Day 3 - Your Mind is Your Instrument
Updated: a day ago
How many people feel like a slave to their thoughts? Allowing negative self-talk and destructive behaviours to rule?
I think many people have an emotional mind that they are not fully in control of and that lets them ruminate on negative thoughts, beats them up with negative self-talk and encourages them to engage in unhelpful behaviours such as overeating or using alcohol or drugs.
This is why I believe it is just as important to work on our emotional health daily like we are encouraged to work on our physical health daily.
If you want help to manage your own thoughts using fitness as one of your tools, please get in touch.
Yesterday I got triggered once again as something popped up that I was not expecting, and I had forgotten about. The day was then filled with this feeling (to read about my PTSD feeling please visit my blog Mental Wellbeing and Alcohol). It’s there all the time. I can’t do much without noticing it or being very aware of it. It feels horrible. I can feel anxiety flowing around my body and no matter what good thoughts I encourage myself to have, the feeling doesn’t subside. Even out on my lovely evening bike ride it was very present and I was aware of it the whole way round. It is an all-consuming feeling that takes a lot of energy all day every day.
It really is no wonder I ended up using alcohol when I experienced this feeling for the first time all those years ago. The feeling is relentless and I can understand why I gave in to alcohol because it would shut the feeling off and allow me to sleep.
"As long as we register emotions primarily in our heads, we can remain pretty much in control, but feeling as if our chest is caving in or we’ve been punched in the gut is unbearable. We’ll do anything to make these awful visceral sensations go away, whether it is clinging desperately to another human being, rendering ourselves insensible with drugs or alcohol, or taking a knife to the skin to replace overwhelming emotions with definable sensations. How many mental health problems, from drug addiction to self-injurious behaviour, start as attempts to cope with the unbearable physical pain of our emotions?"
Bessel van der Kolk
I am very grateful for the guided mindfulness meditations that I have found on YouTube recently. They are helping me through this triggered feeling. I am not yet sure today whether the feeling has completely gone (writing at 7am), but it is significantly reduced and I was able to sleep well last night which I am pleased about.
Prior to finding these meditations, I was struggling with sleep. Between the end of December 2020 and a couple of weeks ago my sleep was incredibly disturbed each time the feeling was triggered. I reached for alcohol-free beer as a coping mechanism. But this didn’t really help and if the trigger was a bad one my sleep would be disturbed all night long. I was becoming incredibly exhausted.
Luckily meditation has begun giving me some relief. I am able to fall asleep listening to a guided meditation and my sleep is much more peaceful despite having been triggered in the day.
Research suggests that meditation provides many benefits. One reported benefit is encouraging the connection between the rational and emotional parts of the brain. I don’t know if this is what helps to calm my response and alleviate it, but it makes sense that this is having a positive impact.
What is a PTSD stress response?
When a PTSD stress response is triggered the person experiencing it cannot differentiate between the here and now and the past trauma. The emotional brain kicks in for survival and will not let the rational mind assess the situation and correct it if needed. The original traumatic event for people is usually something incredibly frightening and scary and this is one reason the emotional brain takes over.
The emotional brain is designed to protect us and is in control of our flight/fight/freeze response. When the emotional brain senses extreme danger it acts without the assistance of rational thought. In some situations this is useful. However, in the event of a PTSD response it can be over the top and overwhelming. The trigger for the response usually has some sort of link or emotional connection to the original trauma but does not usually present the same real danger. Even the slightest of resemblance to something from the original trauma can be enough to trigger the response, a smell, a sound or a particular look.
“Long after a traumatic experience is over, it may be reactivated at the slightest hint of danger and mobilize disturbed brain circuits and secrete massive amounts of stress hormones.”
Bessel van der Kolk
Often after experiencing a traumatic event the person is not helped to fully process the experience. This leads to it being held as an emotional memory within the body. They are often held as feelings and emotions rather than a rational mind memory. In the event of a dangerous or perceived dangerous situation the emotional brain trawls its memory banks to check what action is required. Once the emotional brain has searched its memory files and finds the unprocessed traumatic event, it then believes the trigger means that it is back at the time and place of the original trauma and hence all of the emotional fear and stress of that time are felt and experienced in the here and now.
Due to the extreme nature of the original event the brain inhibits input from the rational mind in order to seek immediate safety. However, in a PTSD response the person is rarely in the extreme danger the mind believes it to be in. Since the rational mind is inhibited it is not as simple as just telling yourself you are safe. Often it is a matter of waiting until the emotional mind has decided that it is safe to resume normal operating.
Learn to be the master and not the slave
In the same way that if we want to have a good level of cardiovascular fitness or muscular strength we must train these attributes of our body, if we want to have a healthy mind we must train our brain. Meditation and mindfulness practice are one of the tools I and many other people use for this. Daily practice can help you to become more self-aware and to calm the mind.
One of the good things about having my PTSD response re-triggered is that I now have the chance to go deeper into it to try and process it. When I first experienced the triggered feeling there were no therapies that I was offered or sought that helped. There have been some amazing advances in the world of neuroscience since this time and there is a lot more information available to the masses on ways to work with the traumatised mind in order to process it. One therapy that I am currently using is Internal Family Systems. I am finding it very useful as I am uncovering some of the very deep rooted and unprocessed emotions from the original event.
I believe it is important for all of us to work through our emotions. We are too easily encouraged to paper over the cracks and ignore them. When we do this, we are leaving ourselves with an emotional ticking time bomb that will at some point explode.
I highly recommend finding a therapy that works for you in order to help process emotions. I also don’t think this is a one-off event. We all need networks and tools for working through our emotions all the way through life. When we do this it will lead us to happier and more fulfilled lives.
I also recommend daily practice like meditation and mindfulness. For me it definitely helps quiet the mind so that I feel more in control of it rather than letting it run riot in my life.
Day 3 - 365 Day Journal
Things that were awesome today:
I had an amazing evening bike ride. The sunset was very pretty.
Things that I am grateful for:
😀The guided meditations that I’ve found online
😀Nature - out on my bike last night and now this morning I enjoy hearing the sound of the birds
Caffeine, Alcohol & Alcohol Free Beverages
Strength & Mobility
Cleans and Deadlift plus Mobility & Foam Rolling
Veggies & Fruit
Meditation & Mindfulness
Morning – Guided meditation
Before bed – Guided meditation
I ask all readers to be respectful. This is an honest and heart-felt account of the struggle I have and do incur.
I thank you in advance for your respect and kindness and I encourage you to sign up to my mailing list so I can notify you about new blog updates.
If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in my blogs please get in touch. Your conversations with me will remain confidential. Please note that I am not a therapist but I can support you to find a way to address any issues you may be experiencing.