Invite Your Anxiety to Tea

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Much of this article by Allison Brunner, LCSW, is reprinted from Natural Awakenings magazine’s (Lancaster/Berks edition) November 2016 issue.

Many of us know it well: a gnawing in the pit of the stomach, an ache in the chest, shallow breathing, rapid heartbeat or a lump in the throat. Roughly 40 million Americans (or 18 percent of the population above the age of 18), according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, experience anxiety as a full-blown disorder.

Most of us encounter the symptoms from time to time. Hardwired to avoid pain, we do everything we can to self-distract or problem-solve our way out. We try to convince ourselves we’re “worrying about nothing”. In cognitive approaches to psychotherapy, too, we examine the validity of the thoughts that create suffering and attempt to assuage our fears by labeling them irrational.

But how effective has that been for you?

Running and thinking (or arguing with our thoughts) exacerbate angst. The worse we feel, the more afraid we tend to become, wondering how long the discomfort will last or whether it may worsen and turn us crazy. Our minds are adept at tricking us into believing that what’s really a mouse in the closet is a six-foot monster with fangs.

What if we tuned into our bodies when the symptoms, like little lights on an automobile dashboard, indicated distress? What if we pulled up a chair and invited our anxiety to tea, so to speak? When we take the opportunity to face it, feel it and get to know it a little better, it calms. We can drop beneath it and find that where it was trying to turn our attention is an emotion that is far more tolerable than panic or fear. There may be sadness, grief, disappointment or anger—only a mouse when compared to the anxiety monster.

Try the following next time the body-mind gets noisy.

Find a safe, quiet space where you can turn your attention inward. It’s best to sit on the floor and allow yourself to feel the support of the earth beneath you. Squeeze all of the breath out of your belly, if you can; then fill it first, before your lungs, with fresh air. Notice whether your body is holding tension and relax if you’d like.

Let go of thinking. There is no future, not even a few minutes from now. There is only this moment. Breathe.

Enhance your feeling of safety by focusing on an object in the room that gives you pleasure. Notice the quality of light where you’re seated. Feel the texture of your clothing against your skin. Notice any sounds, smells, the taste in your mouth.

Where in your body are you feeling anxious? What are the physical sensations that accompany it? Place your awareness in that area. How much space does it take up? Does it have a shape; is it solid or diffuse; does it have a temperature?

Stay out of story. Remove the labels (good, bad, awful, terrified) from what you’re feeling. Simply allow yourself to feel what you feel.

What does your body want to do? Does it want to curl into a ball while wrapped in blankets? Do you need to cry into a pillow or scream? Do you need to shake, punch or kick? Allow the release.

Emotions move like waves; they don’t last forever. Give yourself 15 to 30 minutes to ride this one, rather than being pummeled by it, and know that the nervous system will calm again. When we resist, anxiety persists and either somaticizes or intensifies.

Once the waters still, ask your body what it needs. Reconnect to your five senses and where you’re situated in time and space. Soothe yourself with a warm bath, lit candles, low lights or relaxing music. Make yourself a warm cup of tea. After you’ve braved this storm, those in the future will feel more manageable.

Body Talks Therapy owner, coach, healer, and facilitator of a community of Highly Sensitive People, Allison Brunner, LCSW, will facilitate a workshop on Thursday, May 11, 7:15pm to 8:45pm, at Mulberry Art Studios’ Mulberry on King, 253 W. King St., Lancaster (off-street parking is available against the side of the building, near the entrance. Join us for a combination of psychoeducation, hands-on learning, and experiential practice of tools for coping with and minimizing or even eliminating your symptoms of anxiety as a way of protecting yourself against the emotions that scare you.

Bring a pen and paper or journal. If you prefer to express yourself through art or music, bring the tools to do so. We’ll engage in body awareness and somatic work (grounding and resourcing), mindfulness practice and strategies, guided visualization, “parts work,” and journaling.

RSVP and pay here in advance. For questions, contact info@bodytalkstherapy.com.

Allison Brunner, LSCW, RM, Body Talks Therapy

Movement Medicine: a Somatic Approach to Personal Transformation

When the music started, I lay on the hardwood floor. Heaviness spread from my abdomen to my chest. I’d come to dance class to begin mending my heart, aching from a recent loss. But I wasn’t yet ready to move.

At the corner of the room, a friend yelped. And as the beat quickened, another dancer stomped and grunted. I realized I wasn’t alone. This was a venue where all feelings—and a variety of expressions, no matter how primal or odd-looking—were welcome.

So I closed my eyes, connected to my physical sensation of grief, and played with all of the ways it wanted to move (and not move).  Noticing the tears in my eyes, peers stepped near and around me, smiled and bowed, then allowed me space to process my feelings on my own. The group provided emotional support and a container for my emotions. With each song and successive rhythm, I experimented with tightening my body to resist the pain then expanding and breathing long, full breaths to allow it more space to be felt.

“I see dance being used as communication between body and soul, to express what is too deep to find for words.”  —Ruth St. Denis

Most of us know the physical and mental health benefits of dance: it stimulates the release of endorphins, thus reducing pain, lifting our mood, burning calories, increasing metabolism, and prompting our lymph system to flush toxins. More intriguing to me as a licensed therapist and psychospiritual healer is the opportunity authentic movement affords us to reconnect with our spirit through somatic (or body) awareness. In a culture more inclined to process life challenges through the mind or to approach personal growth via intellect, dance offers a deeper, more transformative experience: aligned with our true selves, we can transmute thought-induced suffering and shift long-term our limiting beliefs about ourselves and the world.

Human beings need time for self-contemplation, meditation, or any sort of activity that helps us get in touch with our subconscious or inner process or to see how or where we get stuck. Through mindful movement, we can meet ourselves in a new (and perhaps more enjoyable) way, noticing the postures and gestures that hint at our deeper patterns. We can also decide where we’d like to break free or choose a new way of walking in the world.

A ballet teacher pointed out to a peer when we were younger dancers that she tended to move along the sidelines or fold her shoulders shyly when in the center of the room. In a 5Rhythms class years later, she explored why it was important to stay small and noticed what happened as she experimented with taking up more space by making larger, more dramatic movements. Memories buried since childhood surfaced, and she reconnected with her younger, more creative self who once believed in her greatness. In time, her style became less rigid, more expressive, and thus began years of positive transitions for her in her career and relationships.

Movement Medicine, a transformational dance class starting Thursday, February 16, in downtown Lancaster, will encourage you to connect with what within you longs to be acknowledged, healed, and transformed. We’ll center and become present to ourselves first, noticing where in our bodies we experience our emotions. We’ll then go deeper, aided by carefully chosen tunes and rhythms, and dance with the parts of ourselves that are afraid or feel unworthy and the parts that long to thrive and align with our full potential and higher selves.

No previous dance experience is required and is in fact preferred, because you won’t have to unlearn any rules. If your aim is to look professional, graceful, or even “good” at it, you may perhaps reconsider your deeper motivation for this approach to inner alchemy. For, as a professional who is trained in body-centered depth work, I invite you to come as you are, with all of your shadow, your light, and everything in between. Allow genuineness and sincerity to guide you.

We’ll meet every first and third Thursday of the month at Mulberry Art Studios21. N. Mulberry St, Lancaster, PA, 7:15pm to 8:30pm. Off-street parking is available behind the building.

Drop-ins are welcome! Bring a new participant, and you each pay half so we can grow our community. To pay by credit in advance, RSVSP here. Cost is $20.

I look forward to meeting you on the dance floor.

Allison Brunner, LCSW, Body Talks Therapy

Highly Sensitive Mystics’ New Moon Meetup Starts Next Week

“One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul,” wrote Clarissa Pinkola Estés, poet, Jungian psychoanalyst, and author of Women Who Run With the Wolves, in her Letter to a Young Activist During Troubled Times. “Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it.”

You, members of the Body Talks community, are beacons of light. Some of you have been seeking opportunities to join forces with like-minded folks to beam more brightly in what a few of you have described “a tough time to be highly sensitive.”

Join me to do just that, during the moon’s darkest phase of the cycle, at the Highly Sensitive Mystics first New Moon meetup, Friday, January 27, 7:15pm to 8:30pm. There are four spaces remaining for those who want to meet in person at 237 N. Prince St., Suite 303, Lancaster (above the Lancaster Trophy House). Ten additional, from San Francisco to Philadelphia, may participate live online.

We’ll start the evening by introducing ourselves, then open sacred space in the manner taught to me by one of my teachers, a shaman and practitioner of the sacred energy medicine ways of the Q’ero and the Machi and the female shamans of the Chilean Mapuche. We’ll read poetry (bring your own or a song if you’d like), bless the Earth, and engage in meditation similar to Tonglen to benefit those special to us and to beings worldwide. We’ll hold space for each other and set intentions and burn them in fire, close the circle, and sample a little food and drink.

This will be a smaller, more intimate gathering. As our community grows, we’ll move into a larger space. Until then, please be sure to R.S.V.P. here whether you’re joining us in-person or via Google Hangouts; your payment of $5 reserves your spot. (If you’re a part of my Meetup.com group, I’ve already received your R.S.V.P.). You may also contact me to place you on a waiting list should one participant cancel in advance.

Reach out to me by Wednesday with any technical questions regarding Google Hangouts (make sure you have a Gmail address, and then meet us here a few minutes prior to the start of the event).

In the mean time, I leave you with more from Estés: “I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is — we were made for these times.”

That includes each one of you.

Allison Brunner, LCSW, Body Talks Therapy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Highly Sensitive People, Now More Than Ever the World Needs Our Medicine

The timing of this announcement, given what we have been facing in our communities, our nation, and internationally, feels significant.

Years of planetary chaos seemed in late-2016 to reach a crescendo. All that lay hidden in our shadows with regard to what in humankind wants to heal (greed, violence, hatred, separation or the illusion of “the other”) moved into the light of our collective awareness. The crisis, like a global-scale Herxheimer Reaction, prompted some of my friends and clients to ask how we can take responsibility for and help soothe the world’s woes and bring us back into balance.

Moved and inspired by your displays of tenderness, compassion, and commitment to serve, I’ve felt a soul yearning to support you bearers of light to ensure your missions are accomplished. In order to create a community for and attract more who are similar in characteristics and attributes, I’ve reflected on what you all have in common. I came to the conclusion that you (and I) are what clinical psychologist and researcher Dr. Elaine Aron refers to as Highly Sensitive People (or HSPs).

We process stimuli more thoroughly than the average person and feel more intensely than others. Often this means we’re more artistic, observant and conscientious, exhibit greater empathy, notice subtleties in our environments, identify imbalances as well as solutions, put others at ease, and hold a vision for what is possible in creating a better world. We’re artists, guides, coaches, healers, empaths, intuitives, inventors, philosophers, thought leaders, and sages.

Many HSPs are not aware that their sensory processing sensitivity trait, when acknowledged, understood, and honored, is a strength—nor the fact that it is the very medicine Earth and its inhabitants need now more than ever. When an ailing child cries out for comfort (as humanity seems to be doing more and more desperately these days), it is the embrace and nourishment of the wisest and most nurturing caregiver that can most effectively lull the little one’s pain.

That is the gift that you possess, HSPs. When our own nervous systems are balanced and our physical, emotional, and spiritual needs met, we’re an unstoppable force for positive transformation in our families, communities, and beyond.

And this is where I feel called to serve, beginning now, in this auspicious hour.

I’ve narrowed my niche, serving those among the 15 to 20 percent of the human population who identify as highly sensitive, by offering virtual and in-person emotional healing services, coaching, education, community, even transformational dance classes, so that you may heal yourself to heal the world, find support and power in numbers, and dare to shine your light far and wide.

Body Talks Therapy, the name of my new practice, is more than a nod to my somatic (or body-centered) approach to facilitating your self-empowerment; it acknowledges the sacredness of that which allows our spirits to live in form, where we can connect with our breath, with our five senses, and with our emotions, and experience the wonder, mystery, and miracle of being alive—even during turbulent times.

No one knows precisely what’s in store for the human race and for Earth, our beautiful home. But because of you, I am optimistic. With the unfolding of current events, I’ve witnessed your journey from shock and devastation to a willingness to peacefully rise up, embody your best selves, and to love others (regardless of their background or beliefs) with every bit of strength and resilience you have.

Since I was a child, I possessed a deep knowing that once I worked through my own pain and integrated much of my personal shadow with my light, I would play some kind of role in helping others do the same and to steer us in a direction that would serve humankind’s highest good. Often I felt isolated, unaware of those around me who were doing the same, and longed for a community of folks with a similar life purpose.

The Hopi elders have said that we, this generation, yes, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.  From where I sit, you are the ones I’ve been waiting for. I bow to you; for the light in me recognizes the light in you.

Allison Brunner, LCSW, Body Talks Therapy