Just breathe.

…most of us have become so accustomed to breathing shallow, because we live very stressful lives, that the only time we are breathing diaphragmatically, is when we are sleeping.

Put your hand on your chest. Feel it rise and fall as you inhale and exhale? That’s not

diaphragm

good. Most of us don’t breathe well. Most of us, most of the time, breathe shallow from our chest. Our lungs are located lower, and under our lungs is a muscle called the diaphragm.

I teach my clients something called Diaphragmatic Breathing. When we do this, the diaphragm contracts, the chest does not rise, but your belly rises and you can feel your lungs expand. This type of breathing is a natural, relaxed form of breathing in all mammals. This is how we should be breathing when we are relaxed and there is no present danger or threat. When we perceive danger or threat, we breathe shallow and fast…like an anxiety attack for instance. But, most of us have become so accustomed to breathing shallow, because we live very stressful lives, that the only time we are breathing diaphragmatically, is when we are sleeping.

Belly breathing maximizes the amount of oxygen that goes into our blood. This in turn circulates more oxygen to our muscles, organs and brain. The benefits can include improved lung function, improved heart function, relaxation, slowing of your heart rate, anxiety and stress management and reduction, lowering blood pressure, centering yourself, emotional regulation, self-soothing and calming the chaos in your brain, just to name a few. By practicing regularly, you can calm yourself with only one or two breaths. I’ve been practicing belly breathing for about 7 years now and can usually take one or two breaths and my body responds.

I teach this to nearly every patient I have. So, I thought it might be helpful for you. I’m going to teach you the basic tenets and you can practice it and let me know in the comments what you think of it. You want to breathe deep from your diaphragm (or belly). Put one hand on your chest and one on your belly. You will feel your belly rise and your lungs expand. Then exhale it all out through your mouth. Inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth and make these the same amount of time. So if you count as you inhale, “1…2…3…4…5” you would count as you exhale “1…2…3…4…5”. Make sense? Great!

distracted

When I was first learning this skill, my mind would wander. And no matter how much I focused on the breathing or on the counting, my mind wandered. What did I need to get at Target later? Whose birthday is next? Why did Game of Thrones end? How did Game of Thrones end? How much of a telephone pole is in the ground? You see? It was a problem. But, I found out that if I had a visual image I could focus on that. My visual was the numbers as I counted. My numbers look like black house numbers you buy at the hardware store. Your numbers could look like clouds or be colors or whatever works for you.

If you try to ignore a distracting thought, it just knocks louder on the door. It’s best to acknowledge the thought and then go back to focusing on the breathing, or the counting or the numbers. Something like this, “Oops, I can think about my Target list later, now I’m going to focus on my breathing.” then let the distracting thought pass through your mind and refocus. It’s more difficult at first, but it gets easier the more you practice.

Some patients imagine inhaling a warm light, or peace, calm, love, (positive things) and then exhaling chaos, darkness, sadness, anxiety. Try this. Use it if it works for you and don’t if it doesn’t. Practice at least 3 times a day for 5 minutes each time. Set a timer so you aren’t distracted by the clock. Sit in a quiet place, close your eyes and give it a try. When you need to use it, you will be surprised how fast your body responds after practicing for awhile. Let me know in the comments how it goes for you! Happy breathing!

Be kind, be grateful, be courageous!

Jules

Cracked and Broken

“…the very things that helped us heal, if relied on for protection too long, can cause reduced function and eventually permanent dysfunction. “

Broken. The dictionary defines it as 1. reduced to fragments; fragmented. 2. ruptured; torn; fractured. 3. not functioning properly; out of working order. Have you ever seen a sign that says “Temporarily Out of Order”? It gives you the hope the object will be working again at some point. If something is fragmented, sometimes the fragments can be put back together and it’s fixed. Sometimes not.

Cracked. The dictionary defines it as 1. broken without separation of parts; fissured 2. damaged; injured. Not as severe as broken. The parts aren’t separated, and it can be fixed easier. Damaged in some way, but not fragmented. If we apply this idea to a bone in your body, both can be fixed, but a broken bone sometimes requires additional material to help it fuse, something to isolate it while it heals and/or a longer time before it’s back to normal functioning. A cracked bone usually heals quicker, and may require a splint or cast for a short time to protect it as it heals.

There have been things in our lives that cause cracks. We are injured, but not fragmented. We can mostly function, but there’s a crack somewhere that keeps us from fully functioning in some way. We need time to heal, and we figure out how to protect that part of ourselves until it does heal. Sometimes we are worried that the same injury will occur, so even after it’s healed, we continue to protect or isolate that part of us. That’s when it becomes unhealthy. Can you imagine wearing a finger splint or a cast for the rest of your life? When used properly it aides in healing, when overused, it actually reduces function and could cause permanent dysfunction to the formerly injured part.

For some of us, there have been things in our lives that broke us. Reduced us to fragments, tore us apart, rendered us out of working order. We cannot functio

broken

n. We need lots of time to heal, we need to protect ourselves to heal, and we may need additional help to fuse our fragments back together. After a break, we have the instinct to over protect that part of us. We remember the pain, the confusion, the sadness, all the feels we experienced, and never want to feel that again. Again, the very things that helped us heal, if relied on for protection too long, can cause reduced function and eventually permanent dysfunction.

Let me tell you a story. When I was four years old, I was riding a motorcycle on Thanksgiving, with my brother driving, me sitting behind him, and my cousin riding on the seat behind me. We were in a field across from my house. The motorcycle fell over on it’s side. It fell on my tiny leg and broke my femur. My brother carried me home. My parents took off my little snowsuit and my leg was SWOLLEN. The doctor came to the house, and sent us off to the hospital an hour away. The bone was broken so high it couldn’t be in a cast. I was put in traction for nearly a month. My ankle was in a sling that was hoisted up, and attached to a bar above my bed, 24 hours a day. Not easy for a four year old. Then came a wheelchair at the hospital and physical therapy. I had to re-learn how to walk. My foot turned in for awhile, and my leg was weak, but eventually I went home on crutches. In time, my bone healed and I ran and played like any other little kid. It never bothered me again.

healing

When we have been emotionally broken or cracked, we are very aware of the injured part of us, it’s “swollen”. Sometimes we let others know that we are out of working order by pushing them away with anger, sarcasm, withdrawing, or other overt means. Sometimes we isolate ourselves, turning inward and protecting ourselves. Maybe we have “crutches” and figure out how to outwardly function, but inside we are scared or in pain and no one knows.

It’s so hard to gather all the fragments of you and put them back together by yourself. It’s so hard to know when you can stop using your splint, your cast, your crutches, because you are the one in pain. Sometimes, we have used the thing that was to protect us so long, it’s become a part of us, and we don’t even realize we are using it when we don’t need it.

I want to encourage you to ask for help. Often, a crack properly treated, can prevent a break. If you are feeling cracked, could you ask someone to help you so you don’t break? If you are broken, could you ask someone to help support you while you heal? It doesn’t

crutches

mean you are weak or lacking or less than. It takes courage to ask for help. It’s takes strength. I want you to feel whole again. I want you to be rid of all your protective devices so you can live your life in freedom. I know it’s hard. I have an appointment this week with a new therapist. I’ve been feeling a little cracked lately. I don’t want to break. But, just making the appointment was hard. I kept putting it off. My anxiety about going is high, and I’m a therapist! If I can do it, you can do it.

Be kind, be grateful, be courageous!

Jules

So I’m shifting…

It’s been a little over 8 months since my dad died. I’m still figuring my grief out.  This week has been a struggle. It happens. This morning I’m coming out of a four day funk that was really hard. But, today seems better. If you’ve lost someone you love, you know. I wrote my feelings. Maybe the words will resonate with some of you.

grief

At first, my grief made me feel as though I was adrift in a dark ocean.  Tossed about, at the mercy of the waves. One day, I realized I had washed upon the shore. Laying on my belly, exhausted, but on the ground in the light. Still later, I found myself standing, but the sand under my feet was shifting and not predictable. Recently, I felt as though I found my footing. Sand that is mostly packed, that holds me steady as I go through the day. But, it’s still sand. Some days, with unpredictability, the sand under my feet shifts. I’m unsteady, tentatively taking steps to see if I sink. Some days I can’t. It’s too much work. So I stay still. And then, just like that, I stand again, unfounded confidence urging me to move forward. I accept the cycle.  Right now I can’t imagine that solid ground is an option. Then again, at one point I didn’t imagine that sand was an option to being tossed in the waves. So I’ll keep moving forward. Allowing myself kindness and compassion for the unsteady days. Enjoying the sun on my skin, and the feeling of the water washing over my toes. Knowing he loved to see me smile.

Be kind, be grateful, be courageous,

Jules

So….I’m valuable.

If they have no perceived power over our value, then we no longer have the need to beg, coerce, manipulate, or perform for them.

I pulled a crisp new twenty dollar bill from my wallet. She watched me quietly. “How much is this worth?” I asked. “Twenty dollars.” she replied. I crumpled it up in my hand. “How much is this worth?” I asked again. “Still twenty dollars.” she said with a quizzical look. I threw it on the floor and enthusiastically stomped on it. “How much now?”. “Still twenty.” she20.jpg smiled this time knowing where I was going. I took the twenty and carefully straightened it out. “It’s a little bit weathered now, from all the mistreatment, but it’s value is still the same. This is you.” I held out the twenty with the wrinkles and creases. She teared up. “You are so valuable. You hold so much worth. And yes, some people in your life haven’t recognized that. Some people have crumpled you up and stomped on you. But it didn’t change your worth. It didn’t change your value. It says more about them then it says about you.” We sat in silence while she contemplated my illustration. She cried quietly. I waited silently, giving her space to experience her emotions. “No one has ever told me that.” she said. “I always thought that if someone rejected me it meant there is something wrong with me.” She sat quietly again. Then she whispered, “But it doesn’t have to does it?” I smiled as I could see her rolling new thoughts around, trying them on like a new outfit, turning this way and that as she formed an opinion on them.

When we let the opinions of others form our opinion of our self, we are in danger of our value being determined by the acceptance or rejection they give us. There is internal validation and external validation. Internal validation come from inside us. It’s our own knowledge of who we are, good and bad, and our acceptance of that. External validation comes from outside of us. It’s the opinions of others based on our looks, our opinions, our performance, our actions, etc. We are a culture of judges. We feel we have the right to judge others constantly. I do it. I comment on people on TV, on their actions, their outfits, their opinions. Isn’t that the point of reality TV? To make us all judges? I don’t do it as often in real life. I’m pretty okay with letting others be who they are, but it’s not always easy. As a friend once told me, “I’m aware of my faults and I’m working on them.”

We all want positive external validation. It’s human nature. An acknowledgement of our effort, a compliment on our looks, a respect for our opinion, appreciation of our work. It feels really good. But what if we don’t receive it? Or even worse, what if we are rejected? I’ve been rejected. It hurts. It can make us question ourselves. It can make us lose our confidence. It can make us feel worthless and fragile. But it doesn’t have to does it?

If you can do the work to honestly know who you are, not the you meeting others expectations, not the you on social media, not the you that’s your front, but the authentic you. with all your imperfections and quirks and awesome qualities. If you do the workmirror.gif and face who you are, and become friends with that you, and accept yourself completely, no one can make you feel worthless again. Your value is then based on your internal validation. If external validation comes, YAY! soak it in, delight in the feeling. But, if no validation comes, or rejection comes, you will know that you are still the same person, and that rejection takes nothing away from who you are. It still hurts, but it doesn’t destroy.  You’ll be a bit more weathered from all the mistreatment, but your value will remain the same.

Once we are able to accept who we are, we can let others be who they are. We no longer need others to agree with us, because it’s no threat to our worth if they don’t. It frees us up to experience others in a new way, not needing anything from them. If they have no perceived power over our value, then we no longer have the need to beg, coerce, manipulate, or perform for them. We can enjoy others with no fear.  And that is a beautiful way to live your life.

Be kind, be grateful, be courageous,

Jules

So I’m traditional…

“Instead of a bat, I’m trying to use a rolling pin…”

My family has Christmas traditions. For 29 years, since Big Daddy and I were married, we sleep under the tree the night we decorate it, to symbolize that family is our greatest gift. (Not actually UNDER the tree, but that’s a funny visual!) As our family grew, we all six slept under the tree.  Now it’s just back to the two of us. Growing up, I had the same breakfast every Christmas of my life, and my kids have grown up having that same breakfast. Last year, we moved our family Christmas celebration to Christmas Eve, and at the insistence of my kids, for dinner we still have Christmas breakfast. My tree is covered in ornaments collected over the last 29 years. I still do stockings for my grown kids. I take goodie plates to my neighbors. I like tradition. But sometimes we have to change them or let them go.

Sometimes we have unknown traditions. Unhealthy traditions that we need to stop passing down. Traditions of sweeping conflict under the rug and  never resolving issues, traditions of arguing at full volume, traditions of proving your point at any cost. We get our tools for life from our models. This could be parents, grandparents, friends, and/or others that have had an impact on us. We observe and learn without even realizing it. A teenage client said to me, “I have no idea how normal families interact with each other.” She said that she had no models in her life of relationships where people can disagree peacefully, can argue fairly or were effective at conflict resolution.  Her parents are giving her tools, but they aren’t the best tools for the job.

imageI’m the queen of improvisation. If I can’t find a hammer, I use the heel of my shoe, a book or the side of a pair of pliers. Am I the only one? When I don’t have the right tool, I start trying out all kinds of things to see if they are effective. This is what we do emotionally as well. If we don’t have the right tool, we start trying out all kinds of things to see if it’s effective. If we need conflict resolution, we probably try the tool we have first.  For example if we always saw one of our parents shut down during an argument we do that, but if that doesn’t work we then start grabbing other things like anger or manipulation or dominance to see if they are effective.

Recently someone told me that she was on the toilet and realized there was no toilet paper. She asked her 2 year old to get her a roll. The little one came back first with a roll of paper towels. Her mom showed her the toilet paper roll and asked her to try again. This time she brought back a stack of napkins. All in the ballpark. All will get the job done, but not the best tool for the job.  I do that sometimes. I get in the ballpark, but instead of a bat I’m trying to use a rolling pin to hit the ball. It might hit the ball, but not as effectively as a bat would.

Here’s my question: What tools are you passing down to those you impact? and What tools/traditions do you need to get rid of and replace with something new?  When you gather with your tribe this holiday season, notice your emotional traditions. Are they effective? If not, stop. Make a change. Start a new tradition that can have an impact on generations. Actually, I know my daughters have both used shoes for hammers…maybe there is still hope for the G’babies.

Be kind, be grateful, be courageous.

Jules