Monday, 27 August 2018

Go Hug Yourself

Leaving my dear friend's funeral a couple of weeks ago, (more of that raucous, funny, moving, authentic and perfectly fitting tribute another time) I sat on a train in Paddington station waiting to depart for home and felt an overwhelming sense of connection that I hadn't felt for a very long time. 
Being chronically ill and having to leave my own home since I went on long term sick leave a year and a half ago now has left me feeling incredibly isolated in more ways than one. Sitting on that train I realised that I hadn't experienced that many different types of hugs for a long, long time and I awoke the next morning honestly feeling physically and emotionally lighter in body and mind, as if a great weight had been lifted from my heart. I felt a warmth and openness in my chest that I can recall even now, a couple of weeks later, sitting here tapping away at the keyboard, hoping that this post reaches someone in need and may help alleviate a sense of heaviness or sadness that you may feel at any point in your life and for whatever reason.

Many of our lives now seem to be lacking in physical contact for a number of different reasons. You may be in a relationship, have a buzzing social life and a great group of friends or live in a family or close knit community and still feel very alone. It is not only geographical or physical isolation that leads us to feel like we are disconnected from everyone else. Surveys show that up to 80 percent of us are feeling this sense of aloneness at any one time, and that my friend is disheartening to say the least, but there is something very simple that we can do for ourselves to help us out of these painful feelings.

The day of the funeral was a day of meeting friends, colleagues and acquaintances I had not seen for some time. Since becoming unwell I have slowly retreated from any semblance of a social life spending most of the time with my dear ageing mother and my younger brother who I now live with in a small ruralish village. Now although I love these two remaining members of my tight knit nuclear family very much, they happen to be two of the most un-tactile and undemonstrative people I think I have ever met. Touch has become an anomaly to me over the last 18 months or so and this was made startlingly apparent to me at dear Miss Jones's last hurrah.

In what now feels like another life, I was an actress, and yes I admit a bit (some might say a lot) of a luvvie to boot. Though the hearty hugging and constant kissing of that life was alien to me really, I used my best acting skills and joined in wholeheartedly. I loved it! The feeling of belonging to an 'extended family' of sorts, even if it was just for the duration of whatever production we were all working on for a limited period, was quite new to me but I really did lap it up. I was more than happy to be part of the fond grappling and air kissing of anyone that crossed your path. It made me feel good and I glowed a little inside, but there was always a sense of awkwardness in me, that I don't think I always covered up very well, but you know I didn't realise how much I missed all of that human contact, real or pretend, until I was thrust back into it at the funeral.

I have a small handful of very dear, old friends who of course I hug fondly and affectionately whenever I see them but those occasions sometimes feel few and far between, and as I have neither a partner or any children, physical contact is something I ache for in my loneliness and is glaringly missing from my everyday life.

That day I stopped counting how many times I felt the arms of another quite instinctively meet mine and I will not forget the kind hand that reached to hold mine during a particularly moving part of the service, nor will I forget the '4 musketeers' hold I found myself reassuringly part of with 3 other weeping female friends of mine when we could not stop our tears from flowing freely. The air kisses felt like real kisses between a variety of lips and cheeks, of lips and lips and of lips on a hand that trembled in grief.Gone were the 'mwah mwahs' of my past working life replaced with such tender and loving connections that really had almost forgotten existed. Why did it take the death of such a beloved and respected lady for us to reach out and soothe each other? I don't have the answer to that question but I have to say that I think she'd be rather glad that it did though.

Why, especially as Brits, do we shy away from expressing ourselves in such a tender and necessary manner?

Why are so many people so ungenerous with the hugs and the holding of each other, that we all require to feel safe, loved and cared for?

Whatever the reasons, we do not have to suffer this lack of contact and it's negative effects even in our solitude. Kristin Neff is professor of Human Development and Culture at The University of Texas and co-founder with Chris Germer and Kristy Arbon of Mindful Self-Compassion, an organisation that has developed an empirically supported 8-week course designed to help people cultivate the skill of self-compassion. Neff discovered through her extensive work on self-compassion that "because thoughts and emotions have the same effect on our bodies whether they're directed to ourselves or to others...research suggests that self-compassion may be a powerful trigger for the release of oxytocin."
As you may know oxytocin is a hormone that is released in our bodies making us feel safe, reducing cortisol and calming cardiovascular stress. In other words it dramatically enhances our sense of well being and your body will release oxytocin, which is also said to have powerful anti-depressant effects, in response to any physical gesture of warmth and care.

The absence of touch, says primatologist Robert Sapolsky, "is seemingly one of the most marked of developmental stressors that we can suffer."

So why not try any of the following on a regular basis:

  • Hug yourself - wrap your own arms tightly or gently, whatever feels right, around yourself and just hold yourself for as long as you need to be held.
  • Gently stroke your own cheek or arm - perhaps even closing your eyes and becoming aware of what it feels like in your body, in your heart.
  • Rock your own body, slowly, either backwards and forwards or from side to side.
  • Hold your own hand in whatever manner comforts you.
  • Place one or both hands lightly or with some pressure on your belly.
  • Place one or both hands over your heart area in the centre of your chest and breath into that area with kindness and care for yourself.
You can do any of the above, or other physical gestures you feel comforted by, when you are feeling stressed, saddened, grieving, angry, lonely or in any type of emotional and physical discomfort. Try to tap into the intention of being kind, loving and tender towards yourself and I promise you this can totally transform the way you feel. If you find it hard to summon feelings of kindness towards yourself which can occur for any number of reasons, try to imagine how you might soothe a baby or a kitten or puppy that was distressed. Try and imagine the warmth and care you may show a close friend or family member that was struggling and turn the same type of attention towards your own heart, your brain really can't differentiate between this care coming from yourself or another.

Maybe you didn't receive the loving attention you needed as a baby or a child or as a young adult, maybe it is absent in your life right now but you can rely on yourself to provide this care and dramatically improve your feelings of well being.

So what do you have to lose? Go hug yourself.

Here are some links to online and in person courses and resources, that I can personally recommend, in the world of self-compassion if you need some guidance:

Friday, 3 August 2018

Loneliness and depression walking hand-in-hand

This is an excellent article on the link between depression and loneliness. If you are suffering please reach out to someone.

Johann Hari’s book made me feel more in control of my own moods than I had been led to believe I was for many years. 1 year off all the unnecessary psychiatric medicataions, plural, I have been taking on and off for the last 15 - 20 years, I feel mentally and emotionally stronger than I have in what seems like aeons.

I AM NOT suggesting that anyone reading this stops taking medication without consulting a health practitioner that you know has your best interests at heart. Coming off any long-term medication involves very careful titration, decreasing your dosage over a period of sometimes many months, in line with your mood and emotional well-being.

What I am suggesting is that you read as much as you can about pharmaceutical solutions to mental health issues, and also research alternative and/or supplementary methods such as mindfulness, self-care, being in nature, exercising, eating fresh food that is in season, in fact if you can grow your own even better for both your physical and your emotional health (as well as your finances). Helping others is a good way to start to feel more comfortable with yourself, and being with people that make you feel good enough, whether that be friends you already have or new friends that you make, people with common interests that you can bond with and feel safe with, makes a huge difference to how you feel on a day-to-day basis.

I’m not saying that any of us will live happily ever after, life will always have it’s ups and downs, but it is up to us how we respond to those ups and downs. Are we going to be slayed or strengthened by what life throws at us?

It is your mind and your decision how you care for that mind. It’s the only one you have, and I believe we are more in control of what we think and feel, and how we act, than we are currently led to believe. I’m certainly not saying it is an easy path to travel, but from personal experience, have realised that I do have a choice and a way out of feeling lonely and depressed.

Depression and loneliness very often walk hand in hand. Social connection can ease an aching or a breaking heart. The gentle touch of another’s hand on your arm may be enough to help you start to see the beauty in this world. Have a look at this article and decide your path for yourself.

For the article “The Root Cause of Depression and How to Heal It” CLICK HERE