When All your Stress Goes to your Stomach

 

It’s a quiet day. You’ve finished up that contract before your vacation. The kids really like their new day camp. You feel pretty good, considering the roller coaster you’ve been on recently. You’re excited thinking about that new chicken recipe you’ll try tonight.

Then your mother calls to say that your father’s in the hospital again. It’s nothing major, but at his age, isn’t everything potentially major?

All thoughts of dinner leave your head.

In fact, your appetite gets kicked to the curb for the next few days, even once you know everything’s okay. Then your mystery cramps come back. You’re bloated and have to rush to the bathroom every couple of hours.

It’s how you felt before you admitted your marriage was done. It’s how you felt when you were finishing your Masters, when you were applying to university,… As long as you can remember, all your stress has gone to your belly.

You chalked it up to hormones, blamed it on your menstrual cycle.

You went through phases of fat-free diets, sugar-free diets, candida cures and giving up gluten. You’ve been tested for allergies and GERD with inconclusive results. You’ve taken Tums like candy and occasionally graduate to Pantoloc.

Some things help. Some don’t.

Some help until the next upset comes, and you start to understand the pattern.

 

You (over)react readily to everything. You feel things so deeply.

You’re sensitive.

I bet you grew up hearing that as if it were a bad thing.

“You’re so sensitive!” thrown out by other kids when you cried from missing the ball.

Your mother apologizing to strangers for your tantrum with, “she’s very sensitive.”

“Toughen up!”

You eventually learned to curb your reactions to life so as not to upset other people and not draw unwanted attention to yourself. Come to think of it, that’s when your belly started acting up.

Yes, you’re sensitive.

Your senses are highly attuned to your environment – that’s a good thing!

The 5 senses are the feelers that inform your nervous system of impending danger. Being able to recognize when you’re not safe is a strong survival instinct!

You’re sensitive also means that you are likely vulnerable to the subtler energy all around you:

  • your mother’s anger at your father as she quietly makes dinner;
  • the noise & chaos of all those kids in the class;
  • the overwhelming vibrations of the people on a crowded subway or at a concert;
  • the electromagnetic impulses whirling around your TV and computer and cell phone.

You are picking up more than you know, more than you want, and it plays into how much you can tolerate within your usual day.

With such a fine-tuned nervous system, your emotions are also closer to the surface, quicker to react.

Emotions are the movement that allows you to respond to that potential danger, and get you to safety. (Read more about the movement of emotions here.)

The French word for sensitive is sensible.

Sensible. The word we use in English to denote rational or logical. Considering that your survival is at stake, I’d say it’s rather sensible to be sensitive.

 

How your belly gets involved

A good portion of your nervous and immune systems are active in your digestive tract. Makes sense, considering that it’s one of the main ways we interact with the outside world, taking it directly into our bodies.

Serotonin, the neurotransmitter that makes us feel good and calms us down as part of the relaxation response, plays a role in appetite and digestive capacity.

If your nerves are reacting strongly to life, then so will your digestion.

It’s not just you. We all do: butterflies in the stomach when we’re nervous, can’t eat or eat too much under stress.

The more sensitive your nervous system, the more you’ll feel in your gut. The longer your digestion gets jostled by your stress level, the more it will lead to physiological issues and problems related to inflammation. Think about it, the “inflammation” itself is a direct manifestation of reaction to stress and emotion (anger).

Certain foods will be a problem for a variety of reasons.

  • Overstimulation from a food you eat all the time, in the same way you can get “sick” of the same pop song coming on every radio station every hour.
  • An underlying allergy to a food
  • Inflammation or genetic conditions impairing your ability to digest certain food
  • Poor quality foods, like trans fats, refined sugar, rancidity or mold, that your body doesn’t recognize as food and provoke inflammation
  • Reactions to the additives, bleaches, preservatives, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and radiation meant to keep our food safe
  • The way food was grown, harvested, processed, transported and handled by retailers will effect the energy of the food itself. If you’re highly sensitive, you may also be picking up on the vibrations and emotional states of the people involved in getting it to your table.

 

What can you do about it?

Here are but a few ideas to get you started:

Eat in a state of calm – engage the relaxation response by taking deep breaths or take a moment to give gratitude before you eat.

Meditate, to calm your nervous system in general.

Ground any anxiety with movement or by getting out in Nature regularly.

Eat clean.

Eat local and get to know the people who grow and prepare your food.

 

How does stress show up in your body? When you share your experiences in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

 

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I’m Good All Day, then I Lose It after Supper

 

If I had a dime for every time I hear that one… clients and friends who start each day fresh, with new resolve to eat better and take better care of themselves, only to find themselves at the bottom of a cookie bag by bedtime.

I know the drill: you just want a little something sweet. One cookie turns to 3…plus a square of chocolate. Maybe a handful of chips, …may as well get a bowl…

Raise your hand if you’ve caught yourself in front of the fridge looking for something to do.

My mind also likes another type of rationale when I’ve eaten one of my no-nos (dairy & gluten), because that’s what was on offer or because there was a particularly fabulous version I didn’t want to pass up. Since I’ve already “cheated”, I may as well keep going.

I know perfectly well that one croissant or grilled cheese sandwich, once in a blue moon, won’t do me much harm, but, I definitely suffer when I overdo it.

Sure, there’s the 80/20 rule and cutting yourself some slack, and being forgiving rather than beating yourself up. What’s going on when things shift to 20/80 or the premenstrual grazing becomes a daily habit?

When the exception becomes the rule, it’s a sign there’s something more going on.

It may be a physical addiction to sugar or to an allergen. Yes, you can get addicted to things you’re mildly allergic to because it sets you up for a cascade of adrenaline and other stimulating biochemicals which give you a certain satisfaction beyond the taste of the food. Anything that tickles the ol’ brain chemistry is going to have your body calling out for more.

Certain aspects of addiction are about associations, so, we also start looking for the psychological need for a certain food.

Yes, it means digging around in the stories of your past yet again to discover the source of the issue. Once you shed light on it, though, you can more easily dust out the corners and then let its significance fade into the background.

A single woman came to me with headaches and other discomforts. Going through her eating habits, she admitted that she often ate a large bag of chips for supper. As we sifted through that fact, she remembered her alcoholic father, cruel and abusive most of the time, would occasionally come home on a bender, lavishing joyful attention on the kids, and declare it a party, complete with pop and chips. In her childhood mind, chips became indelibly linked with love. What more obvious food choice to make when the adult arrives home, stressed and lonely at the end of the day?

The fact is, under all of your grazing there’s an emotional need for something more.

A divorced man needed my help him with weight loss; a mother of a difficult teenager wanted my support to stick to her anti-inflammatory diet. Both were the epitome of the mindful eater who loses it after supper. One struggled with anger management and feared he’d never have someone in his life again; the other couldn’t get over the way her husband walked out the year before and left her to deal with the child alone. Both were clearly using the snacks as a way of burying the huge and overwhelming feelings that were never far from the surface – rage, grief and self-hatred and a basic desire to be loved. Scary stuff – the kind that you fear will take over and never leave if you let them in.

Without the junk-food as a crutch and a hiding place, they were each forced to come face-to-face with what they were feeling, experience it and move through it.

Maybe you don’t have any overt drama in your past and you’re not suppressing any big emotions, thank you very much. Maybe it’s just a few snacks in front of the TV.

How to get through the evening without snacks

 

Nothing wrong with that on occasion. If, however, that’s the norm; if you can’t face the evening without numbing out with TV & snacks, then it’s time to address what’s going on underneath.

  • Compensating for a lack of love,
  • Hiding from grief or anger or loneliness;
  • Craving something in your life but can’t put your finger on it;
  • Knowing what you want, but can’t sort out how to get it.

Until you sit with those thoughts & feelings, say hello to them, let them expand so you can explore what they need from you, you will stay stuck in that vicious cycle of grazing.

 

Offer yourself the white space for your thoughts and feelings to emerge.

It might will get messy and uncomfortable; let it be so.

Take some flower essences.

Call on your support system when you need them.

 

The peace you find on the other side with be well worth it.

 

What happens to you, inside, when you choose to stay away from the evening snacks? When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

 

Send this post to a friend who’s stuck on this wheel, and let her know that you’ve got her back while she works through whatever comes up.

How Your Body Tells You What It Needs Right Now

 

The other day, I was talking on the phone with a friend who’s being overwhelmed by physical issues since her marriage fell apart – constant nausea and pain from an old wrist injury acting up.

Our conversation had a more personal focus, but she did ask me my professional opinion about what she could do to help remedy one or the other of those symptoms. As always, I suggested she talk to her wrist and stomach – listen to what they have to say, listen to what they need.

At which point, she very kindly asked, “Ok, I get the idea of listening to my body, but how do I do that?”

Of course! Here I am, constantly spouting off about something that’s obvious to me – and to someone who’s already worked with me – but that idea on its own may mean nothing to you, or you might have a notion that’s only somewhat related to what I’m talking about.

 

Let’s clear that up right now. What do I mean when I say “listen to your body”?

Starting with the obvious

Your body speaks to you on a daily basis. When you get hungry or tired or have a pain, your body sends you a bunch of signals to indicate that something needs your attention. Ideally, you eat when you’re hungry and sleep when you’re tired, and step away from the computer to rest your wrist when it hurts: that’s you listening to your body.

If you’re well tuned into your body and actually heed its signals, it doesn’t need to speak very loudly.

Sometimes, though, you ignore those signals, or you’re not in touch enough to actually hear them. In which case, your body starts to speak more loudly: you feel faint and irritable from low blood sugar, your mind is foggy from lack of sleep, or your wrist is so badly inflamed, you can’t work for 3 days.

Your body acts like a little kid looking for loving attention. Do you see what she needs after the first gentle “Mom?”, or do you ignore her until she’s escalated through “Mom. Mom? Moom. Mooo-oooom! MOM!”

 

Listening as a way of fixing a problem

More specifically, you need to listen to your body when trying to sort out how best to address a certain ailment and to understand if certain remedies are working. Let’s say we’re talking about my friend’s nausea. I would ask her to take a few days to notice if there’s a time of day it acts up more than others, if certain foods or activities aggravate it or make it better. Then, once I’ve made certain suggestions about her eating habits and herbs, she’s going to check in to see if there’s any change – for better or worse.

One issue that comes up often with clients is women who graze mindlessly or fall into some other aspect of emotional eating. There again, it’s a matter of understanding if there’s any actual hunger involved. Is the hunger for food, or for a deeper need? Maybe the need for food is a way of avoiding something else. (This is a big topic, and I’ll come back to address it more substantially in another post soon.)

 

Listening to your Body is a way of hearing the needs of your soul.

Don’t worry, there’s a how-to audio for this part at the end.

The other concept I throw around a lot is based on that Teilhard de Chardin quote about us being souls having a human experience: the idea that the body is a container which allows the soul to move on the earth. The body is how we interact in this existence. So it stands to reason that if the soul wants to send us a message, it’s going to do so through medium of the body.

The sensations you feel in your body are your soul speaking to you in a language you can understand.

In that regard, listening to your body involves so much more than noticing your symptoms after certain foods. Listening to your body is part of a healing conversation.

 

When you tune in and hear what your soul is saying to you via the body, you are engaging in a conversation with your self. You are deepening the relationship to your self – in the same way that conversations with the women in your life have turned them from acquaintances into friends into besties.

Conversations aren’t one-sided. They are a back and forth exchange – speaking as well as listening, asking as well as answering; giving and receiving.

When you speak your concerns aloud, whether to yourself or a friend, you draw them out of the shadow of fear and into the light for release.

When you share the experience of what you’re feeling in your body with your practitioner, you’re giving her a fuller picture of why your body is reacting the way it does and how to best approach its healing.

 

What I teach women is based on a technique known as Focusing – developed by psychologist Eugene Gendlin. Some people refer to it as hearing your inner voice or your soul voice or your higher self. Basically, you’re talking to YOU.

Learning how to listen to your body – having a conversation to better understand how it works, how you work – what lights you up and what drags you down – is an essential part of the healing journey.

Put your info in the grey box to access the audio guide which walks you through the steps.

In my next post, once you’ve had a bit of time to practice and get to know yourself in a new way, I’m going to offer a key to making this work as a more effective tool for how you heal and grow. (And let you know what happened with my friend and here wrist.)

Know anyone else who wants to understand how to (re)connect with her body? Share this post using any (or all!) of the buttons here.

How to Find Hope & Motivation after Divorce

 

There’s something about life after moving that has reminded me so much about how things were after I got divorced, 17 years ago.

There came a point when I knew what I had to do, when I couldn’t live as I had been. When I understood I’d be better off on my own than in a marriage where I was expected to bow to all his needs with no expectation of return. A marriage where I spent an awful lot of time alone, feeling like a single parent, and furious with him for landing me in that situation.

Then came the flurry of activity that is divorce – thankfully it was a relatively amicable split, but there were still legalities to work out, stuff to sort and the kids to consider and nurture in a new way.

I lay awake at night worried I’d never be able to support myself and 2 kids (albeit part-time) on my own, until life eventually settled into something I could handle. As sad and as difficult as it was, I took a certain pleasure in being able to stretch my wings more than I ever had with my parenting and the house, without judgment or accusations of being inconsiderate.

That’s when it reality hit.

There I was, 34 years old: I’d been through school and had a steady job. I’d travelled a bit, been married, had kids. All the boxes I’d wanted to tick as a girl had been ticked, or at least the ones I believed should have been ticked.

Was that it?

Will this be my life from now on?

With a few health issues no longer content to stay in the background, it started to feel like it would even start heading downhill from there.

This happens after a move or a big career shift as well as with divorce, that once the stress calms into a routine, there’s a lull.

A wise woman will recognize that lull for what it is: a well-needed break, the calm after the storm. Time to rest, rejuvenate and gather your resources for what comes next in this life on the other side.

Sometimes, we’re not so wise.

There were days when I came face to face with the same issues as before. I was alone, having to do it all on my own. Some days I wondered why I’d even bothered.

Am I really better off than before?

Did I really need to upend the kids to still be in the same place?

And I was still blaming him for it.

It was my garden that spring that taught me the lesson I needed to learn: it’s possible, even inevitable, to start over.

Every year, the flowers wither and die. Fields go fallow and leaves rot. After the snow melts, the world’s all muddy and smelly. There’s a moment when you almost doubt anything will ever actually grow. And then it does.

Look out the window and it’s all dank and colourless. The sun warms up that much more and poof! It’s orange and yellow and violet. Robins chirp. Crab apple blossoms and lilacs fill the air with their perfume. Pea shoots herald crisp green sweetness.

Something had died in my life; come to an end. That didn’t mean I needed to stagnate in the fallout.

It was time to let the seeds of what I wanted for myself to take root. It was time to notice the colours in me, and ask myself: What form of sunshine would help them to bloom?

I started to focus the warmth of my attention on just that: people and activities and food that lit me up, that excited me and nourished me to my very core.

I started to trim away the branches that were holding me down – the blame, the regret, the self-flagellation.

I had done all this, kept putting one foot in front of the other through the previous year because I needed to make me a priority. I chose this life so that my needs, my values would have space to grow in a nurturing environment. How else could I expect to be truly healthy, effectively raise my sons and be of any service in my community?

When you’ve lost motivation for what you want most, when you can’t find the hope of a better day, I beg of you to try this:

Open your senses to the world around you.

Notice:

what flavours make you swoon

which aromas make you sigh

which colours energize your mind

which music makes you dance

Remember: The most beautiful bounty grows from the humus and rot.

Don’t give up on yourself!

 

If you need more help putting self-care at the top of the list, let me know, I’d be glad to help. Click here and we’ll set up a time to talk.

 

If you know someone who’s stagnating in the fallout of the life they’ve left behind, help them to blossom using any of the share buttons below.

Wallowing vs Self-Care or How to Find Hopeful Movement after all the Chaos

 

Don’t you love that time, after you’ve gone through something big – when activity and thinking and decisions and emotional turmoil seem like a never-ending vortex that would pull you along forever – and things become quiet again? It’s so peaceful, just sitting and letting the dust settle on your new life.

You learn to relax again. You get caught up on a season of Broadchurch. You chat on the phone. It’s so comfortable.

Maybe too comfortable, because that was a few months ago; you’re still in that same spot and the dust is piling up.

You’ve gone from allowing yourself a quiet moment of recharging your batteries to full-on hibernation, and you’re starting to feel gross. Sluggish. Your waistline is expanding and your joints complain whenever you try to move.

Did you really just go through everything you did only to end up here?!?

I so get this. Every time I’ve broken up with someone, every time I’ve moved or changed career paths, I get to a point where I just want to curl up in the comfort zone of what’s easiest. But there’s a fine line between taking a moment of self-care and wallowing.

The beauty of change – whether consciously chosen or from the rug getting ripped out from under you – is that it opens the door to opportunity. Lost your job? What a perfect time to open the shop you’ve always dreamed about. Divorced? You can fall in love again…primarily with yourself.

Yes, it’s ripe with potential! Yet, without channeling some of that potential into movement, into action, you will stagnate and go stale.

Look at the trees this time of year. They’ve been standing still and grey, quietly enduring the cold. At a certain point, the sun gets warm enough and their sap starts to flow again. Life literally pours into their branches and they’re awash with colour and communal activity. Without the sap, its limbs will rot and eventually fall off.

Ok, so your arms may not fall off, but your body will feel the lack of vibrant nourishment over time. As poor health, as weight gain, as depression.

Sure wallowing can be part of the process, but when does it start to hold you back from the next necessary steps? And how can you get back into movement when that stillness feels so good?

Recharging makes conscious choices: to watch some TV or eat a cookie or have a glass of wine while you cook dinner.

Destructive wallowing feels like those same activities are a way of avoiding how you feel; they can take over to the point of mindlessness. One cookie becomes a bag. One episode becomes a whole season in one night. The glass of wine replaces dinner.

Recharging sheds tears for all you’re leaving behind – sometimes buckets of them from so deep in your heart, you suddenly understand why you’ve felt so heavy all these months and years. When they’re done, you’re filled with energy and a capacity to now fill that space with creativity and joy.

Destructive wallowing is needy and cries out of self-pity.

Recharging mourns. Wallowing pines.

Deep down inside (sometimes ever so faintly), recharging holds the candle of hope that you will, and do, feel better.

Wallowing feels like nothing will never be good again.

Recharging stays connected to friends and family, if only internally. Wallowing is completely disconnected.

Recharging naturally shifts back into creativity and a need to move. Wallowing can get stuck.

If you’re wallowing and truly feel there’s no way out, please, get help. Call me. Call a friend. Call a therapist.

If you just need a little bit of sunshine to get the sap running again,

  • Put on your favourite music and dance.
  • Go outside and take a walk. Go for a run.
  • Think about that really great day you had a few weeks back, how you felt and what excited you.
  • Get to a yoga class or zumba.
  • Visualize a shower of sparkling white light raining down on you and washing away the grey sludge from your heart and your soul.
  • Turn the dirt and start prepping your garden for planting.

Your mother was right to send you out for fresh air & exercise. Move your body. Get outside. Connect with Nature. Connect with other people…speak about how you’ve been feeling. Breathe.

What gets you back in the game when you’d rather stay curled up in your comfort zone?

If you know anyone who’s stuck in a rut after a big shift, by all means send this along using any (or all!) of these share buttons.