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.
How often do you have a thought similar to “When this happens, then everything will be alright,” or “I’ll be happy when I have x, y, or z”? You may even worry about something real or imagined to come.
Meanwhile the sun shines over a bright-blue sky, a chorus of songbirds whistle, and the temperature is perfect. In addition, much of your life is going quite well, and there is much to celebrate. But you don’t notice. You’re busy thinking about how you wished your life could be better or how to avoid the thing you fear.
Thus you create your own suffering.
I’ve noticed that people who have struggled with depression and worked hard (and successfully) to heal hurt parts of themselves seem to have a default setting (an identify, even) for the blues. Joy has been out of their realm of experience for so long, they’re not sure how to access it when it’s right within their reach.
I empathize, because I’ve been there. The good news is that we just need to do a little rewiring of our brains. All it takes is a slowing down and a willingness to notice the marvelous in the mundane.
Come experiment with a group of us (and have some fun in the process) on Thursday, April 13, 7:15pm to 8:45pm in a workshop called “Rewire Your Brain for Pleasure: Be Mindful of What You Love vs Resisting What You Don’t.” Join us online via Zoom or in-person at Mulberry Art Studios’s Mulberry on King location, 253 W. King St., Lancaster, PA.
Bring or have handy some paper and a pen (and as a list of a few other objects I’ll e-mail to you in advance), as well as a willingness to sing (or lip sync if you’re shy) a few tunes as a group. For this won’t be just an ordinary workshop. Nope, this will be mostly hands-on with a little teaching of Quantum physics and brain neuroplasticity that I guarantee will neither bore nor mystify you.
During our time together, we’ll also do the following:
- Experience the effects of sharing pleasurable experiences vs misery with others.
- Connect to all five senses in the present moment to experience increased pleasure.
- Create “quantum moments” in the brain in order to rewire to default settings of well-being and joy.
- Learn how to use positive visualization in a more powerful and effective way to bring about desired outcomes in life and to create shifts in your subconscious beliefs.
- Realize the power you have (and how to) impact the world with your thoughts and emotions.
- Become familiar with your home “frequency” and learn how to dial it up to impact the world positively.
- Shift your focus to create more of what you want vs more of what you don’t.
Call (717) 340-2096 for more information, or RSVP and pay here in advance. Cost is $25.
I look forward to spending the evening with you!
Join me on Thursday, March 16, St. Patrick’s Eve, for a special Movement Medicine class, 7:15pm to 8:30pm. To music recalling an era in which the Celtic Nature traditions lived embodied, we’ll dance beyond thought back into our own bodies. This authentic movement practice offers a fun and safe way to realign the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of ourselves and to reconnect our hearts with the perfection of our humanness.
For centuries, we in the Western world have hungered for an antidote to the collective wound created when Christian Romans in the 1st Century AD and the Saxons in the 5th Century AD nearly wiped out or drove into hiding a culture that understood that the higher intelligence and expression of Source energy (or God/Goddess) runs through all living things (our bodies included), that human beings and nature are interdependent, and that truth and divinity are within.
The Christians of that era labeled Celtic lifestyles primitive and their beliefs blasphemous toward the patriarchal version of God who reigned from on high. They taught us that human beings (women especially) and our bodies are inherently evil, emphasized reason over intuition, and urged us to beg for the deservingness of redemption.
The truth is, though, that we’ve never required redemption, were never less than deserving, and were perfectly imperfect all along. But such disempowering teachings (and others like them) have contributed to the suffering of most people on this planet from the distorted notion that we are bad or unlovable and that we must spend our lives proving our worthiness.
Together, we’ll heal these ancestral injuries with somatic practices that include breath awareness, the exploration of old, familiar patterns of seeking refuge in our thoughts (and honoring the safety this provides), connection to our five senses, body scanning, emoting though movement, and allowing our bodies to express what within us longs to shift, let go, and forge a new way of being.
Please note: Because this dance community has outgrown the space on King Street, Movement Medicine classes will be held every first and third Thursday of the month at Mulberry Art Studios‘ main location, 21 N. Mulberry St., Lancaster, PA. Thus, classes are now $20; but when you bring a new class member, each of you pays half. RSVP in advance to pay by credit card or pay cash in person. Drop-ins are now welcome!
What happens when you simply notice a sound or two as far away from you as possible? Or if you’re in a room filled with noise, connect instead to the sound inside of yourself. Try it now for just a few seconds. Then notice your breath, and deepen your inhale and exhale if you’d like.
Come home to yourself, to your body, in this moment. Allow everything to be as it is. There is no tomorrow, no yesterday; sit with “now.”
What just happened to your nervous system? Did you notice a shift?
For the 15 to 20 percent of the population deemed Highly Sensitive People (or HSPs), some type of mindfulness practice (including the simple one I’ve just described) can increase the likelihood that our sensory processing sensitivity trait feels more like an asset than an annoyance.
HSPs are much more aware of our surroundings than our peers. We’re more easily stimulated and expend more energy processing what we perceive—thus increasing the release of stress hormones (including cortisol and adrenaline) into our bodies. While this can serve us in many ways, we also need to relax and recharge in order to maintain overall balance.
Another of our tendencies is to wander off in thought, coloring with our rich imaginations all sorts of scenarios. On one hand, we’re more creative as a result and can foresee and address problems before they arise. On the other, we risk becoming anxious or paralyzed with inaction. It all depends on whether we’re able to return to center.
“With the act of breathing in mindfully, you go inside. Your body is breathing; and your body is your home. In each breath, you can come home to yourself.” —Thich Nhat Hanh
Among the services Body Talks Therapy offers to support your nervous system is Mid-Day Mindfulness, a 20-minute practice in which we can participate together, Tuesdays at 12:30pm, either in-person or online via Facebook Live (in the closed Body Talks Therapy: HSP Community group). If you’re busy at that time, you can watch the videos later.
Unlike formal sitting meditation, in this practice you’ll be guided on where to focus your attention (whether on physical sensations, body parts, watching your breath, connecting to your five senses, or witnessing thoughts and emotions). From time to time, I may also suggest we tune into images or consider ideas to address some of the psychospiritual or emotional issues we’re facing as a collective. (Watch or follow along with the video below for an example.)
You’re welcome in advance of each session to cue me in on a topic you’d like me to include in our sessions.
To join me in person at 237 N. Prince Street, Suite 303, RSVP here. Otherwise, I’ll sit with you all in cyberspace. 🙏🏻
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.
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.
“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.
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.