Monday, 1 March 2021
Thursday, 18 February 2021
Stress Understanding Stress What is stress? Stress is an ubiquitous and multilayered phenomenon that is an entrenched reality of our daily postmodern lives. In effect, the stress response has played a significant role in the evolution of our nervous system and was crucial for our survival on this planet. As hunter gathers we experienced acute stress when there were life-threatening perils from the environment confronting us for e.g. a wild animal that crossed the path of our foraging ancestors. In such instances, the human body would mobilize itself defensively and activate the autonomic nervous system to a fight, flight or freeze response to meet the demands of the situation. When an organism is stressed and in either fight of flight mode, there are profound alterations due to the enervation of the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. Noticeable psychophysiological shifts take place such as an increase in the heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, muscle tension, sweat activity in conjunction with a cascade of neuro-endocrinological alterations. The adrenal-hypothalamus- pituitary axis gets activated and there are rapid secretions of the stress hormone cortisol along with blood moving from the periphery of the body i.e. the limbs to the core i.e. to the heart and lungs. These psychosomatic shifts allow the organism to speed up the action that needed to be taken, which in most cases was either confrontation or agitated escape. However, in freeze mode, which occurs in profound experiences of trauma, the parasympathetic nervous, system dominates and the body drops in pressure, temperature, and mobility simulating a corpse. From an evolutionary perspective, the freeze mode was useful as on occasion predators may loose interest if the prey is already dead. According to one of the pioneers in stress research Hans Seyle, upto a certain point stress is beneficial as it helps us take effective action when facing challenging conditions and this can be understood as “eu-stress.” As such, the stress response to a particular point helps us become focused and efficient and enables us to get things done while simultaneously it protects us from negative consequences that might pertain to our survival. Yet there is a certain threshold value to stress and beyond that stress starts becoming “di-stress” and it starts pathologically eroding and wearing and tearing down our cardiac-respiratory, immune, gastrointestinal and muscular-skeleton systems. Stress becomes di-stress when the stress response is provoked chronically, which is, unfortunately the zeitgeist of our times. Today acute stress is replaced by chronic stress, where a biological threat is now a psychological one. We react to not finding a parking spot before an important meeting in the same way our ancestors reacted to encountering an avalanche near a mountain that might crush them. Our bodies have not caught up with the evolutionary shifts in our life style and so in a nutshell, our bodies are over reacting to the mundane pressures and irritants of every day living. Due to a revolution in our material culture, life is now becoming faster and faster . . . we have faster computers, faster cars, faster communications and often our bodies lag behind and we have to whip ourselves to keep up our pace, to perform, to meet deadlines and to make money. As a result, our default existential state is that of an incessant low-grade activation of the autonomic nervous system, which keeps the bodymind latently stressed. In busy urban areas, especially, we are almost all the time normalized to being unconsciously stressed to the point that we do not realize that we are stressed. This psychologically predisposes us to depression, irritation, frustration, mood swings, and angry outbursts, all of which underscore psychoemotional disturbances. Simultaneously we are prone to worsening any pre-existing medical disorder and susceptible to creating the causes and circumstances for diseases to take root in our bodyminds, highlighting psychosomatic over drive. Diabetes, hypertension, colitis, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, eczema and ulcers are a few stress related conditions. How do we know we are stressed? Since stress is an integral part of our lives, learning how to identify when we are stressed and what to do about de-stressing ourselves becomes paramount for our psychophysiological health and well being. Stress is a polyvalent experience and has cognitive, emotional, physiological and behavioral ramifications. Below is a brief exegesis of some of the symptoms that manifest in us in relation to each category within which our stress response can be observed. It is important to recognize if any of these are being embodied in our own experience in order to assess how stressed one is and moreover, the ways in which we create stress for ourselves through our perceptions. Regarding a demand from the environment as either a threat or a challenge depends very much on our sense of self esteem and feelings of being resourced and resilient. Cognitive dimensions: ruminating repetitive thoughts that are automatic and pessimistic; negative interpretations of life events; and a predisposition to play the victim. Emotional dimensions: feelings of anxiety, panic, irritability, agitation, frustration, jitteriness, anger, impatience, overwhelm, being out of control Physical dimensions: changes in heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, muscle tension, sweat activity, body temperature, fatigue, migraines, stomach aches, palpitations Behavioral dimensions: lack of exercise, eating excessively, indulging in unhealthy foods, smoking, drinking, abusing drugs, unnecessary shopping Some useful guidelines to regulate stress While we cannot prevent stress in our lives, we can definitely shift our emotional reactions to stress. In order to modify how we are oriented to overwhelming life events it is quintessential to make life style changes that allow us to slow down and relax. Some suggestions to safe guard ourselves from being chronically stressed are the following: 1) Mediation, yoga, tai chi, qui gong 2) Physical exercise 3) Spending time in nature 4) Healthy nutrition 5) Listening to music and appreciating the arts in general 6) Meditation and yoga 7) Enjoying conviviality with family and friends 8) Going on holiday 9) Sleeping a full eight hours 10) Having a massage 11) Adopting a pet such as dog, cat, hamster, even having an aquarium 12) Working with a mental health professional to see your patterns of stress, how you perpetuate them and ultimately to dis-identify with them
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Labels: Understanding Stress
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Refinning mental health
Somatic Psychotherapy Therapeutic interventions for anxiety, depression, anger management, mood disorders and the whole gamut of DSM 5 disorders, in essence, should be multifaceted. Since the human being is a complex process, psychotherapy is enjoined upon a deep inquiry into our fight and flight responses, our childhood history, our subconscious minds, our lifestyles, our diets, our social relationships, our dreams, our movement patterns and our energy levels. In short, to work with anxiety and depression or any DSM 5 disorder effectively, the therapist should take a holistic approach that engages the subtle and gross aspects of the self. So where would one start in this jungle? The body. The body is what holds the various strands of our life experience together. Working any psychological issue demands a deep delving into the mystery of the body. Since the body is the subconscious and storehouse of repressed memories, thoughts, emotions and experiences. The body is pregnant with implicit meaning. Life literally inscribes and imprints itself on our bodies through our posture, our gestures, the tone of our voice, the quality of our eye contact and the grip of our handshake. The body is the temple of our consciousness, the ground of our experience and the barometer of our felt sense. We know ourselves and the world through our bodies. We experience pleasure and pain through our bodies. Since its inception, somatic psychotherapy has emphasised the import of the body mind connection. Today we are reaching even more subtler understandings of the interconnected nature of the psyche soma in the world of psychotherapy, where Cognitive Behaviour therapy and other talk therapies are acknowledged to not be as effective as body oriented modalities. Ground breaking discoveries in contemporary medical research regarding the enteric nervous system, the gut -brain connection, polyvagal theory and psychoneuroimmunology have underscored that we have more information coming from the body to the brain then from the brain to the body. Bearing this in mind, any psychotherapeutic modality that does not take the body into account is limited in its efficaciousness. I teach all my clients how to settle, ground, feel and reconnect with their bodies and to bring psychological awareness to their muscles. Somatic awareness in combination with Dialectical Behaviour and Cognitive Behavioural techniques along with insights from Existential, Psychodynamic and Transpersonal psychology influence my therapeutic repertoire. Ultimately, I believe that psychotherapy in itself is an art form at the end of the day and is not a one trick pony phenomenon. Different individuals have different needs as one size does not fit all. Having said that, I have found, in keeping with current understandings of the body-mind, that for most clients, the first place to begin is by engaging the physiology of our bodies so as to facilitate the unleashing of the power of the unconscious. Working with the body is a powerful phenomenon that facilities the client in their own healing process. Ultimately, when clients can begin to feel their bodies more they get more insight into their histories and experiences and in turn improve their cognitive, behavioural and relational outcomes.
Understanding my Practice as Bhūta vidya The blueprint of my psyche-therapeutic practice lies in my interest in the anthropology of consciousness. Initially, as a student of anthropology, I was very impressed with how pre-modern cultures and civilisations always looked at the meanderings of the stars to understand their destinies and observed the seasons of nature to heal their body-minds. Over time, the ancients came to delineate clear patterns in the sky and on the earth that spelled health and illness, fortune and misfortune. Deeply impressed with the wisdom of the deep past, I can describe my practitioner’s journey from being a young intern at a methadone support clinic in Tenderloin, San Francisco to my present private practice in South Mumbai, as one of wanting to personally create a working therapeutic modality that integrated Western psychology with the Vedic arts of Jyotiṣa and Āyurveda. I feel Jyotiṣa and Āyurveda have afforded me great depths to expand my psychotherapeutic tool kit to observe bio-energetic patterns: patterns in myself, in my clients, in nature, and in the world around me. Over time, I have come to appreciate that the patterns in a person’s life affect the bio-energetic configurations of their body, mind and consciousness. The extent to which the patterns in an individual’s life synchronise with the rhythms of nature predicates the scope of their well-being. It has been my observation that for most of us living in an urban environment with trash, noise, overcrowding, and all kinds of pollution, we are most clearly out touch with the natural world and our deepest selves. We are in a subconscious state of eco-trauma, where we are dealing with the brutal pain of witnessing the assault on the biosphere. Registering the world around us be potentially taken over by COVID-19, environmental degradation and socio-economic injustice imparts a sense of desolation. It might make one self-harm, overeat, overconsume, feel depressed, anxious, stressed, or angry, smoke, drink, take sleeping tablets, browse meaningless websites, flip from one social media platform to another, dissociate on gadgets and subliminally struggle with the latent existential insecurity of falling into the dark abyss of the void. Whatever we are entertaining in our minds, the likelihood that we will continue to entertain that is very strong, unless we bring awareness to the energetics of what is arising in our body, mind and consciousness. Here, I feel learning Bhūta vidya could be a valuable tool to safeguard oneself from the perils of dis-ease, mentally, physically and spiritually. Bhūta vidya, then, is about linking one’s personal story to the story of the cosmos by learning to understand oneself as a bioenergetic process that is also an "environmental interaction" (Gendlin). It’s about learning to know how one’s mental and digestive health are interrelated, as is one’s experience of time and space, psyche and spirit, day and night, pain and pleasure, nature and culture. Bhūta vidya is about cultivating an awareness of when we are out of balance and learning the tools to bring us back into harmony. What imbalances one, balances another, and there are no hard and fast rules here. It’s about knowing what’s right for you. Once you understand what idiosyncratically imbalances you, you learn what balances you—what herbs, what foods, what movements, what times, what thoughts, what feelings, what moon phases, what fragrances, what asanas, what pranayamas, what activities, what company, what seasons, what colours . . . and you learn to choose only that which balances you. In this way, life becomes a dance where we are constantly bringing ourselves back to balance when everything around us is trying to imbalance us.