The challenge of novelty

I’ve been watching videos of Sonia Lupien, who is a researcher in human stress. The Brain Development and Learning Conference in 2008 had a good talk by her.

Two videos of her presentation are below. They are not very good quality, visually, but the information is interesting. I also found that the poor quality made me pay closer attention, which was helpful.

What this has to do with anything, is that my present life seems to be about acclimating myself to stress in a way that will let me get on with my life without getting hijacked by things that make you NUTS — and create/add to stress.

NUTS stands for a situation that is:

Novel,
Unpredictable,
Threat (to the ego), and it creates
Sense of loss of control

For a situation to be stressful it must contain one or more of the following elements:

NOVELTY Something new you have not experienced before
UNPREDICTABILITY Something you had no way of knowing it would occur.
THREAT TO THE EGO Your competence as a person is called into question
SENSE OF CONTROL You feel you have little or no control over the situation.

These four factors create what she and her colleagues call a “recipe for stress”. Any or all of these factors may come into play, and it all depends on the individual, how much stress comes out of the experience. Check out the link and read a bit — you may find it quite interesting.

Now, what I’m doing with this — and have been lately, independent of having watched her videos and having read more of what she’s done — is introducing more novelty and uncontrolled circumstances into my life, under friendly conditions. My feeling is that, while I have introduced good routines into my day, deviating from those routines is far too disruptive, and I need to develop more flexibility in my approach to my daily life. This is especially true in my relationships with people.

I have gotten into the habit of following a certain steps, each morning, and if I don’t follow them exactly, I tend to get nervous. And that throws off my whole day. Does this make sense for me? I’m a full-grown adult, and I can’t get by without my checklists? Now, granted, I really needed help with remembering what I was supposed to do each day. I would literally forget that I was supposed to take my vitamins or eat my cereal. And I would literally forget to gather everything I needed for the day. I just wasn’t doing well at all. So, I used my checklists, and I have been doing a whole lot better, since.

But without my checklists — for even the most basic things, like getting up in the morning and doing my morning routine — I would get so stressed out, it would throw me off. I was getting far too brittle and far too dependent on my lists, using them more and more as crutches, rather than as necessary elements of my day.

So, I am changing things up. I have veered away from using my standard-issue checklist every single morning. And I have been making lists on scrap paper that I have on hand. I’m still organized about it, using the scrap paper on my clipboard, and marking off the things I need to do in an orderly fashion. But I’m being more fluid about it and I’m relying more on my in-depth involvement in my day, rather than a specific checklist that was made out for me earlier, to get myself going.

I also started changing up my workout in the mornings, improvising and introducing more full-body movement into my exercises, rather than exercises that isolated only one muscle or a small group of muscles. I started doubling up on my exercises, also, incorporating more movement into the lifting, so that my whole body was challenged, instead of just one set of muscles.

At first, the change of pace threw me a bit, and I was pretty anxious and concerned. But the change in exercise really bumped up my attention, and I found it to be a lot more invigorating and waking-up-ing than my past routines had been. At the start, doing my regular exercises exactly the same way every single day, really helped me establish a regular routine, that got me back into the swing of regular life. But now I’m back in the swing of things, and I’m in need of a new twist (literally and figuratively) to my morning routine.

Novelty. Yes. And unpredictability, too. Because now I never really know what I’m going to do for my workout each morning. I do know that I’m going to take care of my household pet, eat my breakfast, and lift and stretch and get my heart rate going. But I don’t necessarily know the specifics, or even the order of some things.

After changing things up a little bit, I have started to acclimate to it. When I start to get nervous about not knowing what exercise to do next, I just move my body a little bit and pay attention to what movements feel tight or stiff or weaker than I’d like. Then I focus on them. I try to move my entire body somewhat during each morning warm-up, and I keep in mind that I’ll be stretching later, so I need to warm myself up. I also am mindful of the need to get my heart rate up and to get my breathing going. I need to jump-start my body so my brain will kick in. And as I move through the motions of each morning workout, I start to feel better about it — and even if I tell myself I’ll only spend 10 minutes on the workout, when I’m pressed for time, I find that those 10 minutes are good quality … or I actually have more time than I thought I did.

Well, it’s all a process, and it’s been a very busy week. But I have to say, increasing the stress in my life under very controlled and limited (and friendly) circumstances is helping me a great deal. The better I can handle my morning “artificial stressors”, the better I feel I can handle the rest of the real-world stressors of the day.

Which makes me feel really great — about myself and my ability to deal with the world around me.

Not-so-pretty Poison

I’ve been intermittently following Bret Michaels’ condition over the past few days. The lead singer from the music group Poison has been having a rough time over the past number of months, including getting clotheslined by a lowering stage set at the Tony Awards in 2009, which some speculate might have been a precursor to his current brain hemorrhage. Someone who works in brain injury rehab wrote this post, which I think explains things pretty well: Bret Michaels — Why He Matters. His daughter was also diagnosed with diabetes recently. Any way you look at it, he’s having a tough time, and I wish him well.

This really highlights for me the somewhat random, yet eerily interconnected condition our brain has with the rest of our lives. Mr. Michaels is diabetic, which some have speculated might have contributed to his bleed (though others dispute that). I do know that fluctuating blood sugar can affect the strength of walls of veins and arteries, so it seems like one can’t completely rule out the role of diabetes in this case. It may not have directly caused it, but diabetes is known to create vascular issues, so I’m not sure how anyone can say categorically that it doesn’t have anything to do with his bleed.

It’s hard to know just why or how it happened. And since I’m not a doctor who’s attending to him, it’s not my place to say, in any case.

All I know is that life can be terribly… surprising, at times. And the best we can do, is fight our way back to where we want to be. If we’re lucky, we have people near us who can help. And if we’re particularly blessed, we have people who stick with us through thick and thin.

It’s my hope that Mr. Michaels can get that kind of help and support.

And the rest of us, too.

Just get started

I’ve got a big week ahead of me. I’ve got a ton of work on my plate, most of it broken down into little bits and pieces that I can take, one at a time, and really make some good progress with.

I just need to make sure I do what I plan to do.

One of the recurring issues I have has to do with lack of initiative. I have a full life with lots of responsibilities, and I perform at a pretty decent level, as far as anyone else is concerned. Compared to most people, I’m doing okay. But what nobody knows is that I struggle intensely with getting anything at all done. My attention tends to wander and I get caught up in lots of side projects that go nowhere (and are actually more for the sake of soothing my agitation than actually accomplishing anything). I also have a heck of a time just initiating the things I have on my docket for the day.

For some reason, I just can’t get started.

After grappling with this mightily for the past 5-1/2 years (in particular since my fall in 2004), I’ve found a few tricks to get myself going.

  • While I’m thinking about what I need to do, I focus on my breath and take several deep breaths to get myself to relax. This is to keep me from spinning off into all sorts of other sidelines. A lot of times, when I start to get pumped up about something I need to do, I get so pumped up, I end up veering off into other directions and I don’t get started on what I’m supposed to be doing. Relaxing with some deep breathing helps take the edge off my agitation which tends to drive me way “off the reservation” and keeps me from focusing on what I’m supposed to be doing.
  • I also make sure the things I’m supposed to be doing are out on the desk beside me. I try to clear away all other distractions and input, and only have the stuff I’m supposed to be doing, right on hand. This is a very difficult thing for me to do, because my work space tends to be very… abundant. At the very least, I make a point of having my daily activities list in plain view, where I can check it regularly.
  • I turn off my email for the duration of my task. There’s nothing like a blip of an incoming message to distract me… for hours, sometimes. People sometimes get angry that I don’t answer them right away, but they’ll have to wait. If they aren’t properly managing their time, and they’re in a rush over some crisis that could have been avoided with proper planning, it’s not my battle to fight. I have to take care of my own work… first.
  • I limit the amount of time I plan to work on my tasks. This makes them less daunting and it also helps me schedule breaks at needed intervals. If I pick out something to do and “give” myself two hours to do it, the chances me starting it are much less than if I allot myself 30 minutes to it… and then spend the full two hours getting something done. Limiting the amount of time automatically gets me into “do it now” mode, which is helpful.
  • I make a point of taking breaks. I do love my work (most of the time), but I can so caught up  in what I’m doing that I wear myself out, so I need to limit the time  I spend focusing on my work. Fatigue, even if it’s because of an activity  I really enjoy, is still fatigue. And the more tuckered out I am, the less well my brain works. So, I stop myself — sometimes in mid-task — and just walk away. This is something relatively new for me and it doesn’t come naturally after a lifetime of being 200% immersed in my work for hours up on hours at a time, but I’m learning.
  • I do  try to “let myself off the leash” at regular intervals during the day. I’ll go for a walk outside. Or I’ll do a little reading about something that interests me. The challenge with doing this, is keeping myself in check and being able to come back to my work later. The point is to refresh myself and take a break… not fatigue myself even more by over-doing the walk outside or the time spent reading up on the central nervous system.
  • Last but not least, I make a point of reminding myself about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. If I don’t have a clear sense that what I’m doing is going to help me get where I’m going in life, all my motivation dissipates and evaporates. And that’s no good. But if I can keep my life goals in mind, and stay clear on my priorities and the things I want to accomplish in life, that goes a long way towards keeping me on track.

As I said, a lot of this does not come naturally to me, or it’s a real departure from how I’ve always done things. But I’m learning how to do it, and when it works well, it really works well. I’m actually able to get started… and get things done.

Speaking of keeping on track, it’s time to move on to my next activity.

Onward.

Love your vagus nerve

One of the great mysteries of life, is how the vagus nerve can be so widely ignored. It’s the biggest nerve in the body and it extends from brain (starting near the carotid artery) and down through the chest cavity. It directly communicates with the lungs, heart, liver, blood vessels in the lungs, heart and gut, the stomach and small intestine, the pancreas, and the enteric nervous system, which I wrote about before.

One of the big things it does, is get the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in. It balances out the whacked, adrenaline-crazed sympathetic nervous system, and gets us to chill out. It can head anxiety attacks off at the pass. It can cancel panic before gets hold of you. It tames the tigers of agitation and edginess, and soothes jangled nerves.  It It gets our proverbial runaway Prius of a system to actually stop accelerating — like shifting into neutral, or unsticking the floormat that’s wedged under our brake — and it gives our body the ability to decelerate, already.

Let’s face it, going 90 mph all day, every day… bouncing from one multi-task flurry to another is no way to live. Survive, sure — but don’t we want more than that? We eat… but do we digest? Do we even taste the food we eat? We sleep… but do we rest? When we wake up, are we even truly awake? We pump ourselves up with caffeine and sugar, then we bring ourselves down with a huge meal followed by television and/or a couple of beers. All the while, our internal system — which is built to bring us up and down appropriately on its own — is getting fried and whacked out and driven to extremes that make it forget it knows how to do this job by itself.

Honestly, people, is this any way to live?

I don’t think so.

The good news is, we’ve got a system that knows how to chill out like nobody’s business. And the techniques to get it to do that are always ready at hand, relative easy to do, and they cost absolutely NOTHING to do. No paying for a huge meal or a six-pack or a tall skinny Americano that you had to wait in line for 20 minutes to get.

It’s free. And in these days of fiscal limitation and reduced monetary means, it doesn’t get any better than that.

Oh, wait — it’s not actually free. You have to give something to get: that something is your intention and attention. You have to make an effort. It doesn’t cost money, but it costs you something even more precious and sometimes more challenging to produce — deliberate attention and regular practice.

If you’re willing to put in the effort to practice this, and you’ve got enough resolve to actually do this, it’s yours for the having.

But if you don’t want to bother… well, there’s not much I can do for you.

Okay, if you’ve decided you want to know how to make the most of your vagus nerve, here’s a picture of the Autonomic Nervous System, compliments of Scholarpedia:

ans

You can click on it to zoom in. Check out all the parts of your body that are affected by the vagus nerve (or “nerve X” as it’s sometimes called) — that starts up in the right-hand corner of the picture, near the base of the brain.

And here’s a zoom of it, with the organs it’s connected with highlighted.

Vagus nerve connections close-up

Vagus nerve connections close-up

See all that vital stuff going on? Well, those are pieces you can’t live without, and to function properly, they need to have input from the parasympathetic as well as the sympathetic nervous system.

Everything’s connected, as we all know. But we tend to lose sight of the dualities that we need in order to get by. There seems to be a general trend towards partisanship — you’re either a Republican or a Democrat, either a conservative or a liberal… and nothing in between. Well, the human body has multiple sides, as well, but those sides need to be working together regularly and effectively, in order to have optimum health.

If Washington worked like this, we might get somewhere… but I digress…

Now, bringing balance to our systems so that we can rest and digest and allow our systems to catch up with themselves — and jump back into the fray with even more energy and resolve and focus — is a great way to live your life. And it’s not that difficult, actually.

You just breathe. Breathe deeply. Slow the breath and pay attention to the feeling of the breath moving through your nostrils and into you lungs. Fill your lungs up, so that they press against the inside of your chest cavity and stimulate the vagus nerve, which will in turn tell your system to ratchet it down a bit… send a little of the good stuff through our hormonal pathways, and reward us wonderfully for the effort we’ve put out. Do it for three breaths… or five… or ten. Do it for a minute… or two… or five. But do it. The more you try it, the more you’ll like it. I sure do.

Think of it as your reward. Stimulating the PNS with deep, controlled breathing (for me, anyway) is not about dropping out of life and running away from the fray. It’s not about being a wuss and hiding out, just breathing deeply while the rest of the world rolls on by. Quite the contrary. For me, it’s all about rewarding myself with a much-needed break, building back up my resources, so I have the energy and strength and focus and resolve to jump back into things — and do it well, in ways that are better than they were before.

Gotta love that vagus nerve!

Okay… gotta breathe…

The brain needs the body to recuperate

I’m happy to report that I am getting back to balance (literally). I’m not 100%, but I’m a far sight better than I’d been for the past few days. I really had to do something — the vertigo was seriously messing with my head and making me difficult to live with.

So, I did some smart things, last night – had a decent supper of real food, and checked out early. I spent half an hour stretching and breathing before I went to bed at 9:30. I also used some decongestant/vapor rub on my neck around my eustacian tubes, which has helped me in the past. I’ve got a lot of congestion in my sinuses and e-tubes. So, I took a hot shower, relaxed and breathed and stretched and also indulged in some Advil… and breathed some more… and I got about 7 hours of sleep, which isn’t my max, but it’s a start.

This morning I’m feeling like a new person. Still a little “off” but able to deal with it. I also took the time to exercise a little — the last couple of days, I haven’t had as much time as I wanted, to work out/warm up in the a.m. I think that hasn’t helped, either. So, this morning I did something about it. Nothing really huge, but still significant. I had to stop a few times to catch my breath and get my heart rate back to normal, so that’s a good sign that I’m actually being active. Didn’t push it too terribly, but I did get my system jump-started.

And now I’m ready and rarin’ to go.

I have to tell you — and I’m going to sound like an evangelical, here, which is sorta kind what I am — exercise is saving my life. Seriously. I was making pretty good progress with my neuropsych and my studies, for the first year or so that I was seeing them. I was making pretty decent progress, piecing my life back together from the shattered, edge-of-the-abyss state it was in. My neuropsych really helped me back away from the edge where I was teetering.

Emotionally, I was a wreck. Logistically, I was in big trouble. I was making bad decisions in my work and career, and I was really on the verge of catastrophe. I can see that now. But since I started working out regularly in the morning, my life and my decisions and my sense of who I am and what I’m all about, and what I’m capable of doing, has just skyrocketed. And this from someone who was convinced for many years that they couldn’t make basic decisions on their own.

I was in the habit of avoiding potentially sticky situations — like the plague. I had all sorts of defenses in place to justify why I would avoid certain scenarios. I had all sorts of explanations for why I wasn’t doing everything possible with the abilities and interests I have. I had all sorts of justifications for living a shadow of the kind of life I could have. And it all made perfect sense to me.

Of course it did. I had it all worked out in my head, and nobody was allowed close enough to me to tell me any different. I was a rock. An unapproachable, aloof, inscrutable rock who couldn’t be criticized or told anything other than what I’d decided in my own head.

It wasn’t until I started talking to a therapist on a regular basis, that I realized something was up with my ‘confident’ thinking. It wasn’t until I heard myself talking out loud to another person, that it sank in that all was not as it seemed. Now, I’ve said before that I’m not the biggest fan of therapy, and in some ways it did set me back. But if nothing else, hearing myself saying things out loud and watching my thought process with another human being really brought certain of my issues front-and-center.

One of the biggest ones, was “denial” of things that were going on with me. In one session, I’d talk about something, but the next time, when Therapist #1 tried to follow up on it, I’d back away. And I couldn’t figure out why that was — because I was the one who’d brought it up in the first place (and quite enthusiastically, I might add).

Why was I backing away from something that clearly was of interest to me? Why would I bring something up, say “Yeah, I really want to deal with that…” and then the next time just refuse to approach or even acknowledge the topic?

It made no sense to me, especially because intellectually it was so clear what I had to do. And emotionally, it didn’t feel like that big of a deal.

But it was a big deal to me, on some level — to my body.

See, here’s the thing:

My body has stored a ton of unhappy events in its biochemical wiring. Lots of stuff I’ve been through — much of it having to do with/directly related to the traumatic brain injuries I’ve sustained — has made this sort of  “imprint” on my system. The stress hormones, the adrenaline, the cortisol, the flood of reaction — which at one time was more extreme than it eventually became and is today — made a huge impression on my system.

And it left its mark. Deep and wide, in some cases. On a different level than my everyday waking world. On a much deeper level — a non-verbal, experiential level, that I could often ignore or sail right past. But when I got closer to that experiential “physical memory”, all my thinking, verbal systems shut down, and there was no getting close to it.

It made no sense to me. Truly. I honestly didn’t see why I was so intent on “avoiding” my issues… Why would I react that way?

I just didn’t get it.

Until I started paying attention to my body. And I realized that I had a distinct physical reaction to the topics I was “psychologically avoiding”. Psychology had next to nothing to do with it. I was having a physical reaction, and my body was doing its best to protect itself, my mind, and my spirit, from this perceived “threat”. It was my body, not my mind, that was calling the shots. And any attempts at approaching my problems from a psychological standpoint fell flat on their face.

All the while, Therapist #1 kept sitting there looking at me like I was too emotionally damaged to address this stuff. News flash — it wasn’t my emotions that were the most impacted. It was my body, and when it got wind that an old threat was reappearing, it kicked in and took over. Because clearly, my mind hadn’t protected me well from that threat in the past. So, my body “thought” it had to take over again.

I’m sure there are folks who will take issue with my assessment of what happened. After all, I’m not a trained psychologist. But that was my experience. And I’m sure there are others in the world who would echo the same kind of experience.

Truly, it wasn’t until I started being active on a daily basis… and I made a priority of taking care of my body, each and every day, in a deliberate and focused way… that I started making some real progress. I was just kind of hanging out in recovery/rehab limbo, taking two steps forward, one step back, two steps forward, three steps back… all the while struggling with stuff that seemed like it should be a lot easier for me.

I knew I shouldn’t be having the kinds of problems I was having. Everybody around me was certain I could handle things. But everything kept getting all screwed up. Now, in the past, I’ve said that the culprit is this hidden disability of mTBI. And others don’t/can’t understand it, can’t see how it holds me back, can’t see how it screws things up. And that still holds true for me. But there’s another piece of things that complicates the complications even more — the physical reactions I have to the logistical troubles I encounter, which pumps me full of biochemical distress and keeps me from thinking as clearly as I could.

As though I need any more problems thinking ;)

Well, anyway, let’s fast-forward about 10 months, to where I am now. I have been actively addressing my physical fitness issues — warming up in the morning, working out a bit each and every day — and I’ve been dealing with my anxiety and agitation with conscious breathing. And can I say, the difference is phenomenal. It’s like I have this whole new life — a whole new “me” if I dare say so (I don’t much like the expression, actually). And I have a whole new appreciation of the parasympathetic nervous system.

Seriously. When I look back on my difficulties, I can trace so many of them to a seriously tweaked sympathetic nervous system — all that fight/flight/freeze/fun was frying my system in a very big way. It was like I was driving my car at top speeds when the gas gauge was always on Empty. If you run your car on empty too long, it gets all the crappy sludge at the bottom of the gas tank into its system, and the results are… well, less than optimal. The body’s the same way. It operates on an “alternating current” of sorts — the sympathetic nervous system gets us all charged up and ready to take on whatever shows up in front of us, and the parasympathetic nervous system helps our system back off and regain its balance, so it can return to action even stronger than before.

It’s the same principle as over-training for a sport. If you’re training hard, you have to rest to give your body chance to rebuild the muscle you’ve torn down. It will do that naturally. The body is built to do that. But it needs time and nutrition and rest to do it properly. If you don’t give it that, you eventually get into a diminishing returns situation, where you’re just… well… broken down.

That’s where I had gotten to. It’s where I had been for quite some time. In the midst of my severe difficulties with work and money and relationships, I “overtrained” and broke myself down. I kept running into walls, having little crises, and I was constantly on alert, thinking that if I just pushed harder, tried harder, worked harder, I would eventually come out on top.

All I accomplished, was sending myself down a rathole and digging myself deeper and deeper with every push. My “solution”? To push harder. To prove to myself that I could do it. To work and work and work and never give myself a moment to back off… and breathe. That “breathing stuff” was for wussies, I thought. How wrong I was.

Yes, I was over-taxed and over-extended, but I never gave myself a chance to replenish my resources. I thought that trying harder and working harder would get me there. I thought that coffee and cheap carbs and sugar highs were enough to see me through. But the roller-coaster of the blood sugar ups-and-downs wreaked havoc with my system even more.

Indeed, the physical aspect of recovery from TBI was one of the big pieces I’d been missing — and it was right under my nose for so long. I was walking around in the midst of the problem — and the solution. And here, I’d been telling myself all along that the way to prevail was to focus on my brain… when it was my body — indeed, my mind, which encompasses the whole of my body-brain intelligence and directs it — that I needed to tend to.

In a (fairly long) nutshell, here’s the deal:

  1. Traumatic brain injury (especially the “mild” kind) throws off your life in significant, fundamental ways. It disrupts your personality and causes your brain and your experience to be very different from how you expect them to be.
  2. Also, (m)TBI can be quite well-hidden from others, so they’re not necessarily going to adjust their interactions/actions/behavior towards you.
  3. So, you end up doing things, expecting certain results. And others expect those results, too. And when the actual results turn out different from what was expected, that sets off little Warning! alarms in the system — in yours, and others’ as well.
  4. The alarms are, well, alarming, and they trigger biochemical cascades of stress hormones to respond to the perceived imminent danger. Also interactions with other pissed-off people set off alarms that release the biochemical cascades.
  5. One or two of these little alarm situations every couple of days, is one thing. But when you’re impacted by TBI, these little alarms can go off tens, if not hundreds of times each day. And with each subsequent alarm, your cognition is a little more impacted, a little more impaired.
  6. Of course, the alarms are “small” and invisible to most folks (including the survivor) and they take place in a non-verbal, experiential sphere, so they are often not properly identified as being the alarm situations they are, and they continue — sometimes escalate… to the point where you’ve got a substantial buildup of this biochemical Warning! concoction.
  7. Under normal, obvious threat circumstances, this biochemical alarm stuff comes in handy and you can recognize it and deal with it later by talking it through with someone you trust, or taking some other steps to rest and relax. But when you’re just dealing with “everyday life” and there is no apparent reason for you to be so tweaked over “little things”, there doesn’t seem to be much point in recognizing or addressing these little incidents and their resulting biochemical pump.
  8. Over time, the cumulative effects just build up. There’s plenty of literature about the cognitive impact of too much cortisol in your system for too long… the negative effect it has on cognitive processing, behavior, etc.  Biochemically, you end up a walking “pharmacy” of stress-response hormones.
  9. What’s more, this hormonal overload (yes, guys, not only women get all hormonal over stuff — everybody does) can eventually translate into a nasty case of Post Traumatic Stress — and it can lead to a disorder which tacks the “D” onto the end of PTS. Fun, huh? Not.
  10. Long story short, all those “little things” add up to a big honkin’ problem — and what makes it even more maddening and damaging, is that nobody thinks you should have this problem. Including yourself.

“How can I possibly have PTSD, after my brain injury?” You might ask. “The injury was some time ago, and I seem to have gotten through it just fine.”

Well, from where I’m sitting, the real source of TBI post-traumatic stress is not necessarily the injury itself, but the long-term effects of one TBI-inspired fiasco after another. One failure after another. One unhappy surprise after another. One problem after another after another… all of them unexpected, and many of them serious.

It’s not this “bullet hole” of a single traumatic incident you have to deal with:


It’s the “shotgun blast” of a hundred… no, a thousand, little post-tbi “hits” that pop up out of nowhere to put you seriously on edge and make you question your sanity (which in itself can be traumatizing):

And ultimately it adds up to a large blast area.

Just ask a city cop which kind of gun you should get if you want to do the most damage and be sure to hit something — a shotgun is an urban dweller’s choice, as it hits a larger area and can do some serious damage.

Same thing with post-tbi “micro-traumas” — they don’t look that big, but they add up. Especially when you’re not actively managing the biochemical results in a conscious and deliberate way.

And this is where the body comes in

As complicated as your life may be, thanks to TBI, one of the ways to address your issues is very, very simple: Taking care of the body, and in particular the breath.

Because PTSD is directly linked to a hyper-activated sympathetic nervous system, we actually have the means by which to counteract the hyperactivity — with our parasympathetic nervous system.

We’re built for this, people. We are physically constructed to regain our biochemical balance. It’s not rocket science and it’s not magic. Each and every one of us has another aspect to our autonomic nervous system that can and will replenish the resources we drain in the process of dealing with all the crap that flies our way throughout each day.

Controlled breathing at 12+ seconds per total breath — 6+ seconds to inhale… 6+ seconds to exhale — will activate the parasympathetic nervous system. The slower you breathe, the more it’s activated. (Just remember to keep breathing!) Also, deeeeeeeeep breathing will stimulate the vagus nerve, which helps the PNS to kick in. It works so well, that a vagus nerve stimulator was created to implant in people with intractable epileptic seizures. The vagus nerve calms down a hyperactivated system. Everyone has one. It’s also the biggest nerve in our body. So, let’s use it!

What’s more, exercise has been shown to stimulate the parts of the brain that control executive function — the frontal cortex. And conscious focus on breathing has also been shown to stimulate the pre-frontal cortex. Exercise and conscious breathing can both stimulate the higher-reasoning parts of the brain. And that’s exactly what you want to do, to get yourself back on track after a TBI.

Of course, it takes time to get in the habit of using the body to correct the brain. Most important things do. But the beauty is, you can start experiencing benefits from controlled breathing immediately. No waiting there. The PNS is always at the ready, waiting for its cue. So, cue it. Do deep breathing and count your breaths. Block out everything for 3 minutes, no more, and breathe… and see where it takes you. I did it this morning, and it really improved how I was feeling about my day.

Now, of course, everyone is different. But without exception, we all have an SNS and a PNS.  And we can use them both to make or way through life — and deal with the fallout from TBI. This is true not only for survivors, but for caregivers as well. Caregiver fatigue is a very real problem. But addressing it can be as basic and as simple as focusing on the breath and relaxing for a short period of time.

I’m not making light of serious issues. They are real and they really need to be dealt with. What I am saying is that our own nervous systems are extremely powerful, and they are always at the ready, waiting for their cue to do their work.

The body truly is a wonder. And the brain needs its help, to get better. Knowing this can make all the difference.

I must be in here somewhere…

Kind of a rough week. Started out strong after a good weekend, then my allergies caught up with me and my ears, and I’ve literally be doing a balancing act for the past three days.

Hard to stay upright. Hard to stay up-beat, when I’m constantly nauseous and I’m always feeling like I’m about to fall over.

Maddening.

But still I prevail… The weather is just getting too danged nice, to spend a lot of time hassling over a thing like mind-boggling vertigo. I lived with this for years, in the past, before I cleaned up my food situation. It’s just a good reminder that I need to take better care of myself, get more rest, and pay even more attention to what I eat.

Cutting out the cabs helps. But of course I’ve been eating more bread… My resolve to reform often coincides with bad behavior. The two seem to go hand-in-hand — simultaneously, in fact. I’m sure a psychoanalyst would have a field day with this tendency of mine.

Anyway, one of the really strange things about this intense vertigo I get, is that I feel like I’m losing touch with myself. Literally. The world spins and gets wavy and wobbly, and I feel like I’m leaving my body. Physically, I feel like my head is un-attached to my body, and I have a hell of a time keeping my attention focused on one thing. It takes a monumental effort to keep up with what’s going on around me, and driving is, well… interesting.

Fortunately, when I’m in a diminished state when driving, I slow down and I’m extremely careful. But it feels very strange and I don’t feel like I’m quite here.

But I must be here. Because ironically, when I feel like I’m out of it and off in la-la land, other people seem to think I’m even more present. It’s very odd. Maybe it’s the extra effort I have to put into staying present and upright that does it. But whatever the reason, nobody else seems to notice that I’m wobbly and about to fall over.

Or maybe they do notice, and I can’t tell, ’cause I’m so busy keeping myself vertical?

Anyway, it’s been very strange. I’m drinking my nasty cold-season tea, in hopes of fighting off the allergic infection and chilling out my ears.

Please, oh please, let this pass. I have an important meeting  in the morning.

Sometimes you just need to take a break

Fixing your life can be hard work. Fixing your body can be a challenge, as well. You can get to a point where fixing is all you know, all you do, all you think about.

Until you just can’t fix it anymore.

Sometimes you need to take a break. Let your body and mind relax and rest. Gather your strength.

Trust me, you’ll need it before long.

The magic of the right foods

You know, for years, I thought that my “mental health” issues were all about what went on in my head and my heart. I thought that the depressions I experienced, and the wild mood swings, and the general discontent with my life had to do with some sort of character defect or somesuch.

I got a lot of reinforcement from others for this, too. According to them, if I wasn’t feeling well in my head and my heart, it must be some psychospiritual malady. (I guess it comes with the territory of having lots of therapists for friends.)

Then I had a bad health scare, when someone close to me was hospitalized — out of the blue — with a pretty serious health issue. The crazy thing was, their health issue was totally preventable and it had developed largely as a result of plain old crappy lifestyle choices. Sitting up till 3 a.m. eating chips and cookies and drinking soda, and then sleeping in till 3 p.m., when they would starve themself all day and then eat a huge meal before sitting down in front of the t.v., seemed like a great thing to them… and to be honest, I didn’t think much of it — I just figured that’s how they were — until they ended up lying in a hospital bed in one of those gowns that doesn’t close in the back, with lots of tubes sticking out of them.

We both made some drastic changes. And I credit that crisis with having clued me in to my TBI issues.

How? Because I quit eating all that crap. Granted, I wasn’t up till 3 a.m. every night, chowing down on non-foods, but I took in more than my fair share of candy and cakes and cookies and chips and junk and soda and all those different sorts of “food products” that really gunk up your system. I also drank milk and had anywhere from 4-6 cups of coffee a day. I was constantly going, fueled by processed sugar and cheap carbs and caffeine, and when I crashed, I crashed hard — wiped out and still wired and not sleeping very well.

A lot of my craziest eating really took off after my most recent fall. I had trouble getting going in the morning, so I fell back on sugar and carbs and caffeine to pick me up. And I had trouble relaxing, so I just pushed myself till I dropped. I really depended on the sugar highs, the cheap carb highs, the jolt of coffee and coffee drinks (no Red Bull for me, thanks – I could never stand the taste). And it totally wreaked havoc with my system.

I just kept putting on pounds. Not a ton of weight, but a pound here, a pound there, till about 1/5 of my weight was nothing but fat. To some people that might not seem like a lot, and since I have a tall frame, it didn’t show on me that much, when I was fully clothed. But appearances aside, I just felt like crap.

And I couldn’t figure out why. I knew, in the back of my head, that I should be eating better, but I wasn’t sick all the time, so I must be okay, right?

Well, judging your health by whether or not you’re mortally ill is a lousy way to judge. It wasn’t until I stopped all the junk, started eating regular meals that made good nutritional sense, that I realized just how lousy I’d felt before. Lousy and foggy. What’s more, in the past, when my blood sugar was on a wild see-saw from all that junk food, and my adrenaline was really pumping with all that caffeine, I’d literally been blinded to how bad I actually felt and now much of a negative impact that bad eating had on my thinking and my behavior.

Once I quit chowing down on the junk, a couple of things started to happen:

I started to notice that something was not quite right in my life, and I was having trouble with things that I shouldn’t have been having trouble with (like money and reading and managing my day-to-day).

I realized that if I could notice something was wrong, I could do something about it. I started taking steps to identify and remedy the situations I was in — and in the process of noticing more and more of my issues, I put 2 and 2 together and realized that my fall in 2004 had totally screwed me up…. and that this wasn’t the first time I’d fallen or had my head injured in a way that messed me up for some time after.

While I was still pumped and primed with all that junk, I just raced through life, careening here and there, making a mess of things, but never stopping long enough to really examine what was going on.

Once I stopped the junk and started eating in ways that supported my body and my mind, I was able to commence the very difficult work of piecing my fractured life back together.

If I hadn’t stopped the crappy eating, I’m not sure where I’d be.

Good food was literally — in more ways than one — a lifesaver.

Use everything to keep calm – or else

Life has been pretty eventful, lately. I’ve been very active at work, which has become even dicier than usual, because upper management has told everyone that the company needs to slash expenses by tens of millions of dollars. Not tens of thousands… tens of millions.

I guess that’s one of the hazards of working for a huge company — all the numbers get so big, and even if they are proportionately not that big — representing maybe 1/100th of 1% of the total budget — it still sounds like a lot. And people get scared.

Getting scared is understandable, but the big problem with having that happen is that the adrenaline and the cortisol can impair your thinking, which makes an already challenging situation even worse. A sympathetic nervous system on constant alert just wears you down, and if your parasympathetic nervous system never gets a chance to kick in, because you can never get a chance to rest long enough to let it come back online and do its job to repair the damage of all that stress, it wreaks all sorts of havoc with the whole system — physical, emotional, neurological, mental, spiritual.

If you never get a chance to chill and get your body back to some sort of stasis, you’re basically screwed.

And you can end up with a nasty case of PTSD, even if you’ve never been to a battlefield. Constant threats of anihilation (losing your job, your home, your marriage, your kids, your very identity)… living in the shadow of perpetual, unarticulated threat from upper management which is not communicating what it’s planning to do with the budget in the course of the next year… not to mention dealing with others who are under considerable stress, thanks to the conditions, and are falling back into defensive postures and looking for a way — any way — to protect themselves, and the devil take anyone who gets in their way…  Even if you’ve never been in a humvee that’s driven over an IED near Basra, the post-traumatic stress can build up.

And Houston, you’ve got a problem.

I’ve been thinking a lot about PTSD, lately. In particular, the connection between the over-active sympathetic nervous system (which puts us into fight-flight-freeze-fake-it-or-fun mode) and TBI. I know a lot of vets are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with both TBI and PTSD. And their families are facing their troubles along with them. The VA may be doing a bit about it, but by all reports, they’re not doing nearly as much — nearly as well — as the vets and their families (indeed, our entire country) needs them to.

I, myself, have been noticing more and more how PTSD has colored my life. There are a million little things that have set me off, over the course of the years, that strike me as being directly related to my TBIs. Yet my neuropsych assures me that the issues I have “should not” be causing me as much trouble as I’ve been experiencing. I look at my life prior to my most recent TBI — my behavior, my performance, how I lived my life — and I look at my life after my mild traumatic brain injury in 2004, and there is a marked difference.

Yet, the actual neurological issues I have as a result of the injury — compared to what others have experienced — are relatively mild and “should not” be impairing me to the extent that I have been impaired.

So, what’s the deal?

I’ve been thinking really long and really hard about this, trying to take an objective point of view and not jump to any premature conclusions. And I actually think there are a couple of significant factors that come into play that my neuropsych cannot measure or is not oriented to.

First, there’s the physical issues I’ve got. The constant headaches. The pain. The insomnia/sleep disturbances. There’s the fatigue. These things, alone, would make an average person a bit nuts. But all together, on a regular (but somewhat unpredictable) basis, serve to push me closer to the edge than I care to go.

Second, there’s the agitation/anxiety. This actually ties in with the physical issues. When I’m tired, I get more agitated and anxious. And when I’m more anxious, I get more fatigued because it’s harder for me to sleep.  The agitation sets my spouse off, because I start to “rev” and they know what that means… I’m headed for the deep end, yet again, and who knows whether I’ll go off or manage to keep my cool? The anxiety sets me on edge and gives my temper a sharp, sharp point and a much lower flashpoint, which also messes with my spouse’s head.

Third, there’s the post-traumatic stress which results from all this that tends to really disrupt my life. The jumpiness, the flashbacks on traumatic situations (even seemingly little ones can set me off), the automatic avoidance of circumstances that are similar to formerly traumatic situations, emotional numbing, and a persistent belief that my life is going to be a lot less positive and productive than others’.

There are more factors that come into play, of course, but these are the Big Three — the physical issues, the anxiety, and the PTS — that combine to make my life more “interesting” than I’d like it to be.

So, what to do? Like I said, I’ve been giving these things a whole lot of thought, lately, and I’ve been specifically thinking about them in terms of what to do to fix it all.

Because I do believe they can be fixed. Granted, the headaches may stay with me for the rest of my born days, as may the pain. But the human system is wonderfully maleable and able to adjust and change. If I can’t fix the pain stuff, I may at least be able to manage it and find ways to mitigate the effects — like the agitation and anxiety.

After all, it’s the agitation and anxiety and post-traumatic stress that affect those around me and my relationship with the rest of the world. My own personal aches and pains are my own — my main objective, nowadays, is to keep them from spilling over into the lives of others and making their lives more difficult than need be.

That being said, I’ve been working with an approach that seems to offer me some solutions. It’s simple, and it’s basic, but it’s been working well for me. Essentially, I’ve been directing a lot of my time, energy, and attention into one thing:

Staying Calm

I do it with breathing — counting my breaths and making sure that I’m not hyperventilating. Hyperventilation makes your heart beat faster, and it gets your system revved. And when my system gets revved, the vigilant part of me does its self-protective job and I instinctively think that it means I’m in danger Warning Will Robinson! Danger! Danger!, so my system gets even more revved and charged up, and I start to get even more agitated than I was to begin with.

It’s wild how that works. It’s like there’s this well-trained part of me that is constantly scanning my body for clues about what’s going on in the world around me, and when my body seems to be telling me that I’m in danger — by my heart rate increasing and my breathing going faster — part of my brain kicks in to tell me there is trouble happening NOW and you’d better brace for impact.

Meanwhile, I might be in absolutely no danger, whatsoever. I’m just breathing too fast, and my system is reacting to that — not to any danger that’s around. And my reactions to situations and events and people around me (especially family members) gets all blown out of proportion.

So, I focus on my breathing. A lot. I have to consciously think about it, because I instinctively go to the fast-breathing thing, without realizing it. And I’m unconsciously stressing myself out for no good reason, other than a bad habit. This slowed breathing thing is literally a new kind of training I’m doing — I have to teach myself to do this, and I have to do it regularly, like you would practice any other kind of physical or occupational skill. If you want to get good at something, you need to do it a lot. And if you want to  become an expert, you have to do it for at least 10,000 hours. That’s a lot of time. I’m not sure I’m going to get to 10,000 hours of regular slowed breathing practice anytime soon, but it gives me something to work towards.

Fortunately, the benefits of slowed breathing are apparent immediately. I don’t have to wait for 10 years, till they kick in. When I slow my breathing to, say, 5-7 full breaths per minute (5 breaths per minute, or 12 seconds per breath is optimal, but I’m not quite there yet), I can feel my system start to release and relax. The tension that has me all clamped up starts to loosen, and I can feel myself start to chill and calm down. Even when I’m in a very tense situation with someone, if I can manage to consciously slow down my breathing, I get more clarity and more calm. And that helps them, too.

I really need to do it for myself, though. Because getting all riled and worked up over whatever is in front of me, is NOT going to help me deal with it in an effective and satisfactory way. And in the end, my main goal is to deal with crap — preferably in a way that will keep it from coming back on me again.

I can slow my breathing down — sometimes even slower than 5 breaths a minute, because I have to get my parasympathetic nervous system to kick in


Source: Coherence: The New Science of Breath

I have to get my PNS to get the upper hand, because things are spinning wildly out of control and if I don’t get a handle on myself, I am SO going to be sorry later(!). So, I slow my breathing and breathe really deeply.

But if I’m in a situation with someone who is, themself, on the edge (and they are unaware of the importance of breathing and ratcheting down the intensity), my own modulation doesn’t always do the trick to diffuse the tension.

Sometimes my controlled breathing alone doesn’t do it. So, I have to think of something else. I have to use everything. I have to be able to think clearly, myself, and step back from the situation… step back and observe what’s going on, without getting pulled into the midst of it all. I have to use all my resources — including presenting as being very “on” so others will take me seriously… talking people through all the options and alternatives we have… using humor… or sometimes just removing myself from the situation.

It can get pretty challenging in some situations, as I have no control over what others do and say, and I may react to some unconscious signal they send and do/say something that’s not helpful — or downright harmful to the situation. But I have to do it. I have to stay calm. I have to start with my breath, focus on it, and not let anything get hold of me without my say-so. I need to be the one calling the shots in my life — not some jerk across the conference room table or some a-hole who just cut me off in traffic. I have to be the one who decides how I feel, how I act, how I react, in any given situation — rather than letting outside circumstances dictate to me what I think, feel, or do.

See, that’s the most debilitating thing about PTSD for me — how it takes away your autonomy and your ability to decide for yourself how you will think, act, react. It strips me of my independence and makes me a victim of outside circumstances — all due to things I do not/cannot see, and forces that are set in motion deep within the hidden recesses of my brain and my central nervous system.

Does this relate to my history of TBIs? You’d better believe it. As a result of all those injuries, I’ve been presented with countless challenges I didn’t understand at the time, and I’ve been immersed in chaos and confusion that set my autonomic nervous system into high gear — over and over and over again. As far as I’m concerned, PTSD is what makes TBI a long-term challenge. Even if the majority of neurological issues resolve, to all appearances, there’s the subtle and corrosive effect of one minor (or major) disaster after another, one inexplicable catastrophe after another, that kicks your body into action, often without you understanding just how much action is needed, or how extreme (or subtle) a response is required.

The result of one problem after another, one logistical surprise after another, one unanticipated screw-up after another… and the considerable challenge of dealing with a world that doesn’t much care for our screw-ups… it all adds up to stress. Post-traumatic stress. No matter how “small” the traumas may seem on the outside, no matter how “minor” the problems may look on the outside, inside a scrambled brain — one that’s driven by intense emotional lability and extreme reactions that are hard to modulate — you’ve got a potent environment to create mountains out of molehills and experience relatively minor traumas as life-shattering events.

How it “really” is on the outside makes no difference. Inside your brain – and your body – the experience is extreme. And the cascade of biochemical Alert! can be just as intense as if you’re in a serious car accident or you’re holding your buddy in your arms as he dies.

That’s the wacked-out thing about TBI — it can totally screw with your perceptions of relative importance. And it can create internal conditions that are very similar to extreme danger, when on the outside, in “reality” the situation is not that huge of a deal.

So, knowing this, and thinking about all the situations I’m presently in that I have a tendency to make into Huge Deals, I’m doing everything in my power to keep calm. Control my breathing. Consciously relax. Remind myself that things may not be nearly as bad as I think they are. Remind myself that others often have a very different interpretation of what’s going on, than I do — and they may be more right than I am. I exercise each morning to get my heart rate up and move the lymph through my system, so I don’t get sick. I make a point of getting to bed at a decent hour each night, and I make sure I stretch before I go to sleep, so I can make it through the night without cramping up and waking up from the pain of my tight muscles. I keep myself on a decent eating plan and I steer clear of a lot of processed sugar, because that spikes me and gets me all jazzed — and then I crash afterwards, which makes me crave more. I steer clear of “cheap” carbs that get me jazzed up, too. Keep my junk food consumption down, and remember to have my apple each day, so my digestive system stays regular and I don’t get all “stopped up”.

There are a hundred different tricks I use to keep calm. And some days I have to use them all. But it’s worth it. I like having a life, and if I can’t stay calm, what I have becomes a lot less like life and a lot more like just surviving.

Feeling good, in spite of it all

I’ve been meaning to post, for the past few days, but my life has been pretty eventful  (in a good way) so I haven’t had the time.

Money… I’m figuring it out, making some hard choices, and putting the effort into more actively managing my cash flow on a weekly basis. Tax time always rekindles my interest in money management, but this year, I’m taking steps to do something with that interest. It’s daunting, but it’s good.

My activities at work have been more actively promoted by people higher up than me, so I’ve been in the spotlight more than usual. I’ve had to really bump up my involvement with people at work — in ways that I haven’t had to for quite some time. It’s been good, but also exhausting. I’m feeling the pressure, much of which probably comes from me, but also plenty is coming from the outside. We have gotten notice at work that our group needs to slash expenses by tens of millions of dollars, so people are freaking out… finding other jobs…  or spending a lot of time taking pot-shots at others, as well as shoring up their “position” at work.

I’m a consultant and I’m not a permanent employee, so my world looks a little different. But I don’t relish the thought of having to look for another client company anytime soon. I know I shouldn’t let myself get too complacent and comfortable, but I kind of like being able to plan for my future.

I’ve also changed up my morning workouts in the past week to be more interval-based. I had been pacing myself, each morning, when I got up, and I found myself sort of drifting off into energy limbo. The past few months, I haven’t had the same kind of energy boost I used to get, so I needed to do something.

That something was all about intensifying my exercise — and also shortening the duration. Instead of riding for 20 minutes, stretching for 10 minutes, and lifting for 10 minutes, I warm up a little and go right into “weighted movements” — going through certain full-body movements while holding my dumbells. I do intervals — 45 seconds of work, followed by 15 seconds of rest, followed by 45 seconds of work, followed by 15 seconds of rest, etc. I don’t go for an hour every day. I do maybe 2o minutes on most days, then I do a full 40 minutes twice a week. Above all, I don’t sweat over the time I spend. It’s much more about the quality of the workout.

Doing more in less time sets the tone well for the rest of my day. It’s given me a much-needed boost, and I’ve been feeling great — for longer in the day.

It’s all good, but man am I tired! Between the job stuff and my body aching and complaining and threatening to give out on me by 8 p.m., it’s about all I can take. What’s more, I’ve been having trouble sleeping, and that’s been throwing me off. I feel like something big is about to hit with me – something good. And it’s got me all jazzed. The only problem is, that jazzing makes me more prone to staying up late, or waking up in the middle of the night and not getting back to sleep.

I’ve spent more time than I care to think about, tossing and turning and almost getting back to sleep, only to be jolted awake by a new wave of anxiety over the new changes at work… money issues… relationship issues… or just something stupid I said earlier in the day.

Something that might jeopardize my job.

Well, I can’t worry about it. I’m actually feeling really good, despite all this stress. I’ve had a lot more energy, since I changed my workouts. And I’ve been managing to get naps in. I’ve been told not to nap by a number of people, including my neuropsych. But if I don’t get some real rest during the day, I get too tired to sleep through the night.

So, naps actually work for me. When I can get them.

It hasn’t been easy. But it’s all a process. And in spite of a lot of trouble on my head, I’m feeling … well… good.

One of the biggest contributors to my feeling of well-being, I think, has been developing this technique of conscious breathing… focusing on my breath for a few minutes at a time. Whenever I think of it, or whenever I realize that I’m holding my breath or I’m getting very tense and stressed. It’s like my parasympathetic nervous system was just waiting for the cue to jump in and settle things down, so my sympathetic nervous system could take a break and get itself back together.

It’s so wild – I always thought of rest and relaxation as a way to avoid the kinds of activities I love most — high intensity, hard pushing, hard driving, focused and on. But it’s exactly the opposite with me. Taking a break from that constant push that goes on inside me, actually lets me step back and regroup, so I have even more energy for when I re-engage.

It’s not taking me out of the action, side-lining me. It’s giving me a short break, so I can re-center and dive back in with renewed energy and focus.

Just stopping the mindless churn that I get caught up in, and focusing on my breath for a few minutes… who would have thought it would make any difference at all? But it does. Especially when I do it before I get up in the morning. It usually takes me 30 minutes to get myself out of bed, from the time I first wake up. (This in itself is progress, as I used to just throw myself out of bed with a bang and a clunk, much to the chagrin of my suddenly-awoken spouse.) So, while I’m waiting for my body to come online, I lie there and do my focused breathing for a few minutes, just feeling the breath moving in and out of my nostrils… my lungs… feeling my body rise and fall with each breath.

Such a simple thing… it makes no logical sense to me, how much good this does me. After all, I’m just breathing. Big deal, right? I’ve resented it for years, when people told me to “just breathe” or to “breathe into” something — how can you “breathe into” something? If it doesn’t have lungs, you can’t breathe into it(!) Well, regardless of the illogical sense of it, my system loves it. So, I do it.

And it’s good.

In spite of it all.

One of the things I’ve started experimenting with, is changing the way I feel about different situations. Especially ones that cause me anxiety. I did this last night when I was lying awake, freaking out over my job and all the things I haven’t gotten done that I feel like I should. I was going into a full-blown panic attack over it all, then I decided to “breathe into it” and focus on deliberately slowing down my system (including my heart rate) with measured breathing. I really concentrated on all the horrible stuff that’s been in my mind about my job, and I did slow breathing and relaxation to slow my heart rate and stimulate my PNS… and before long I was actually not panicking over the internal drama. And I was able to get back to sleep within a few minutes.

Magic. Especially when I’m on the verge of a total meltdown. And I can’t sleep because of it. Double-whammy.

But last night (or early this morning, rather), I was able to turn that around. And I’m making a point of “breathing into” other anxiety-producing situations that threaten to derail me and send me off the deep end.

Life isn’t perfect, by any stretch. There’s a ton of stress on me, these days. But when hasn’t there been? If you’re alive, these days, that’s bound to be the case as often as not. But at least I have a means to deal with it all — and a means that makes me feel incredible in the process.

Now, where’s my epsom salts? It’s time for a long, hot bath…