Happiness Hacks: Touch much

“Happiness Hacks”  are quick and easy ways, based on scientific research, to lift your mood. We are compiling them into a book, but want to share them here with you.

I’m a hugger.  I admit it.  It’s almost a reflex when I see someone I like or admire.

In the 1970’s I taught 3rd grade.  It was common for some students to run up, throw their arms around my waist and give me a big hug.  We teachers would always hug back.  When a student got hurt or was in distress a hug was automatic.  Our cultural climate has changed and teachers are no longer suppose to touch, much less hug, students.  Our cultural climate is continuing to change and unwanted, unwarranted “hugs” are rightly being brought out into the open and condemned.

So I share this information from the work of Alex Korb, UCLA neuroscientist author of The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time  with the acknowledgement that we should only be touching others who want to be touched.

Got someone to hug? Go for it. Alex Korb,  says ‘A hug, especially a long one, releases a neurotransmitter and hormone oxytocin, which reduces the reactivity of the amygdala.”

“Hand holding, pats on the back, and handshakes work, too. Korb cites a study in which subjects whose hands were held by their partners experienced a reduced level of anxiety while waiting for an expected electrical shock from researchers. “The brain showed reduced activation in both the anterior cingulate cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex — that is, less activity in the pain and worrying circuits.”’

And if you have no one handy to touch, guess what? Massage has also been shown to be an effective way to get your oxytocin flowing, and it reduces stress hormones and increases your dopamine levels. Win win.

Mousey Masseuse by Peggy

The value of touching shouldn’t be overlooked when you’re down. According to Korb:

“In fact, as demonstrated in an fMRI [functional magnetic imaging] experiment, social exclusion activates the same circuitry as physical pain . . .”

The next time you see me HUG AWAY!

(jw)

Art & Creativity for Healing

I just attended Art & Creativity for Healing HeARTS for Healing Women’s Guild meeting.  Art & Creativity for Healing is a non-profit organization I volunteered for as a facilitator in the early years of my being diagnosed with fibromyalgia.

Laurie Zagon is a working artist, art teacher and the founder of Art and Creativity for Healing.  I credit Laurie for helping me process the physical, emotional and spiritual upheaval I was experiencing and reconnect with my creativity.
However, I can’t give Laurie all the credit. She has to share it with the local throw-away Penny Saver paper.
Laurie had put an insert ad in the Penny Saver (the first and last time she ever did that) announcing community Art & Creativity Workshops.
I was tossing junk mail out and her insert fell out of the pile, catching my attention. (the first and last time I ever read a Penny Saver insert)  I was VERY skeptical that this was a legitimate organization that really provided free art workshops to help others. Who would advertise such an organization in a PENNY SAVER, on cheap grainy, low resolution paper no less?
I called mostly out of curiosity.  Laurie’s enthusiasm  convinced me to give one of her community classes a try.  The rest is history: I became enthralled, impressed and grateful for the process and program Laurie created; Much of the art work processing my relationship with fibromyalgia I created during that time was done under Laurie’s encouraging and loving  guidance.
This picture is one  I painted at Art & Creativity for Healing.  It is the only one I ever did that is a figure.  I painted it very quickly — maybe 15 minutes — and the figure emerged just as the second head is emerging from her shoulder.  

I didn’t consciously know it at the time but this painting reflected my own emergence from suffering.  The pain was still there but I no longer asked “Why me?”.  I began to focus on what I was capable of instead of what I no longer could or should do.

This painting hung in my office as a reminder for me that whatever my afflictions and limitations we are all capable of creating a better and more meaningful life for ourselves and others.

I probably should take out a “Thank You” ad in the Penny Saver.  Until then, this will have to suffice:  
“Thank you, Laurie!” 

Like all non-profit organizations it relies on contributions and community grants.  100% of  the money earned through community workshops  goes to providing  Creativity for Healing workshops for children and adults suffering from abuse, illness, grief or stress on-site, and at military bases, hospitals and non-profit agencies.

Since 2000, more than 30,000 children and adults throughout Southern California have participated in classes and workshops. The Zagon Method of Art4Healing® was originally developed by Laurie in New York City in 1987, as a workshop designed to help busy Wall Street executives deal with stress.
 
There are also community workshops and opportunities to be trained to work as a facilitator.  Check it out!

Art & Creativity for Healing

www.art4healing.org


The Single Most Effective Antidote for Anxiety.

(This is a repost, especially for my friends who look outside their windows and do not see what I see)

If I  watched the news all day and evening I would KNOW that the world is in its last days:  Earthquakes, tornadoes, nuclear reactor melt-downs, flooding, war, starvation, killing,  financial collapse, drought, fires . . . EVERYWHERE.

I look out the window, past the TV.  It’s sunny, warm and lovely.  My brain, however, has already been cued by the words, thoughts and images of death, dying and devastation.  My brain as a response has released the neurochemistry of anxiety into the cells of my body.  And I FEEL the anxiety in every fiber of my being.

Chronically Running for Our Life

All our brains chronically perceive danger with any chronic emotional or physical condition.  The body being continually under siege, in pain, sends signals to the brain which get us ready to flee or fight off our enemy.  Muscle tension is needed for running like hell or slugging it out.  Now’s not the time to relax if you want to live.

The opposite of DANGER is SAFETY.

Here’s one of the very best mind-body techniques, and easiest, way to let your brain practice calm.   Best of all it requires no Rx, no money, no time and you take it with you where ever you go. I have taught this hundreds, maybe thousands, of times and it absolutely works . . .when you do it.

Chronically Safe Signal:

1. Take a deep breath through your nose.
2. Hold the breath for just a moment
3. As you release the breath, through your nose, very gently, say silently: “I’m safe.” (Be kind to your brain.  It’s just trying to keep you from being eaten alive)

Sound too simple!?

Our brains are relatively simple in that brains can not tell the difference between when we are actually in danger (anxiety is our brain’s way of keeping us on alert for danger so we can survive) or when we perceive danger through thoughts or other cues.

Imagine a snake, a spider, anything that you are afraid of. Your brain will signal “danger” “danger” and flood you with the neurochemistry of fear. Watch a sad movie and your brain will flood you with the neurochemistry of sadness and, if you are like me, sob like a baby.
Soooooooooo, tell your brain you are safe and it will stop the neurochemistry of fear and anxiety. It’s not instant cup’o’soup because once you are flooded with the anxious feeling it will take about 20 minutes or so for theneurochemistry to metabolize out of your body’s cells.  No matter how you FEEL keep giving your brain the “I’m Safe” cue.

Here’s the Key

Yoga, meditation, mindfulness prayer, listening to relaxation recordings all help.  However, to break into a CHRONIC cycle we need to chronically signal our brains to stop sending the neurochemistry of the stress response to our bodies. Let your brain know that no one is throwing grenades at you, animals are not trying to eat you alive, you are not in danger.  And the easiest way is to . . .

 . . . CHRONICALLY “Sprinkle” the Breath/I’m safe cue throughout the day and evening. It’s a good idea to get a cue(s) to remind yourself to do this. A post-it-note on the bathroom mirror, every time your phone rings, a note in your appointment book etc.

You HAVE to breathe anyway so you’ve got nothing to lose — except your stress response.

In the midst of peace

Hypnotic danger signals

 My companion, fear

ME a Stress Case? . . . I Don’t Think So. . . This Anxiety Reduction Technique is for YOU

Self Reflection

I’m not a worrier by nature, I’m not anxiety riddenI teach OTHERS how to relax, how to reduce THEIR tension.

Getting my hair done yesterday – yes, I still have my purple streaksI had nothing better to do than focus on me.  That’s what my hairdresser was doing so I figured I could too.

Whoa! My entire body was tense.

I relaxed my muscles. They tensed up againI relaxed again.  Muscles from head to toe tensed up again as if I were a trained athlete who had practiced over and over until my muscle memory was so strong practice was no longer needed.

Flashing before my eyes was every therapy session I’ve ever had with anyone who had anxiety, PTSD, was a caretaker, had a sick loved one, experienced loss of any kind, anticipated loss, was in pain or had a CHRONIC CONDITION. . . .

I’ve explained “it” so many times that like a well-trained athlete my mind no longer has to think.  I automatically recognize the stress response in others (others being the operant word).

Chronically Running for Our Life

I know that your brain (NOT MINE OF COURSE) chronically perceives danger with any chronic emotional or physical condition.  The body being continually under siege, in pain, sends signals to the brain which get us ready to flee or fight off our enemy.  Muscle tension is needed for running like hell or slugging it out.  Now’s not the time to relax if you want to live.

The opposite of DANGER is SAFETY.

Here’s one of the very best mind-body techniques, and easiest, way to let your brain practice calm.   Best of all it requires no Rx, no money, no time and you take it with you where ever you go. I have taught this hundreds, maybe thousands, of times and it absolutely works (I of course don’t need to do it.  After all I teach it).

Chronically Safe Signal:

1. Take a deep breath through your nose.
2. Hold the breath for just a moment
3. As you release the breath, through your nose, very gently, say silently: “Thank you brain, I’m safe.” (Be kind to your brain.  It’s just trying to keep you from being eaten alive)

Sound too simple!?

Our brains are relatively simple in that brains can not tell the difference between when we are actually in danger (anxiety is our brain’s way of keeping us on alert for danger so we can survive) or when we perceive danger through thoughts or other cues.

Imagine a snake, a spider, anything that you are afraid of. Your brain will signal “danger! danger!” and flood your cells with the neurochemistry of fear. Watch a sad movie and your brain will flood you with the neurochemistry of sadness and, if you are like me, sob like a baby.
Soooooooooo, tell your brain you are safe and it will stop the neurochemistry of fear and anxiety. It’s not instant cup’o’soup because once you are flooded with the anxious feeling it will take about 20 minutes or so for the neurochemistry to metabolize out of your body’s cells.  No matter how you FEEL keep giving your brain the “I’m Safe” cue.

Here’s the Key

Yoga, meditation, mindfulness prayer, listening to relaxation recordings all help.  However, to break into a CHRONIC cycle you need to chronically signal your brain to stop sending the neurochemistry of the stress response to your body. Let your brain know that no one is throwing grenades at you, animals are not trying to eat you alive, you are not in danger.

CHRONICALLY “Sprinkle” the Breath/I’m safe cue throughout the day and evening. It’s a good idea to get a cue(s) to remind yourself to do this. A post-it-note on the bathroom mirror, every time your phone rings, a note in your appointment book etc.

You HAVE to breathe anyway so you’ve got nothing to lose — except your stress response!

Self Realization

I was going to name this post “Teachers Teach What they Need to Learn” but I figured out that I had a legitimate reason to be stressed while my hair was getting done because

my hair dresser had a scissors in one hand

and with the other hand pointed a hair dryer to my head.

The High Price of Gas and Road Flares

For those of you not familiar with fibromyalgia and other kinds of chronic conditions —  auto immune included — I’m flaring.

Flare does NOT mean: I’m set on fire with gusto;  Enraged; or my hips are getting wider (than they already are).  I’m in a fibro-flare which does mean that my symptoms are loudly reminding me I’m not cured and I need to simmer down a bit.

And the stress that triggered the flare? – I got lost on the freeway.

In hindsight it’s a bit like a Marx Brothers comedy on wheelsI started out going the right way, and thought it was wrong.  So I got off the freeway and got back on the wrong way thinking it was the right way, but I was wrong.

Being the “man” that I am I hadn’t asked for directions when I started out.  After almost ending up in Cuba I decided to pull off the freeway and find someone who could tell up from down and north from south.    I pulled into a church parking lot.  Church people wouldn’t steer me wrong!  And a very nice gentleman “told me where to go”.

Back on the freeway, now heading in the right direction that I thought was wrong in the first place I noticed I was running very low on gas — both the car and me.   Now my adrenaline was pumping.  I anxiously looked for an off-ramp that led to civilization and gas stations. First off-ramp I struck oil.  I was so relieved that it didn’t occur to me that I was the only car there — the station was closed and all I had was cash.

I could go on and on and on, much like my sojourn, but suffice it to say I found an open station further down the freeway and paid $4.03 a gallon!

2 1/2 hours later I was home.

Now I’m in a fibro-flare just because of a ride on the freeway filled with more stress than my system could accommodate*

Exhausted, my whole body hurting – The price of gas is much higher than even I thought.*In many, if not most . . .  or all,  chronic conditions the body is chronically in a stress state.  Added stressors, even small ones, throws the system into an even higher stage of red alert and symptoms become elevated.  Kinda like if you’ve had an injury to a joint (body part, that is).  At rest the joint feels fine but if you tax that joint, sometimes even years later, it will hurt.