn't always translate into action for yourself. Awareness is the catalyst to change and if you can give yourself permission to change one thing, start small. Perhaps you will decide to change routine on your way home from work by practicing sets of deep breathing at each red light. Or take a moment to go outside just to feel the warmth of your sun on your skin during a bathroom break. How do you incorporate wellness into your routine? Share by leaving a comment below!
Connection between client and therapist is so important, if not the MOST important factor in any type of helping relationship. And like meeting new friends or dating, you aren't going to click with everyone and that is okay!
I feel that one of the best things about therapy is the abundance of therapists out there, and if you decide a therapist isn't a good match for you, then you don't need to go back! Of course, if you make the decision to find a new therapist, I encourage letting the existing therapist know. He or she may offer a session at no cost to you where he or she can offer a termination session. Termination is a gradual and completely NORMAL process of therapy and technically begins the first session of therapy. Your therapist should support this concept in treatment.
So where to begin? Please keep these things in mind when searching for a therapist you will vibe with:
I recently came across an article on the NBA's official website from March 12, 2019, describing a league-wide mental health initiative taking aim at addressing mental health and wellness issues for players.
This is wonderful news for athletes, the NBA, and families and loved ones of athletes as well! The battles professional athletes have with mental health issues shows that money nor fame can solve everything. More importantly, it shows mental illness does not discriminate. It can affect anyone.
Whether you are struggling with a mental health illness, or you simply want to perform better mentally, the first step to working on your mental-emotional health is to be unapologetically open with yourself and recognize the emotions you are feeling. Above all, don't feel scared to reach out if you need someone to talk to. I am here to support you in all areas of your health.
Mental health matters to everyone and I think this is an amazing step in the right direction for our athletes! You can read the original article by clicking here.
What kind of space are you holding for others? Ask yourself this: am I listening to really hear what someone has to say? Or am I listening to respond?
If you listen to respond you will communicate with defensiveness. If you listen with curiosity you will communicate validation.
When your child, partner, friend, and so forth wants to share something with you, he or she wants to be heard. Listen with curiosity, reflect what you heard, and offer validation even if you don't agree. Often times I am approached by parents who are seeking guidance to better understand and "get through" to his or her child. My response is usually simple and to the effect of: "Your child is telling you what they want and how they feel, the solution is to hear what he or she is saying". Seriously. Communicating with children and adolescents is easy when barriers to understanding are removed and words are genuinely heard. I always say, "healing begins the moment we feel heard". If or when you find yourself in a dialogue with your child, spouse, friend, and so forth, I invite you to really take a moment to listen and hear what is being said.
Think of your mind as real estate property. Each time the wheels in your mind begin turning (e.g. thinking of a response, forming a judgment) the valuable property in your mind is being sold to ownership by judgment, emotion, and/or defensive thought. Using this metaphorical mental space example, giving the real estate to listening just to hear, sets the conditions for the development of mental property that is free from judgment and can gain equity through mutual understanding and connection. Remember, you can decide at any moment to designate the real estate in your mind to become open to limitless possibilities, including the possibility of holding a space for someone else to heal and feel safe.
With all this big said, there is a beautiful quote I am so excited to share with you today and it is right below these final sentences. I hope you have a great start to your week!
"The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention...A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words" - Rachel Naomi Remen
It was such an honor to spend time with one of my most beloved musical artists, Mike Love last Friday here in Jacksonville, Florida. Mike's son, Christian performed lead vocals for "God Only Knows" during this performance and it was truly a beautiful moment in time to be part of the experience. Amazing how a musical performance can really pump the breaks on the world as it exists for just a moment.
I came across this AWESOME picture by Michelle Rial the other day. Without hesitation I printed it, framed it, and now get to have this in my office to share with my clients.
I always find a way to incorporate The Beatles into my practice as a therapist and I am delighted to share this with you as well!
Enjoy your Friday and welcome to the month of March!
Hope you are having a great week so far! I want to share one of my most beloved quotes with you. This one is by Alan Cohen:
"Personal growth is not a matter of learning new information but of unlearning old limits"
Re-read it, let it marinate, and give yourself permission to notice where or how the quote "hits" you. Maybe the quote does nothing for you. Maybe it does something for you. Whatever your experience, become an observer just for this moment. What do you notice? Share your thoughts below!
Amy Pope-Latham, LCSW is a clinical psychotherapist in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL.