What are you Afraid of?

IMG_3330It is no surprise to anyone that we live in a culture of fear. For the first time we actually have most of our needs met. Good housing, excessive amounts of food and few predators. However, having a low level of fear has been selected for in our evolution. Our brains were designed that way to keep us safe.

There is a part of our brain called the amygdala that is ancient. When I say ancient I’m not referring to your age. I am referring to the fact that it developed a really long time ago from an evolutionary perspective. This fear was instrumental in keeping us safe when we were running away from predators. The amygdala, affectionately called the lizard brain by Martha Beck, has nothing to do all day but send out fear signals. These are experienced as a low level awareness to be careful, that something might go wrong, that we need to be watching out.

Funny thing is that we no longer have imminent danger most of the time. We are sensing this fear and we don’t know why. So, a more modern part of our brain, the centre of our thoughts, tells us stories about what we should be worried about. Brain researchers have done experiments on people that have the left and right sides of their brains separated, an operation that is sometimes performed to stop extreme seizures. If they put a barrier between the eyes and show the person something to only one eye, that side of the brain will see it and the other side will come up with an explanation for it. The explanation often has nothing to do with what the eye on the other side of the brain is seeing.

So we can be sitting in our living rooms, fully fed, protected from the elements and predators (for the most part) and still be feeling fear. The media has taken advantage of this. Our newscasts are no longer providing information; they are strictly feeding us fear. On one morning news show that I used to watch regularly while I was on the treadmill, I was amazed that there was a story about a murder–everyday. The significance of this inclusion became apparent one morning when there were no fresh kills. There was not a current crisis so they dug up an old file on an unsolved, particularly gruesome, murder that had happened many years before. The producers of the show had decided that they would always fill the murder slot, even if there wasn’t one.

The same thing is happening in health circles. You must not eat this. You must eat that. These marketing tools are all predicated on our fear of being mortal. We have been sold the belief that if we just pay attention to the latest finding we will live forever. This is not true. The people that are living to be 110 now were born in 1900. They were living a long time before any of this new knowledge was out there and they seem to have survived anyway.

Within my lifetime every food or food group has been the culprit in bad health and every food has been the saviour. Remember when eggs would kill you? Now they know that they contain a compound that actually lowers cholesterol. The same can be said for bananas that were considered “just carbohydrates” and I can go on and on about this.

Our reality is that we do have a lizard brain that sends out fear signals. Our more modern brain looks around to see what we should be frightened about and can easily find something. But isn’t this exhausting? Wouldn’t it be nicer to recognize that the fear is just a cast off from our cave dwelling selves and that we don’t have to live by its whims?

Here’s how to tell the difference. You feel fear. Notice that you are feeling fear. Hear what your brain is telling you the fear is about. Ask yourself if there is anything that you can do RIGHT NOW to keep yourself safe from the threat. For instance, if you are walking across the street and you see a large SUV careening towards you at an alarming rate the answer would be yes. Right now, I can do what it takes to get out of the way of the vehicle.

On the other hand, if you are worried that you might not have enough money if you live to 115 and you are weeding your garden at the time, recognize it as lizard fear. There is nothing that can be done right now. I’m not saying that reviewing your finances might not be in order, but you cannot effectively do that while knee deep in compost in your back yard. So, see it for what it is. It is lizard fear. It is that low level fear that kept our species safe for centuries. It is not a real fear. Spending time while you are gardening thinking about everything that could possibly go wrong is a waste of time. You could be enjoying yanking out the weeds, improving the garden, enjoying yourself because you are in fact OK.

The key difference here is action. If there is nothing that you can do at this moment to address the fear, it is lizard fear. Acknowledge it. Thank it for keeping you safe. Recognize that you are OK and allow yourself to see how much good there is in your life and have a nice day……

What are you Passionate About?

IMG_3673When was the last time that you were so eager to do something that you couldn’t wait? How about stopping to just enjoy the moment, or “smell the roses”? I’m not talking about getting to the end of work so that you can relax, or worse looking forward to retirement, I’m talking about looking forward to actually doing (rather than not having to do) something. This is not “living for the weekend”. I’m talking about actually having something that you love to do.

If you find that you cannot remember the last time that you had that Christmas morning feeling, or even some activity that you look forward to, there could be a few reasons. One of the more common reasons is that there is simply nothing in your life that makes you feel excited or passionate or inspired at all. This can be the result of several factors.

The first factor is that in order to feel emotions we must be willing to feel all emotions. In our Prozac society, feeling bad is often seen as a choice–and not a smart one at that. But I disagree. In order to feel the range of emotions that we are capable of feeling you must be willing to feel the good and the bad.

It has been recognized that shutting out unpleasant emotions closes the door on all feelings. We cannot selectively feel only those emotions we want to feel. When we block some, we block them all.

Anger, fear, pain and loneliness are not pleasant feelings. Many of us have found ways to avoid experiencing this unpleasantness. We eat, smoke, drink take antidepressants, shop, watch television or play video games. We all have our own avoidance mechanisms.

These mechanisms allow us to focus on something other than the discomfort that we are feeling. No one alive can avoid unpleasant emotions forever, mainly because unpleasant stuff happens to everyone, but also because these emotions do not go away when they are not experienced. They get stored up in your body waiting for an opportunity to be expressed and having a detrimental impact on your health in the meantime.

Not allowing ourselves to feel emotions can be likened to holding a door almost shut. When the emotions start to come through the door we lean on the door, not quite able to lock it shut and a lot of effort (or avoidance tactics) is required to hold the door in place. Unfortunately, all of the good emotions are held on the other side of the door as well. Love, passion, joy and happiness get stuck on the other side. We increasingly become disconnected from not only the bad and uncomfortable emotions but we can no longer tap into the good emotions either.

Another factor that can get into the way of being passionate is that we’ve told ourselves that we cannot have what we want. Written this way that seems absurd, but we were all raised in a society that taught us how we were supposed to behave in order to be successful and acceptable. You need to have a job that will give you enough income to support yourself; good parents always put their children first; good little boys and girls do not behave that way; there is not enough time and my personal favourite, if it is not productive it is not worth doing at all.

Many of these beliefs are not even conscious; we have just learned to push aside desire when we know that we cannot accommodate it. I would love to sail, but I don’t have a boat and I don’t live near the water, so when I think about sailing I’ll delegate it to when I retire–for instance.

Finally, we have to be willing to listen to our own hearts and actually dream about what we would like to be doing. This type of activity, or non-activity, is equally discouraged in our society. Someone that takes time to do nothing is often seen as unproductive and I don’t have to tell you how frowned upon that is in our culture. You must be willing to be unproductive, to allow yourself to dream and fantasize about possibilities before you are going to be able to tap into what you really want.

Passion and excitement make life worth living. If you realize that you no longer feel passion at all, ask yourself if you are feeling anything. Have you learned to suppress all of your emotions? What are you doing instead of feeling them?

Take the time today to ask yourself what you would love to do (today, not some time in the future!), pay attention to what you tell yourself about why you can’t do it and consider the possibility that those reasons may not be true. If you can’t think of anything that you would like to do, take fifteen minutes to do nothing. Let you mind wander and see what comes up, it may amaze you.

Why Are You Pretending?

IMG_1082It is only a couple of weeks till Halloween. This time of year brings thoughts of candy, lots of scary movies on television, decorations and costumes. It can be fun to dress up as your alter ego or simply something that makes you look fantastic.

While costumes can be fun, pretending to be someone that we are not can be exhausting. We have all learned that it is important to act a certain way in certain situations. The running and jumping that is allowed on the beach simply wouldn’t do in a bank. The hijinks you might pull at a party could get you arrested on a plane. But I’m talking about a more subtle thing.

We can all think of examples of people that hid the fact that they were homosexual and pretended, to most of the world, that they were straight. But how are you pretending right now? Do you pretend that you care about recycling but only because of the peer pressure? Do you buy stylish clothes so that you will fit in? Do you go for a drink even though you do not really like alcohol? All of these examples seem less extreme but they can take a toll on your energy level.

If a certain amount of your attention has to go to remembering who you are trying to appear to be, or trying to keep pronouns straight, you are wasting energy. You are in fact, lying. You are not being honest with the people that you interact with. This forms a barrier because they cannot really get to know you if you are pretending to be someone else. It also sends off that vibe that you are being dishonest. On those occasions when you forget that you are pretending and slip into the comfortable behaviors, people will notice and they will see you as disingenuous.

To get to the bottom of this ask yourself why you are pretending to be someone that you are not. How does it serve you? What does it protect you from? In order to decide that you must pretend, you must first decide that you are not OK how you are. Is that true?

Give yourself a break today. Recognize that you are OK the way that you are. Try to relax and behave the way that you would behave if no one was watching and see what happens. You may find that you have more energy at the end of the day and the world did not collapse.

Forgiveness

IMG_1610What does it mean to forgive? It seems to have a lot of different meanings to a lot of different people. In some circles, it means that one person forgives another person. I personally was not very comfortable with this definition because it didn’t feel right to me. Who was I to determine that I was in the right and they were in the wrong? Who writes these rules? Is there an appeal process?

Another popular meaning is that you absolve the person of any blame. It is a sort of a pardon or a way to free the accused from the need for punishment. Does this mean that it is OK if someone has hurt you? Sometimes people insist on the other person apologizing before they will forgive them. Is the other person taking the blame necessary for you to forgive? This doesn’t ring true for me either because it gives someone else too much control over how I feel. Another view on this is that forgiveness has nothing to do with anyone else.

We can spend a lot of time discussing whether or not someone “deserves” to be forgiven or whether or not enough punishment has been doled out, or enough time has passed, but failure to forgive someone is only harmful to you. The lack of forgiveness is not hurting the person that has not been forgiven. The individual that is the focus of your hate is often totally unaware of the fact that you hate them and that you are refusing to forgive them.

If you consider the possibility that forgiveness has nothing to do with anyone else and see it as a way to free yourself from the pain that holding onto this blame is causing you, then you enter a different space. Oprah likes to say that forgiveness is giving up the hope that things could have been different in the past. This has nothing to do with what happened to you. It does not mean that what happened is OK. It does not mean that it did not happen. It means that it did happen and there is nothing that you can do about it.

Forgiveness becomes the act of accepting that something bad did happen and that is just a fact. There is nothing that you can do to change that. Spending today wishing that it had not happened or dreaming about how your life would be different if it hadn’t happened, is not going to make you feel any better.

Lets not forget that anger is often holding down other emotions. Below anger there is often pain or fear. For those of you that tried to express your anger to help release it after reading “Big Boys Don’t Cry” you may have found that there was another emotion underneath. This is common. As a society we are more comfortable feeling angry and disgruntled than we are feeling vulnerable. When you peel back the anger, you find the core of the problem and it is painful. This is now what you need to experience in order to release it.

Hanging onto the anger allows you to feel like you are protecting yourself from the pain or from feeling uncomfortable. It does not protect you it just forces you to spend your life feeling angry.

Holding onto blame and refusing to forgive can be used to avoid another situation that causes you pain. You can hold onto the anger in a way that keeps you from trying again. For instance, you are up for a promotion at work. A co-worker gets the promotion instead of you. You are hurt and embarrassed and instead of feeling this pain, you become angry.

The anger can be used to protect yourself from further pain. “I didn’t want that stupid job anyway.” “I will never forgive them for hiring that person instead of me!” “I don’t want to have to work nights and weekends anyhow.” “I am not as much of a ‘suck-up’ as the person that got the job and I’m glad about that!” All of these statements point to the fact that it is easier to keep the anger, to use these negative thoughts and accusations to keep the pain below the surface. Also, by convincing yourself through anger that you did not want the job, you can avoid trying again and the potential for being hurt again.

A better use of the anger, in the situation above, would be to recognize that your emotions are showing you how important the promotion was to you. You might use that as a trigger to start looking for jobs that could provide advancement. Acting on the anger is much more productive if the action you take is, in fact, productive.

But we began this whole discussion with forgiveness, so I will come back to anger that is in place because of something that has happened to you. You may feel that someone is responsible, that someone hurt you or failed to provide what you felt that they should provide. On the other hand, things may have just happened and you are angry that they turned out the way that they did. This would apply to events that occurred without anyone doing anything, like death of a loved one, loss of your home in a hurricane, your job being replaced by a machine — that sort of thing.

In any case the past is the past. This sounds ridiculous to even state because it is so obvious, but we do spend a lot of time wishing our pasts were different. “If I had only been loved as a child, I would not have to shoot heroine everyday.” “If I had been able to afford university, I wouldn’t have to sell pencils for a living.” “If my dog hadn’t been hit by a car, I wouldn’t be afraid to love again.” The core of each of these statements is that the past is interfering with your ability to live the way that you would like to be living in the present. The past is robbing you of your life.

This is when forgiveness is crucial. It has nothing to do with what happened or who did what to whom, simply a recognition that there is no way to change what has happened so it is best to make peace with it so that you can enter your life. There is nothing to stop you from getting a new puppy, kicking your drug habit and increasing your inventory to include erasers as well.

 

Are you Avoiding your Feelings?

IMG_0007Do you find yourself shopping when you don’t need anything and spending more money than you have? Do you eat when you are not hungry and past the point of being full? Do you need a drink in order to face your day, or perhaps several? People do many things to distract themselves from their feelings. If you do anything habitually, that you know you probably shouldn’t be doing as much as you do, you may be trying to avoid your emotions.

Emotions can be uncomfortable things. Most people enjoy the good feelings of love, happiness and enjoyment–but not all. The emotions that most often cause us to reach for the icecream or the credit card are usually the negative ones like anger, fear and hate. These are uncomfortable feelings. When we are young, emotions can be overwhelming and painful and we all learn ways to avoid feeling them. As adults, these patterns can take on a life of their own and can result in behaviours that are bad for us.

Unfortunately, emotions do not go away until they are experienced. When we routinely push emotions down, two things can happen. They can build up and then erupt, when they get the opportunity, or they can result in physical discomfort or illness.

If you find that you start crying for little or no reason, you erupt in anger at the slightest provocation, you become frightened or burst out laughing for no apparent reason, you may just be experiencing suppressed emotions that are bubbling up to the surface.

Depression; lack of interest in things that you used to enjoy; feeling like you are just going through the motions–can all be symptoms of repressed feelings. If we close the door on one emotion, it is very difficult to let other emotions in.

Denollet (2009) showed that unexpressed anger increased the risk of heart attack. Miyamoto (2011) demonstrated that the Japanese freedom to express negative emotions is better for your overall health than the North American societal pressure to only express positive emotions. In general, it has been demonstrated that expressing emotions, instead of repressing them, is better for your overall well being (Barber, 2011). There is no question that the happier you are the healthier you are.

Those of us that avoid rather than feel our emotions may be so programmed to reach for a drink or some other diversion that we no longer recognize that we are running away from a feeling. If you have a habit that you often turn to, especially one that you feel is excessive or not good for your overall well being, you need to become aware of it. When the urge strikes, stop for a moment.

Before you indulge in your diversion, be still. Take a moment to sit quietly and focus on your breathing. Take note of where there is sensation in your body. Describe the sensation. Try to picture it. Start at your toes and pay attention to each part of your body up to your head. Is there any vibration, heat, tension, pain, discomfort, numbness or any other sensation? Can you feel your entire body or are there parts that you can no longer feel? Sit with this for a while and pay attention.

This exercise gets you out of your mind and the thoughts that you may try to tell yourself about why you should just go shopping. It does not focus on trying to identify the emotion that you are feeling, just the way that you experience the emotion as a physical sensation in your body.

The next step is to think backward from the moment that you went to your favourite vice until you become aware of what happened that caused you to reach for your diversion. The habit of not feeling emotions right away can become so refined that it may have even been something that happened a day or two ago, or longer. Continue to retrace your memory until you start to recognize the physical sensation in your body again. When remembering “feels” the same way you felt when you started the exercise you have identified the cause of the feeling.

Remember the event. Think about what you thought at the time and try to get in touch with what you were feeling. Do not censor yourself. Some emotions are considered unacceptable in our society and you might be a master of telling yourself what you should be feeling and how you should be responding. Denial of your own emotions is not good for you. You can feel anger without acting on it. You can feel hate, pain and fear without having it change how you behave. Forcing yourself not to feel these emotions causes them to be stored.

By recognizing what you were feeling at the time and allowing yourself to feel it, you can let the emotions move through you. Once an emotion is expressed, it is released from the body. The discomfort that you feel trying to avoid an emotion can last much much longer than the emotion itself if you allow yourself to just feel it directly.

At this point you may find that you choose to indulge in your habit anyhow. The advantage of this exercise is that you become more and more aware of why you are distracting yourself. Also, if you allow yourself to feel your emotions, you may find that your need to avoid them decreases over time.

Some Like it Hot

IMG_0056Is it Hot Enough For You?

Do you remember shovelling snow, hating the slippery roads, wearing layers upon layers and still being cold? This heat wave is the weather that we were all looking forward to as we stepped into deep water secretly hidden under a thin layer of ice, soaking us through to our socks. True happiness comes from knowing one’s self and getting in touch with how we truly feel and what we truly want.

Focusing on external circumstances like the weather (what can we control less?), especially if we aren’t enjoying them, can be a bad habit that is often used to avoid paying attention to what we are feeling. Do you find yourself shopping when you don’t need anything and spending more money than you have? Do you eat when you are not hungry and past the point of being full? Do you need a drink in order to face your day, or perhaps several? People do many things to distract themselves from their feelings. If you do anything habitually, that you know you probably shouldn’t be doing as much as you do, you may be trying to avoid your emotions. Click here to read more…..

In order to truly get in touch with what you want it is necessary to stop thinking about what should be making you happy. It is easy to get pulled into the idea that the next promotion, the next purchase, the upcoming holiday is what will make us happy. These are all future events and are not happening now. It is important to become aware of the less tangible, more satisfying aspects of your life. Especially in North America, we are all about the logical, scientific mind. We are quite confident that if you can measure it, test it and quantify it, “It” is real and worth our attention. We are driven by…click here to read more….

I want to welcome you to your life. Some things can be changed, some cannot. The trick is to experience your life to the fullest and to allow yourself to indulge in your passions. So stop thinking so hard and doing so much and enjoy the weather before the snow returns.

Two and a Half Men

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I sat down in the family room to watch television and noticed that “Two and a Half Men” was on. I flipped to that station so that I could have it on in the background while I checked the listings to see what else was on.

It was the episode of “Two and a Half Men” during which Alan is desperately trying to make extra money because Charlie has hit a dry spell. Charlie is confident that money will show up and Alan is panicking and subjecting himself to humiliating jobs. Alan is shown with a golf-ball sized lump on his forehead and partial hair loss. He had been selling himself as a human research animal.

Alan says, “I guess I’m not in the control group.” This is supposed to be funny because it is so obvious that he is having a reaction to the drug–hence the welt on his forehead and the missing clumps of hair. Then it occurred to me that he might have had the same response regardless of whether he got the control or not. The placebo effect is real. It is so real that it can cause adverse reactions to drugs as well. Simply the act of taking a drug (whether it is a sugar pill or not) can cause adverse symptoms.

The people participating in the trial would no doubt be told to focus on their bodies and report any unusual symptoms. The act of looking for and believing that there might be an adverse reaction makes one more likely to happen. Much the same as believing that the drug might help you makes your symptoms lessen.

So although Alan’s, admittedly neurotic, character figures that he knows for sure that he has the test drug, he may in fact have given himself the negative effects from believing that the sugar pill he was given would give him adverse side effects. Alan’s character on the show is obsessive about things like this and would be very likely to worry about an adverse reaction.

I go more into the evidence of these things in another blog, but suffice it to say if you tell yourself that you are taking better care of yourself and that you will feel better because of it, you will likely do both. Try giving yourself 15 extra minutes of sleep because you know it will make you feel better. It is an easy way to take better care of yourself. See how you feel in a week. What have you got to lose other than the last 15 minutes of your television show? It’ll go into reruns anyway, don’t worry.

 

There is More to Life Than Avoiding Death

IMG_0307I was sitting on my balcony, enjoying the warm air and how the twilight deepens the colours and ushers in a peace that used to precede sleep in those days before lighting, when a clutch of little girls walked by. One of the girls said, “My mother won’t let me sit in front of the television for very long, no screen, she’ll say after about an hour.

“I’m a televisonaholic and a chocoholic,….” and then they were out of the range of where I could hear them.

Pity that. We’ve taken our preoccupation with trying to perfect ourselves so far that our children have picked up the lingo. The translation, for any of you that don’t know already is, “If I do anything at all that I enjoy, it is bad for me.” This has become couched in the language of addiction, because if we do it and we know that it is bad for us, it must be an addiction.

We have turned into a society of self-restriction and guilt. We have bought into all of the external messages about how we should look, how we should feel, how much we should eat, exercise and sleep and even how long we should brush our teeth, for heavens sake. This generation of North Americans is the unhealthiest and the unhappiest, regardless of whom you measure us against.

Part of the problem is that we look outside of ourselves for answers when they are, in fact, within us. We believe that our big brains know it all and that they can keep us health and happy and from growing old; possibly–even from dying. If we just follow all of the rules about how we should act, no harm will come to us. This is wrong. Eat well, exercise, restrict your alcohol intake and die anyhow.

It would be revolutionary to actually learn to listen to ourselves. Our bodies communicate a wealth of knowledge to us every moment, but we have learned to ignore it. If something tastes good it must be bad for us. If we sleep too much we are either depressed, and in need of medication; or we are lazy. Couldn’t it be that we simply need more rest?

The pity here is that in pursuit of a media generated standard, we are trying to follow all of these external rules. We spend an inordinate amount of our time trying to avoid death to the point that we are missing our lives. How many people do you know that have been so preoccupied with restricting themselves that they have not enjoyed themselves at a party or social gathering; people that constantly can’t or won’t do something they enjoy because they feel so much guilt about it? So often, we define ourselves by what we will not do rather than what we will do.

There is more to life than avoiding death.

What would happen if all of our preoccupation with diet, exercise, self-improvement, self grooming (well, we would need some self grooming!) went into things we were passionate about? What if we took the intelligence and drive that we use to punish ourselves and put it out into the world? Redirecting that amount of energy and passion could create quite a shift! How would your life change if you accepted your desires as an affirmation that you are alive and enjoying yourself instead of something to feel guilty about? What would your life look like if you stopped worrying about how many rules you were breaking and started to think about things that you would like to accomplish?

What if the little girl from above wasn’t caught up in the guilt of how her appetites were out of control? What if she was dreaming about something wonderful, and discussing that with her friends? How differently would she feel in the world if she could just love chocolate and enjoy watching television?

When people are asked what they are passionate about, many cannot answer. Their wants may or may not be something that they are aware of, but they know that they are not OK. Why? What is the point of living if you cannot enjoy yourself? I cannot believe that with all of the possible answers to the question, “Why are we here?” the right answer becomes, “To suffer and restrict ourselves as much as possible.” There is simply too much evidence of the opposite. Enjoy something you love today, without the guilt…..

 

Stress Eating?

IMG_0057You are on your way to check out the new fish that are arriving today at the pet store and a car rear ends you at a stop sign. Then, you get there to find out that they haven’t arrived yet and you see your lover petting kittens with someone that you don’t know. You rush out of the store and run into an old nemesis and exchange comments and then you rush home and dive into the refrigerator and eat until you enter a coma. Stress eating? Maybe…..

Stress eating is often confused with other types of over eating because the situations that bring on these bouts of uncontrolled eating are often very similar. The actual underlying cause may not be.

Stress eating can be defined, in broad terms, as any time that you eat when you really don’t need to eat. The eating is in response to stress and usually involves eating way past the point of being full and may include favourite, high calorie foods.

Let me back up a little. Our society is focused on a few very superficial things. These include symbols of wealth that are expressed as possessions, youth and beauty. Beauty is fairly narrowly defined and always includes being underweight. I purposefully do not use the word thin here, because the models that we see on runways, the way that women are airbrushed in magazines and the “beauty” image is one of being underweight.

The average model is 5’8″ tall and weighs 110 pounds. This gives a whopping BMI (body mass index) of 16.7. If your BMI is less than 18.5 you are considered underweight. So our standard of beauty, for a woman at least, is a body type that is underweight.

For the purposes of this explanation, lets divide ourselves into two parts. There is the biological part, your body, that focuses on keeping us alive, meeting our needs and finding things to take pleasure in. The other part is our brain. It too will find things to take pleasure in but it is also the “trainable” part that learns all of the rules. The brain is worried about what other people think and has learned the proper way to behave. The biological part cares less about that and just wants to protect and enjoy itself.

If you are feeling a lot of pressure to approach the weight of a supermodel, your brain will tell you how to do this. There is no shortage of information about diets, pills, surgeries, elastic bands, exercise clubs and juice fasts to help you lose weight. We have been convinced that if we just follow an eating plan and make a few life style adjustments, we too can look like a cover girl.

The problem arises when the biological part becomes fearful for its life. In any situation where the body is in fear of dying, it will do everything that it can to stay alive. If you doubt this, try to hold your breath for three minutes. It’s OK, I’ll wait.

How did that work out for you? Were you able to hold your breath that long or did your body just decide that it was going to breath anyway? The same thing happens when we try to reduce our body weight below what our bodies are comfortable with. Our biological part is not comfortable with the weight of the supermodels, remember they are actually underweight.

We go on a diet, or a “lifestyle” change or a “cleanse”–the meanings are the same the names have just been changed–and our brains are firmly in control. Then we find out that we can’t buy any new fish for our aquarium and that our lover may not be faithful to us and our brains lose control for just a moment. Our brains become preoccupied with the drama that is going on in our lives and WHAM, our bodies take over and try to replace all of that essential body weight that we have been trying to remove. This is not emotional eating, even though it has the same triggers.

Emotional eating occurs when you are feeding yourself properly and the above happens and you are in so much pain that you don’t know how to make the pain go away. You have learned that eating can take your mind off of it and so you start to eat so that you can focus on the food instead of feeling the emotions.

So, if you think that you may be an emotional eater, first ask yourself if you feed yourself properly most of the time. If you are constantly trying to lose weight, you may not be an emotional eater at all; it is just the body taking over to avoid starvation. Can you blame it for trying to keep itself alive?

Step away from dieting and try something new. Develop a new relationship with yourself. Here are some resources.

Big Boys Don’t Cry

IMG_3598Whether it is expediency in parenting or preparing us for the reality of our world, we all learn before we are too old that it is not OK to express all emotions in public, if at all. The phrase, “If you cry I’ll give you something to cry about,” was commonly used when I was a little girl. It was understood that boys were not allowed to cry at all, because, “Big boys don’t cry.”

Anger and rage are treated the same way. A woman that gets angry is summarily dismissed as a bitch and a man that explodes is often seen as violent and out of control. The immediate death of a politician is any show of uncontrolled emotion, except of course, passion.

There is an excepted amount of emotion that can be shown in public. Excitement, laughter and contentment are all commonly seen. But our society is very uncomfortable with someone crying in the grocery store for instance, or a couple having an actual argument in public. If you showed true anger in a store, you would be gently escorted out. Don’t even try it on a plane!

Unfortunately for many of us, it is difficult to recreate the feeling and express the emotion later. It might have been terribly frustrating at the time and you may have been furious, but it was not OK to scream at the idiot, but now, it is over and it is not always possible to recreate the response.

A similar thing has been said about our stress level. Our bodies were designed to respond to a threat. There is a whole series of events that occur when the threat is perceived and then we relax. Unfortunately, the stresses in our society are often things like sitting in traffic, waiting in line ups, forcing ourselves to spend our days doing jobs in unnatural situations, like sitting in front of a computer for most of the day or serving customers that come in all shapes and sizes. These stresses don’t have the sudden hit of a lion jumping out at you or the immediacy of slipping on the edge of a cliff.

The result of all of this is that we go through our days feeling things that we cannot act on. We feel emotions that we cannot express and we feel stress that does not have a definite beginning or end. When the traffic finally moves, we do not have the same relief as having the tiger walk away or getting purchase on a cliff. Instead, we often enter a building that has poor air quality and a chair for us to sit in.

So many of us have learned to ignore the emotions in the first place. We are no longer aware of the stress hormones in our blood and we no longer even recognize that something made us angry or sad.

The funny thing with emotions is that if we don’t express them, they park themselves in our bodies and stay there. In order for an emotion to move through us we have to feel it completely. We have to let the energy build and escape, as it would have naturally if we had not been taught to repress it.

When these emotions get trapped in our bodies they continually try to break out. Many people have experienced a disproportionate emotional response to something minor. You forget something and really let yourself have it on the way to work. Or, you drop something and become furious. This does not mean that you are going insane or losing your mind, it is just these pent up emotions are trying to be expressed and when they see a little crack in your veneer, they try to get out.

People that expertly contain all of their emotions often end up with sicknesses. Trapping pain in your body causes your body stress and you become ill. Many a cancer survivor has realized, only after becoming sick, that they were terribly unhappy in their lives and did not allow themselves to express, or acknowledge their own pain.

So what to do, what to do? You need to express the emotions that are in you. This does not mean that when the cashier gives you the wrong change you yell at them in public, or that when someone cuts you off in traffic you get out and confront them on the street. We are still responsible for our behaviours regardless of how we are feeling.

What I am suggesting is that you take the time to feel the emotions that you do not allow yourself to feel while you are in public. If you need to cry, wrap a blanket around yourself and put on some sad music and cry. If you need to rage, get a pillow, some time alone and yell and scream into it. If you are glad or proud honour it through creating art or music or indulging in movement that works to fully allow yourself to express the emotion and celebrate it.

It is probably worthwhile to point out that worry is not an actual emotion. Worry is a form of thinking. It might be attached to an emotion, but it is not a true emotion. I am not recommending that you take time out to worry. If you are worrying, you need to identify the thoughts that are causing the worry and write them down. When you see them on paper it is easier to recognize them for the thoughts that they are.

Worry is either about changing something in the past and wishing that it did not happen or being concerned about something that has not happened yet. You can spend all of your life arguing with your past and it will never change. Byron Katie likes to make the point that you will lose, but only all of the time.

Worrying about the future is just as futile. Worrying does not stop bad things from happening. It does nothing to prepare you for the bad things that might happen. If you need to think about what you can do if a certain eventuality occurs, think about it, make a plan and then stop worrying.

So here is your assignment. Find some time when you can misbehave. Get the appropriate supplies and indulge in actually feeling some of the emotions that you have not allowed yourself to express. This can be painful. This can make you feel “out of control” but that is the point. The pain that you will feel while expressing your emotions is a fraction of the amount of pain that you cause by trying to suppress the emotions, but it does occur all at once. The eventual result is often a feeling of lightness. You may find that you feel happier than you have in a very long time and that is an emotion that you can express, even in public.

 

Back in 1994, psychologist Thomas Moore wrote that your living space is a three-dimensional self-portrait. Its less-than-pristine places mirror tangles in your mind and energy, and you can’t clean up one without cleaning up the other.

 

Some of the bits that were edited out of Martha Beck’s column for Oprah magazine.