Healing is An Inside Job
The human body is an amazing and complex system, and understanding how it works is essential for true healing. Most people are beginning to understand the importance of physical and emotional health, but few understand the connection between the two. That connection is fascia, the connective tissue that runs throughout the body and hold every blood vessel, bone, nerve fiber, and muscle in place.
Fascia is also responsible for the transmission of neurotransmitters (e.g. serotonin, dopamine, acetylcholine) throughout your body. This connective tissue transmits hormones such as adrenaline and oxytocin throughout your body as well. What does this all mean? The long and the short is that your fascia is deeply intertwined with the nervous system.
Fascia plays a major role in how we physically experience stress, including traumatic events. When the body experiences trauma, it creates tension in the fascia that can cause pain and limit movement. This tension can become chronic and prevent the body from healing completely. When emotional trauma occurs, the body also responds by creating tension in the fascia. Lack of moment, emotional stress, physical injury, and previous unresolved trauma can lead to physical and physiological changes to the fascia, which is often then associated with the symptoms most frequently seen in patients with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic pain, and inflammation.
If you scroll throughout this blog, it is apparent I frequently refer to the vagus nerve in my posts. To briefly review what the vagus nerve is, the vagus nerve plays a key role in communicating changes that occur within the fascia to your brain. The vagus nerve assists in maintaining the channels of communication between the brain and body that helps regulate your autonomic nervous system (ANS). The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) which is associated with fight or flight will increase the speed at which your body wants to respond or react to stimuli and the vagus nerve provides a steady brake to slow things down. In situations that are traumatic or life threatening, this “emergency brake” can kick in abruptly, bringing you to a sudden and hard stop. Sometimes this may result in physical symptoms including nausea, dizziness, or fainting.
Fascia is the largest sensory organ in your body and its primary role is to communicate information about what is happening in your body to your brain. When we experience trauma, we either move into freeze (immobility) or faint. If this trauma response does not resolve we can feel stuck and over time, lose our connection to our bodily sensations. We may feel more disconnected or dissociated.
When working to heal trauma, it is so important to understand how these vital physiological and anatomical structures play a pivotal role in not only recovering from traumatic events, but to also understand how we can work with these structures using mind-body sensory awareness. The key is to progress slowly on the path towards reconnecting with your body and restoring a relationship to your body after trauma.
Your Mind and Body Be-Lung Together
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.
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!
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
March 1st, The Beach Boys & Love
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.
Therapy and The Beatles
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!
Therapy and The Whole Person Perspective
I am a huge advocate for using a strengths-based perspective. So when I meet with someone for session, I am going to ask "what's strong in you?" rather than "what's wrong in you?"
When I would have resident physicians shadow me as a therapist in Tallahassee, I would often get asked questions that focused on finding connection with adolescents and finding ways to get to the roots of presenting mental health issues.
I will never forget a specific conversation I had with a resident one day. He told me that during his rotation in the emergency room, he said he had seen an adolescent patient who attempted suicide by slitting his/her wrists and didn't know where to begin or how to begin talking to the teenager. I encouraged him to start where the patient is.
Through his lens, it would have been expected of the resident to look at the physical cuts to the wrists and begin treatment there. But I invited him to acknowledge that patient, that person's pain. Yes, physical pain is obvious, but clearly that person was in a kind of pain that modern medicine, no matter how advanced, could not directly touch.
That kind of pain can be more significant than any physical pain you or I can experience considering we can find refuge in knowing a blood test, IV infusion, or over the counter prescription can locate the root of the issue and give us relief.
Healing begins the moment we feel heard. So why are we not making greater efforts to listen?
Amy Pope-Latham, LCSW is a board certified mental health professional in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL.