What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

In today’s world, many of us have experienced events that are deeply troubling. These include car accidents, physical assault, gruesome deaths, difficult childhoods, witnessing violence, working in fields where tragic things occur, etc. None of these experiences in themselves will result in post-traumatic stress disorder. Indeed, many events in life can be extremely upsetting but may not lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. For some, however, such events stay with the individual and change their ability to cope significantly.

Let’s begin with a bit of discussion about the difference between a difficult event and a traumatic one. I like to refer to difficult events as small-t traumas. These are events that can upset us for days, weeks, and even months. They take time to adjust to and with time and social support the individual is eventually able to function as well as they did prior to the difficult event. Capital-T traumas tend to be events that impact the psyche in ways that prevent us from returning to our previous ability to function. These tend to be events that are outside of the realm of normal human experience, i.e., they are statistically unlikely. Therefore, it is difficult for the sufferer to find social support as most people cannot identify with the events that have occurred. In addition, traumatic events tend to happen quite suddenly and therefore overwhelm the brain in terms of its ability to process what has occurred. There is a great deal of science that explains this but it is beyond the scope of this blog. Capital-T traumas can result in full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder.

 

How do I know when I need to get help for PTSD?

 

How does one know if they have post-traumatic stress disorder and should, therefore, seek help? There are several factors that experts agree are consistent with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The first of these is physical symptoms. Following a traumatic event, it is not uncommon for the sufferer to report extreme fatigue, dizziness, headaches, as well as a host of gastrointestinal difficulties. In addition, the event itself may have left the individual with chronic pain. For example, motor vehicle accidents often result in observable injuries that are painful. If these symptoms persist beyond the length of time in which healing should occur, this may be a symptom of PTSD.

Secondly, those with post-traumatic stress disorder typically report nightmares about the traumatic event and other flashbacks. Flashbacks sometimes called triggers, occur when something relatively small reminds the sufferer of the entire traumatic event and the sufferer experiences a very high level of distress. An example of this might be smelling alcohol following an event in which an assailant was intoxicated or smelled like alcohol. The sound of sirens can also be a common trigger.

In addition, PTSD sufferers tend to exhibit a specific form of anxiety in which they begin to avoid situations that might remind them of the traumatic experience. This is done so that the sufferer can avoid feeling the distress and pain that they felt during the initial event. For example, if the traumatic event involved harm coming to a child, the sufferer may begin to avoid settings where there are children. These avoidances can make it very hard to resume normal life as some of them are quite common settings and or objects.

The next symptom that commonly occurs with PTSD is social withdrawal. This can take the form of an otherwise friendly person who begins to decline invitations that they would normally attend. The sufferer may also begin to spend time alone and become very quiet even within their own family. Added to this, the sufferer may begin to use alcohol or drugs in an attempt to withdraw from the feelings and memories associated with the trauma. They may also begin to engage in risky and seemingly wild activities such as driving erratically, walking alone in high-risk situations, etc., as a means of distracting themselves from the traumatic memory.

Repression or trying to forget the event is another symptom of PTSD. This can take the form of the sufferer destroying anything that might remind him or her of the traumatic event. It can even go so far as to result in a memory loss wherein the sufferer does not have a conscious memory of the traumatic experience.

Folks with post-traumatic stress disorder often become emotionally numb. Their loved ones may begin to notice a difference in that the sufferer appears to have no feelings. Sufferers themselves often describe feeling numb. This is the mind’s way of protecting us from becoming overwhelmed when something horrible has occurred.

Another common symptom of PTSD is what is called hyperarousal. Basically, this means that the individual becomes very jumpy and is easily startled. They may be startled by a sound that was present during the initial event such as a loud banging sound or may as easily startled by anything that they consider sudden. Individuals with PTSD often appear to be on edge as if they are waiting for the next bad thing to happen.

With all of the triggers, nightmares, hyperarousal, attempts to avoid being reminded of the traumatic event, and physical discomfort that may be present, it is no wonder that trauma survivors are commonly irritable. Irritability is the final factor that is typically present in a person with PTSD.

 

Is there hope for me or my loved one if PTSD is involved?

 

If the above describes yourself or someone you love, there is much reason for hope. PTSD is not a lifelong condition. However, it can be life-threatening if it is not addressed because the suffering is so intense. Ways of addressing PTSD include talking about it with someone trusted and who can really listen. Formal help in the form of counselling is recommended. It is important to identify and work with a therapist who has expertise in the assessment and treatment of PTSD. Such a therapist is likely to use methods such as progressive relaxation, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), talk therapy, art therapy, or neurofeedback, and may work in concert with the sufferer’s physician or other members of a healing team.

It is possible to return to living a full and happy life just like before the trauma. While the traumatic event cannot be forgotten, it does not have to define or debilitate a person who has survived a terrible experience. With the right help, it is possible to learn from even life’s most terrible experiences rather than be controlled by them.

Kathryn Priest-Peries is our newest Associate at Alongside You, starting in January. She has lived experience with, and a high level of expertise in working with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. If you identify with this article and would like to meet with her, please contact the office and we would love to set up an appointment for you.

Kathryn Priest-Peries

What Can I Do About Seasonal Affective Disorder?

What Can I Do About Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Winter is coming, and so too are shorter days and longer periods of darkness. For a sizable percentage of people (~3% of the Canadian population1), this change to our environment can bring about a seasonal form of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder, SAD. Those who experience SAD experience an onset of clinical depression in the fall season, which spontaneously improves in the summer, a cycle that usually repeats for at least two calendar years in succession. Interestingly, the symptoms of SAD are not typical of non-seasonal depression.2 Depressed mood, loss of interest in activities, and withdrawal from social interaction is common to both, but where typical depression usually includes insomnia, anxiety and reduced food intake, SAD is characterized by hypersomnia, carbohydrate craving and increased body weight. The symptoms look superficially like seasonal rhythms in animals as they prepare to hibernate.

 

In fact, many of the same biological mechanisms which prompt the onset of hibernation in animals like bears are similar to the processes which give rise to SAD in humans. This is because most organisms have internal body clocks which track daily and annual cycles in the external world. Our body clocks, for example, are capable of tracking how long the sun is present each day. While we don’t yet fully understand why this process affects mood, we know that SAD is associated with day length because data from different American states reveal that the incidence of SAD are higher in more northern states.3 This is also true of the ‘winter blues’, or sub-clinical SAD. We also know that the issue is in terms of day length and not the amount of sunshine a location gets because Calgary (~51° N) has much more winter sunshine than Vancouver (~49° N) but similar daylengths and population rates of SAD. This is particularly important information for us Canadians who live north of the 49th parallel. We may get plenty of sun, but we still experience shorter days.

 

So, as we get less daytime during these seasons, is it possible to trick our body clocks into thinking the days are longer?

 

Remarkably, one of the most effective remedies for SAD is bright light treatment. Introducing bright light in the Fall and Winter can prevent or reverse SAD, with roughly 2/3rd of SAD patients responding to the treatment4. The research indicates that it is as effective an antidepressant as any pharmaceutical used to treat SAD and when used correctly is accompanied by relatively few possible side effects. Importantly, however, bright light therapy may trigger mania in individuals with bipolar disorder5, so please consult with your doctor before considering the treatment. The minimum effective dose is approximately 2500 lux, which is about the intensity of sunrise outdoors.6 Bright light treatments, however, will often exceed 10,000 lux. Indoor, room lighting typically emits 500 lux and is thus an ineffective treatment. Those susceptible to SAD can purchase bright light-emitting visors or, alternatively, there are bright light lamps which allow one to sit or work in an environment containing ambient day-time levels of light. These devices can also be used strategically to ease certain sleep disorders and help realign one’s body clocks during jet lag.7

 

Because many of the symptoms of Major Depression and SAD are shared and the two disorders are often comorbid, traditional psychotherapy is also a highly effective treatment for seasonal depression.2 Research using group-based cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), for example, has demonstrated antidepressant effects which nearly mimic 30 minutes of 10,000 lux bright light treatment.8 Health professionals who utilize CBT teach skills to those suffering from various forms of depression which help to change their perceptions of the world.9 Cultivating emotional regulation, developing personal coping strategies, and learning to disrupt patterns of negative thoughts and actions are key constructs of CBT. Bright light treatment and psychotherapies like CBT may be used alongside one another, as well as in conjunction with other therapies like medication or mindfulness practices. Research also suggests that people whose depressive symptoms look more like the ‘winter blues’ than seasonal depression should improve their diets by limiting starches and sugars, exercise frequently, manage stress (especially around the holidays), increase social contact and connection, and spend more time outdoors.10

 

Finally, vitamin D, an essential building block for our bones and muscles, is in short supply in the Canadian Fall and Winter months. A deficiency of vitamin D has been associated with depressive symptoms and some research suggests that taking vitamin D before winter darkness sets in may help prevent symptoms of SAD.11 During the winter months, those living roughly 33 degrees north or 30 degrees south of the equator synthesize very little, if any, vitamin D.12 People beyond these latitudes rely primarily on eating fish and egg yolk or taking nutritional supplements to get the vitamin D needed.13 It is important that most of us, and perhaps especially people experiencing SAD, ensure that we have sufficient levels of vitamin D during these darker months. Thankfully, the Canadian government acknowledges this problem and mandatorily requires that products like cow’s milk, margarine, and calcium-fortified beverages have vitamin D added to them.14 Planning a mid-winter vacation may be valuable for its increased light exposure and onset of vitamin D synthesis, and who doesn’t like taking a vacation as a form of treatment?15

 

Thankfully, there are multiple options for Seasonal Affective Disorder which allow for more personalized treatment plans. If you’re feeling blue this Fall and Winter, Alongside You offers an abundance of counselling and well-being services that can help you if you identify with any of the discussion above regarding SAD.

 

If we can be of help to you, please don’t hesitate to ask. This is why Alongside You exists – because we believe that everyone is worth it. Feel free to contact us to see how we can help!

 

Adam Manz

Adam Manz recently graduated from Simon Fraser University with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Psychology. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in clinical psychology while maintaining a love for meditation, podcasts, and hiking. Adam is volunteering with us here at Alongside You and we’re glad to have him on board!

 

References

1Body and Health Canada. (2019). Seasonal affective disorder. Retrieved from https://bodyandhealth.canada.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/seasonal-affective-disorder.

7Burgess, H. J., Crowley, S. J., Gazda, C. J., Fogg, L. F., & Eastman, C. I. (2003). Preflight adjustment to eastward travel: 3 days of advancing sleep with and without morning bright light. Journal of Biological Rhythms18(4), 318–328. doi: 10.1177/0748730403253585

9Canadian Mental Health Association. (2013). Seasonal affective disorder. Retrieved from https://cmha.bc.ca/documents/seasonal-affective-disorder-2/.

5Chan, P. K., Lam, R. W., Perry, K. F. (1994). Mania precipitated by light therapy for patients with SAD (letter). Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 55:454

4Golden, R. N., Gaynes, B. N., Ekstrom, R. D., Hamer, R. M., Jacobsen, F. M., Suppes, T., … Nemeroff, C. B. (2005). The efficacy of light therapy in the treatment of mood disorders: A review and meta-analysis of the evidence. American Journal of Psychiatry162(4), 656–662. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.162.4.656

13Health Link BC. (2019). Food sources of calcium and vitamin D. Retrieved from https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthlinkbc-files/sources-calcium-vitamin-d.

3Horowitz, S. (2008). Shedding light on seasonal affective disorder. Alternative and Complementary Therapies14(6), 282–287. doi: 10.1089/act.2008.14608

14Janz, T., & Pearson, C. (2015). Health at a glance: Vitamin D blood levels of Canadians. Retrieved from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-624-x/2013001/article/11727-eng.htm#n2.

11Kerr, D. C., Zava, D. T., Piper, W. T., Saturn, S. R., Frei, B., & Gombart, A. F. (2015). Associations between vitamin D levels and depressive symptoms in healthy young adult women. Psychiatry Research227(1), 46–51. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2015.02.016

10National Health Services. (2018). Treatment of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/treatment/.

8Rohan, K. J., Mahon, J. N., Evans, M., Ho, S.-Y., Meyerhoff, J., Postolache, T. T., & Vacek, P. M. (2015). Randomized trial of cognitive-behavioral therapy versus light therapy for seasonal affective disorder: Acute outcomes. American Journal of Psychiatry172(9), 862–869. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2015.14101293

12Stewart, A. E., Roecklein, K. A., Tanner, S., & Kimlin, M. G. (2014). Possible contributions of skin pigmentation and vitamin D in a polyfactorial model of seasonal affective disorder. Medical Hypotheses83(5), 517–525. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2014.09.010

6Tam, E. M., Lam, R. W., & Levitt, A. J. (1995). Treatment of seasonal affective disorder: A review. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry40(8), 457–466. doi:10.1177/070674379504000806

15Targum, S. D., & Rosenthal, N. (2008). Seasonal affective disorder. Psychiatry (Edgmont)5(5), 31–33.

2The National Institute of Mental Health. (2016). Seasonal Affective Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml.

Ending the Stigma Of Mental Illness

Ending the Stigma Of Mental Illness

One in five Canadians lives with a mental illness according to statistics from the Canadian Mental Health Association. In my experience, the rate at which people struggle with mental health issues of some kind is much higher. Most people suffer in silence. Statistically speaking, we are all connected to someone struggling with mental illness. While you’re reading this, look around you. I guarantee someone you just saw is struggling with mental illness and/or a mental health issue of some sort. It’s guaranteed. Are you surprised?

I remember the first time I knew what it meant to feel sad and not know why; and the time I realized that I felt this way a lot of the time, and still didn’t know why. I was six years old. It confused me deeply. I had loving parents, we had a house to live in and food to eat, I went to a good school, I had a good community of people around me. I still felt sad. A lot.

When I was a kid, nobody talked about mental illness, mental health, or anything in the middle. It simply wasn’t something that was a part of the dialogue. As I contemplated what I was going to write this morning, I realized that actually, I don’t recall any public conversations about mental health growing up, whether it was elementary school years, or high school. And while I like to joke that I’m getting old, it wasn’t that long ago that I was in high school.

 It wasn’t for lack of experiences that could lead to a discussion either. I had friends who had very difficult home lives, knew people who lived through tragic accidents, I’ve lost friends to suicide, and more, never mind the statistics we now know about the rate at which mental illness affects the population as a whole. I’m not sure why it was not talked about, it just wasn’t.

Now that I’m older, and in the mental health field, I’m glad that there is more talk about mental illness and mental health management. What I find now, however, is that I can grow tired about simply talking about it and creating awareness, probably to a fault. Awareness is very important. I can only imagine the difference it would have made for me, or friends I now know struggled in childhood, if we could have heard about mental health and had discussions about it. The discussions, however, leave me asking the question, “So now what?” Many of the discussions I hear sound hopeless and don’t offer many solutions. As a professional, I’m also well aware that the solution isn’t simply more professionals and more mental health services.

 

Let’s Talk Hope

One of the things I’m known for, and is written all over my bios on various websites, is that I don’t believe in hopeless causes. It is one of my fundamental beliefs that there is hope in every situation, even if we can’t always see it when we’re in the middle of it. Last year, I connected with Connie Jakab who formed National Hope Talks and we collaborated on a conference in Calgary this past January. The conference is all about hope.

This time around, in January 2020, the conference will be hosted in Edmonton and Calgary, and together with 140 Sports, we’re bringing it to Delta. It’s time we went beyond talking and start acting like we believe that there’s hope.

 

What Is Let’s Talk Hope?

Let’s Talk Hope is a conference, or perhaps an unconference where we bring together students, teachers, parents, mental health workers, business people, non-profit leaders, and more to talk about Hope. We’ll have some speakers with lived experience and unique insight into mental health. This will set the tone for the day, and give some valuable information about what some of us are seeing in the community in terms of mental health. We’re also going to have workshops that incorporate different art forms and help build skills to manage mental health in our own lives, the lives of our community, and beyond.

The peak of the experience at Let’s Talk Hope are the incubator sessions. In these sessions, we get into small groups where people are mixed up to have at least one teacher, student, business leader, mental health worker, non-profit leader, etc. Each person gets 2-3 min to share their perspective and what they are noticing about mental health. Each group then writes down what was commonly shared and what could potentially be the solution.

We know we aren’t going to solve mental illness in one day. What we are going to do is create hope, and get creative, and talk solutions. Solutions that will come from every part of our community, not just the professionals.

 

Join us in Bringing Hope to Delta in January 2020

I can tell you that the first Let’s Talk Hope conference this year was one of the most powerful, encouraging, and hope giving experiences I’ve had in my work in mental health. It helps bring the message of hope in mental health forward, knocks down silos between providers, clients, and the community, and gives us a renewed sense of connection, of togetherness in this fight for mental health in our own back yard.

Does this sound like something you’d like to be a part of? We need to hear your voice and have you as part of the solution to bring hope to our community.

 

Join us on January 18, 2020 for a day of community, celebration, sharing each other’s stories, and talking solutions.

Why Do I Procrastinate?

Why Do I Procrastinate?

Writing these blog posts is one of the easiest parts of my job to put off until later. They require some unstructured thinking time (which is fertile ground for distraction), are unstructured themselves, and there always feels like there is something more important (read: easier and less personally exposing) I could be doing with that time.

Recently I read a fantastic article in the New York Times on exactly the process I’m describing. Most people call it procrastination. I really, really think you should read the article now because if you’re reading this one already, chances are you’re putting something else off.

 

If you don’t feel like doing that, the basic idea is that mainstream science has come to embrace an idea that makes intuitive sense to many of us: procrastination has much less to do with laziness, lack of self-control, and disorganization, and much more to do with emotions. For example, it is often the case that the task at hand will bring up a disquieting uncomfortable feeling that we often barely notice. Therefore, procrastination is about protection: we keep ourselves safe from feeling (for example) our own self-doubt or shame by doing something unrelated, whether it is productive or not. This has the effect of a short-term boost in good feelings (TV is fun!) but is often counterproductive in the long term. For example, these blog posts give me some anxiety, because I never know who is reading them and what I might be sending into the public eye that might not be good enough, or that I might even end up disagreeing with myself a year from now. So I often find something else to do.

 

Along these same lines, there is a much more complex system of underworkings at play in our decisions than we think. We in the mental health field love to talk about the brain (how its fear center causes us to react in response to stress, for example), but according to good recent research, there are mini “brains” around areas such as our heart and gut that make them function as powerfully as our heads at times. Daniel Siegel is a big proponent of this, and you can also read more about this at Heart Math here.

 

To return to the article (here’s a link to it again!), it encourages self-compassion, which we counsellors also love. Having grace and compassion for our own mistakes is one of the best tools out there. The article offers three other, very simple tips for when you find yourself the victim of procrastination:

  • Be curious. Take a breath and allow physical sensations, emotions, and mental processes to come and go, observing them like you were watching a new TV show. Notice what happens to the sensations, feelings and thoughts as you observe them. What are the feelings that might be bringing up unpleasant feelings?
  • Hypothetically imagine the next step: “If I were the version of myself that wasn’t procrastinating right now, what would be the next thing I would do?” Just thinking about this might make you more likely to take action despite your feelings. Many pros agree that motivation often comes while doing something, and not before, so you might need to kickstart things a touch.
  • Make temptations more inconvenient. Hide the TV remote, put a screen time blocker on your phone, etc., etc. This also increases the timeframe for you to become aware of what’s going on, and makes your reward for procrastinating less immediate.

 

I would add a few of my own tips as well:

  • When you feel temptations arise, take a deep breath and allow yourself to be tempted, noticing the temptation to do something gratifying at the moment. This is called many names, but I learned the name urge surfing: you are riding the wave of your temptation and letting it run its course without trying to push it away or make it less intense. This fits really well with tip #1 from the article (Be curious!). Often, the urge will go away in 10-12 minutes, if not much less.
  • If you must, try to give yourself more productive ways to procrastinate. For me, I take a few minutes and stretch. This often makes me feel a little better about myself physically, mentally, and emotionally, and makes me feel better equipped to take on the original task. You might also choose to journal about your inner experiences at the moment, which will help you understand and articulate them (this removes some of the power those impulses have).
  • Building on #2, you could also call a trusted friend and chat about the fact that you’re putting something off. This will help in a number of ways. It will give you a sounding board for your thoughts and feelings, normalize your experiences, and make you feel generally supported (little motivates us as well as reminding ourselves of our supportive relationships).

 

Lastly (as I say with most of these articles), you can always feel free to talk to a professional helper, as they are often equipped with specific skill sets that can help you tackle something like the above, or help get you in position to tackle it. These include professional counsellors like us at Alongside You, but can also be something like a pastor, priest, social worker, or support group. Investing time in caring for yourself the right way has the best interest rate of any investment (by a huge margin). If you have questions about this process, please call our office, and you can even email me directly through my profile by clicking here – I will take the time to respond as best and as soon as I can.

 

Good luck, and now that I’ve written this, I’m off to do something fun.

What is Stress?

What is Stress?

How many times over the past month have you said that you feel stressed? Once a month? Once a week? Once a day? Three times a day? Is even thinking about this question stressing you out? If you answered yes to any of those questions, this article is probably for you.

We talk about stress all the time! So often, in fact, that the word stress has almost lost its meaning. So, what exactly is this thing we call stress?

Stress is an undifferentiated name for the impact emotions have on our bodies2 In other words, it’s a bunch of feelings that are stuck in our bodies and lead us to feel exhausted or irritable or high strung, etc. There are two main different types of stress: Acute Stress and Chronic Stress.

 

Acute Stress

Acute stress is a normal part of everyday life. It happens when a stressor is short term and has a clear beginning, middle, and end. An example of an acute stressor may be giving a presentation at work or at school. Your heart starts pounding and you notice you’re sweatier than normal under your armpits and you maybe even feel like jumping up and down. The key here is that you give your presentation, it ends, you feel pretty okay about it, and you rest. The stress is over.1

 

Chronic Stress

We experience chronic stress when we’re exposed to a stressor for a long period of time. Examples of chronic stress might be working overtime for many days in a row, or working high-stress jobs in general. Other examples may be long term emotional or physical abuse, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In all these cases, our bodies respond to the ongoing stress by continuously secreting stress hormones that eventually negatively impact our mental and physical health.2

Sounds a little bleak right? You might even be a little mad at your body for reacting in such a way when you just need to work a little harder this year to get that raise, so if your body could just quiet down and stop with the tantrums, you could get this done…. or maybe that’s just me. When I learned about our body’s survival mechanism (the Fight/Flight/Freeze response), I became a little less mad at my body. It turns out that without that stress response system, we wouldn’t survive. Maybe if you feel the same way I did, you’ll be able to forgive your body too.

 

Fight Flight or Freeze: Your Body’s Survival Instinct

Your body’s first priority is always to keep you safe. Its ability to ensure your survival rests on its “Fight, Flight or Freeze” system within your central nervous system (CNS). In response to danger, your body mobilizes to either fight, escape (flight), or freeze. This process occurs faster than we can consciously think, it’s an automatic threat protection system built into each of us.3 4

 

Fight

Fight can also be thought of as our rapid anger/fear response. When we are in danger or when someone we care about appears to be in danger and it seems like we could overpower that source of danger in order to stop it, we go into fight mode. This is what happens in those moments when you might feel like you’re in a “blind rage.” You might react by punching or yelling because your central nervous system (CNS) has determined you are in danger and you need to fight your way out. 3 4

An everyday example of the fight response for many people is driving in heavy traffic. Someone cuts you off and you feel your heart pounding, your face gets hot, and you may start yelling in very colourful language from within your car (maybe you even gesture with your middle finger out of your window, the universal North American sign for “I will fight you!”).

 

Flight

This can be thought of as the fear/anxiety response. Your CNS determines that the source of danger is too frightening to face head-on, so the best chance of survival is to run. Your heart pounds, you get a burst of energy and your digestion slows down as the blood from your stomach gets transferred to your legs and arms, so you can move quickly. 3 4

In terms of our driving example, you might notice this feeling when a car has veered out of its lane and is coming toward you. There’s no time to think about your next course of action so your body mobilizes and you either slam on your brakes or you veer onto the shoulder to get out of the other car’s way.

 

Freeze

You go into a state of “freeze” when your CNS determines that the source of danger is too terrifying and too powerful for us to be able to successfully run from or fight. The emotional and/or physical pain is also too intense for you to take in the moment. Instead, you freeze, which allows you to not feel the intensity of the pain. In Freeze mode, our bodies become stiff, our minds go blank, and our brain becomes so overwhelmed, it stops recording memories. For some, this may feel like an out of body experience, for others it may feel like complete numbness. 3 4

Going back to our driving example, freeze is most likely to occur we you actually get into a car accident. This is why many people feel disoriented afterward a car accident and may not remember what happened.

 

How this Relates to Stress 

“Stress” is another word for the fight/flight/freeze response. Chronic Stress a long-term feeling of fear/anxiety/anger that elevates your stress hormones to constantly mobilize you for fight or flight. 3

If every day you’re driving in intense traffic, you may feel constant fear/anxiety about potentially being late for work, compounded with anger at the person who’s driving too slowly in front of you. Then you get to work, and you might have a big project due and you feel fear/anxiety about whether you can get it done on time, you might also feel angry because it feels like the expectations placed on you are too high, oh and also your co-worker is a jerk. Then you drive home, same traffic issues (anger, fear). And then maybe you get home late from work, you have kids to feed and a spouse who is mad at you for working so late (you can fill in the blanks here with the anger/fears that come up with all of that). Then, you try to sleep but your brain is running around trying to solve the day’s problems, and you wake up not feeling very rested, and… repeat. This dizzying cycle of stress that is so common in our culture is too much for our bodies to take! No wonder we all feel so exhausted, irritable, and stuck.

Luckily, there are scientifically proven ways for us to become unstuck and to move through stress. It involves allowing our bodies to complete the stress response cycle. In my next blog post, I’ll explain what the stress response cycle is, and how we can use the steps of the cycle in our everyday lives to keep our minds and bodies healthy.

In the meantime, if you’re recognizing some of the signs and symptoms above, give us a call, we’re here to help!

 

 

References

  1. Centre for Studies on Human Stress (CSHS). (2017). Acute vs. chronic stress. Understand Your

Stress. Retrieved from https://humanstress.ca/stress/understand-your-stress/acute-vs-chronic-stress/

 

  1. Greenberg, L. S. (2015) Emotion-Focused Therapy: Coaching clients to work through their

            feelings (2nd ed.) American Psychological Association: Washington, DC.

 

  1. Nagoski, E. (2015). Come as you are: The surprising new science that will transform your sex

            life. Simon & Schuster: New York, NY.

 

  1. Van Der Kolk, B. (2015). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Penguin Books: New York, NY
Knit for the Health of It. Create for the Community of It.

Knit for the Health of It. Create for the Community of It.

“Properly practiced, knitting soothes the troubled spirit, and it doesn’t hurt the untroubled spirit either.” 

― Elizabeth Zimmerman

 

For the past few years, we’ve hosted a Friday Night Knitting Club at Alongside You. Held once a month at our art studio from September to June, we’ve had people of different ages, stages and abilities gathered together to share in a common interest. The idea grew out of community interest and was borne out of a reading of the novel The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs. What’s been fascinating about knitting groups is that everyone has a story of how they came to knit. Some of us have been knitting from a young age, taught by a family member or friend; others have taken up knitting to cope with chronic pain or illness, or have used it as a way to help those less fortunate. Some knit more regularly while others pick it up after long periods of rest.

I fit somewhere in the middle. Knitting has always been in and out of my life. My twin sister and I learned how to knit from a family friend in our neighbourhood when we around 6 or 7 years old. Because of my sisters’ short stature, a lady from my parent’s church handmade and measured custom knitted outfits for her to wear. Though both of us began knitting at the same time, my sister has kept it up more consistently. She is a little more skilled and comes to my rescue. Though I liked the idea of knitting my first-born a blanket, I had a difficult time finishing it. During the early stages of labour, I thought it was a good idea to attempted to knit. I put so many holes in it that my sister took all the stitches out and refinished the blanket just in time to wrap our daughter in the blanket. She has made both of our girls’ blankets that they cannot, I repeat, cannot live without. That’s the beauty of a knitted item. So much time and effort are laced into a piece that is well treasured. Since then, we have been the happy recipients of well-loved knitted baby clothes, children’s sweaters and blankets by friends and family that are true keepsakes.

 

How Can Knitting Help Us?

 

Here are a few things I have learned about knitting over the years.

 

1. Knitting has a long history all over the world.

Whether the piece is from England, Ireland, Scotland, Latvia, Japan, Australia or Peru, only to name a few possibilities, each is derived with their own styles and techniques. The history behind each garment and each stitch made makes my head swirl!

 

 2. Knitting has major health benefits.

Because of its repetitive nature, knitting keeps your hands busy, produces relaxation, and teaches mindfulness as you tune into each stitch. It can also provide tangible results and garner a sense of accomplishment.  It is these very attributes that have increased the use of knitting as therapy in addictions and recovery programs, and dealing with things such as eating disorders, drug and alcohol addictions, and chronic pain and illness management. Knitting is not simply a creative activity, it is constructive as well; activities using both your body and brain, like knitting or crocheting, actually promote the development of neuropathways that aid in memory retention and stave off symptoms of Dementia, strengthen hand-eye coordination, and offer exercise in joint movement, decreasing symptoms of arthritis. Knitting may as well be known as the “new super craft” just as cauliflower is known for being the “new superfood!”

 

 3. Knitting requires skill. 

Because knitting requires a certain amount of knowledge on everything from how to make yarn, dye it and craft it into something using an array of colours, yarn types, stitches and patterns, you need to learn it from an experienced teacher, relative, friend, or nowadays, YouTube! Knitting is truly a skilled art form that embraces the efforts of knitters with a variety of skill levels. I’m still at the square dishcloth, or scarf stage and hope to move into creating large blankets or shawls! Though historically a woman’s craft, knitting is now being accepted as an activity suitable to all. 

 

 4. Knitting for others in need has been and continues to be a huge part of knitting.

Knitting, for the most part, is made to be functional. Knitted items such as socks, sweaters, scarves and even undergarments are made for regular use and warmth. Historically, hand knitted socks, scarves, sweaters, hats and mitts have warmed soldiers, farmers, the elderly, children, and even those in hospital.

For instance, last year, our Friday Night Knitting Club received over 70 knitted scarves to be distributed at the Union Gospel Mission’s Women’s Shelter. This year, we received over 60 knitted items (hat, scarves, socks, mitts) and over $300 of grocery cards to be donated to Azure House, Delta’s new transition for women and children seeking refuge from domestic violence. This is run by  W.I.N.G.S. (Women in Need of Gaining Strength). Similarly, The Knitting Sisters, a local group made up from women in both South Delta and Richmond, have made it their mission to support local and international charities with their knitting. Whether it is knitting items for a friend or family member, infants in the Neonatal Care Unit, the homeless, or even women’s shelters, many knitters carry on that sense of purpose. 

 

Want to infuse knitting into your life?

 

Here are some ideas on where you can start:

  1. Alongside You hosts a Friday Night Knitting Club once a month for those of any age and ability. We share stories, skills, knitting projects and refreshments. Basic instruction is available. The evening is by donation to raise funds for our Step Forward Program, that helps subsidize our services for those needing financial assistance. Everyone brings their own supplies but we also sell a selection of yarn and needles on site. So far, donations and yarn sales have raised over $2000 for the Step Forward Program and have donated numerous items to women’s shelters. The next one is February 22nd from 7 – 9:30 pm. To register, please visit our Facebook Page.
  1. Knit and Stitch is a knitting group that meets at the Ladner and Tsawwassen Libraries. Bring your own projects and share ideas. For more details, contact your local library.
  1. The Knitting Sisters are a group that meets at McKee House. They also focus on knitting for others. Here’s a great story about them.
  1. Check out Meetup, a popular site devoted to connecting people with similar hobbies and interests. Look by location or by craft.

 

Where can I find knitting supplies and inspiration?

 

There are shops all over the Lower Mainland that have beautifully crafted fibre arts for sale. Fibre Art Studio on Granville Island offers classes and have an extensive collection of yarn in vibrant colours and textures. You can also visit stores in Vancouver such as Three Bags Full, Wet Coast Wools, and in Delta, Crafty Fibre.

Want more inspiration? Check out Etsy for knitted items and patterns.

 

What Is The Takeaway?

 

Knitting is fun. It’s good for your health. It can be used to help others.

Meet the new take on graffiti or street art…YARN BOMBING! Public spaces are adorned with knitted and crocket items: Trees, statues, lamp posts, and even fire hydrants. You never know where you’ll see knitting coming into your life…it may be just around the corner!