The Touch Exchange.

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While sitting in the hot tub, trying to relax, this young man came in with an older gentleman and a young woman. His hesitation and examination of the water, along with a slow forward movement, as if saying “Can I trust this?” caught my attention.  Why was we being so careful? He eventually sat in the water with the young woman next to him and the older gentleman on the other side. I looked at him more intently and his body and eye movements made me realize that he might have a neurological disability.

After a few anxious minutes of looking around, he reached out and touched the hand of the young woman who sat next to him. She returned his touch and his face suddenly relaxed and with look of “O.k… it is safe to be here!” It seems that every time he felt anxious, he reached out to touch her and she returned each touch, each time.  It was like watching a touch exchange.

I watched them leave the hot tub together and they all went off swimming in the pool. He is a great swimmer. Later on, I connected with the young lady in the sauna and we had an interesting chat.  The young man was her brother and the older man was their dad.  It turned out that he was a normal young man with a great career in information technology who suddenly started hearing voices in his head.  At first the family did not make much out of it but it did not take long for them to realize that something was wrong. He is now being treated at one of the hospitals while they are working towards finding permanent long-term care for him.  He is diagnosed with schizophrenia.   She told me how this experience has changed all of their lives, including the fact that she chose to move from another city to support her parents and her brother as they all came to grips with this new development in their lives.  The touch exchange which I saw between them, is his safety net for reassurance.  She told me that when he is uncertain, he reaches out to touch her  or her parents, when they are around.

Mental illness affects more people than we realize.  It is challenging for families to keep it all together and to continue to live a “normal” life. As I write this blog, I am sending blessings to the many people I know who are struggling, trying to find balance as they deal with a loved one who is suffering with mental illness. Sometimes, we have to deal with our partners, or children or parents.  Mental illness quickly isolates families and friends – it is tough to understand; it is expensive to get proper care; it is still stigmatized and it is exhausting to cope with.

On my way home, I asked myself this question: “Who do you connect to when you need re-assurance or someone to reduce your anxiety?”  My answers were a lot less than I  realized.  My partner, a couple of great friends and my sister. Still, I can’t completely release all of my anxieties on those few people so I have developed coping strategies with journaling, writing, walking,  prayers and meditation.

Who do you turn to in your moments of pain, depression, anxiety, frustration, poor judgment?

When our daily unreleased stresses accumulate over a long period of time, we slowly adopt new ways of living and being present in the world. Sometimes, we resort to isolation or we avoid living an active life or we simply lose sight of our purpose and deny ourselves joy in our lives.  Sometimes, alcohol, drugs, sex, love addictions take over as escape routes.

TuneIn to recognize your anxieties.  StepUp and do something about those anxieties because the world needs YOUR POSITIVE ENERGY  to touch the soul of humanity.

Love,

Magdalene

p.s:  The beautiful dog above is that of my friend Ellen, who passed away two years ago.  This dog was her “touch exchange.”  It was a privilege for me to watch how Lulu comforted Ellen in her fight with breast cancer, even just sitting at Ellen’s feet while she went through her treatments. Ellen, on the other hand, loved Lulu and they become grounding forces for each other.

Is that you having an anxiety attack? What happens when the body and mind cannot move in sync with each other?

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I felt tense and my stomach was very unsettled.

It was 4 p.m.

I needed to be somewhere at 8 p.m.

But between 4 – 8, I had a list of 8 things to do, which altogether required about 6 hours.

My body became anxious because my brain was screaming at me to “SLOW DOWN” because it could not keep up with my physical body trying to accomplish all the things I planned to accomplish before 8 that evening. My agenda was tight – I needed to shop for an outfit, go to the gym, pick up a friend, take my daughter out to her friend’s house, have a telephone interview and prepare dinner for the kids… all before 8p.m.

My heart was beating faster than normal and my hands were sweating. My body felt like curling up and never walking up. My phone was beeping constantly and I knew if I picked it up, it would delay my evening even more. Someone else needed my attention while I was falling apart trying to keep to my agenda. I suddenly started getting upset at myself and everyone.

My chest got tighter and tighter and my breathing became very shallow. I felt that my body simply could not move with the normal agility which I am used to. My head felt lighter – almost dizzy.

What was that feeling? Anxiety? Stress?

As I shopped, I kept monitoring my body and I got the signal from my brain to “just stay with the shopping… that is all we can do today… don’t do anything else… if you do, you will crash.” After my shopping expedition, I decided to listen to the signal and I stopped. While the rest of the stuff were all important, it was better to go home, get a bath, relax and just get to the event at 8:00p.m. The rest of the stuff, were not life threatening.

Interestingly enough, as soon as I made the decision to go home, my entire body relaxed. My breathing pattern changed. I got home, relaxed in the shower, took my time to dress and felt much better. My friend whom I had to pick up called to say that she could no longer make it to the event with me. I felt sad but at the same time, it freed some more time. At the end, I had an enjoyable evening and all the stress that seem to have been captured in my body got released (especially after dancing to some reggae music!).

My brain said, “Thank you Magdalene for listening. You don’t have to do everything all at once. Learn to pace yourself. You need to get the brain and the body to work in sync.”

I thrive living a high pace life. I get bored if I don’t have several things going on at the same time but I had never experienced that high level of anxiety before (or maybe I have but simply kept going) so I decided to do some research around anxiety. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (18% of U.S. population). Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment.”

As I read through the article, I took a few moments to analyse what triggered such a high level of anxiety and came to the conclusion that my brain and body simply went off balance in trying to manage my expectations within a timeframe that was not physically practical. Therefore, the best way my brain and body could protect me from harming myself further, was to shut down. How could I have not known that? But as I studied my own behaviour patterns over the last few weeks, I also realize that as I picked up some new activities, I let go of the most important ones which are necessary for my wellbeing: exercise, lots of water, lots of fruits and vegetables and lots of time to relax. My patterns changed and this anxiety attack became a positive clue for me to take stock of myself again.

Some of the things that also heightens our anxiety levels are over commitment, procrastination, not making decisions quickly enough, lack of sufficient exercise, not having enough time between activities to unwind, expectations which do not match reality and  lack of planning. In my case, I should have realized that I could not do 6 hours of stuff in 4 hours!

If the studies are true about how anxiety affects so many people, then we are all bombarded at some point with someone who is literally falling apart. Here are a few things which the the Anxiety and Depression Association of America recommends to help you feel better:

  • Learn to manage stress in your life. Keep an eye on pressures and deadlines and make a commitment to taking time out from study or work.
  • Learn a variety of relaxation techniques. Physical relaxation methods and meditation techniques really do help.
  •  Look after your physical self. Eat healthily, get regular exercise and try to keep a regular sleep pattern. Avoid alcohol, cannabis and junk food.
  • Practice deep abdominal breathing. This consists of breathing in deeply and slowly through your nose, taking the air right down to you abdomen.
  • Learn to replace “negative self-talk” with “coping self-talk.” When you catch yourself thinking something negative like “I can’t do this, it’s just too hard,” try to change it to something more positive, like “This is hard but I can get through it.”

TuneIn to how you feel on a regular basis and note when your body is sending you signals that something may be a bit “off.”  StepUp and become aware of what triggers your anxiety. With small changes, you can work way back to feeling better.

What triggers your anxiety? How do you manage your anxiety? Is the expectations of others higher than you can manage? Is social media a cause for anxiety? Do share your thoughts!

Love,

Magdalene