Richard Harvey, PhD and Erik Peper, PhD
In a technologically modern world, many people have the option of spending 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week continuously interacting via telephone, text, work and personal emails or internet websites and various social media platforms such as Facebook, What’s App, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and Snapchat. How many people do we know who work too many hours, watch too many episodes on digital screens, commute too many hours, or fill loneliness with online versions of retail therapy? In the rush of work-a-day survival as well as being nudged and bombarded with social media notifications, or advertisements for material goods, we forget to nurture meaningful friendships and family relationships (Peper and Harvey, 2018). The following ‘values clarification’ practice may help us identify what is most important to us and help keep sight of those things that are most relevant in our lives (Hofmann, 2008; Knott, Ribar, & Duson, 1989; Twohig & Crosby, 2009;. Peper, 2014).
Give yourself about 12 minutes of uninterrupted time to do this practice. Do this practice by yourself, in a group, or with family and friends. Have a piece of paper ready. Be guided by the two video clips at the end of the blog. Begin with the Touch Relaxation and Regeneration Practice to relax and let go of thoughts and worries, then follow it with the Value Clarification Practice.
Touch Relaxation and Regeneration Practice
Turn off your cell phone and let other know not to interrupt for the next 12 minutes, then engage in the following six-minute relaxation exercise. If your attention wanders during the practice, then bring your attention back to the various sensations in your body.
- Sit comfortably, then lift your arms from your lap, holding them parallel to the floor and tighten your arms while making a fist in each hand. While holding your fists tightly closed, keep breathing for a total of 10 seconds before dropping the arms to your lap while you relax all of your muscles. Attend for 20 seconds to the changing sensations in arms and hands as they relax. If your attention wanders bring it back to the sensations in your arm and hands.
- Tighten your buttock muscles and bend your ankles so that the toes move upwards in a direction towards your knees. Keep breathing and hold your toes upwards for 10 seconds and then let the toes move down to the floor, letting go and relaxing all the muscles of the lower trunk and legs. Feel your knees widening and feel your buttock muscles relaxing. Continue attending to the body and muscle sensations for the next 20 seconds. If your attention wanders bring it back to the sensations in your body.
- Tighten your whole body by pressing your knees together, lifting your arms up from your lap, making a fist and wrinkling your face. Hold the tension while continuing to breath for 10 seconds. Let go and relax and feel the whole body sinking and relaxing and being supported by the chair for the next 20 seconds.
- Bring your right hand to your left shoulder. Over the next 10 seconds, inhale for three or four seconds and as you exhale for five or six seconds, with your right hand stroke down your left arm from your shoulder to past your hand. Imagine that the exhaled air is flowing through your arm and out your hand. Repeat at least once more.
- Bring your left hand to your right shoulder. Inhale for three or four seconds and as you exhale for five or six seconds with your left hand stroke down your right arm from your shoulder to past your hand. Imagine that the exhaled air is flowing through your arm and out your hand. Repeat at least once more.
- Bring both hands to the sides of your hips. Inhale for three or four seconds and as you exhale for five or six seconds stroke your legs with your hands from the hips to the ankles. Imagine that the exhaled air is flowing through your legs and out your feet. Repeat a least once more.
- Close your eyes and inhale for three or four seconds, then hold your breath for seven seconds slowly exhale for eight seconds. Imagine as you exhale the air flowing through your arms and out your hands and through your legs and out your feet. Continue breathing easily and slowly such as inhaling for three or four seconds, and out for five to seven seconds. If your attention wanders just bring it back to the sensations going down your arms and legs. Feel the relaxation and peacefulness.
- Take another deep breath and then stretch and continue with the Value Clarification
Value Clarification Practice
Get the paper and pen and do the following Value Clarification Practice.
- Quickly (e.g. 30-60 seconds) list the 10 most important things in your life. For the activity to work, the list must contain 10 important things that may be concrete or abstract, ranging from material things such as a smart phone or a car to immaterial things such as family, love, god, health… If you need to, break up a larger category into smaller pieces. For example, if one item on the list is family, and you only have seven items on the list, assuming you have a family of four, then identify separate family members in order to complete a list of 10 important things.
- To start off, in only 10 seconds, please cross off three items from the list, then explain why you removed those three. If done in a group of people turn to the person explain why you made these choices.
- Next, in only 10 seconds, please cross off three more, then explain why you kept what you kept. If done in a group of people turn to the person explain why you made these choices.
- Finally, in only 10 seconds, please cross off three more, then reveal the one most important thing on your list. Share your choice for the item you kept and how you felt while crossing items from the list or keeping them.
- When engaging with this type of values clarification practice, please remind yourself and others that the items on the list were never gone, they are always in your life to the extent that you can honor the presence of those things in your life.
We have done these exercises with thousands of student and adults. The most common final item on the list is family or an individual family member. Sometimes, categories such as health or god appear, however it is extremely rare that material items make it to the final round. For example, no one would report that their last item is their job, their bank account, their house, or their smart phone. It is common that people have difficulty choosing the last item on their list, often taking more than 10 seconds to choose. For example, they find that they cannot choose between eliminating individual family members. For those who find the activity too difficult, remind them that the exercise is voluntary and meant as a ‘thought experiment’ which they may stop at any time.
Reflect how much of your time is spent nurturing what is most important to you? In many cases we feel compelled to finish some employment priorities instead of making time for nurturing our family relationship. And when we become overwhelmed with work demands, we retreat to sooth our difficulties by checking our email or browsing social media rather than supporting the family connections that are so important to us.
Organize an action plan to honor and support your commitment to the items on your list that you value the most. If possible let other people know what you are doing.
- Describe in detail what you will do in real life and in real time in service to honor and support your relationships with the things that you value.
- Describe in detail what you will do, when you will do it, with whom you will do it, at what time you will do it, and anticipate what will get in the way of doing it. For example, how will you resolve any conflicts between what you plan and what you actually do when there is not enough time to carry out your plans?
- Schedule a time during the following week for feedback about your plans to honor and support the things you value.
Many people experience that it is challenging to make time to honor and support their primary values given the ongoing demands of daily living. To be congruent with our values means making ongoing choices such as listening and sharing experiences with your partner versus binging on videos or, using your smartphone for answering email or texting instead of watching your child play ball.
The values you previously identified are similar to those identified by patients who are in hospice and dying. For them as they look back on their lives, the five most common regret are (Ware, 2009; Ware, 2012):
- I wish I’d the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
- I wish I had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish I had let myself be happier.
Take the time to plan actions that support your identified values. Feel free to watch the following videos that guide you through the activities described here.
Hofmann, S.G. (2008). Acceptance and commitment therapy: New wave or Morita therapy?. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 15(4), 280-285. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2850.2008.00138.x
Knott, J.E., Ribar, M.C. & Duson, B.M. (1989). Thanatopics: Activities and Exercises for Confronting Death, Lexington Books: Lexington, MA. https://www.amazon.com/Thanatopics-Activities-Exercise-Confronting-Death/dp/066920871X
Peper, E. (October 19, 2014). Choices-Creating meaningful days. https://peperperspective.com/2014/10/19/choices-creating-meaningful-days/
Peper, E. & Harvey, R. (2018). Digital addiction: increased loneliness, depression, and anxiety. NeuroRegulation. 5(1),3–8. doi:10.15540/nr.5.1.3 http://www.neuroregulation.org/article/view/18189/11842
Twohig, M.P. & Crosby, J.M. (2009). Values clarification. In: O’Donohue & W.T., Fisher, J.E., Eds. Cognitive behavior therapy: applying empirically supported techniques in your practice. Wiley: Hoeboken, N.J., p. 681-686.
Ware, B. (2009). Regrets of the dying. https://bronnieware.com/blog/regrets-of-the-dying/
Ware, B. (2012). The top five regrets of dying: A life transformed by the dearly departing. Hay House. ISBN: 978-1401940652
This blog has been reprinted from: Peper, E., Lin, I-M, & Harvey, R. (2017). Posture and mood: Implications and applications to therapy. Biofeedback.35(2), 42-48.
Slouched posture is very common and tends to increase access to helpless, hopeless, powerless and depressive thoughts as well as increased head, neck and shoulder pain. Described are five educational and clinical strategies that therapists can incorporate in their practice to encourage an upright/erect posture. These include practices to experience the negative effects of a collapsed posture as compared to an erect posture, watching YouTube video to enhance motivation, electromyography to demonstrate the effect of posture on muscle activity, ergonomic suggestions to optimize posture, the use of a wearable posture biofeedback device, and strategies to keep looking upward. When clients implement these changes, they report a more positive outlook and reduced neck and shoulder discomfort.
Most people slouch without awareness when looking at their cellphone, tablet, or the computer screen (Guan et al., 2016) as shown in Figure 1. Many clients in psychotherapy and in biofeedback or neurofeedback training experience concurrent rumination and depressive thoughts with their physical symptoms. In most therapeutic sessions, clients sit in a comfortable chair, which automatically creates a posterior pelvic tilt and encourages the spine to curve so that the client sits in a slouched position. While at home, they sit on an easy chair or couch, which lets them slouch as they watch TV or surf the web.
Figure 1. (A). Employee working on his laptop. (B). Boy with ADHD being trained with neurofeedback in a clinic. (C). Student looking at cell phone. When people slouch and look at the screen, they tend to slouch and scrunch their neck.
In many cases, the collapsed position also causes people to scrunch their necks, which puts pressure on their necks that may contribute to developing headache or becoming exhausted. Repetitive strain on the neck and cervical spine may trigger a cervical neuromuscular syndrome that involves chronic neck pain, autonomic imbalance and concomitant depression and anxiety (Matsui & Fujimoto, 2011), and may contribute to vertebrobasilar insufficiency –a reduction in the blood supply to the hindbrain through the left and right vertebral arteries and basilar arteries (Kerry, Taylor, Mitchell, McCarthy, & Brew, 2008). From a biomechanical perspective, slouching also places more stress is on the cervical spine, as shown in Figure 2. When the neck compression is relieved, the symptoms decrease (Matsui & Fujimoto, 2011).
Figure 2. The more the head tilts forward, the more stress is placed on the cervical spine. Reproduced by permission from: Hansraj, K. K. (2014). Assessment of stresses in the cervical spine caused by posture and position of the head. Surgical Technology International, 25, 277–279.
Most people are totally unaware of slouching positions and postures until they experience neck, shoulder, and/or back discomfort. Neither clients nor therapists are typically aware that slouching may decrease energy levels and increase the prevalence of negative (hopeless, helpless, powerless, or defeated) memories and thoughts (Peper & Lin, 2012; Peper et al, 2017)
Recommendations for posture awareness and training in treatment/education
The first step in biofeedback training and therapy is to systematically increase awareness and training of posture before attempting further bio/neurofeedback training and/or cognitive behavior therapy. If the client is sitting in a collapsed position in therapy, then it will be much more difficult for them to access positive thoughts, which interferes with further training and effective therapy. For example, research by Tsai, Peper, & Lin (2016) showed that engaging in positive thinking while slouched requires greater mental effort then when sitting erect. Sitting erect and tall contributes to elevated mood and positive thinking. An upright posture supports positive outcomes that may be akin to the beneficial effects of exercise for the treatment of depression (Schuch, Vancampfort, Richards, Rosenbaum, Ward, & Stubbs., 2016).
Most people know that posture affects health; however, they are unaware of how rapidly a slouching posture can impact their physical and mental health. We recommend the following educational and clinical strategies to teach this awareness.
- Practicing activities that raise awareness about a collapsed posture as compared to an erect posture
Guide clients through the practices so that they experience how posture can affect memory recall, physical strength, energy level, and possible triggering of headaches.
A. The effect of collapsed and erect posture on memory recall. Participants reported that it is much easier evoke powerless, hopeless, helpless, and defeated memories when sitting in a collapsed position than when sitting upright. Guide the client through the procedure described in the article, How posture affects memory recall and mood (Peper, Lin, Harvey, and Perez, 2017) and in the blog Posture affects memory recall and mood.
B. The effects of collapsed and erect posture on perceived physical strength. Participants experience much more difficulty in resisting downward pressure at the wrist of an outstretched arm when slouched rather than upright. Guide the client through the exercise described in the article, Increase strength and mood with posture (Peper, Booiman, Lin, & Harvey, 2016) and the blog, Increase strength and mood with posture.
C. The effect of slouching versus skipping on perceived energy levels. Participants experience a significant increase in subjective energy after skipping than walking slouched. Guide the client through the exercises as described in the article, Increase or decrease depression—How body postures influence your energy level (Peper & Lin, 2012).
D. The effect of neck compression to evoke head pressure and headache sensations. In our unpublished study with students and workshop participants, almost all participants who are asked to bring their head forward, then tilt the chin up and at the same time compress the neck (scrunching the neck), report that within thirty seconds they feel a pressure building up in the back of the head or the beginning of a headache. To their surprise, it may take up to 5 to 20 minutes for the discomfort to disappear. Practicing similar awareness activities can be a useful demonstration for clients with dizziness or headaches to experience how posture can increase their symptoms.
- Watching a Youtube video to enhance motivation.
Have clients watch Professor Amy Cuddy’s 2012 TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) Talk, Your body language shape who you are, which describes the hormonal changes that occur when adapting a upright power versus collapsed defeated posture.
- Electromyographic (EMG) feedback to demonstrate how posture affects muscle activity.
Record EMG from muscles such as around the cervical spine, trapezius, frontalis, and masseters or beneath the chin (submental lead) to demonstrate that having the head is forward and/or the neck compressed will increase EMG activity, as shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3. Electromyographic recording of the muscle under the chin while alternating between bringing the head forward or holding it back, feeling erect and tall.
The client can then learn awareness of the head and neck position. For example, one client with severe concussion experienced significant increase in head pressure and dizziness when she slouched or looked at a computer screen as well as feeling she would never get better. She then practiced the exercise of alternating her awareness by bringing her head forward and then back, and then bringing her neck back while her chin was down, thereby elongating the neck while she continued to breathe. With her head forward, she would feel her molars touching and with her neck back she felt an increase in space between the molars. When she elongated her neck in an erect position, she felt the pressure draining out of her head and her dizziness and tinnitus significantly decrease.
- Assessing ergonomics to optimize posture.
Change the seated posture of both the therapist and the client during treatment and training. Although people may be aware of their posture, it is much easier to change the external environment so that they automatically sit in a more erect power posture. Possible options include:
A. Seat insert or cushions. Sit in upright chairs that encourage an anterior pelvic tilt by having the seat pan slightly lower in the front than in the back or using a seat insert to facilitate a more erect posture (Schwanbeck, Peper, Booiman, Harvey, & Lin, 2015) as shown in Figure 4.
Figure 4. An example of how posture can be impacted covertly when one sits on a seat insert that rotates the pelvis anteriorly (The seat insert shown in the diagram and used in research is produced by BackJoy™).
B. Back cushion. Place a small pillow or rolled up towel at the kidney level so that the spine is slight arched, instead of sitting collapsed, as shown in Figure 5.
Figure 5. An example of how a small pillow, placed between the back of the chair and the lower back, changes posture from collapsed to erect.
C. Check ergonomic and work site computer use to ensure that the client can sit upright while working at the computer. For some, that means checking their vision if they tend to crane forward and crunch their neck to read the text. For those who work on laptops, it means using either an external keyboard, a monitor, or a laptop stand so the screen is at eye level, as shown in Figure 6.
Figure 6. Posture is collapsed when working on a laptop and can be improved by using an external keyboard and monitor. Reproduced by permission from: Bakker Elkhuizen. (n.d.). Office employees are like professional athletes! (2017).
- Wearable posture biofeedback training device
The wearable biofeedback device, UpRight™, consists of a small sensor placed on the spine and works as an app on the cell phone. After calibration the erect and slouched positions, the posture device gives vibratory feedback each time the participant slouches, as shown in Figure 7.
Figure 7. Illustration of a posture feedback device, UpRight™. It provides vibratory feedback to the wearer to indicate that they are beginning to slouch.
Clinically, we have observed that clients can learn to identify conditions that are associated with slouching, such as feeling tired, thinking depressive/hopeless thoughts or other situations that evoke slouching. When people wear a posture feedback device during the day, they rapidly become aware of these subjective experiences whenever they slouch. The feedback reminds them to sit in an erect position, and they subsequently report an improvement in health (Colombo et al., 2017). For example, a 26-year-old man who works more than 8 hours a day on computer reported, “I have an improved awareness of my posture throughout my day. I also notice that I had less back pain at the end of the day.”
- Integrating posture awareness and position changes throughout the day
After clients have become aware of their posture, additional training included having them observe their posture as well and negative changes in mood, energy level or tension in their neck and head. When they become aware of these changes, they use it as a cue to slightly arch their back and look upward. If possible have the clients look outside at the tops of trees and notice details such as how the leaves and branches move. Looking at the details interrupts any ongoing rumination. At the same time, have them think of an uplifting positive memory. Then have them take another breath, wiggling, and return to the task at hand. Recommend to clients to go outside during breaks and lunchtime to look upward at the trees, the hills, or the clouds. Each time one is distracted, return to appreciate the natural patterns. This mental break concludes by reminding oneself that humans are like trees.
Trees are rooted in the earth and reach upward to the light. Despite the trauma of being buffeted by the storms, they continue to reach upward. Similarly, clouds reflect the natural beauty of the world, and are often visible in the densest city environment. The upward movement reflects our intrinsic resilience and growth. –Erik Peper
Have clients place family photos and art slightly higher on the wall at home so they automatically look upward to see the pictures. A similar strategy can be employed in the office, using art to evoke positive feelings. When clients integrate an erect posture into their daily lives, they experience a more positive outlook and reduced neck and shoulder discomfort.
Compliance with Ethical Standards:
Conflict of Interest: Author Erik Peper has received donations of 15 UpRight posture feedback devices from UpRight (http://www.uprightpose.com/) and 12 BackJoy seat inserts from Backjoy (https://www.backjoy.com) for use in research. Co-authors I-Mei Lin and Richard Harvey declare that they have no conflict of interest.
This report evaluated a convenience sample of a student classroom activity related to posture and the information was anonymous collected. As an evaluation of a classroom activity, this report of findings was exempted from Institutional Review Board oversight
Bakker Elkhuizen. (n.d.). Office employees are like professional athletes! (2017). Retrieved from https://www.bakkerelkhuizen.com/knowledge-center/whitepaper-improving-work-performance-with-insights-from-pro-sports/
Colombo, S., Joy, M., Mason, L., Peper, E., Harvey, R., & Booiman, A. Posture Change Feedback Training and its Effect on Health. Poster presented at the 48th Annual Meeting of the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, Chicago, IL March, 2017. Abstract published in Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback.42(2), 147.
Guan, X., Fan, G., Chen, Z., Zeng, Y., Zhang, H., Hu, A., … He, S. (2016). Gender difference in mobile phone use and the impact of digital device exposure on neck posture. Ergonomics, 59(11), 1453–1461.
Kerry, R., Taylor, A.J., Mitchell, J., McCarthy, C., & Brew, J. (2008). Manual therapy and cervical arterial dysfunction, directions for the future: A clinical perspective. Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy, 16(1), 39–48.
Schuch, F. B., Vancampfort, D., Richards, J., Rosenbaum, S., Ward, P. B., & Stubbs, B. (2016). Exercise as a treatment for depression: A meta-analysis adjusting for publication bias. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 77, 42–51.
We thank Frank Andrasik for his constructive comments.
Joy and laughter are healing and contagious (Wang, 2006). When we laugh, our mood lightens, we feel better and our health improves (Bennett & Lengacher, 2006a; Bennett & Lengacher, 2006b; Bennett & Lengacher, 2008; Bennett & Lengacher, 2009). As Norman Cousins, who had ankylosing spondylitis (a degenerative disease causing the breakdown of collagen) which left him in severe pain that even morphine couldn’t touch, claimed that 10 minutes of belly laughter would give him two hours of pain-free sleep. He documented his remarkable recovery in his book Anatomy of an illness (Cousins, 2005). Laughter and joy has the ability to transform your health.
Despite the challenges you may face, the actual troubles that may occur during the day, or feeling frustrated or depressed, treat yourself to a moment of joy and laughter. Through laughing, we relax and support the intrinsic self-healing processes in our body. Even in suffering we have a choice of what to feed our brain. Enjoy watching the following videos.
Finally, watch Norman Cousins describe his own healing experience: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LwKd68S15I
Also see the embedded videos posted on: http://www.laughteronlineuniversity.com/norman-cousins-a-laughterpain-case-study/
Bennett, M. P., & Lengacher, C. (2006b). Humor and laughter may influence health: II. Complementary therapies and humor in a clinical population. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 3(2), 187-190.
It was late in the afternoon and I was tired. A knock on my office door. One of my students came in and started to read to me from a card. “I want to thank you for all your help in my self-healing project…I didn’t know the improvements were possible for me in a span of 5 weeks…. I thank you so much for encouraging and supporting me…. I have taken back control of myself and continue to make new discoveries about my identity and find my own happiness and fulfillment… Thank you so much.”
I was deeply touched and my eyes started to fill with tears. At that moment, I felt so appreciated. We hugged. My tiredness disappeared and I felt at peace.
In a world where we are constantly bombarded by negative, fearful stories and images, we forget that our response to these stories impacts our health. When people watch fear eliciting videos, their heart rate increases and their whole body responds with a defense reaction as if they are personally being threatened (Kreibig, Wilhelm, Roth, & Gross, 2007). Afterwards, we may continue to interpret and react to new stimuli as if they are the same as what happened in the video. For example, while watching a horror movie, we may hold our breath, perspire and feel our heart racing; however, when we leave the theatre and walk down the street by ourselves, we continue to be afraid and react to stimuli as if what happened in video will now happen to us.
When we feel threatened, our body responds to defend itself. It reduces the blood flow to the gastrointestinal tract where digestion is taking place and sends it to large muscles so that we can run and fight. When threatened, most of our resources shifted to the processes that promote survival while withdrawing it from processes that do not lead to immediate survival such as digestion or regeneration (Sapolsky, 2004). From an evolutionary perspective, why spent resources to heal yourself, enhance your immune system or digest your food when you will become someone else’s lunch!
The more we feel threatened, the more we will interpret the events around us negatively. We become more stressed, defensive, and pessimistic. If this response occurs frequently, it contributes to increased morbidity and mortality. We may not be in control of external or personal event; however, we may be able to learn how to change our reactions to these events. It is our reactions and interpretations of the event that contributes to our ongoing stress responses. The stressor can be labeled as crisis or opportunity.
Mobilize your own healing when you take charge. When 92 students as part of a class at San Francisco State University practiced self-healing skill, most reported significant improvements in their health as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Average self-reported improvement after practicing self-healing skills for at least four weeks. (Reproduced with permission from Tseng, Abili, Peper, & Harvey, 2016).
A strategy that many students used was to interrupt their cascading automatic negative reactions. The moment they became aware of their negative thought and body slumping, they interrupted the process and practiced a very short relaxation or meditation technique.
Implement what the students have done by taking charge of your stress responses and depressive thoughts by 1) beginning the day with a relaxation technique, Relax Body-Mind, 2) interrupting the automatic response to stressors with a rapid stress reduction technique, Breathe and be a Tree, and 3) increasing vitality by the practice, Share Gratitude (Gorter & Peper, 2011).
Relax Body-Mind to start the day*
- Lie down or sit and close your eyes. During the practice if your attention wanders, just bring it back to that part of the body you are asked to tighten or let go.
- Wrinkle your face for ten seconds while continuing to breathe. Let go and relax for ten seconds.
- Bring your hands to your face with the fingers touching the forehead while continuing to breathe. While exhaling, pull your fingers down your face so that you feel your jaw being pulled down and relaxing. Drop your hands to your lap. Feel the sensations in your face and your fingers for ten seconds.
- Make a fist with your hands and lift them slightly up from your lap while continuing to breathe. Feel the sensations of tension in your hands, arms and shoulders for ten seconds. Let go and relax by allowing the arms to drop to your lap and relax. Feel the sensations change in your hands, arms and shoulders for ten seconds.
- Tighten your buttocks and flex your ankles so that the toes are reaching upwards to your knees. Hold for ten seconds while continuing to breathe. Let go and relax for ten seconds.
- Take a big breath while slightly arching your back away from the bed ore chair and expand your stomach while keeping your arms, neck, buttocks and legs relaxed. Hold the breath for twenty seconds. Exhale and let your back relax while allowing the breathing to continue evenly while sensing your body’s contact with the bed or chair for twenty seconds. Repeat three times.
- Gently shake your arms and legs for ten seconds while continuing to breathe. Let go and relax. Feel the tingling sensations in your arms and legs for 20 seconds.
- Evoke a past positive memory where you felt at peace and nurtured.
- Stretch and get up. Know you have done the first self-healing step of the day.
*Be gentle to yourself and stop the tightening or breath holding if it feels uncomfortable.
Breathe and be a Tree to dissipate stress and focus on growth
- Look at a tall tree and realize that you are like a tree that is rooted in the ground and reaching upward to the light. It continues to grow even though it has been buffeted by storms.
- When you become aware of being stressed, exhale slowly and inhale so that your stomach expands, the while slowly exhaling, look upward to the top of a real or imagined tree, admire the upper branches and leaves that are reaching towards the light and smile.
- Remember that even though you started to respond to a stressor, the stressor will pass just like storms battering the tree. By breathing and looking upward, accept what happened and know you are growing just like the tree.
- Think of someone who did something for you that impacted your life in a positive direction and whom you never properly thanked. This could be a neighbor, teacher, friend, parent, or other family members.
- Write a 300-word testimonial describing specifically what the person did and how it positively impacted you and changed the course of your life.
- Arrange an actual face-to-face meeting with the person. Tell them you would like to see him/her. If they are far away, arrange a Skype call where you can actually see and hear him/her. Do not do it by email or texting.
- Meet with the person and read the testimonial to her/him.
- It may seem awkward to read the testimonial, after you have done it, you will feel closer and more deeply connected to the person. Moreover, the person to whom you read the testimonial, will usually feel deeply touched. Both your hearts will open.
Gorter, R. & Peper, E. (2011). Fighting cancer: A nontoxic approach to treatment. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 205-207.
Kreibig, S. D., Wilhelm, F. H., Roth, W. T., & Gross, J. J. (2007). Cardiovascular, electrodermal, and respiratory response patterns to fear‐and sadness‐inducing films. Psychophysiology, 44(5), 787-806.Kreibig, Sylvia D., Frank H. Wilhelm, Walton T. Roth, and James J. Gross. “Cardiovascular, electrodermal, and respiratory response patterns to fear‐and sadness‐inducing films.” Psychophysiology 44, no. 5 (2007): 787-806.
Sapolsky, R. (2004). Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. New York: Owl Books
Seligman, M. (2014). The new era of positive psychology. Ted Talk. Retrieved, December 10, 2016. https://www.ted.com/talks/martin_seligman_on_the_state_of_psychology
Tseng, C., Abili, R., Peper, E., & Harvey, R. (2016). Reducing Acne-Stress and an integrated self-healing approach. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback, 4(4), 445.)
Sleep has become more and more elusive since checking my cellphone in bed.
Ouch, my eyes hurt when I flipped the light switch on and the room was flooded with light.
After working on my computer screen, the world looked blurry.
At night, the intense blue white LED headlights blinded me unlike the normal incandescent headlights.
My eyes become irritated and dry after looking at the computer screen.
More and more people are myopic and wear contacts lenses.
Many older people are suffering from macular degeneration and may go blind.
Migraine pain significantly decreased when a person looks at soft green light and significantly increased when looking at bright white light (Hamzelou, 2016). .
Vision problems are becoming more and more frequent. More and more children are near sighted and need vision correction while macular degeneration–a major cause of blindness for older adults–is becoming more prevalent (Fan et al, 2004: Lee et al, 2002;
Faber et al, 2015; Schneider, 2016). As we look ahead into the future, a new epidemic is starting to roll in—compromised vision. Major culprits include:
- Near visual stress caused by looking intensely at surfaces or objects one to two feet away such as computer screens, tablets and cell phones inhibits the eyes to relax and increases near sightedness (Fernández-Montero et al, 2015).
- Absence of visual relaxation and shifting focus from close to far distance. This ongoing increased focus decreases blinking rate and exhausts the eyes.
- Absence of looking at the green coloring of vegetation that historically predominated our visual environment–a color that is relaxing for the eyes and body especially when looked from a distance.
- Sleep suppression and disturbance caused working/reading/watching the LED screens (computer screen, tablet, cell phone, TV, or e-readers such as Amazon Kindle Fire or any tablet) before going to bed (Tosini et al, 2016). The blue light component produced by the LED screen suppresses melatonin production and interferes with sleep onset.
- Extreme variation in light intensity damages the retina. The pupil which normally contracts to protect the retina as light intensity increases is too slow to respond to the sharp changes in light intensity. This is very similar to looking at the sun during a solar eclipse without eye protection. The intense sun light literally will burn/damage the retina and can induce blindness.
- Harmful exposure of the blue light component of the LED screens or light bulbs may increase inflammation and damage to the macular area of the retina. This is often labeled as toxic blue light with a wavelength of 415-455nm (Roberts, 2011).
The light that illuminates our visual world and how our world conditions us to use our eyes is totally different from how our eyes evolved over the last million years. Although our present life is far removed from our evolutionary past, our evolutionary past is embedded within us and controls much of our biology and psychology. Consider how we used to live for millennia.
I look up and see vultures circling. It is not too far. I rapidly walk in the direction. I have a sense where the possible food source could be. As I walk I alternately look at the distance and close at the ground and scrubs. I continually scan the environment. Although there are shadows where I look the light is of somewhat similar intensity unless I look directly at the sun. While doing tasks I focus ahead where I will plant my feet or at my food or objects my hands are manipulating. I alternately shift from foreground to background. As I look in the distance and the many green plants, my eyes relax.
In the morning, the natural light wakes me. The bright morning light wakes me, I stretch and move. As the day progresses the light becomes brighter, then at sunset the light becomes softer and the yellow orange red spectrum predominates.
Whether we lived twenty thousand years ago in caves or communities, or two hundred years ago in small houses in cities or farms, sunlight illuminated our world. The sun light warm us, is necessary for vitamin D production and controls our biological circadian rhythms. The sun light and sometime the moonlight provided the only source of illumination. Generally, we woke up with the light and went to sleep when the light disappeared. For thousands of years human beings have attempted to bring light to the darkness to reduce danger. Light produced by fire for cooking and protection against predators, and some form of oil lamps to provide minimal illumination. These light sources were predominantly red and yellow. It was only with the application of gas and electrical illumination that lights could become brighter. Usually the light transitions were slow and gentle which allowed the ciliary muscles of the iris to contract thus making the pupil much smaller and reduce the influx of light to the retina and thereby protected the retina from excessive fluctuating light intensity.
Exposure to light in the evening or night is very recent in evolutionary terms. For hundreds of thousands of years the night was dark as we hid away in caves to avoid predators. And, the darkness allowed our eyes to regenerate. Only in the last few thousand years did candles or oil lamps with their yellow orange light illuminate the dark. The fear of the dark is primordial– in the dark we were the prey. During those prehistoric times, our fear was reduced by huddling together for warmth and safety as we slept. These days, while sleeping we turn on a night light to feel safe or allow us to see in case we have to get up. For many of us, darkness still feels unsafe since as babies the fear was amplified as we slept alone in a crib without feeling the tactile signals of safety provided by direct human contact.
Now most people live and work indoors and we are no longer exposed to direct or indirect sun light. Instead, we can illuminate our work and personal world twenty four hours a day and total darkness is elusive. Even when I close the shades in my bedroom, the blinking light of the smartphone charger, and the headlights of the cars passing by penetrate the darkness. While entering a dark room, we throw the switch and the room instantly is flooded with light. This instant transition to full light pains the eyes as the eyes struggle to adapt by closing the iris. The retina was already impacted. This may be one of the covert factors that contribute to the development of macular degeneration?
Historically, we mainly looked at reflected light and almost never at the light source such as the sun. Now we predominantly look directly into the light source of the light bulb, TV, computer, laptop, e-readers and smart phone screens. We are unaware that the light we see is not the same type of light as natural sun light. It still appears white; however, it is an illusion. We live most of our lives indoors illuminated by incandescent, fluorescent and LED light sources. These lights have limited spectrums and may lead to light malnutrition and blue light poisoning.
The most recent change has been the use of light-emitting diode (LED)–an electronic semiconductor device that emits light when an electric current passes through it. This is the process of flat TV, computer, tablet, cellphone screens and LED light bulbs. These bulbs are highly energy efficient and thus are being installed everywhere but are a significant health hazard which is described superbly and in detail at the end of the article by architect and lighting expert Milena Simeonova, www.lighting4health.com
What can you do to protect your eyes and improve your vision?
Use your eyes as much as possible as we did through most of our evolutionary history which means:
- Read and implement the practices described in the superb book, Vision for Life: Ten Steps to Natural Eyesight Improvement., by Meir Schneider which has helped thousands of people maintain and improve their vision.
- Take many vision breaks and look away from your screen. If possible look at the far distance and green plants and trees to relax your eyes.
- Do NOT use LED e-reader; instead, use e-readers that can be read by reflective light such as Amazon Kindle Paperwhite eReader.
- Block direct intense light sources. Arrange them so that they illuminate the walls and you only see gradual light gradients of reflective light.
- Install warm LED light (particularly for evening time) which have much less damaging blue light.
- Install software such on your computer that automatically adjusts your screen’s color-temperature depending on the time of day and your location. Thus, when the sun sets, the colors of the screen change and become more yellow, orange, and red thereby reducing the transmitted blue light I(Robinson, 2015).
–Android or iPhones: install a “blue light filter” app.
–For additional free apps to protect your eyes from too bright screen light at night, see: http://sometips.wersjatestowa.eu/how-to-protect- eyes-from-too-bright-screen-light-especially-at-night/
- Spent as much time as possible looking at far distances with soft green light backgrounds.
- Encourage children to play outside and do not allow young children to entertain themselves with screen time especially as the eyes are developing (see my 2011 blog: Screens will hurt your children).
- Limit screen time and increase movement and physical activity time.
- Blink and blink more and relax your eyes. When visually stressed, blinking is inhibited because you do not want to miss the tiger who potentially could attack you. That is our evolutionary response pattern; however, there are no life threatening tigers around, thus allow yourself to blink. Do the following exercise to experience how your eyes change depending how you open and close them.
How to increase stressed dry eyes:
Sit comfortably and let your eyes be closed and breathe. Then exhale and when ready to inhale, inhale rapidly into your upper chest while opening your eyes wide as if fearful and frightened. Repeat a second time and then keep holding your eyes wide open as if looking for danger.
Observe what happened. Most people report that the front of their eyes felt slightly cooler as if a slight breeze was going over the cornea, and the eyes (cornea) are drier.
How to increase relaxed moist eyes:
Sit comfortably and let your eyes be closed and breathe. While breathing allow your abdomen to expand when you inhale and gently constrict when you exhale as if the lungs are a balloon in your abdomen. When ready, inhale while keeping the shoulders relaxed and the eyes still closed and then gently begin to exhale and very slowly and softly open your eyes slightly while looking down peacefully and content. Just as a mother may look down upon their baby in her arms with a slight smile. Repeat a second time and gently open your eyes slightly as the exhalation has started and is softly flowing.
Observe what happened. Most people report that their eyes became softer, more relaxed with increased of the beginning of a tear beginning to fill the front of the cornea.
You have a choice! You can mobilize health or continue to risk your vision. Adapt the precautionary principle and act now. See the in-depth description of the potential harm of LED lights described by architect and lighting designer Milena Simeonova who helps people stay healthy by applying natural light patterns inside buildings (www.lighting4health.com).
LED Lighting and Blue Light Hazard
By Milena Simeonova, Architect, MS in Lighting LRC, IES, LC
When TVs, computers, tablets, and mobile devices are used in the evening hours, the cool LED light emanating from the screens, shifts the body onset for melatonin production, pushing back our bed time by 1-1.5hr or later. You may think that’s not bad, if you have to study for exams or deliver this final project. Think twice when disrupting the circadian system and depriving your body of normal sleep hours. It is a recipe for initiating illness. Watch the superb TEDxCambridge 2011 lecture, A Sleep Epidemic, by Charles Szeisler, PhD, MD from Harvard Medical School (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4UxLpoNCxU)
Science has discovered that Blue light suppresses melatonin (the sleep hormone), and can either regulate or deregulate our circadian system (bio-clock), disrupting our sleep during the night, and lowering our performance during the day. It affects our normal body function that is synchronized with the daylight-night cycle as shown in Figure 1. If this cycle is disrupted, poor health follows in the form of heart disease, cancer, depression, obesity, etc. Figure 1: Double plot (2 x 24 hours.) of typical daily rhythms of body temperature, melatonin, cortisol, and alertness in humans for a natural 24-hour light/dark cycle. Our circadian system regulates the body’s endocrine and hormonal production; these functions are synchronized with the cycle of day-night in Nature. A healthy body starts producing melatonin at about 7pm and melatonin (sleep hormone) peaks at 12am-3am. From: van Bommel, W. J. M. & van den Beld, G. J. (2003). Lighting for work: visual and biological effects. Philips Lighting. p.7.
What about the change from incandescent to LED light in the room? With LED lighting, the Blue Light Hazard has increased, particularly from high output cool LED light fixtures with clear lens. LED lighting is produced from a Blue LED chip combined with warm phosphors; think of it as a Blue spike with a warm tail (see Figure 2). The trouble with the Blue spike is that it peaks at about 430nm-440nm, and science has found that light below the 440nm wavelength frequency, results in macular degeneration in older people (Roberts, 2001). For more detail, see Chemistry Professor Joan E. Roberts from Fordham University presentation, How does the spectrum of light affects the human health? http://www.be-exchange.org/media/ByLightofDay_Presentation.compressed-1.pdf
Figure 2: Actual measurements with LED Spectrometer of color tuning LED light source. On the left is cool LED light with big Blue light spike (big output of Blue light) and a small warm tail of phosphors. On the right is a warm LED light with decreased Blue Light output. From: Floroiu, V.A. (2015). The ABCs of truly energy efficient LED lighting. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/abcs-truly-energy-efficient-led-lighting-victor-adrian-floroiu
The health risk is even greater for younger eyes (ages 20-40) because the older eyes are more protected with the natural aging of the eye lens that is thickening and yellowing, which in turn scatters Blue light and protects the eye retina from energy absorption. In contrast, the younger eyes allow 2-3 times more transmittance of Blue light, resulting in higher ocular oxidation and greater risk of retinal photo-degradation (Hammond et al, 2014). Thus in a room lighted with cool LED lighting (above 4000K), there will be a lot of Blue light that can be damaging to the eye retina. This is particularly true, when eyes have direct exposure to high output LED fixtures that are non-dimmable.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, as LED lighting has other potential health issues, such as flicker that is barely discernible at full light output, but increases when dimming the lights; or the spatial flicker resulting from the gazing along bright LED lights in a room; or the multi-fringed or multiple shadows of a single object, projected from the multiple LED chips in a fixture, that is unnatural and not observed in Nature. It is important to choose LED lighting that maintains human health. (See: https://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2010/01/21/pendulum-energy-efficiency-and-importance-human-factors)
Interactive and dynamic lighting are also on the rise, and will have unintended effects on the Autonomous Nervous System (ANS) with over-stimulating the Sympathetic neural system, disrupting the balance of arousal and rest that is needed for people to stay healthy.
How can we protect our health? For now, use 4000K LED light for daytime, use warmer lights 3000K and below for the evening hours; use as night light warm or amber color light; get blue light filter apps for your screens; dim your room lights in the evening, use LED lights that have a diffuse lens, shade to soften the light beam; aim LED lights to the ceiling or wall surfaces, and away from the eyes; and best of all – get plenty of healthy daylight during the day.
The mechanism of Blue Light Hazard (BLH). Blue light also known as “cool” light, has a high frequency of oscillation, high excitation of its light particles or photons. The “blue” photons have smaller mass, and carry significantly higher energy than the red light photons, blue photons can create oxidative photodegradation in ocular tissues, and suppress effectively melatonin and disrupt sleep even at very low level.
The colors of a rainbow illustrate the visible Light Spectrum. Each color represents a specific light frequency, vibrational energy, wavelength, and excitation. Light wavelength can be for the benefit or to the detriment of human health, depending on the dosage or length of exposure to the particular wavelength of light; and depending on the timing or when exposured to light.
Visible light spectrum ranges from 360 nm to 760 nm wavelengths; with Red light (620-750 nm) having the longer wavelength and smaller excitation, and Blue light (420-490 nm) having a short wavelength with high frequency (more pulses/time).
Contact information for Milena Simeonova, Architect, MS in Lighting LRC, IES, LC
1658 8th Avenue, San Francisco, California 94122, USA
T: 415-684-2770 Light4Health, www.lighting4health.com
Hamzelou, J. (2016). Green light eases migraine pain – but we don’t know why. New Scientist. 19 May 2016. https://www.newscientist.com/article/2089062-green-light-found-to-ease-the-pain-of-migraine/
Faber, C., Jehs, T., Juel, H. B., Singh, A., Falk, M. K., Sørensen, T. L., & Nissen, M. H. (2015). Early and exudative age‐related macular degeneration is associated with increased plasma levels of soluble TNF receptor II. Acta ophthalmologica, 93(3), 242-247.
Fernández-Montero, A., Olmo-Jimenez, J. M., Olmo, N., Bes-Rastrollo, M., Moreno-Galarraga, L., Moreno-Montañés, J., & Martínez-González, M. A. (2015). The impact of computer use in myopia progression: A cohort study in Spain. Preventive medicine, 71, 67-71.
Hammond, B. R., Johnson, B. A., & George, E. R. (2014). Oxidative photodegradation of ocular tissues: beneficial effects of filtering and exogenous antioxidants. Experimental eye research, 129, 135-150.
Roberts, J. E. (2001). Ocular phototoxicity. Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B: Biology, 64(2), 136-143.
Robinson, M. (2015). This app has transformed my nighttime computer use. TechInsider, Oct. 28, 2015. http://www.techinsider.io/flux-review-2015-10
Schneider, M. (2016). Vision for Life: Ten Steps to Natural Eyesight Improvement. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books. ISBN-13: 978-1623170080
Are you full of pep and energy, ready to do more? Or do you feel drained and exhausted? After giving at the office, is there nothing left to give at home? Do you feel as if you are on a treadmill that will never stop, that more things feel draining than energizing?
Feeling chronically drained is often a precursor for illness; conversely, feeling energized enhances productivity and encourages health. An important aspect of staying healthy is that one’s daily activities are filled more with activities that contribute to our energy than with tasks and activities that drain our energy. Similarly, Dr. John Gottman and colleagues have discovered that marriages prosper when there are many more positive appreciations communicated by each partner than negative critiques.
Energy is the subjective sense of feeling alive and vibrant. An energy gain is an activity, task, or thought that makes you feel better and slightly more alive—those things we want to or choose to do. An energy drain is the opposite feeling—less alive and almost depressed—those things we have to or must do; often something that we do not want to do. In almost all cases, it is not that we have to, should, or must do, it is a choice. Remember, even though you may say, “I have to study.” It is a choice. You can choose not to study and choose to drop out of school. Similarly, when you say, “I have to do the dishes,” it is still a choice. You can choose to do the dishes or let the dirty dishes pile up and just use paper plates.
Energy drains and gains are always unique to the individual; namely, what is a drain for one can be a gain for another. Energy drains can be doing the dishes and feeling resentful that your partner or children are not doing them, or anticipating seeing a person whom you do not really want to see. An energy gain can be meeting a friend and talking or going for a walk in the woods, or finishing a work project.
When patients with cancer start exploring what they truly would like to do and start acting on their unfulfilled dreams, a few experience that their health improves as documented by Dr. Lawrence LeShan in his remarkable book, Cancer as a Turning Point. So often our lives are filled with things that we should do versus want to do. In some cases, the lives we created are not the ones we wanted but the result of self-doubt and worry, “If I did do this, my family and friends won’t like me”, or “I am not sure I will be successful so I will do something that is safe.” Just ask yourself the question when you woke up this morning and most mornings this week, “How did you feel?” Did you felt happy and looking forward to the day?
Explore strategies to decrease the drains and increase the energy gains. Use the following exercise to increase your energy:
- For one week monitor your energy drains and energy gains. Monitor events, activities, thoughts, or emotions that increase or decrease energy at home and at work. For example some drains can include cleaning bathroom, cooking another meal, or talking to a family member on the phone, while gains can be taking a walk, talking to a friend, completing a work task. Be very honest, just note the events that change your energy level.
- After the week look over your notes and identify at least one activity that drains your energy and one activity that increases your energy
- Develop a strategy to decrease one of the energy drains. Be very specific how, where, when, with whom, and which situations decreasing the tasks that drain your energy. As you think about it, anticipate obstacles that may interfere with reducing your drains and develop new ways to overcome these obstacles such as trading tasks with others (I will cook if you clean the bathroom), setting time limits, giving yourself positive reward after finishing the task (a cup of tea, a text or phone message to a close friend, watching a video in the evening).
- Develop new ways how you can increase energy gains such as doing exercise, completing a task.
- Each day implement the behavior to reduce one less energy drain and increase one energy gain and observe what happens.
Initially it may seem impossible, many students and clients report that the practice made them aware, increased their energy, and they had more control over their lives than they thought. It also encouraged them to explore the question, “What is it that you really want to do?” So often we do energy drains because of convention, habit and fear which makes us feel powerless and suppresses our immune system thereby increasing the risk of illness. In observing the energy drains and energy gains, it may give the person a choice. Sometimes, the choice is not changing the tasks but how we think about it. Many of the things we do are not MUSTs; they are choices. I do the work at my job because I choose to benefits of earning money.
How your internal language impacts your energy**
Sit and think of something that you feel you have to do, should do, or must do. Something you slightly dread such as cleaning the dishes, doing a math assignment. While sitting say to yourself, “I have to do, should do, or must do_______________.” Keep repeating the phrase for a minute.
Then change your internal phrase and instead say one of the following phrases, “I choose to do,” “I look forward to doing,” or “I choose not to do _________.” Keep repeating the phrase for a minute.
Now compare how you felt. Almost all people feel slight less energy and more depressed when they are thinking, “I have to do,” “should do”, or must do”. While when they shifted the phrase to, “I choose to,” “I look forward to doing,” or “I choose not to do it,” they feel lighter, more expanded and more optimistic. When university students practice this change of language during the week, they find it was easier to start and complete their homework tasks.
Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.
– Frank Outlaw
Gottman, J.M. & Silver, N. (2015). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. New York: Harmony.
LeShan, L. (1999). Cancer as a Turning Point. New York: Plume
*Adapted from: Peper, E. (2016). Increase energy. Western Edition. April, pp4. http://thewesternedition.com/admin/files/magazines/WE-April-2016.pdf
**Adapted from: Gorter, R. & Peper, E. (2011). Fighting Cancer-A Nontoxic Approach to Treatment. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 107-200.
Mind-Guided Body Scans for Awareness and Healing Youtube Interview of Erik Peper, PhD by Larry Berkelhammer, PhDPosted: February 19, 2016
In this interview psychophysiology expert Dr. Erik Peper explains the ways how a body scan can facilitate awareness and healing. The discussion describes how the mind-guided body scan can be used to improve immune function and maintain passive attention (mindfulness), and become centered. It explores the process of passive attentive process that is part of Autogenic Training and self-healing mental imagery. Mind-guided body scanning involves effortlessly observing and attending to body sensations through which we can observe our own physiological processes. Body scanning can be combined with imagery to be in a nonjudgmental state that supports self-healing and improves physiological functioning.
One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.”
“One is Evil – It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
“The other is Good – It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
–Author and source unknown
Are you stressed and worrying what will happen? Are you thinking of all that could go wrong? Do you feel overwhelmed and anxious?
It is very challenging to let go of negative thoughts, images, memories and anticipations. These negative worries can be useful if they mobilize you towards active planning and action; however, in most cases, the thoughts continue to go around and around in our heads. The more we worry, the worse we feel. Often our shoulders and neck tighten and our stomach churns. The worries and concerns may become a pain in the neck and we no longer can stomach the stress.
Begin to take charge and realize that even though health and healing is not our control, we can contribute and support the healing process. Regardless how overwhelmed we are, begin with the basics. Start the day by respecting your body so that it can run well. It needs:
Proper fuel. Begin by having breakfast—not the sugar coated cereals or snack bars on the run—but an egg, oatmeal, and some fruit or other non-processed foods. Even when you think you do not have the time, fuel up your body so your body engine can work well. Drink only one cup of coffee with little sugar. Drink water or tea and avoid all soft drinks and any low calorie drinks. Remember that people who drink low calorie soft drinks increase their abdominal girth by three inches as compared to people who do not drink low calorie soft drinks (Fowler et al, 2015).
Follow-up with lunch and dinner, do not skip meals! Many of my college students do not eat breakfast or lunch before coming to class, as a group they are more reactive, anxious and perform significantly poorer on exams than the ones who do eat.
If you haven’t eaten, or eaten only high sugary snack foods an hour or two before, your blood sugar will lower and you become more reactive “Hangry” (the combination of hungry and angry). As the blood sugar drops, the brain reactivity pattern changes and you become much more impulsive (Peper et al, 2009).
Dynamic movement. The moment you do some movement your urge to snack, smoke, or ruminate is significantly reduced. When you begin physical movement (especially when you do not want to), the built up tension from the personal and interpersonal stress will decrease. You are completing the biological alarm reaction. When you physically move, you dissipate the fight/flight response and are shifting your body to a state of regeneration. As the alarm reaction response decreases, it becomes easier to do problem solving and abstract thinking. As long as you are in the alarm state, you tend to react defensively to the immediate events. Thus, when you feel uptight and stressed, take a hike. Walk up the stairs instead of taking the escalator, get off Muni one stop earlier and walk rapidly to your destination.
Positive and peaceful thoughts. Remember your thoughts, memories and images affect your body and vice versa. Experience how your thoughts effect your body. Have someone read the following to you. It takes only a few minutes.
Sit comfortably, and gently close your eyes and imagine a lemon. Notice the deep yellow color, and the two stubby ends. Imagine placing the lemon on a cutting board and cutting it in half with your favorite kitchen knife. Notice the pressure of the knife in your hand as you cut the lemon. Feel the drop of lemon juice against your skin. After cutting the lemon in half, put the knife down and pick up one half of the lemon.
As you look at it, notice the drops of juice glistening in the light, the half-cut seeds, the outer yellow rind, and the pale inner rind. Now get a glass and squeeze this half of lemon so the juice goes into the glass. As you squeeze, notice the pressure in your fingers and forearm. Feel droplets of lemon juice squirting against your skin. Smell the pungent, sharp fragrance. Now take the other half of lemon and squeeze the juice into the glass. Now take the glass in your hand. Feel the coolness of the glass and bring it to your lips. Feel the juice against your lips, and then sip the lemon juice. Taste the tart juice and swallow the lemon juice. Observe the pulp and seeds as you swallow (Adapted from Gorter and Peper, 2011).
What did you notice? As you imagined the lemon, did you notice that you experienced an increase in salivation, or that your mouth puckered? Almost everyone who does this exercise experiences some of these physical changes. The increase in salivation demonstrates that these thoughts and images have a direct effect on our bodies. Similarly, when we have thoughts of anger, resentment, frustration, or anxiety, they also affect our bodies. Unknowingly we may tighten our shoulders or our abdomen. We may unconsciously hold our breath or breathe shallowly. This response interferes with our ability to relax and heal. If this kind of tension is a constant habit, it reduces the body’s ability to regenerate.
Although we may dismiss our experience when we did the imagery exercise with an imaginary lemon—it was only an imaginary lemon, after all—it is fundamentally important. Every minute, every hour, every day, our bodies are subtly affected by thoughts, emotions, and images. Just as the image of the lemon caused us to salivate, our thoughts and emotions also cause physiological change.
What to do when consumed by worry. Although it seems impossible, you have a choice to focus on the negative or positive thoughts. When you feel stressed and overwhelmed, ask yourself, do I have control over this situation?
If “No”, acknowledge that you feel frustrated and stuck. Recognize you want to let it go and have no control. Ask yourself “does this thought serve any purpose or help me in any way” If not, let go of the thought and the sensations in your body” If there is a purpose or value act upon the thought (go feed the parking meter, make that call). Then do the following thought interrupting practice.
Sit up and make yourself tall on your sitz bones with your lower spine slightly arched at the same time look up and take a breath in. While inhaling, think of someone who loves you such as your grandmother an aunt. For that moment feel their love. Exhale softly while slightly smiling while still looking upward. As you exhale think of someone for whom you care for and wish them well.
Each time your brain begins to rehash that specific event, do not argue with it, do not continue with it, instead, initiate the thought interrupting practice. Many people report when they do this many, many, times a day, their energy, mood and productivity significantly increases. Initially it seems impossible, yet, the more you practice, the more the benefits occur.
If “yes,” make a list of all the things over which you have control and that need to be done. Acknowledge that this list appears overwhelming and you do not even know where to start. Begin by doing one small project. Remember, you do not have to finish it today. It is a start. And, if possible, share your list and challenge with friends or family members and ask them for support. The most important part is to move into action. Then, each time your brain worries, “I do not have enough time”, or “there is too much to do,” practice the thought interrupting practice.
Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes you
– Frank Outlaw (1977)
Fowler, S. P., Williams, K., & Hazuda, H. P. (2015). Diet Soda Intake Is Associated with Long‐Term Increases in Waist Circumference in a Biethnic Cohort of Older Adults: The San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 63(4), 708-715. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jgs.13376/pdf
Peper, E., Harvey, R., Takabayashi, N., & Hughes, P. (2009). How to do clinical biofeedback in psychosomatic medicine: An illustrative brief therapy example for self-regulation. Japanese Journal of Biofeedback Research..36 (2), 1-16. https://biofeedbackhealth.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/howdoyouclinicalbiofeedback19.pdf
Gorter, R. & Peper, E. (2011). Fighting Cancer-A Non Toxic Approach to Treatment. Berkeley: North Atlantic: Random House. http://www.amazon.com/Fighting-Cancer-Nontoxic-Approach-Treatment-ebook/dp/B004C43GAQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1452923651&sr=1-1&keywords=fighting+cancer
Outlaw, F (1977). What They’re Saying Quote Page 7-B, San Antonio Light (NArch Page 28), Column 4, 1San Antonio, Texas, May 18, 1977 (NewspaperArchive).
*Adapted from: Peper, E. (2016). Legend of two wolves is a beacon across time for healthy thinking. Western Edition. January, pp 6, 8. http://thewesternedition.com/admin/files/magazines/WE-January-2016.pdf
It was late in the afternoon and I was tired. A knock on my office door. One of my students came in and started to read to me from a card. “I want to thank you for all your help in my self-healing project…I didn’t know the improvements were possible for me in a span of 5 weeks…. I thank you so much for encouraging and supporting me…. I have taken back control of myself and continue to make new discoveries about my identity and find my own happiness and fulfillment.,,, Thank you so much.”
I was deeply touched and my eyes started to fill with tears. At that moment, I felt so appreciated. We hugged. My tiredness disappeared and I felt at peace.
This student had completed the daily self-healing practices . When the university students practice a sequence of daily self-healing exercises outlined in the book, Make Health Happen (Peper, Gibney & Holt, 2002), most report significant improvement in their health and well-being as shown in Figure 1 (Peper et al, 2014).
Figure 1. Self-rating by students after completing a personal health improvement project over a period of four weeks (Bier, Peper, & Burke, 2005).
The practice which students report impacts them profoundly and by which they experience a deepening connection and sense of agape (selfless unconditional caring and love) with another person is Sharing Gratitude.
Take the opportunity during the holiday season to give joy to others. Just do the following:
- Remember someone who did something for you that impacted your life in a positive direction and whom you never properly thanked.
- Write a 300 word testimonial describing what the person did and how it positively impacted you.
- Visit the person and when you meet her/him, read the testimonial to her/him (if the person cannot be visited, use Skype so you can see and connect with each other).
Although it may seem awkward to read the testimonial, after you have done it, you most likely will feel closer and more deeply connected to the person. Moreover, the person to whom you read the testimonial, will feel deeply touched and both of your hearts will open.
For more background information, watch Professor Martin Seligman’s Ted presentation below.
Bier, M., Peper, E., & Burke, A. (2005). Integrated Stress Management with Make Health Happen: Measuring the Impact through a 5-Month Follow-Up. Presented at the 36th Annual Meeting of the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. Abstract published in: Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 30(4), 400.
Peper, E., Gibney, K.H. & Holt. C. (2002). Make Health Happen: Training Yourself to Create Wellness. Dubuque, IA: Kendall-Hunt. ISBN-13: 978-0787293314
Peper, E., Lin, I-M, Harvey, R., Gilbert, M., Gubbala, P., Ratkovich, A., & Fletcher, F. (2014). Transforming chained behaviors: Case studies of overcoming smoking, eczema and hair pulling (trichotillomania). Biofeedback, 42(4), 154-160.
“I am proud to label myself a nonsmoker… diligently performing practices has profoundly helped me eliminate my troublesome craving…The conscious efforts I have made over the past month have helped me regain control of my life.” –L. F., a college student who became a non-smoker after smoking up to two packs a day since age 11. At 18 month follow-up L. F. is still a nonsmoker.
“I have been struggling with eczema for most of my life and until I began this course, I was feeling very hopeless in managing this condition without the use of costly, and potentially dangerous drugs. My self-healing project proved to be empirically successful. My eczema shrunk in size from 72 mm in length and 63 mm in width as measured at baseline to 0 mm in length and 0 mm in width by the final day of this project.” –L. C., a college student who experienced recurring scaly skin patches since childhood.
In our recent published paper, Transforming chained behaviors: Case studies of overcoming smoking, eczema and hair pulling (trichotillomania), we describe an approach by which students learn self-healing techniques which they practice as part of a semester long class project. After four weeks of of self-healing practices many of the students report significant decrease in symptoms and improvement of health as shown in Figure 1. Their success includes smoking cessation, eliminating hair pulling and eczema disappearing.
One component of the self-healing process is interrupting chained behavior. We react automatically and respond instantly with sadness, anger, neck and shoulders tension, eating too much, veg’ing out watching videos, or playing mindless digital games. After a time, we may notice that we are smoking more, experiencing an upset stomach, back pain, headaches, high blood pressure, or even more skin eruptions. The first step is to sense the initial reaction that leads to the symptom development. Then, the person performs an alternative health promoting behavior and interrupts the chained behavior that triggers symptoms as shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2. Interrupting and transforming the chained behavior. The moment person become aware of the trigger or behavior that is chained to the development of the symptom, he/she interrupts and performs an active new health promoting behavior as illustrated by the dashed lines.
Overtime these automatic patterns may contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases, increased vulnerability to infections or other chronic diseases. The challenge is to develop an awareness to recognize and interrupt the beginning of the ‘chain of behavior.’ The instant you become aware of the first reaction, do something different, such as,
- Shift your focus of attention to something joyful
- Chang your body position and smile while thinking, This will also pass.
- Practice a quick relaxation technique.
- Imagine a positive self-healing process.
The longer the person waits to interrupt the chain, the more difficult it is to redirect the chained behavior. Awareness and immediate interruption appears to be major factors in achieving success. It means practicing the interruption and new behavior all day long. This is different from from practicing a skill for twenty minutes a day and the rest of the time performing the old dysfunctional behavior.
Mastery of this process consists of three steps:
- Becoming aware of what is happening when the chain reactions.
- Learn a more functional alternative health behavior such as breathing, relaxing, focusing on empowering thought, eating other foods.
- Substitute the alternative behavior the moment you become aware of the triggered dysfunctional behavior.
After having integrated this into daily life, many students report experiencing a significant reduction and even elimination of symptoms and behaviors.
“I will continue to do the practices outlined not only to overcome trichotillomania but also to control my anxiety and, therefore, lead a less stressed and happier life. Knowing I have the power to heal myself is such an inspiring feeling, a feeling that can’t adequately be put into words.” –G. M., a 32 year old student with trichotillomania, who reduced her hair pulling, anxiety, and stress
“I have gained much wisdom from this project…I am ultimately responsible for my own health and well-being…I feel empowered, optimistic, and appreciative of every moment.” –L. C., a college student who experienced recurring scaly skin patches since childhood)
For background, specific techniques and successful case reports, read our published paper, Peper, E., Lin, I-M, Harvey, R., Gilbert, M., Gubbala, P., Ratkovich, A., & Fletcher, F. (2014). Transforming chained behaviors: Case studies of overcoming smoking, eczema and hair pulling (trichotillomania). Biofeedback, 42(4), 154-160.