Emotion, stress and Emotional Freedom Technique
When we experience a 'difficult' emotion such as fear, sadness, grief, we usually try to push it aside - suppress it perhaps with over-working, over-eating, alcohol, smoking.... you get the picture. The trouble is that emotions which are suppressed rather than processed (more about how to process them later) can get stored in the body as stress hormones including cortisol. Stored difficult emotions can contribute to serious illness and - in the case of that cortisol, for some people - to weight gain. Our prehistoric ancestors had a useful way of processing emotions and stress hormones: imagine one such ancestor out for a stroll in the jungle, far away from her tribe. Suddenly a tiger leaps out from the trees. She experiences a useful, life-saving stress reaction (flight, fight or freeze). The part of her brain called the amygdala is kicked into action and stress hormones are produced which ensure that energy is diverted away from currently unnecessary functions such as digestion, immune response and even thinking. Energy floods into her limbs instead and she high-tails it, running at great speed back to the safety of her tribe. As it is activated, the amygdala - which we can think of as the place where emotions are generated - also sends signals to the bit of the brain associated with memory, the hippocampus. This means she will remember which part of the jungle harbours a tiger. When she does get home to her tribe she can tell them about the tiger but the 'difficult' emotion - the extreme fear - has gone. How? She has processed that emotion by running. Exercise helps us metabolise stress hormones so they don't get stored. Our own tigers are usually stressful events which are not life-threatening. As far as the amygdala in our brain is concerned though, it is as if they were. We have all experienced stressful situations in which our 'non-essential' processes - digestion, immune response or healing and even thinking - have stalled. Now, if we are accustomed to going out running, walking or exercising, we can process our own stress hormones that way. Many of us don't. And if our own stressful event happened to be something very difficult and even traumatic, not only will the hippocampus in the brain store the memory of it but the emotions which were triggered at the time become tied to that memory. If we don't process the emotions somehow they may damage our physical health because processess such as immune function, digestion and many others, are impaired. There are therapeutic techniques which can reach the amygdala, untie the link with memory and process difficult emotions. This leaves us with memories intact but without the powerful emotional reaction. Probably the best of these techniques is Emotional Freedom Technique or EFT, sometimes called Tapping. EFT is a cross between psychology and acupressure (acupuncture without the needles). By tapping on certain acupressure points or meridans, whilst talking about a problem or difficult emotion or painful memory, a signal is sent to the amygdala to turn off stress hormones and tell the amygdala that it is safe to relax. The beauty of EFT is that it is easy to learn and use oneself. Although I often use EFT with clients - whether for traumatic events from the past or something going on in the present - I teach them the basic technique which they then have for life.
Virginia Hayden 26th February, 2018.
Relationships: breaking up and loneliness
From "To break up or not to break up" by Virginia Hayden
If we are breaking up with someone we had been with for some years, inevitably we will miss them and how they fitted into our lives. We had a significant bond with her or him. Such bonding can be considered in terms of neurochemicals. The neurochemical oxytocin is sometimes called the relationship or bonding hormone. Breuning (2016) tells us that in our human and pre-human ancestors the nice and safe feeling which resulted when the 'primitive' or limbic system of the brain produced oxytocin ensured we stayed in the relative safety of our troop, tribe or clan. Because if that ancestor ventured out alone, she or he was more vulnerable to predators. Our limbic system still produces oxytocin when we are in a familiar group or with a partner and largely for analagous reasons: not that we are likely to be snatched into the jaws of a big cat but that bit of our brain knows life is more difficult for us out there alone. When we lose an important source of oxytocin, we don't just miss our familiar life, we can also feel significantly uneasy, almost at risk. Estranged couples may gravitate back together in an attempt to restore the feelings of belonging and safety which arise from having that oxytocin again. None of this is conscious of course and most of us do have other bonds which can give us oxytocin whether family, pets, friends or other groups ranging from work to choir or sports team membership. Yet if we had been with our partner for a considerable time and having a degree of closeness, our brains will still miss that. In effect loneliness can be regarded as a lack of oxytocin. Loneliness is not the same as being alone, nor inevitable when alone. Loneliness can often arise during the relationship if it is not a happy one. It is lonely when we are with the wrong person and don't have that sense of bonding. A definition of loneliness might be: missing the comfort of being with someone whom you trust to truly care about you. We may consider staying with an existing partner despite being unhappy because we fear being lonely. Or we may contemplate a new relationship for the same reason. Doing either of these will work in that the presence of another person in our home or life alleviates the immediate, more superficial aspects of loneliness. (I.e., it gives you a limited amount of oxytocin.) But if you don't have the depth of connection and intimacy that being with someone you do trust to truly care for you provides - whether that is a partner or close friend - deeper loneliness remains and with it perhaps, a sense of loss.
Virginia Hayden January 2018
Relationships: deciding whether to stay or to break up
Whether you are trying to work out if you should stay with your partner or - if you have already broken up - whether to embark on a new relationship, these decisions may seem overwhelming. It may feel as though you are floundering. No doubt you will already have considered many practical and financial factors. Taking legal and financial advice is important if you are considering breaking up from marriage or co-habitation. This should give you a professional's objective view of your situation, untainted by emotional factors. In addition though, you need to find your way through an emotional maze and a map would be nice. There are various approaches from coaching, therapy, NLP and Emotional Freedom Technique which can guide you through such a maze. However, the very simplest - and I suggest, the very first - approach to consider is to define a good relationship. Considering such a definition can help you discover whether your current or prospective partner is still The One. (Or rather, 'A One' as there are millions of people out there.) The definition of a good relationship given by Richard Bandler (2008) is both beautiful and helpful as it outlines starkly the consequences of getting it wrong: "If a relationship isn't built upon two people healthier together, happier together, building good memories and building a good life together, then one partner drains the life out of the other, one way or another." This is true food for thought. Consider your current or potential relationship and the extent to which it could match this definition. Doing so will contribute to your eventual decision. For some people, this definition alone is enough to clinch a decision. It is salutary to consider too the sentence with which Bandler expands on the discussion: "It either happens that way or worse, one person ends a relationship and the other just stays in love and pines away." Depending upon the state of your relationship (are the pair of you on cordial terms or are you chucking crockery at each other) you may choose to discuss this definition together and perhaps come up with your own, agreed definition of a good relationship. Alternatively it may be more appropriate for you to look at this alone, or, with a trusted friend.
Virginia Hayden 2nd October 2017
Recovering from M.E./Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
There are two fundamental components to recovery from M.E. Or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: (1) Following appropriate medical protocols for identifying and treating the underlying biochemical, immunological and hormonal problems - the physical aspects and (2) Addressing the emotional and psychological factors which both contributed to the M.E. and result from having M.E or chronic fatigue. It is the synergy between these physical, medical protocols and an emotional/psychological 'toolkit' which is effective. People need both in order to recover.
A useful metaphor to help understand the process of M.E./C.F.S. is the overloaded boat. Imagine the outline of a cargo boat, floating on the sea. Each person - healthy or not - is such a boat which carries certain loads. One load common to all would be 'genetic factors'. Other factors might be 'work stress', 'physical injury', 'anxiety', 'relationship problems' etc. 'Immune factors' would be in there too as would be 'personality type', 'lifestyle' and 'diet'. Everyone has a range of loads yet the majority of these boats continue to float. People with M.E./ C.F.S have overloaded boats. Overloaded boats sit lower and lower in the water and for some, sink. Such additional loads might include 'organophosphate poisoning', 'hormonal disruption', 'hypoclycaemia', 'antibiotic overuse', 'emotional trauma', 'negative body image', 'eating disorders', 'chronic stress' and - with respect to personality types - ' achiever patterns'. The actual loads vary of course for each person but will invariably include what could crudely be differentiated into physical loads and psychological and emotional loads. One load common to most who go through the process of M.E./C.F.S. is ' the diagnosis of ME/CFS'. This load can be visualised as sitting on top of all the others. For those not fortunate enough to have appropriate, well-informed medical help, it includes the ignorance and unhelpful attitudes of clinicians consulted by people as they search for a diagnosis and answers. Such attitudes can lead to the person's belief either that there is nothing organically wrong with them or that they will be sick for ever. A common experience too is frustration and the further stress arising from a lack of understanding from family and friends.
One of the tools which is particularly helpful in working with M.E./C.F.S is a form of energy psychology called Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). This can be described as a blend of acupressure - or acupuncture without the needles - and psychology. It involves tapping on certain meridian points whilst talking about a problem. It looks extremely odd but it is highly effective for a wide range of problems whether apparently purely physical (such as pain, including fibromyalgia), psychological or emotional. We can use EFT to address issues right here and now - such as pain, sleeplessness, anxiety, stress - or to visit the past when addressing trauma.
Some other tools for addressing emotional and psychological aspects come from NLP. which can be expressed as reprogramming the brain or changing the way we think and feel in order to become more effective, happier, healthier. It is about solving problems but it also concerns bringing about improvements. With M.E./C.F.S we can use various NLP techniques to change unhelpful beliefs, relieve anxiety, relieve stress, increase happiness, remove phobia, remove painful memories, manage weight, change unhelpful habits, improve relaxation, alleviate grief and more. NLP works mainly in the present; it does not require us to delve into our past to any great degree. The processes are varied but what they have in common is focus upon how our brain experiences a situation through our senses and stores that experience. Such changes are often rapid and permanent. Like EFT, there are some NLP techniques which a practitioner can teach you to do for yourself. In fact, some such homework is essential in order to make progress. Clients going through ME/CFS I find are highly motivated and welcome the ability to take some control by doing such things themselves.
There is a strong overlap between NLP and hypnosis and 'Ericksonian' hypnotherapy can be very beneficial for people with M.E./C.F.S. Basically, we explore a wanted change then induce a trance, greatly increase relaxation and install the change.
When addressing the psychological factors and what Dr Sarah Myhill refers to as the "emotional hole in the energy bucket" the good news is that it is not essential to empty that overloaded boat completely. We just need to remove or reduce some of those big loads. Will alleviating the emotional and psychological factors have an impact upon the physical and physiological component of the CFS process? The answer is a resounding 'yes'.
Virginia Hayden 1st June 2017
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Is there (emotionally) intelligent life on the planet?
We need to be reminded that our emotions are part of our intelligence. We tend to think of intelligence as a cognitive function which we apply to live our complicated lives – to work or study, to create, to negotiate difficulties, to solve problems. In Western culture in particular, we are apt to forget that we also have emotional intelligence. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we do need and use our emotions to live our complicated lives – to work or study, create, negotiate difficulties and solve problems. If we are not in the habit of listening to emotions, we are failing to use an important resource.
Another tendency is to regard difficult emotions as negative. Thus we like feeling happy or excited but would rather do without feeling anxious, unhappy, sad, scared, suspicious, frustrated, guilty…. It is more useful to classify emotions as “uncomfortable” or “difficult” rather than “negative”. All emotions – including the uncomfortable ones – are there for a reason: they have, what we call in the trade, positive intentions. They have a message to deliver for our own benefit and if we try to push the emotion away or suppress it, perhaps by over-eating, drinking, smoking or over-working, that emotion does not give up. It will continue to pester us until we pay attention. There are techniques for listening to and interpreting emotions which can be learned. But the very simplest way is to get into the habit of paying attention to a feeling which crops up. Instead of pushing away sadness or anger, for example, deliberately focus upon it. Stop for a moment and acknowledge that a feeling is there and consider where it is. Because although emotions begin in our mind (usually triggered by a thought), they appear in our body. In fact, paying attention to our emotions is the same as paying attention to our body. And if we usually ignore one – emotion or body – we ignore the other; we can say that we have a poor relationship with our body and emotions. If this relationship deteriorates too far for too long, we can become very ill. So, locate that feeling. Is it in your gut, your heart, your neck, big toe or wherever. Focus upon that feeling in that area and breathe slowly and deeply for a minute or two as you focus. As you do pay it attention, the difficult emotion is likely to lessen. If you are able to notice what is wants to convey to you, perhaps in the form of a thought or image popping into your mind, a sensation, a sound or an intuition, it may well cease completely because it has fulfilled its function.
Virginia Hayden 1st March 2017
Stop dieting and lose weight
We know that dieting makes us fatter in the long run. Following a diet may help us lose weight in the short term and may even do so quickly. But following that diet is stressful because we are constantly monitoring our food and most importantly, we are denying ourselves, maybe even starving ourselves. From the point of view of our body chemistry a couple of things are worth noting. Firstly, the stress may severely reduce the amount of serotonin which is produced in our brain. Serotonin can be thought of as the “neurochemical of happiness”. For those of us for whom emotional eating is an issue, low serotonin is bad news as we may be driven to eat because the act of eating increases serotonin production, albeit briefly. Secondly, our metabolic rate – the rate at which we burn our food as fuel – is decreased when we diet. This is because our body ‘recognises’ that we are in starvation mode and must conserve energy. So what happens when we stop dieting, as we do when the diet takes us to our target weight or, when we simply give up? The starved body recognises that the famine period is over and eagerly grabs onto food for storage to make up the weight loss and to build up fat in readiness for the next period of famine. (I.e., the next diet!) That fat and weight gain is made easier of course, because the body’s metabolic rate got reduced during the diet. As for serotonin, well, we are miserable from regaining weight.
There are ways to avoid this situation and to lose weight gradually whilst becoming generally happier. Of paramount importance is banishing diets from our life. We need to learn a natural way of behaving and eating which is healthier and permanent. NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) shows us how with strategies developed from modelling the behaviour of naturally slender people. We can learn a “naturally slender eating strategy” and reprogramme our brain such that it becomes automatic - we don’t even have to think about it once we have installed the new habits. Such a strategy teaches us to pay attention to what our body actually wants, rather than – for example – to that advert for pizza or that cake display in the supermarket. It involves devastatingly complex rules such as “Only eat when you are hungry” and “Stop eating when you are no longer hungry”. No discomfort is involved and we need deny ourselves nothing. Our focus shifts from the immediate and short-term pleasure of eating perhaps large amounts of pizza or cake, to the longer term pleasure and satisfaction of our body. And, eating in this way may well include occasional pizza or cake, in small amounts. The result is a more even metabolic rate, increased well-being and gradual weight loss.
Another strand of the solution to weight gain addresses a particular aspect of the naturally slender eating strategy: “(Only) eat when you are hungry”. I.e., tackling the habit of emotional eating. Many of us, for various reasons, eat not because of hunger but because we seek comfort and to control uncomfortable emotions. A stressful situation at work or home may lead us to that stash of chocolate bars we keep in the desk drawer or ‘spare’ sausage rolls in the fridge. For some, this emotional eating is a response to a chronically low serotonin level because – as noted above – eating temporarily increases serotonin. We need a new, or rather a healthier approach to our emotions. Emotions are part of our intelligence and each strong feeling we experience has a message to convey. It may be trying to tell us that a certain situation needs to be addressed and changed, despite our rational decision being otherwise. (Think of having a ‘gut reaction’ against a decision you have consciously made.) If – as is common in our society – we ignore that message and repress the uncomfortable emotion, perhaps by over-eating or over-working, the emotion will keep coming back and demanding attention. Ignoring emotions in the long term can lead to serious health problems.
We can learn to manage and use our emotions and thereby stop the habit of emotional eating. Approaches include “Amygdala Depotentiation Techniques” which are far easier to learn and apply than to pronounce. In 20 minutes or so, we can learn techniques which directly affect the neural pathways involved in the stress response and actually change our neurochemistry. More simply put, we can change the way we feel and get rid of the need for emotional eating.
4th January 2017
We all experience anxiety, perhaps at particular times such as facing a driving test or other type of performance appraisal or giving a speech. On such occasions some anxiety is useful: adrenalin is available to keep us alert, sharp or on our toes. When the occasion has passed, so does the anxiety.
Anxiety can become a problem when it interferes significantly with the way we function in our personal or our work life. The anxiety may become disproportionate to a situation or is present constantly without any obvious reason. In the former case we would not necessarily need to delve and discover why the fear was disproportionate but accept that - for example, the performer with severe stage fright - needs to control and reduce its intensity so that s/he has just enough anxiety to keep sharp for performance. There are various tools for doing this. Hypnotherapy might be used. Then there is the NLP process of 'neuro-hypnotic repatterning' which sounds more cumbersome than it is. This method of reducing or reversing anxiety requires us to recognise that the fear has a physical presence in the body and to notice where that is and the fact that it moves. By changing the direction and speed of this movement (called 'spinning ' the feeling) the feeling changes radically and is no longer anxiety. At the unconscious level, the brain recodes the experience. This can be a 'one-time application' such that when you are in a similar situation again - such as performing or speaking in front of a room full of colleagues - the former anxiety is just not there; it is controlled because the brain has learned a new way of reacting.
If you are someone who has constant anxiety for no apparent reason, again, hypnotherapy can be useful to install a more helpful state. It would be important to find out exactly what state you do want instead. Is it relaxation? Is it confidence or safety or is it something else? Having discovered what you want instead, we can use NLP to give you an 'anchor' to which you have instant access and which calls up your desired state. Such an anchor might be a particular gesture or word which you can use at will to get back that feeling of confidence, safety or whatever it was you wanted.
It may be that if you have constant anxiety, there are underlying, unhelpful beliefs about yourself or the world, "I. In this case, we can replace those with more helpful beliefs using NLP or Emotional Freedom Techniques.
29th October 2016
From procrastinating to feeling smug
Do you procrastinate? Often we procrastinate at work - and particularly if we are self-employed or have significant leeway and discretion about how we organise and conduct our own workload - by focusing upon those aspects of work which we enjoy and put off those aspects we don't. I find myself doing this: I enjoy working with clients and I enjoy 'CPD' - studying for continuing professional development; I don't like promotion and selling. Some of my clients similarly love their own client or customer-based work and hate the admin.
One simple solution comes from recognising that the opposite to procrastination is motivation and that we do know how motivation 'works'. Motivation comes when we get a hit of dopamine. This neurochemical urges us to get things done through giving us a taste of satisfaction - even smugness - when we do achieve a goal. Being smug feels good. The key here is to realise that the goals only need to be small steps on the way to a bigger goal. An example sometimes given is the behaviour of elephants. (I do know you are not an elephant but stay with me.) An elephant may trek many miles to find water (her main goal). She needs motivation to keep on the trek over days or weeks and she gets a squirt of dopamine each time she comes across a recognised milestone in the journey. It may be a certain rock formation or landscape feature that show the elephant she is going in the right direction. It will be a long time and require many such milestones before she reaches the riverbed. I have no idea whether elephants can feel smug so my analogy may break down here. But it is the series of small steps which we achieve on the way to a major goal which can motivate us. Interestingly, we get more of our dopamine from achieving the small steps along the way which is why people may report a sense of anticlimax when they actually reach the mountain summit or whatever the main goal may be.
If you are neither a mountaineer nor an elephant, this works in practice by breaking down the path towards completing an essential but not enjoyable task into bite-sized chunks of time. A client reported constantly putting off organising invoices. He set aside a complete day for admin but frittered away the time procrastinating; he achieved nothing except the feeling of wasting a day of his life. The solution: Step 1 - don't set aside a whole day. Step 2 - allocate much briefer time slots within a day of other, more enjoyable activities. E.g., 08.30 - 09.15, meeting with client A; 09.30-11.00, wrangling invoices; 11.00-13.00, complete job for client B. Etc. It may be that on this particular day the only admin done is that hour and a half. The next day, schedule another admin slot but again, relatively short. He will get a dopamine hit from completing the hour and a half and get some invoices out (or whatever). What that dopamine does is reward him and motivate him to go on and tackle the next step.
There are other, more esoteric approaches to banishing procrastination. One client who ran a training business loved the actual training. She enjoyed holding the floor in front of a group of spellbound trainees. She hated - guess what -admin. She did employ a VA but nonetheless there was paperwork she had to do herself. Using a hypnotic NLP-based process we were able to copy the sensual feelings such as delight in seeing eager trainees arrayed in a horseshoe formation in front of her and hearing their responses and apply such feelings to her paperwork. Previously, she visualised that paperwork as it actually was - haphazard, out-of-control piles rustling as they tumbled off her desk. After the hypnotic process, she imagined the paperwork as arrayed in orderly fashion, in front of her in horsehoe formation, calling to her eagerly! She was able henceforth to actually enjoy doing that paperwork, feeling satisfied (and feeling smug) as she dealt with it.
Virginia Hayden 13th August 2018
Laughter and therapy
Most of us know this from our own experience. But why is it that if we find ourselves in our own, personal dire straits, something which unexpectedly triggers a laugh makes us feel better, even if only briefly? It is because laughing and even smiling broadly changes our neurochemistry. Furthermore, the 'happy chemicals' are not restricted to the brain but circulate throughout the body, affecting physiology and contributing to healing. A single laugh can boost our mood but the more we can laugh throughout the day, the better; the benefits accumulate. What fascinates me about this is that we may have the benefits of laughter even if that laughter is artificial. This means we can make ourselves laugh deliberately, as a daily exercise, even if we believe we have no cause to laugh. Although, if we find ourselves thinking 'Oh, I've got nothing to laugh about', then perhaps we are taking ourselves too seriously. As the psychologist and therapist Owen Fitzpatrick writes "If you frown at your problems they will seem bigger, smile at your problems and they will get smaller." I would add that if we laugh at that problem we may gain a new perspective and new ways of looking at a problem suggest new solutions.
People who come for therapy and coaching usually expect the whole business to be terribly serious. But I find that adding some lightness, some laughter, is invaluable.
My recipe or recommendation today is to make a habit of laughter: viewing, reading, listening to, talking about things which make you laugh and if necessary - make yourself laugh artificially, as a daily exercise. You may find that a forced giggle rapidly becomes a real one. (21st August 2016)