Pearls of Health

COVID: Between a rock and a hard place…

Are you a victim of your fears? The pandemic amplifies fears even if one is fortunate enough to escape the virus. Psychologist and mindfulness meditation teacher Tara Brach advises, “OK. Fear here. Forgive. Forgive.” This is a good first step: name it to tame it. Now we need to address the gems of recognizing our fears. As another saying goes, we have issues in our tissues. Our bodies ache, cramp, and pain us at times. What are these issues in our tissues?

Often, our rocky issues connect to our stories involving previous fears in a life snafu or trauma. A tornado near-escape (I had one in childhood), surviving a scary illness or accident (I had one of those too) or any other type of physical attack make up one kind of trauma. But an emotional storm in the mind is a trauma also. Have you noticed that physical and emotional trauma hang out together? However, our consciousness often escapes us when it comes to minding our bodily tissues.

In Somatic Internal Family Systems Therapy, psychotherapist Susan McConnell writes: “Our individual hurts and collective societal burdens lodged in our tissues await the light of our courage and compassion shining into the depths of our interiority, leading us to the essence of our being.” Thinking like a body-mind psychotherapist is like pearl farming. An oyster’s shell hides its essence. What nonverbal clues of people lead to hidden pearls? What subtle breathing clues are exhibited? What body tissue tensions show up in one’s posture?

When we are suffering, we just want the hurt to go away. In focusing solely on escaping our suffering, we ignore the issues in our tissues. What we might benefit from most is tuning into a compassionate self to understand and validate our fearful body-mind parts. Fear in your personality is protective. Ask yourself, “What is my fear trying to protect?”

Slow your breath to the count of 4 on the in-breath and exhale to the count of 8. Thank your fear for trying to keep you healthy. One kind of acceptance happens when we rub a painful leg when there is a cramp. As Susan points out, using physical contact helps to hold one’s attention in the present moment and even imagined physical contact releases oxytocin in the body. Oxytocin, often called the “cuddle chemical,” is just as important to your singular wellbeing as it is to social interactions with others as it reduces stress responses. Oxytocin contributes to relaxation. In turn, this relaxed response allows one to soften and find a centered self.

Touch and being “in touch” with our body-mind is key in these pandemic hard times. Our fearful personality parts deserve some cuddling.

Pearls of Peace (PoP) Quiz:

42. Where in your body might you hold some fear?

43. What happens in your thinking and behavior when you change your relationship to fear?   

By Janis Johnston

Janis Clark Johnston, Ed.D., has a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University. She has worked with children, families, and groups (ages 3-83) with presenting issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and relationship concerns. She initially worked as a school psychologist in public schools and was awarded School Psychology Practitioner of the Year for Region 1 in Illinois for her innovative work. She was a supervising psychologist at a mental health center, an employee-assistance therapist and a trainer for agencies prior to having a family therapy private practice. Recipient of the 2011 Founder’s Award for her dedication to the parenting education of Parenthesis Family Center (now called New Moms), and the 2002 Community Spirit Award from Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence shelter and education center, Johnston is an active participant in numerous volunteer activities supporting children and families in her community. A frequent presenter at national psychology and educational conferences, Johnston has published journal articles, book chapters, and two books -- It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent: Stories of Evolving Child and Parent Development (2013, hardback; 2019, paperback) and Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss (2017, hardback; 2019, paperback). In addition to augmenting and supporting personal growth in families, Johnston is a Master Gardener and loves nurturing growth in the plants in her yard.

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