@Tian Dayton PhD
Adopting self care activities into each and every day of our lives is part of being a happy, healthy person. We’re no good to anyone else if we’re no good to ourselves, so go ahead, be selfish for a little bit of time each and every day. Not only will you benefit, but so will the people around you. And you will be teaching your kids good self care habits and giving permission for the adults in your life to take care of themselves, too! These are free, enjoyable and heartsmart!
Take a Warm Bath
One easy way to give yourself a little shot of prolactin, is to take a warm bath because research shows that heat causes prolactin to be released into the bloodstream. Prolactin is that natural soothing body chemical that we often associate with nursing mothers. It causes us to feel calm, soothed and serene.
Get Enough Sleep, Rest and Quiet Time
Researcher Thomas Wehr at the National Institute of Mental Health conducted studies during which he had people lie down in a quiet, darkened room for fourteen hours each night, conditions similar to those under which we evolved during the millions of years before the discovery of artificial light. Under these conditions, the subjects reported a state of pleasant relaxation coupled with a crystal clear consciousness. Also, while they were in these states of relaxation and clarity, their pituitary glands were releasing prolactin into their blood streams. As the name implies, this chemical stimulates the breast tissue to release milk in nursing mothers. But even a slight, low level of anticipation during sleep was enough to keep prolactin from working it’s magic. In separate experiments, the researcher told subjects that at some point a nurse would enter the room to take blood. This semi-conscious awareness during their sleep that they could be interrupted at any time was enough to stop the release of prolactin. (Men also release the hormone prolactin when they meditate or are in a state of deep relaxation.)
Sharing With Others/Don’t Isolate
Group therapy has repeatedly been studied as to how sharing emotions effects the body. Over and over again results reveal that talking over what’s bothering us actually reduces stress chemicals in the body and elevates levels of the bodies natural opoid system. Sharing feelings sooths the mind/body system and crying does just the same, In fact tears shed in grief have a different chemical make up than tears shed in joy. That’s why we can feel so much better after a good cry. Pain and emotional trauma can make us want to isolate. Down time and nourishing time alone is different from isolating. Sharing which can help to elevate our soothing body chemicals and being in the presence of other people who can help to regulate our bodies vital rhythms are both natural healers.
Thirty Minutes of Sunlight Daily
Thirty minutes of sunlight each day wards off depression, provides vitamins, and gives us a much-needed boost to our immune systems. When we try to get our lives to work on strictly a psychological level, we ignore the fact that we live in a body, and that that body has significant power over our moods. This is one of the easiest places to start to turn our lives around or to get out of an emotional slump. A daily, brisk thirty-minute walk outdoors is free, and one of the best habits we can cultivate for our bodies, minds and spirits. It can elevate our moods, keep us fit, control weight, relieve depression and give us time with friends. To say nothing about connecting us with the great outdoors. There’s just no downside to this one.
Journaling also elevates the immune system and calms the autonomic system, smoothing out the heartbeat, breathing and perspiration, for example. James Pennebaker has documented this in his book, Opening Up, where he uses journaling to help people understand and work with the contents of their inner worlds. Pennebaker paints the picture of journaling as a very active, rather than passive, pursuit in which the body as well as the mind and emotions benefit. As we freely write our thoughts and feelings on paper, the associative process of our mind goes to work, thoughts and feelings emerge onto the paper, finding their way from muteness into articulation. The more completely we can abandon our internal governors and trust the process of writing, the more penetrating our associations and glimpses into our inner world will be. Through journaling, we gain insight and perspective, we flush out concealed or veiled material and bring it out onto the page where we can see and reflect on it, creating new meaning to replace the old. We see a past problem through the eyes and maturity of today; what may have bewildered us once comes clear as we lay it out in front of new, wiser eyes.
The basic method is to simply put pen to paper and let your thoughts and feelings pour out freely. Give the editor who lives in your mind a vacation, and let go of worrying about saying things in a coherent or readable way. Simply put pen to paper and trust the process. This is your private space for a full and unedited expression of self; no one need see what you write other than you, this is for your eyes alone, unless you choose to share it.
Recall a Pleasant Moment Soothe the Heart and You Soothe the Self
You can calm and nourish your heart by regularly meditating or praying. These activities produce the “relaxation response” — a physiological state that is exactly the opposite of stress – a state that reduces blood pressure and increases blood flow to the heart. Many forms of meditation and prayer organically incorporate feelings of love, appreciation and forgiveness. Some traditional Buddhist practice use “loving-kindness meditation,” during which they focus their attention on the heart and generate feelings of loving kindness for others and themselves. Not only does this create the feelings in your mind, but it creates them in the body as well. A form of such “intentional heart focus” has been found by the HeartMath researchers to create greater coherence in the heart in as little as one minute.
To experience the benefits of this “intentional heart focus,” try the following next time you’re feeling stressed:
- Take a break and mentally disengage from the situation.
- Bring your attention to the area of your heart.
- · Recall an experience with a loved one in which you felt happiness, love or appreciation or just meditate for a moment on those kinds of thoughts and feelings.
- Re-experience these feelings while keeping your attention on your heart. Let your breathing be relaxed and regular.
Creative Visualization: ANatural Trance State
Most people don’t realize that self-hypnosis is a natural state; it is an altered state that we move in and out of many times a day. Techniques like visualization can feel almost trance-like, but many people frequently go in and out of them all the time, like when we go into a trance driving along a highway or watching TV. “Self-hypnosis taps into a natural ‘basal ganglia’ soothing power source that most people do not even know exists,” says Daniel G. Amen. “It is found within you, within your ability to focus your concentration. The basal ganglia are involved with integrating feelings and movement, shifting and smoothingmotor behavior, setting the body’s idle speed or anxiety level, modulating motivation, and driving feelings of pleasure and ecstasy.” When you visualize, the idea is to imagine a situation be it physical health, a successful job or relationship as you wish it to be. We are constantly putting thoughts and feelings out into the world. Creative visualization allows us to do this intentionally, to trade negative images of self and life for positive ones. Consciously see your life as you wish it to be by visualizing yourself moving in and out of the situations easily and successfully, see yourself not as dragging and discouraged but as happy and comfortable. The thoughts and feelings we put out tend to come back to us. How we see ourselves becomes who we are and how we interact with others sets the stage with how others interact with us. (see “The Workshop” for more guided imageries and “Start Your Day Off Right”)
Deep relaxations are one way to slowly calm the nervous system. They have several advantages, one they bring our nervous system into balance and two they train us to get to that calm place more easily if we do this regularly and three, we develop what I call a reservoir of internal calm that we can draw on throughout our day. I can talk you through a deep relaxation if you log onto my website emotional sobriety.info or tiandayton.com. I have several choices of deep relaxations you can click onto. Or you can follow these instructions.
Lie down somewhere quiet and comfortable, on your bed or on the floor. Put a small pillow under your head. Uncross your arms and legs, face the ceiling and let your palms fall out in a relaxed position. Allow your feet to relax and fall easily to the sides. Make sure there are as few intruding sounds as possible, but if they exist simply let them be, give them space to exist. Now go to your breath, breathe in and out easily and completely without a pause between inhalation and exhalation and r-e-l-a-x. Allow your thoughts to move on their own through your consciousness, as if you are sitting on a riverbank watching the water flow by. You have no more thought of controlling your thought processes, than you would have of controlling the water as it moves past you. Simply witness your thoughts as they move past your mind’s eye. Imagine your emotions as running their own growth course. Like observing a flower, let each feeling emerge, bloom fully and watch as the petals of spent emotion fall away. Simply witness. Continue to breathe in and out easily and peacefully as you allow yourself to relax more fully. Mentally go through your body one part at a time and ask your mind to ask your body to relax. Relax your forehead, breathe in and out easily and completely without a pause between inhalation and exhalation and r-e-l-a-x. Repeat this process throughout your body, concentrating on the cheeks, eyes, jaw, tongue, neck, shoulders, chest, back, stomach, arms, hands, fingers and fingertips, palms, hips, groin area, thighs, calves, feet and soles of the feet. Feel a cool wave of relaxation pass through you from your head to your toes. Begin your visualization here or proceed with the remainder of this relaxation and imagery. As you breathe in or inhale, imagine you’re breathing in a soft, yellow light that gradually grows inside of you until it fills you completely. On your out breath or your exhalation, exhale any tension or negativity you may be feeling. Repeat this imagery as many times as you wish. Gradually, whenever you feel ready, begin by moving your hands and your feet and slowly come back into the room. Now, move into your day more fully relaxed and aware.
Researchers at Harvard, Yale and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found the first evidence that meditation can alter the physical structure of our brains. Brain scans reveal that experienced meditators have slightly increased thickness in parts of the brain that deal with attention and processing sensory input. “Our data suggests that meditation practice can provoke cortical plasticity in adults in areas important for cognitive and emotional processing and well being,” says Sara Lazar, leader of the study and a psychologist at Harvard Medical School. (comment made in a meeting with scientists “Transformation of Mind, Brain and Emotion: Neurobiological and Bio-Behavioral Research on Meditation.”)
The world is moving faster and so are we. The more our human sides take a back seat to technology, the more we need to find alternative ways of nourishing them. Meditation:
- Integrates thought and feeling a hallmark of emotional sobriety. Because our pituitary gland is stimulated during meditation, our thinking becomes infused with a transcendent attitude and we see the circumstances of our lives through calmer eyes.
- Meditation develops our ability to self-reflect by giving us practice identifying with the part of our mind that watches and witnesses our internal processes.
- Meditation calms our nervous systems, bringing them into balance and soothing the basal ganglia, which allows us to enter and occupy our own bodies. This, of course, leads to greater emotional and psychological calm and balance. As a result, we create fewer problems because we are operating in a more thoughtful, conscious manner.
- In these states of relaxation and clarity, our pituitary glands are releasing prolactin into our blood streams which is associated with a state of calmness and serenity.
- Meditation gives us a way of gaining perspective on our lives. We begin to see our lives as journeys of unfolding consciousness. When we see our lives in this way we inevitably come to value our own peace of mind as our top priority. In this prudent light, hanging on to resentments and anger starts to feel self-destructive. It brings down our inner peace and our meditative state. We tend to want to work through problems so that we can use our energy to achieve our own inner and outer goals, to enhance our own enjoyment of life. Focusing on the positive becomes a habit of mind.
My suggestion is that we should start wherever we can, whether it’s ten minutes first thing in the morning, a half-hour in the late afternoon or twenty-five minutes before bed–better to start somewhere than to wait for the perfect time. We can also do walking meditations, where we mindfully walk to quiet our minds and go within. Or do deep relaxations during our afternoon slumps. Twenty minutes of a “relaxation” can yield the benefits of a two-hour nap, and will quiet our minds and put us closer to a meditative state.
Meditation Made Easy
Meditation is most commonly done sitting in a chair or in the meditation sitting position on the floor. The idea is to lengthen the back so that it’s in a gentle S curve, held but comfortable. Breathe in and out easily and completely without a pause between inhalation and exhalation. Mentally scan your body for any areas of tension or places of holding, and ask your mind to ask your body to release it. As your thoughts arise, simply witness them and let them flow by. Neither enter in nor push them away, simply witness them as they pass by your awareness. As feelings arise, simply allow them to run their course, witness their intensity without getting involved in it. Allow your ability to “sit” with strong emotions slowly expand. In sitting, it is not uncommon to experience urges to get up, to move, to fly away mentally. This is precisely why meditation is potentially so healing. We learn to sit through our own internal experience and witness it rather than run from it. Feelings and thoughts integrate into a coherent whole. As we witness, we see things in a new light. Our own stories pass before our inner eye, and we see them through the lens of where we are today. We have “a-has”: pieces of the puzzle fall into place, and we make new meaning of what passes before us. We are able to feel parts of us that went on hold or were split off from conscious awareness; we experience them differently, we see them through a more mature lens and reintegrate them with new understanding and meaning. We heal in the quiet of our own minds and hearts. All of this occurs as we sit in stillness, are mindful of our breath and continue to deepen our meditation.