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Wellbeing in a Changing World

wellbeingWellbeing results in optimal health and happiness. I suffered with daily chronic pain for many years. Making wellbeing a focus of my healing has lead the way back to health including pain relief. Making conscious choices about where I live, what I do, who and what I spend time with, how I think and feel, focusing on my values, and making meaning of my life all contribute to my wellbeing.

Feeling Doom

I live in a small coastal town in far north-western California. I recently traveled to see my daughter in rural Florida. What struck me was how much more our human population is negatively impacting the planet now. I struggled with my mood when I got home around the feeling of doom and depression for our earth. This was familiar. I’d felt this before.

My wellbeing around where I live was high-lighted during and after the Florida trip. I recognized how many choices I’ve made that lead to my good sense of wellbeing. I grew up in the 1960’s to 1970’s in the San Francisco Bay Area. My parents emigrated from England in the mid-1950’s, seeking a better place to live for their wellbeing. The bay area’s population was booming when I was growing up. I witnessed development of wild lands into neighborhoods and the spread of freeways through my hometown.

Wellbeing in Sense of Place

As a child, I knew I loved being outdoors in wild places. Camping was one of my favorite things to do. I loved animals too. What we’re doing to our natural environment saddened me. I felt stressed being around so many people and cars. I was sad for all the wild critters that were being displaced by people, buildings and roads. After a year at the local community college, I chose to major in biology. With my AS I transferred to Humboldt State University, well known for its Wildlife Management program. I was going to save the world! I fell in love with the wildness of Humboldt County. It was such a contrast to the bay area. After getting my BS I eventually moved back the bay area for a few years. But then I came back to Humboldt, got married, and made a life here.

Even Here the World is Changing

Even though I grew up in a metropolitan area, at heart I’m a small-town girl. Behind the redwood curtain, I can hide out and pretend that all is well, that human caused climate-change and natural habitat destruction isn’t happening so rapidly, that the places I love are staying the way I love them. But there’s no salmon season this year. Their populations are too depleted from unhealthy river and ocean conditions. The crabs suffered during the drought years with toxic algae poisoning due to ocean warming making them uneatable. Irresponsible pot farmers are building greenhouses not up-to-code without permits and stealing water from creeks negatively impacting the environment. The list goes on. However, this is still a wonderful place to live. It still gives me a sense of wellbeing. This is emphasized every time I leave, I’m so relieved to get back!

Consciously Hiding Out

I’m aware that I’m hiding out here. And that’s okay. I’m thankful there’s a place like this where I can be out in nature every day, soaking in the beauty, watching the daily and seasonal changes, observing the wildlife, enjoying my community. But I don’t have wellbeing all the time. Nobody does. I do have it enough of the time though that it makes a difference in my overall enjoyment of life.

I recently ran into a wildlife professor I know. He told me about his recent birding trip to South East Asia. It’s really hard to find birds there because even the song birds are hunted and they’re so afraid of people, not like our song birds here which can be pretty tame. He also said were lots of people everywhere there. Not like here, where it’s still fairly pristine.

Coming Back to Wellbeing

When I reached my 30’s I lost my idealism about saving the world. It didn’t seem possible. There was so little positive impact I could have as one person, although I do what I can. In remembering the depression I recall how I came to terms with it, how I got my wellbeing back. I changed the way I think about the world. I accept the world is going to continue to change. It’s not going back to the way it was. I think of planet earth as a giant experiment. I observe and study it with curiosity and I let go of what I can’t control. I’m along for the ride, standing up for what I value, waiting to see the results of this experiment. In the meantime, I choose how I respond to my everyday world, continuing to find my place of wellbeing in this changing world.

Freedom From Body Shame

Body Shame

At 15 I thought my butt was fat.

Body shame is often an underlying contributor to chronic pelvic pain. Body shame is so prevalent that we treat it as a normal part of being a woman. We’re so afraid of looking fat that we obsess about our looks daily. We’re constantly trying to make our body fit an unobtainable and/or unsustainable standard of an acceptable look.

Body Shame Starts Young

Body shame often starts in childhood. In this photo, at 15 years old, I was already worried that my butt was looking fat. I started running to try to make it smaller. I kept running regularly for the next 8 years and even ran competitively. But my butt didn’t get smaller. Several times people accused me of being anorexic.  I couldn’t understand what they were talking about because I thought I ate a lot!

Eating Disorders and Pelvic Pain

It’s not uncommon for women with pelvic pain to also have eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia in their history. Once the pelvic pain begins to subside, issues with food and body image can come up. Because we don’t want to look fat we unconsciously tense our belly muscles. Our belly (abdominal) muscles also automatically tense when we feel threatened and/or when we unconsciously resist feeling uncomfortable emotions.

This activates the fight, flight or freeze response which the nervous system perceives as danger, kicking in unconscious survival habits. When we stay in this protected/threatened mode everyday it becomes a low level survival response that becomes our new normal. Then we don’t even know what relaxed feels like. We feel stressed much of the time. We don’t sleep well. Low-level stress feels so normal we don’t know anything is amiss until nagging symptoms start. Then we often ignore them and push on until they become chronic and stop us in our tracks when they can no longer be ignored.

Tense Muscles

Body shame triggers chronically tense stomach muscles. Common symptoms from tense abdominals are bladder irritation (frequent urination, interstitial cystitis/IC), vaginal soreness (including vulvodynia), digestive symptoms (gassiness, constipation, loose stools including irritable bowel syndrome/IBS), lower abdominal pain, hip pain, crotch pain, lower back pain and more. These chronic symptoms cause the fight, flight or freeze response (stress response) to ramp up more intensifying fear responses and symptoms. We don’t feel safe in our bodies. We try everything we can to get rid of the pain. This only serves to reinforce distrust of the body and not feeling safe in the body.

Diet Feeds the Stress Response

You believe that if only you can get rid of the belly (or the butt) you would feel better. If only you could lose a few pounds or ten or twenty, then you would be more acceptable, successful, and desirable. You start dieting i.e. restricting food quantities and certain “bad” foods. Having to be hyper vigilant around food in turn feeds the stress response. Not feeling safe in your body or in the world triggers survival habits which can cause adrenal fatigue along with all the other symptoms you already have. All because you’re trying to look like the current acceptable standard for beauty, which idealizes the body shape 20-year-old women. This is a transitory state. It’s not sustainable.

Ditching the Diet

After being so uncomfortable in my body for so long, I ditched the restricted diet I was on for health reasons for over 20 years. It didn’t heal my pain and it was keeping my body and approach to life rigid while feeding my stress response. When I was at an ideal weight at the end of my last restrictive diet I still thought I was fat, especially after a meal.  I was hungry most of the time and that was uncomfortable and triggered my stress response. I was ready for comfort and feeling healthy. The result is I gained weight. Now I feel happy and comfortable, healthy and strong. My body shape and weight are normal for a post-menopausal woman. I feel healthy at my current weight.

Normal Bodies

What helped me to let go of the impossible weight standard of beauty which I perceived as a flat belly was to notice all the stress I had around body image and the pressure for having to maintain a certain weight. I also looked at women my age who are mothers. I saw it was normal for the body to change after pregnancy and as women age. Now I know when I was 15 and my butt was getting bigger my body was just developing normal curves. I know that the weight I am now is healthy for post-menopausal women my age. Now when I start being unhappy with how my body looks, I know it’s just a mind game to distract me from some difficult emotions I need to feel. Once I turn toward feeling emotions, my body image stress releases and I come back to well-being.

I’ve found intuitive eating philosophy and guidelines to be very supportive as I’ve relaxed around my body image and embraced healthy eating. Check out these resources for more support on health at any size:

 

Persistence – Benefits of Long-Term Mind-Body Practice

persistencePersistence of mind-body practice pays benefits in the long-term. Many people experience immediate relief with mind-body connection practice. Within minutes their pain is gone or lessened or moved elsewhere in their body. I know because I’ve coached these people. I’m jealous that my body doesn’t respond as quickly. It took me a long time to get significant relief from my symptoms but I succeeded through persistence.

For those of you who don’t get immediate results with mind-body practice, I encourage you to keep going with the following guidance to ensure your persistence will reap the benefits too!

Try it Out

I read my mind-body coach’s newsletters for six months before I jumped on a free call with her. That’s when I realized what I was missing and signed up for her telecourse. I followed my thirst for learning how she cured her pelvic pain. At the end of that class I still wanted to learn more and signed up for group coaching with her. A year later my pain was less. I had periods of time during the day that I barely noticed it. I knew for sure that suppressed emotions were behind the cause of my symptoms.

Commit to the Practice

I made mind-body connection practice part of my daily routine. After I practiced a new method for a week or so I began to take parts it into my day as I went along. Staying conscious and connected became a way of life. Keep your practice simple and short, but do it regularly. As a general rule, don’t do your formal mind-body practice more than 45 minutes a day or less than 5-10 minutes at least several times a week.

Gather Evidence It’s Working

Trust and follow subtle signs that mind-body connection practice is paying off. This often feels like relief, either emotional or physical. You might be more relaxed, feel more rested, sleep better, have more energy, feel more confident, have an awakened curiosity, feel more creative, or just have a sense of well-being. Make a note of this evidence when it’s happening to refer to on the days you forget that it’s working. Include evidence that mind-body body practice works for other people too. Let other people’s success serve as inspiration and reminders that you’re on the right path. My mind-body coach’s success with healing her pelvic pain was my inspiration to persist with mind-body connection practices.

Understand the Nervous System

An activated nervous system intensifies pain and discomfort. All the mind-body practices are designed to get you out of the fight, flight, or freeze response and into rest and digest. Learn your unconscious stress patterns and practice showing up in your life in ways that relieve stress.

Keep Your Timeline to Healing Open

Don’t compare yourself to others. We’re unique in various ways including what it takes to experience significant healing. Don’t set dates for when you need to be healed by. Keep the timeline open. Follow what’s working. If nothing’s working, try other things, switch things up. Eventually you’ll find your sweet spot.

Healing is not Linear

There will be ups and downs. There are layers to healing. It might feel like three steps forward and two steps back. This is normal.

When the Going Gets Tough

Make mind-body practice simple when you’re struggling. Stay self-aware. Know your triggers and recognize your patterns. Reassure yourself you know what this is and you have plenty of tools to move through it. Ask for help when you need it. Get coaching and guidance from those who have been where you are now. You aren’t meant to do this all by yourself. Trust you will come out of the tough spots. On my worst days, I would encourage myself by being optimistic that tomorrow I would feel better.

Persistence Payoffs

When you stay committed to mind-body practice it pays dividends. It becomes a way of life. You are aware enough that you notice when something is off mentally, emotionally, physically or spiritually. Taking time for self-reflection is a priority. You take really good care of yourself before pain and discomfort become unbearable.

When I compare my life in the past few years to the many years before I found mind-body healing, I feel significantly better in so many ways. I’m much more physically active. I’m happier over all. I feel younger in my fifties than I did in my forties. Life is easier. When I get stuck in any kind of discomfort, I have skills to move through it gracefully and I fairly quickly find my way back to well-being.