choicesOh So Many Choices!

Have you ever been on a grocery store shopping isle and become overwhelmed with all the choices available of one particular item?

We often have the knowledge and intention to make healthy choices, and our values and desires are usually what guides the final decision.  However, sometimes the values and desires of others may heavily influence us if we find it difficult to make decisions.

Increased awareness of our world often aids us in making better conscious choices.  When we change the way we look at our world, our perceptions of the world, we can begin to think differently.  Differently about the outcomes, especially if fear of making the wrong choice is present.

Fear in taking risks (healthy risks), fear of being wrong, fear of being blamed.  Yep, that’s familiar!  This is where our “stinken thinken” creeps in.  Old, ingrained tapes of the “shoulds”.  “I should make better choices”.

Be gentle with yourself.  You can make better choices.  As a matter of fact, that’s where you start!  Get in the habit of replacing the “shoulds” with positive, affirming words.

Instead of “I should make better choices”, it’s now “I am now making better choices.”



muscle relaxationMuscle Relaxation

Why think about relaxation? Basically, to help reduce levels of excessive muscle tension.

If the fight or flight response increases muscle tension, then the relaxation response may decrease it.

We have over 400 muscles in our body, all with the ability to contract and relax. Relaxation being key because that’s the time the muscles are re-oxygenated by circulating blood. You can imagine the difficulty of blood trying to squeeze through tightened muscles, blood pressure and heart rate have to increase to accomplish this.

You may have already developed your own methods of relaxation with some techniques being as simple as taking a deep breath and relaxing muscles on expiration.

There are unlimited techniques or methods to bring about (elicit) relaxation, a few are listed:
• Meditative type
     The relaxation response (Benson)
     Autogenic training (Schultz)
     Transcendental meditation
     Mindfulness meditation
     Progressive muscle relaxation (Jacobson)
• Yoga
• Hypnosis (self-hypnosis)
• Focused Breathing
• Biofeedback
• Guided imagery

No one technique is right or wrong and no one relaxation technique is unique in eliciting a relaxation response, it’s just what works best for you.  I like the using the body scan exercise.

There are many resources available for mind and body relaxation, the better not being self-medicated (aka alcohol, illegal drugs, or abused prescriptions) as this not only can increase risky behavior, it can also create dependence. Self-medicating in this form can add to the stressors already not being effectively managed in our lives.

Stress Response

stress responseThe Stress Response

At one time or another, you may have heard of the term “fight or flight response.”  We can thank the sympathetic nervous system for this built in safety feature for our survival (not usually under voluntary control).  It comes in handy when faced with perceived life or death situations.

Stress hormones, such as epinephrine and cortisol, are secreted, causing blood glucose to spike for quick energy, our heart rate and blood pressure to rise, and increase in muscle tension.  Blood is diverted from stomach and intestines (oh yes, the GI system is in on this as well).

All in preparation to stay and fight (if we can’t escape, or need to stand and defend) or run like the wind to safety, to survive.  Fortunately, most of us are not faced with too many of these acute survival stressors.

Chronic Stress

mom's stressWhen we are faced with constant, non-life threatening stressors of every day living, the same fight or flight response is not needed, but still happens.  It’s this chronic stress exposure that can create conditions for chronic disease and health problems.

Let’s think about what can happen when our bodies are in a constant (chronic) state of sympathetic nervous system activation:

  • Constant blood pressure increases can lead to hypertension
  • Increased heart rate can lead to other irregular, life threatening heart rhythms
  • The immune system can become suppressed, making us more susceptible to viruses
  • Increased muscle tension can lead to chronic headaches
  • Present pain can become unmanageable
  • Increased glucose levels could possibly contribute to diabetes (type 2) and for difficult management (type 1), poor wound healing (especially the feet)
  • Diarrhea, constipation, GI spasms
  • Increased anxiety
  • Memory problems
  • Depression
  • Behavior problems with sleeping, substance abuse, eating (weight loss or gain)
  • Relationship problems
  • Irritability, restlessness, depression, poor concentration

The good news is, the stress response can be managed.  That is, we can learn how to better manage our reactions to chronic stressors.  We may never be able to remove some stressors from our lives, but we can learn to manage reactions.

Cortisol note: One study from the 1960’s provided evidence that cortisol levels increased in participants watching war movies and decreased in those watching happy movies.  Just a thought, concerning what children watch on TV, Video Games, etc. today and the effect cortisol levels may have on their health and wellness.

What Are Affirmations

What are affirmations?

We hear about affirmations but what do we really know about them?  Why would we want to know about them or use them? Do they work?  

Let’s break it down:

  • Root word firm, indicates steady, sturdy, strong, solid.
  • Add to that, affirm, to make steady, sturdy, solid, to assert strongly, to strengthen.
  • So it makes sense that affirmation is the process of affirming, or confirming, as if the statement is already true.

Here’s an example of an affirmation I love!

“Everything I need is already within me.”

Short and simple, in the present tense, positive, everything needed for a powerful affirmation.

Just words, but it’s the positive belief of actual, current existence that gives affirmations so much energy.  

Why think about using affirmations?

Using affirmations is a technique that we can use to help transform our attitudes about our lives and become consciously aware of our thoughts.

We can have massive amounts of thoughts passing through our minds, sometimes we don’t even realize their there. Bad, good, or ugly, our thoughts often influence our attitudes.  

Some thoughts are negative, like old tapes stuck in a loop, playing over and over. Negative thoughts that are so engrained, we have to make a conscious effort to recognize and acknowledge them.

For example: As a child you may have been told, often, “You should be more like your sister, she’s got her life together.”

Interpretation, you may grow up believing you just can’t, “get your life together the way you should.”

(By the way, “comparisons and should be” are among my negative old tapes, as I’m sure this may seem familiar to many)

This is where positive affirmations can help. Why not replace those old tapes with new tapes? Start a new loop.

How to use affirmations

Why not make a conscious effort to replace that old tape with something like:

“I love and appreciate myself just as I am.”

Old, negative thoughts are not something that can be changed overnight, it will take a conscious effort. You are in essence, developing a new habit, a new way of thinking. You are replacing an old tape with a new tape.

To start, I like to write my new affirmations down somewhere that I will see them often. I may create art that incorporates affirmations, or use the phrase as a backdrop on my computer.

Most times, I silently say my affirmations quietly to myself, thus beginning a new tape. When feeling particularly stressed or when I’m not able to, “turn my thinker off” or the “chatter”, it helps to say my affirmations out loud.

We may also plan on a certain time of the day to think of our positive affirmations. For example, a specific time we set aside for our quiet time. Even if it’s only ten minutes a day, it’s enough time to make a difference. 

I like using my quiet time in combination with breathing and muscle relaxation.  This is the best time for my affirmations.

Eventually with persistence and conscious effort, the positive affirmation phrase will become subliminally engrained. Remember, that new thought is competing with years of the old tape, so be patient and kind with yourself.

What are affirmations

Remember, for powerful affirmations, keep them short and simple, in the present tense, and positive.

Most importantly, it’s the positive belief of actual, current existence that gives affirmations so much energy.

Self-Hypnosis and Muscle Relaxation

 Self-Hypnosis and Muscle Relaxation

Self hypnosis and muscle relaxationHypnosis is a technique used to produce a state of consciousness with focused attention and less awareness of body that allows for easier acceptance of suggestions.  Self-hypnosis and muscle relaxation are techniques that can be learned and practiced from home.

In self-hypnosis, the relaxation response can be produced with a phrase or nonverbal cue.  This relaxation method can be learned from home or with the assistance of an experienced practitioner. Self hypnosis requires dedication and practice and may take a few weeks of daily practice before results are noticed.

This technique uses deeply relaxed muscles and a focused state of mind.  Suggestions are given during that relaxed and focused phase that would later help with a relaxation response, usually with some type of cue when awake, and when a relaxation response is needed.

Self-hypnosis with muscle relaxation can also be used to aid in falling to sleep at night and for managing habits.  Hypnosis is a technique used by therapists to aid in multiple sleep disorders.

What is Progressive Muscle Relaxation

What is Progressive Muscle RelaxationProgressive Muscle Relaxation

For this relaxation method, focus is on tightening and relaxing each muscle group either from head to toe or toe to head. Progressive muscle relaxation is often combined with some form of guided imagery, breathing exercises, or count down system.

This technique assists in recognizing and becoming more aware when muscles are tensed as in comparison to relaxed, one by one muscle group at a time.

Progressive muscle relaxation can be guided by a practitioner or self-directed from home with the use of a CD or other such recorded method.



Guided Imagery and Relaxation

Guided Imagery and RelaxationGuided Imagery

For this technique, focus can be guided towards muscle relaxation using all the senses. Guided imagery may be self-directed at home or guided by a practitioner through storytelling, or using specific phrases or suggestions.  The process is unconditional.

There is no touching required from a practitioner, but rather assistance to elicit relaxation (or any specific outcome goal) using voice.

This method usually begins with muscle relaxation and focused attention, then thoughts are guided using imagination.  Guided imagery is not for everyone.  Some with severe anxiety may have problems using this technique as well as those who may have a history of psychosis or schizophrenia.



How to do Deep Breathing for Relaxation & Sleep

Relaxation & SleepRelaxation and Sleep

To aid in relaxation using this method, you consciously slow your breathing and focus on taking regular and deep breaths.  Often focusing on the rise and fall of the abdomen.

This is the tricky part, learning to do conscious breathing that can become a tool to aid in relaxation, that is eventually done in a not so conscious manner.  It’s doable with practice.

It’s probably best to learn this method of relaxation at home, during quiet time when you know there will be no interruptions.  All phones on mute.  Get comfortable, lying down with head supported for this first time.  There are two ways you can approach this, eyes open or eyes closed.

With eyes open, notice if you chest rises or your abdomen rises when you take a deep breath in.  For optimal lung expansion, your abdomen should be rising.  Practice this, taking a deep breath in using your abdominal muscles.

Now that you get the idea of abdominal breathing, you can close your eyes (or open if you prefer).  Slowly, in through your nose, breathe in (inhale) to the count of around four (1..2..3…4…), holding that breath to a count of two or three (1..2..3..), then passively letting that breath go (exhaling) to the count of five or six (1…2…3…4…5…6…).  You may want to try exhaling through your mouth.

Now repeat this process a few more times in this conscious manner.  Once you get this type of breathing mastered, we can progress to muscle relaxation in combination for optimal outcomes.

A note about abdominal breathing, it’s a preferred method of breathing to aid in eliciting a relaxation response, but we are primarily accustomed to chest breathing.  You may want to stop this deep breathing method if you should experience any nausea or lightheadedness upon first attempts.  Gradually and gently begin again at a later time.  If nausea or lightheadedness should reoccur, there may be a medical issue present that needs to be addressed by your primary healthcare provider.