Anchor Your Day ~ a mental health blog by Counselwise ~

Just Ask Your Gut

There is mounting evidence that our gut is like a second brain. Now, this brain cannot think or express an opinion, but it can influence your mood and well being. Here are some interesting facts about your gut:

  • Serotonin (the hormone most often associated with happiness) is actually produced in your gastrointestinal tract.
  • There are close to 100 million neurons lining our digestive tract, creating an ecosystem that sends signals to our brain about our mood.
  • 90% of the cells responsible for our psychological stress response are found in our gut; explaining the feeling of nausea when anxious.
  • The second brain may be able to mediate the body’s immune response.
  • There is a higher percentage of people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and functional bowel issues who also present with depression and anxiety.

Although research is continuing to uncover the deeper connection between our brain and our gastrointestinal system, this part is clear: a healthier gut leads to a healthier mind. Now that is something to get cleaned up about 🙂

Photo credit: http://Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

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Starting Your Day

I love the quote by Louise Hay that states: “How you start your day is often how you live your life.” Interesting thought, isn’t it?

Do you jump out of bed, feet hit the floor and never stop til your head hits the pillow again at night? Do you wake up slowly, maybe stretch a little to start moving? Do you hit the snooze button so many times that when you finally get out of bed you are rushed and frazzled? Do you head outside to start your day with exercise? Do you pray? Journal? Do you find a reason to stay in your bed, leaving you feeling blue and disengaged? Do you spend some quiet time with a coffee and a book?

It would seem that what is really being reflected in how we start our day is whether or not it aligns with our overall goal of simplicity and the value of being present to our experience. Sometimes it may be difficult to imagine being able to squeeze one more thing into our daily routine so that we can start off our mornings with a feeling of contentedness, but perhaps it is a necessary part of setting the overall tone; not only for the day but for how we engage in our lives as well.

Photo credit: http://Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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A Quote about Empathy

This is a quote I came across by Morgan Harper Nichols and it embodies for me the essence of my job as a therapist; touching as well on the deep respect I have for another person’s story.

Empathy: Let me hold the door for you. I may have never walked a mile in your shoes, but I can see that your soles are worn and your strength is torn under the weight of a story I have never lived before. So let me hold the door for you. After all you’ve walked through, it’s the least I can do. ~Morgan Harper Nichols

Photo credit: http://Photo by Nqobile Vundla on Unsplash

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The Far Ends of the Continuum

I like to say that everything exists on a continuum; that you can take any quality and it will have its place on a spectrum. Take shyness for example; on one end of the spectrum you would have extreme shyness and on the other would be extreme arrogance. A person can then find themselves somewhere along that continuum. What will get you into trouble are the far ends of the continuum. If you are extremely shy, you might find it difficult to make friends, attend social functions and will find yourself missing out on things in life. If you are extremely arrogant, you will also find it difficult to make friends and find that people may not want to hang out with you.

Essentially, either end of the spectrum will isolate you. It becomes important sometimes in our struggles to ask ourselves where we might lie on the continuum, regardless of the issue, and then seek balance if we are creeping too closely to one of its ends. The middle of the continuum is a good point to strive for as that is where the greatest balance sits. It is about reaching a comfort level that you will be content with, knowing that you are not leaning into the behaviour you are wishing to change but rather challenging it towards growth. After all, “The balance of power is the scale of peace.” ~ Thomas Paine

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The Mind-Body Connection for Safety

Building upon yesterday’s post, when we don’t feel safe, that sensation happens in our body first. Our gut instinct sends a message to our brain that something is “off.” It is then the job of our mind to help process what those sensations mean and if they are potentially dangerous to us. There are three things to remember about our bodies:

1. They never lie to us. They can’t, as they do not have a brain (our minds on the other hand lie to us all the time; we can convince ourselves of anything when we want to!)

2. Our bodies never forget. This is an important point as our bodies will never forget trauma or negative experiences that get repeated, even when we have no conscious memory of the event. And so, when faced with a situation that at times will mimic the negative experience, our bodies immediately send a message to our brain that says, “potential danger ahead.” An example involves a client who was involved in a head-on collision with a pick-up truck; she is not able to recall the experience at all and has had to piece together events of that day through witness’s accounts. Now that she is back to driving, she has noticed a marked difference in her tension level when she sees a pick-up truck approaching her in the opposite lane. The implicit memory of the event warns her of the possible threat. This brings us to our last point:

3. Our bodies can sometimes over-react.  It is their job after all to warn us of potential danger and our mind’s job to process what is going on. It is at this point that we need our mind to help reassure our body and say “It is okay, I have this one under control;” leaving our body to return to a more restful state.

Photo credit: http://Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

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The Need for Safety

The need to feel safe is an inherent need that is with us from the moment we are born; it is tied to our survival and so remains with us for the entirety of our lives. If we don’t feel safe for any reason, we are driven to move towards feeling secure. This level of safety is both physical and emotional. If we are faced with a physical danger, our instincts immediately kick in and everything is set aside in order to deal with the danger at hand. Essentially our fear response is activated and we are impelled to deal with the threat.

We also, however, have an emotional level of safety; one that is individualized for everyone, and is based on what we have learned about our emotions in our lifetime. For example, if you grew up in a very stoic home where the expression of emotion was not encouraged, you may have grown up believing that emotional self control is the only option.  This will become part of your emotional level of safety and you will be driven to maintain it, healthy or not. This tends to be an important area of growth for many people who come into therapy; to gain a greater understanding of our how emotional level of safety can affect our decisions. Essentially, we may flee from a healthy emotional choice because it doesn’t feel safe. Learning about our own emotional safety can help us to begin to challenge ourselves to move to healthier choices where our emotions are concerned; providing a greater sense of balance to our emotional experience.

Photo credit: http://Photo by Colton Sturgeon on Unsplash

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Rest in Peace, Mom

Last week was a tough one, as my sister and I and our families said goodbye to our dear and loving mom. I don’t think that anything can truly prepare you for losing a parent as it throws you into the vulnerability of the realization of truly being “on your own.”

As I walked with Cricket yesterday and reflected on the past week, it was the dichotomy of grief that came to my mind the most. For as heavy as my heart has felt since being told we had to summon family, it shares that space with feelings of peace; knowing that all of my family members were able to say their goodbyes to her before she passed away. As there are times when I feel it is a death unfair and I have leanings towards anger that I am 47 years old with no parents, there is also room for gratitude as my sister and I are fortunate to have had a childhood filled with wonderful memories; we were given the gift of unconditional love which allowed us to be held in security and give in return. For as often as I get little tinges of fear as I wonder how I am going to live without my mom, I also can feel the strength and courage she has not only passed on to me, but lived by example.

Grief is an individual process and it can push at you to feel alone, and yet all I have to do is think about the unwavering and loving support we have felt from our families, friends, and communities to know that we always have a hand to hold and a shoulder to cry on. Mom died a peaceful death, but more importantly, she lived a peaceful life. I will hold that close to me, for it brings me comfort.

Photo credit: http://Photo by Bruce Hong on Unsplash

Sitting on the Fence

In an recent article I read entitled “Why Getting in Touch with Your Mixed Feelings Can Lead to a Better Outcome,” by Clifton Mark and featured on CBC, Clifton explored the idea of ambivalence and how despite, its pernicious reputation, can actually be good for you. Three points that stood out for me in the article were:

  • experiencing mixed emotions is correlated with better self-control.
  • feeling both positively and negatively about something motivates us to reflect on how our different goals fit together and how best to pursue them.
  • mixed feelings are a sign of emotional complexity and depth. 

When we make room for all of our feelings, we are giving ourselves the space to process; this can lead us to increased thoughtfulness, being  mindful to all sides of the story or issue. When faced with a dilemma fraught with indecision, all the more reason to head outside; to the fields, in search of our fence. 🙂

To read the full article:

Photo credit: http://Photo by Saray Jimenez on Unsplash

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“I Just Want to Be Happy”

Is a statement I hear over and over again in therapy (usually when we get to the goals section of the intake.) Happiness, however is a weighted word, and at times will feel like an unattainable goal; it is at this point where we move to breaking it down to something more tangible, achievable.

Instead, I ask what it would mean to be content. How would you know that you were satisfied with your day? What daily moments bring you peace? If you are struggling to find those instances, what used to bring you feelings of comfort? If our lives have reached a frenetic pace, we have most likely stopped seeking peace to make room to get everything done. (Uh, oh) If we are faced with a challenge, the weight of it often squishes our contentedness right out of us. But that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve to still feel it; in fact, it is in those times that we need it the most. Being proactive to finding space for those times will help us to build the bridges we need. You know, the ones going over to Happiness Island. 🙂

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Depression Fact # 4

Chronic pain can result in depression. Actually, so can having a chronic condition. Sometimes we don’t realize how being in continual discomfort can cause us to become depressed. We may choose to stay home one day due to increased pain levels; heightening the isolation factor. We may have to cancel plans because we are experiencing a flare up; leading to feelings of discouragement and disappointment. Potentially, we become so focused on what our physical bodies are putting us through that we may not realize the toll it is taking on our mental health as well; leading us to find ways to manage our chronic pain/condition that includes our emotional health as well.

A great online course that helps with this very topic is found through Living Healthy Champlain:

If you would like more information about depression:

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