Historically before even experiencing chronic illness, I would get issues with anxiety (for me due to messed up hormone levels), and I can pinpoint it to situations which required me to go outside of my comfort zone. By that I mean things like going to college lectures – steep lecture halls would make me dizzy, social gatherings would be nerve-wracking, getting on a bus or tram held huge amounts of anxiety especially if I was going somewhere new. As for airplanes, forget about it! It would also sometimes just hit out of nowhere, shopping in the supermarket and suddenly feeling like I was going to pass out in the checkout queue.
I managed to deal with these anxiety issues by seeing a wonderful therapist in Dublin, and could then manage very well getting on buses and trains. Essentially to get over the anxiety, I’d just keep putting myself in situations where I had to face it head on. After repeat bus and train journeys, the anxiety dissipated. I started to go out more, meet new people, and gradually the anxiety just faded into the background.
Unfortunately with chronic pain, and other situations that put our bodies under stress, understandably comes an upregulation of our central nervous systems. As a write this and “check in” with myself, I’m in a semi flight-or-fight mode. My breathing is shallow, I can feel adrenaline and that nervous energy feeling, and I’m tense. I’m so used to it that I don’t notice it anymore. Train or no train, I can be sitting outside reading a book in the sun and realise I’m still in fight-or-flight. On a physical level, it translates into me having very high cortisol levels all day long (tested via 5-point saliva test), so much so that the lab tested my sample twice because the results were so high with cortisol, they thought it was a mistake!
Emotional Freedom Technique / EFT
I had a Skype session with the wonderful Karen Donaldson last week. Karen is a holistic practitioner who specialises in the areas of weight loss, overcoming fears and phobias, managing stress and anxiety and improving self image – my ideal practitioner! She teaches Emotional Freedom Technique, a self-treatment process of tapping on various acupuncture points, as a method of dealing with current and past emotional distress and anxiety. There is a plethora of published data and research on the benefits of EFT, particularly in the use of treating PTSD experienced by Veterans – you can more about the published studies here.
So initially Karen and I discussed my health history, both from a physical and mental viewpoint. Personally I never hold back with my health history – I lay it all out on the table. Now I can talk about past traumatic experiences without having any emotional reaction to them, and certainly therapy has been the thing that helped me the most in that regard. But my body has an automatic reaction on a physical level to scenarios it deems to be stressful, and I wanted active ways of downtraining these automatic reactions. So I was really interested to learn about the EFT practice, and very willing to give it a try. The tapping technique is simple, and just involves tapping your fingers over acupuncture points.
There’s a great resource up at EFTUniverse.com – they also have free tutorials and introductory manuals to EFT that you can download. Their graphic below explains the technique in a simple and easy-to-follow manner if you’d like to try it for yourself. I have found it very helpful to do right before any medical treatments – and after, before getting on a train, and just sitting on my yoga mat in the morning before doing my stretching routine. It calms me down on a physical level, distracting my mind from racing or stressful thoughts, helps me mentally prepare for any difficult situations.
Now would you go tapping in public – not necessarily! But do a little EFT before you leave the house, in a restroom, in your car. And if someone catches you tapping your head, well just give them a little wave in your more relaxed state 🙂