Vagus, Baby! Vagus!!!

Have you ever wondered why you are so anxious? Your vagus nerve may be to blame. Vagus, baby. Vagus!

The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the cranial system and regulates your parasympathetic nervous system.  Not to be confused with the other Vegas, in which you lose your inhibitions and a lot of money at the slot machines, endless buffets, craps tables, or playing cards.  I’m talking about vagus, baby!  Vaaaguuuus!!!

When the vagus system gets triggered by what the brain perceives as a potential threat or unmet needs, your brain sends signals to warn you, otherwise known as a stress reaction.  The vagus nerve helps you regulate your emotion and provide calm and balance. 

If you have a strong vagus response, you are more likely to find balance and calm more quickly and recover from injury, illness, or stress more effectively.

You can strengthen your vagal tone and emotional balance, by practicing a few simple exercises. A strong vagal nerve can produce and release oxytocin in your system, which will provide you a “positive” attitude, calm your brain, and reduce stress and anxiety.

The easiest way to strengthen and stimulate the vagal nerve is slow, deep, intentional breathing. 

Breathe in slowly for seven seconds.  Fill your diaphragm completely and hold that breath for two seconds.  Then exhale slowly as you count to eleven.  Imagine the speed of a deflating air mattress. As an added bonus, focus on and relax your tense muscles as you exhale and slide into peace and calm.

Other ways to strengthen your vagal nerve include humming or singing along with music, smiling or laughing, and gratitude to name a few.

Now…how about that trip to Vagus, baby?!?!  Vaaaguuuus!!!

Choose Kind

If you haven’t noticed, the world is full of negativity, fear, and hate.

There is a solid reason for it.  Our brains require it for survival.  Blame it on your amygdala.  It thrives on negativity because that is its function. In fact, it is instinctual. 

It constantly scans the environment for things that will destroy you in order to keep you alive.  The catch is that it can’t distinguish between what is a real threat and what is an unreal threat.  As a result, we wrestle with unreal fears that create anger, hate, fear, and stress, often directed toward others.

The political climate has always been polarizing.  However, in the age of social media, google searches, and the internet, it exists incessantly in our minds, pushing us further into those negative emotions. 

NEGATIVE NEWS

Negative news sells and intrigues us because it appeals to our amygdala.  It sparks those chemicals our brain loves to feel that eventually lead us to calm.  Think about it. 

How do you feel just moments after you’ve finished an anger tirade, emotions expelled from your body? 

Your brain experienced the release of those chemicals.

SELF-ESTEEM

On top of that, we all suffer a bit from significant events in our life that influence our self-esteem.  So it is always easier to think on others negatively to help us feel better about ourselves. 

FEAR

Furthermore, our brains attempt to protect us from the unknown.  Remember the basic instinct of our brain?  Eventually, we fear people we need not fear.  We villainize them. Our anger fuels us when they disagree and we begin to hate them.

As a result, addiction to anger and hate pervades our thoughts, words, and actions toward others.  Repeatedly, our brain seeks those chemicals and forces us to respond to negativity in a…well…more negative way, in order to get the chemical reaction.

WHAT’S NEXT

So what do we do about it?

The first antidote was discussed in last week’s blog, The Pursuit of Happiness.

The second antidote is like it.  Choose kind.  This phrase was recently popularized from the movie, Wonder.  Here is the scene.

SUMMARY

The answer to the world’s negative belongs at the center of choosing to be kind, understanding, empathetic, and compassionate. When we understand the core of negativity comes from the basic function of our brain (amygdala), we can apply basic strategy to overcome it.

Surrender your need to be right.  Lay down your unrealistic fears of other.  Choose kind. 

Maybe if we all do this, the world would be a better place.

Pursuit of Happiness

Happy Fourth of July! 

OUR DECLARATION

As Americans, one of the reasons we observe July 4th is to commemorate and celebrate our many freedoms as a country and as individuals.  Our Declaration of Independence states our basic rights as human being derived from that freedom; life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

Before it was written, Thomas Jefferson said it this way, “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable; that all men are created equal and independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

HAPPINESS?

We all have the human right to be happy, but unfortunately society has perverted what it means to be happy.

We often derive our happiness from relationship, possessions, and status in life. Yet, possessions and status rarely last forever and we end up having to grieve losing them.  In regard to relationships, we often place our ideals for happiness upon others.  Inevitably, when they don’t meet those ideals and our expectations, happiness eludes us.

So how do we discover true happiness in our pursuit of it?

Only you are responsible for your happiness. When you rely on others, status, and possessions, happiness eludes you.

PURSUE HAPPINESS

How do you pursue happiness?

Happiness begins with gratitude. Looking for things…VERY SPECIFIC THINGS… for which to be grateful each day. Acknowledge the simple things:

  • a cool breeze on a hot day
  • a flower growing through the crack in the concrete
  • a warm smile from a stranger in the grocery store
  • a kind word from the check out person
  • a day without the dog pooping on the floor
  • making a green light
  • good food on a grill
  • viewing fireworks for the 45th time
  • your freedom to pursue happiness

Pay attention to all the small things you typically take for granted. Grant them. Give them the special attention and the gratitude they deserve. See if you won’t find happiness all around you.

EXTRA CREDIT

If you really want to get serious about it this 4th of July, try to look at the person from the opposing political party as human. See them as a person with ideals that wants to make our country a better place. Refuse to see them as the enemy. See them as lovable. Too much to ask?

KEEP IT SIMPLE

Ok then. Keep it simple. Jot down ten things at the end of each day for which you are grateful. Make it a habit to share those things with family and friends around the dinner table or in the car. Share with them around the grill or fireworks this year. ALWAYS be intentional about acknowledging the simple yet beautiful things that are ALL around you. Choose to look. Choose to change your perspective.

Pursue true HAPPINESS this 4th of July.

Sorry…Not Sorry

Do you ever find yourself over apologizing?  Saying “I’m sorry” for things you really shouldn’t?

  • Sorry to trouble you. 
  • Sorry I’m not making any sense.
  • Sorry I’m rambling.
  • Sorry I’m always late. 
  • Sorry.
  • Sorry.
  • Sorry.

People do it often and women more than men. Watch this comic look from Amy Schumer: https://vimeo.com/253499468

THE POWER OF WORDS

Words and language possess great power over humanity, either helping or harming others and/or self.  Negative language stimulates negative feelings.

Over apologizing perpetuates feelings of shame and guilt and impedes self confidence.  Those who lack self-esteem often apologize for everything and push themselves further in to self-shame, which promotes depression. 

Likewise, when you over apologize, you discount appreciation for the gift of grace they offer you.  Sometimes, “I’m sorry” can make both people feel devalued.

DISCLAIMER

*If you have done something to harm, hurt, or dehumanize someone, be sure to seek forgiveness and repent of your actions.  “I’m sorry” is appropriate in such situations.  Afterward, the phrase “Thank you for being patient with me while I work on it” protects the honor of each person.

THE TASK

Replace “I’m sorry” with “Thank you!” 

  • Thanks for helping me.
  • Thanks for understanding.
  • Thanks for listening.
  • Thanks for waiting for me.
  • Thank you.
  • Thank you.
  • Thank you.

So every time you feel the need to say, “I’m sorry” when it is unwarranted, replace it with “Thank you.”

Wisdom from…Yoda?

DO OR DO NOT

I’m a big fan of Yoda from Star Wars.  What could be better than a little guy you can carry on your back who will challenge your every thought and feeling?  In a pinch, you can use him to fight off any evil that tries to thwart your best efforts at living!  Or is that Jiminy Cricket? Nevermind.

Yoda is most famous for the line, “Do. Or do not.  There is no try.”

See what I mean? However, I think a more poignant line comes in The Phantom Menace.  Watch the episode and see for yourself.

Fear leads to anger.  Anger leads to hate.  Hate leads to suffering.

Great words Yoda…but seriously…how do we avoid living in fear?  It seems hard to do, doesn’t it?

LISTEN. UNDERSTAND. EMPATHIZE. LOVE.

Here’s a quick answer…Love.  True love casts out fear.  Love and fear can’t exist in the same space in your mind, which leads us to the next question.

In a world full of negativity and hate, how do we love well?

Maybe Yoda would say it like this:

Listening leads to understanding.  Understanding leads to empathy.  Empathy leads to love.

Love can change the world.  Love has the power to heal hatred; inspire forgiveness; promote feelings of acceptance and security; and build self-esteem. 

Love can build a world of peace.

LOVE CAN BUILD A WORLD OF PEACE

Recently, a “pastor” in Knoxville preached from a perspective of fear and hate, promoting suffering against the LGBTQ community. Even worse, he did so using God as his voice. God, our source of perfect love. People like this disgust me.

For more on this story, read this article: https://www.wate.com/news/local-news/pastor-kcso-deputy-who-called-for-execution-of-lgbt-persons-no-longer-on-active-duty-/2072160807

I wonder what would happen if he had attempted to listen to some stories from the LGBTQ community. Perhaps he might have been able to understand and empathize. Perhaps his church would learn to love more effectively. And perhaps these types of stories would cease to exist. Perhaps peace would prevail.

Perhaps I should attempt to listen to his story…

Peace on earth and peace for individuals. Emotional and mental rest for all who choose love over fear. Peace? Yes, it seems idealistic.

But how will we know until we try?

GIVE IT A TRY

So try carrying Yoda with you on your back and start listening to others’ stories.  Work to understand why they believe what they believe and behave the way they behave.  Empathize before you try to fix their theology, philosophy, political views, and other beliefs. 

See if the fear you hold for others might cease.  The fear and anxiety within you might calm. The suffering around you might cease. Love will take its place. See if you might usher in a little peace in your own life and the lives of those around you.

Give it a try.

Wait…Do…There is no try.

Why is My Heart in My Brain?

When we speak of emotion like love, sadness, or joy, we often say it comes from our heart.  Well, in the words of Dwight K. Schrute, “FALSE!”   Emotions come from the limbic system.  And knowing this fact can help you manage your emotions more effectively.

For the record, I realize it should read “your” not “you,” but i found this meme on memegenerator.net and figured they wouldn’t mind the traffic.

See…Dwight says so! 

INSIDE OUT – More about the Limbic System

A few years ago, Disney created the movie, Inside Out.  The lead character, Riley, is guided by the five core emotions – Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness.  The emotions live in her “Head-quarters,” the control center inside Riley’s mind, where they help advise her through everyday life as she deals with her emotions coming from stress and unmet needs.  This control center is the limbic system.

The movie helps us understand our brain center in a fun way.  Here is a clip:

THE LIMBIC SYSTEM (Emotional or Mammalian)

The limbic system is called the mammalian, or emotional, brain and is a part of the brain that all mammals possess, but nothing lower, like reptiles.  It involves emotions, memory, and arousal.  It works with the rest of the areas of the downstairs brain to keep you alive.  It is our survival instinct.

CHARACTERISTICS OF THE LIMBIC REGION

  • The Limbic System evaluates sensory data (taste, sight, touch, smell, hear) in terms of emotions (joy, fear, anger, disgust, and sadness) that drive behavior required for survival.
  • It is primarily involved in the experience, memory, and expression of emotion.
  • It plays a dominant role in what persons believe is true, real, and important, telling the cortex “this is true, you can believe this.”   It’s why our minds can be fooled by VR – sight.
  • The downstairs brain controls subjective experience (experiencing something rather than intellectually thinking about it or knowing about it).
  • It is SUBCONSCIOUS.  We don’t really control it.
  • The limbic system can be triggered from:
    • Representations of the past (memories)
    • Representations of the future (worries, fantasies, hopes, etc.)
    • Input from sensory organs (the external world – sight, smell, touch, taste, sound)
    • A combination of these
  • There are five main emotions: Joy, Fear, Sadness, Anger, and Disgust.  All other emotions can be categorized into these emotions.
  • There is a good side and a bad side to each emotion.  Does it dehumanize others?  Or does it bring humanity to others?
  • ALL MAMMALS HAVE A LIMBIC REGION IN THE BRAIN. It’s why animals can be used in therapy.

SUMMARY

So when you “feel” something, don’t give credit to your heart.  Give credit to your brain.  Combining this knowledge with our understanding of other areas of the downstairs brain will empower us.  We can learn to regulate our emotions and make our brain work for us, as opposed to our emotions working us.  Good stuff!

Dwight K. Schrute would be proud.

Stairway to Heaven…or Mental Health

LED FOR MY HEAD

Led Zeppelin’s 1971 hit, “Stairway to Heaven,” has had an indelible influence on music for generations.  Perhaps it is because the band takes you on a 7 minute and 55 second ride of every musical sound they had in their arsenal.  It has been the soundtrack to countless parties, group Bic illuminations, bong hits, and fumbles into second base.

Its meaning is as diverse as the backdrops from which it is played, but mostly seemed like a walk through Jimmy Page and Robert Plant’s mind melt.  A dance of neuropathways mingling with…well…the scent of the 70s.  An inner struggle of mind and soul moving toward the stairway to heaven.

It gives new meaning for the phrase, “Led for my head.”

 

IT MAKES ME WONDER

Are we surprised?  The brain is a mysterious and fascinating machine; so complicated to understand.  Ohhh…it makes me wonder.  Ohhhh…it really makes me wonder.  Why do I do the things I do?  Or the things I don’t want to do?  Can I even change them?  Jimmy Page seemed to think so.  After all, “there’s still time to change the road you’re on.”

So we will attempt to better understand the function of the brain.  With new understanding and some proven techniques for rewiring the brain, we can change the things we do for the better.  And wouldn’t that be nice?

Oh…And it makes me wonder.

 

DAN SIEGAL – WHOLE BRAIN CHILD

Dan Siegal does great work on making the brain easier to understand.  He explains it in terms of “Upstairs Brain” and “Downstairs Brain.”  You can read more about it in Whole Brain Child, which is one of my favorite books in regard to parenting and relationships in general.  Here is a simply summary of the brain:

 

Downstairs Brain – (Limbic System) –

  • Produces fear, anger, aggression, worry, anxiety, and selfishness. 
  • Does not work by logic or reason.
  • It is instinctual and needed for survival.
  • Operates out of a negative perspective.
  • Also known as the amygdala or the “reptilian brain.”

 Upstairs Brain – (Frontal Cortex) –

  • Produces empathy, compassion, kindness, understanding, love, and hope.
  • Contains four lobes – Frontal, Parietal, Temporal, and Occipital.
  • When the chemicals in our brain are well balanced, we function from this area.
  • A balanced frontal cortex enhances creativity, imagination, logic, muscle movement, all five senses, emotions, and spirituality.
  • Also known as the neocortex.

Anterior Cingulate – (AC) –

  • The bridge between the downstairs and upstairs brain.
  • Enables us to moderate negative reactions.
  • Enables us to balance reason and emotions.
  • Enables us to regulate emotions.
  • Negative and fearful thinking shuts down the AC.
  • Certain habits/behaviors can strengthen the AC and nurture a healthier quality of life.

 

SUMMARY

By understanding these main parts of the brain and practicing some proven techniques for rewiring it, we can change our habits for the better.  We will discuss those habits in future blogs.  So stay tuned.  Remember…Certain habits/behaviors can strengthen the AC and nurture a healthier quality of life.  

So…Yes!  There’s still time to change the road you’re on.   Oh…And it makes me wonder.

Enjoy the song…you’re humming it anyway.

Common Human Fallacy

OTHERS ARE NOT THE SOURCE OF OUR HAPPINESS

Human beings require social interaction to remain mentally and emotionally healthy.  One of the fallacies of humankind insists that our value comes from being loved or being loveable.  It suggests being in relationship makes you valuable.  A formula like that insinuates others are the source of our identity and happiness, which is destructive to self and relationship.  We must not rely on others for our happiness.

In Crazy Rich Asians, Astrid Leong discovers her husband had an affair.  As they are parting ways, she makes a remarkable statement.

“It’s not my job to make you a man. I can’t make you something you’re not.

In marriage, we often have an ideal of what our spouse will be, how they will look, how they will behave, and how they will treat us.  We force our ideals onto our spouse, often forcing them to live in conflict with their true self.  We try to make them something they are not. 

Inner conflict produces resentment.  Resentment produces contempt and condescension, which destroy relationships.  When we force our spouse to be something other than what they are created to be, we create conflict and unhappiness for them and eventually for us.

Additionally, we do this with our children, coworkers, neighbors, family, and friends.  We expect them to be something they are not.  We expect or force them to behave, speak, and engage the world in ways that are not natural for them, but seem right for us.

This faulty way of thinking indicates you have the cognitive distortion referred to as the “shoulds.”

DON’T SHOULD YOURSELF

If you are struggling in relationship with someone, first ask yourself if you are trying to make them something you want them to be rather than who they are created to be.  When you learn to support them in their true identity and help them attain their true self, they will be happy, and you will be happy.

So remember, don’t rely on others for your happiness and fulfillment.  Likewise, don’t be the source of happiness for others either.  It’s not your job to make someone happy and it’s not their job to make you happy.

Most importantly, stop should-ing yourself.

 

One Thing You Need to Transform Every Relationship

Several years ago, there was an entertaining video going around social media.  I use it in Marriage Enrichment Courses.

It…well…just watch:

Funny…and true…almost.

It’s not just men who are “fixers.”  Some women have the need to “fix the problem” and some men have the need for someone “to just listen.”  Sometimes, we may be a person that needs to do both.  Regardless, the video demonstrates an important concept in relationships, whether in marriage, parenting, with co-workers, or neighbors.

The concept is to VALIDATE EMOTIONS.

Yes.  Simply listening to the other person, meeting them in their emotion, and validating that emotion, transforms EVERY relationship.

You can use phrases like these to help validate the emotions of another person:

  • I hear you.
  • ..You’re upset.
  • That’s upsetting.
  • You must be angry to talk to me that way.
  • I can understand how you would feel that way.
  • I would feel that way, too.
  • Help me understand.

Now, don’t confuse validation with approval.  Those are two different ideas.  Validation is simply hearing and attempting to understand the emotion that is surfacing in the other person.  When tend to think validating the emotion is approving of the resulting behavior, which is not the case.

We have no control over the emotions that surface within us.  They are largely genetic and learned and surface when needs are not met.  For instance, have you ever felt an emotion you didn’t want to feel…and not been able to stop it from surfacing?  There you go.

If someone were to validate that emotion for you, it helps take the edge off.  One word for that is normalizing.  It also demonstrates that the other person is listening to you (not attempting to fix you) and that you are being heard.  In these types of situations, we are not looking to be “fixed.”

We ALL want to be heard.  Validating emotion does just that.

It’s okay that emotions surface.  You have no control over when or which emotions surface.  However, you do have control over WHAT you do with them.  But that’s a topic for another blog.

For now…remember…it is not about the nail.

Finding You – Game of Thrones Style

In the last blog, we addressed each of us fitting in and having a place in the world.  However, we didn’t adequately address the harshness of the world when you are working toward the task.

One of today’s most popular series is Game of Thrones.  My favorite theme is of social outcasts finding their way into power; women, eunuchs, illegitimate sons, a little person, and slaves to name a few.  Each character overcame great odds, pain, and suffering to find such a place.

TYRION

Examine the life of Tyrion, an outcast, a little person, perceived as having no value by his father, sister, or any other wealthy or physically powerful person of the day.  He learned after almost being killed in battle and gaining a vicious scar on his face in the process, that he would never become a cunning warrior.  He knew he would never match up in physical prowess to the competition.

His greatest strength was his knowledge and the ability to drink the mightiest person under the table.  His infamous line affirms this truth, “That’s what I do.  I drink and I know things.”  Tyrion knew his place.

In a world that wanted to cast him aside, even end his life, he found a place to fit in.  Yet even though life was hard, he thrived.  He had to reimagine his place in the world.  He wouldn’t be a great warrior, but he would be a great thinker.  He would become the hand of the queen.

In the midst of great suffering, Tyrion remained resilient and hopeful.

SANSA

Sansa reimagined her place after a tortured existence, as well.  She desired marriage to a great king and knights competing for her honor.  Although she married a king, she received no such honor.  Instead, honor was stolen from her over and over.

However, she fought, learned, escaped, and stood for her humanity.  Eventually, she finds a different honor and a new place at Winterfell.

In the midst of great suffering, Sansa remained resilient and hopeful.

JON SNOW

And what about Jon Snow?  How often did he reimagine his place?  He came to terms with being the illegitimate son of Ned Stark instead of his true son.  He thought he’d be a knight in the Night’s Watch and instead he was a ward.  Over and over, his identity was redefined for him, until he eventually discovered he was an heir to the throne.  He was no bastard at all.  Jon overcame trial after punishment after pain.  He was even murdered by his “friends.”

In the midst of great suffering, Jon remained resilient and hopeful.

RESILIENCY AND HOPE

The world works hard to destroy people and their abilities to find themselves.  In my years working with people, I’ve heard many awful stories of pain and suffering.  However, the most resilient and hope-filled people are the ones who find their place and discover peace.  They look for anything positive and hope that something good will come to pass and improve their lot in life.

Resiliency triumphs over suffering at the world’s hands and is the key to finding your place.  It helps one learn from failure and suffering.  Hope is believing that something good can come out of even the worst situation.  Resiliency and hope reshape dreams, recast vision, and work hard to find the slightest bit of positivity in the worst situation.

FINDING YOU

You may not become Heir to the Throne, Hand of the Queen, or Lady of the North, but perhaps you can learn from your pain and suffering.  Perhaps you reshape your lot in life without sacrificing your true self.  It is through our failures and our toughest moments of pain and suffering in life that we find strength, character, and identity.  Just ask Sansa.

In the last episode, The Hound told her she, the “little bird,” should have left King’s Landing with him, insinuating she would have avoided the pain and suffering.  She responded, “Without Littlefinger and Ramsay and the rest, I would’ve stayed a little bird all my life.”

May we all be more than little birds as we move through our pain and suffering.  Don’t give up.

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