Friday, April 21, 2017

Fight, Flight, or FREEZE Response: Health Implications

When I was researching the topic of stress for my book, Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey, I came across something very intriguing. Stress experts have now added the word “freeze” to the fight or flight stress response with respect to the fact that instead of fighting or fleeing, we might sometimes freeze (like a deer in headlights) in painful or traumatic situations. This is very intriguing to me as it relates to dystonia and other chronic conditions, especially those that involve pain.

The fight or flight stress response becomes activated when we believe there is a chance we can outfight or outrun real or perceived danger and stressful situations. The freeze response differs in that it gets activated due to an inability to take action (like a mouse trapped in a corner by a cat). One feels helpless to fight or flee the threatening, painful, or stressful experience so it freezes (e.g., the mouse plays dead until the cat loses interest and walks away).


During the freeze response, the body becomes both tense and paralyzed at the same time. The thoughts, sensations, and emotions of the stressful experience become suppressed or internalized, not only in the mind but in the tissues of the body. This is called somatic memory (body memory) and can have damaging effects if the event or trauma experienced is not processed in a healthy way.


As illustrated in the photo (which is more unsightly than I would have preferred so please forgive me), uncertainty, paralysis, powerlessness, and avoidance are characteristics used to describe the freeze response, the same words many of us use to describe how we often feel.

Think about the common symptoms of dystonia which include contractions, stiffness, and rigidity. Out of fear of worsening our symptoms, many of us live in “protection mode” where we consciously restrict our movements (to the best of our ability) to try and decrease pain and/or involuntary movements. This might be doing more harm than good.

Purposely restricting our movements, avoiding activities that may increase our symptoms, and holding ourselves in postures to prevent further pain and involuntary movements is similar to the freeze response. This adds more stress than already exists. If we don't allow our bodies “be” in pain or move as it wishes, we keep ourselves stuck in crisis. While this sounds counter-intuitive, sometimes it helps to "go into" the pain.

What would happen if every once in a while we just allowed our symptoms to be what they were without mentally or physically trying to fight them? Easier said than done of course, but think about the possibility of just letting go and embracing the pain and involuntary movements, and letting the body rest and allow it to perhaps do some healing on its own? I don't know for you, but when I just let myself go, I often feel better. When I fight my symptoms, physically or mentally, they get worse.


Since relaxation and healing are prevented when the freeze response remains active, if we get our intellectual brains out of way, we might be able to reduce our symptoms. It certainly merits consideration because when we are not in constant angst, the body is in better balance, making it more susceptible to healing.

This is why positive thinking, relaxation and breathing exercises, TRE (Trauma Releasing Exercises), EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique)Tai Chi, Qi Gong, yoga, massage, acupuncture, counseling/therapy,  aerobic exercise, biofeedbackand many other therapies and practices, are so important because it is only when the body finds relaxation can it reverse the damaging effects of stress.

Tom Seaman is a chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, and author of the book, Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey, a comprehensive resource for anyone living with any life challenge. He is also a support group leader for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) and Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness. To learn more about Tom and get a copy of his book, visit www.diagnosisdystonia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1


http://www.diagnosisdystonia.com/

Monday, April 3, 2017

Turn on the tunes for better health

If you enjoy listening to music, you already know that turning on the tunes can help calm your nerves, reduce stress, pump you up during a workout, bring back fond memories, as well as prompt countless other emotions. Our favorite songs are like best friends. When I have music playing, I find myself singing with a big smile on my face, and feel a sense of calmness come over me. My dystonia symptoms also decrease, especially the pain.


According to Oliver Sacks, author of Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, “Music occupies more areas of our brain than language…humans are a musical species.” Music triggers activity in parts of the brain that release the "feel good" chemicals serotonin and dopamine, it activates areas that process emotions, and it plays a role in abstract thinking. Listening to music may also lower cortisol levels (stress hormones).

Research has found that music can be so physically and mentally beneficial that there is now an established health profession called Music Therapy. Music therapists address a vast number of issues including anxiety, stress management, movement disorders, chronic pain, respiration, physical rehabilitation, oncology treatment, diabetes, headaches, cardiac conditions, as well as communication and emotional expression.

I know many people with Dystonia, Parkinson's, Essential tremor, chronic pain, and other conditions who listen and/or dance to music to help manage their symptoms and improve their mood. I am happy to say that I am one of those who has a decrease in symptoms and an emotional lift when I sing and dance. 


With all the electronic devices that we have available to us today, we can take music anywhere…so turn on the tunes and start singing and dancing, no matter how goofy you look or sound. It does the body good!

Our muscles respond to music even when the brain is in neutral.
Anger, loneliness, longing, sorrow, frustration, and even confusion respond positively to music and action.
Music is your best ally.
- Bonnie Prudden -

Tom Seaman is a chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, and author of the book, Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey, a comprehensive resource for anyone living with any health or life challenge. He is also a support group leader for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) and Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness. To learn more about Tom and get a copy of his book, visit www.diagnosisdystonia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1

http://www.diagnosisdystonia.com/

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Overcoming fear for a better life

Fear is probably the single most damaging, debilitating, detrimental energy we have. It interferes with our well-being in every area of our life. We cannot thrive when we are controlled by fear because fear stresses our immune system and clouds our thinking. Facing fears may feel uncomfortable, but taking action allows the body to release the tension it has built up. Conquering fear could be the saving grace to our mental and physical health.

One of my favorite acronyms for FEAR is, “Face Everything and Rise.” Sadly, for too long I was afraid to face my dystonia (and significant weight gain) so I followed a different acronym for FEAR; “Forget Everything and Run.” This approach didn’t help matters at all. I spent many years deeply depressed and anxiety ridden, and drastically isolated from the world. When I began to face my fears and things I felt self-conscious about, my life began to change for the better.

When the topic of fear comes up, I often think of the movie, We Bought a Zoo, with Matt Damon. Damon’s character, ‘Benjamin Mee’, is having a conversation with his son about fear and courage. It was in the context of how he first met his wife, but it applies to anything in life where we have fear or apprehension. Damon’s character said, “Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery, and I promise you, something great will come of it.”

He’s right. Feel the fear, whatever it is, and do it anyway. It will quickly dissipate, allowing us to move forward with confidence. Bravery is not being without fear. Bravery is having fear and walking through it.


A student once asked his yogi master how he maintained such peace of mind and physical well-being. "Oh, my son”, the yogi smiled, “you only see the outside of my life. Inside my mind it is as if two powerful dogs are always waging war with each other." "Wow," said the student. "What do the dogs fight about?"

The Yogi answered, "One is always leading me to a better life; good health, strong energy, creativity, wonderful relationships, and constant joy and peace. The other is always leading me away from that wonderful place, to a horrible place that is its opposite. He has only one method, but it is a very powerful one. He leads me to fear. Once I am afraid, I cannot move. I am stuck and I can only spend my energy worrying and being upset, or trying to prevent what I am afraid of. This dog causes me much suffering."

"Tell me, Master, which dog most often wins?" The yogi sighed, paused, then smiled and replied, "Whichever one I feed."

Too many of us complicate our lives by feeding the wrong dog, preventing us from living a fulfilling life because we are afraid. Be assertive and push through fear so you live on your terms. If you miss somebody, call; if you want to see somebody, invite; if you want to be understood, explain. If you have questions, ask; if you don’t like something, say it; if you like something, state it. If you want something, ask for it. Live your life no matter what obstacles stand in your way!

Tom Seaman is a chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, and author of the book, Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey, a comprehensive resource for anyone living with any health or life challenge. He is also a support group leader for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) and Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness. To learn more about Tom and get a copy of his book, visit www.diagnosisdystonia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1

http://www.diagnosisdystonia.com/

Monday, March 6, 2017

Working through life challenges - Releasing the past

In my last blog, I wrote about the emotional pain of "victim mentality" when faced with a health or other life challenge. In this entry, I will share some ideas for getting out of that mindset. Mindset is a muscle, so it is important that we exercise it properly.

A big reason for our emotional pain is being stuck in the past; how life was before dystonia, or other health condition or life challenge. We need to find a way to release the past. It is not who we are anymore, no matter how hard we try. We can be whomever we want right now. We may not be the same person as before, and we have to learn to be okay with that, IF we want to be happy. We also need to be open to the possibility that we can be even better than before. I know how crazy this sounds, but Post Traumatic Growth is a very real and powerful thing.

By no means is 'letting go' as easy as I am making it sound. I completely understand that it is a process that unfolds at our own pace. It is something I have to work on every day. The more I work on it, the better I am able to release the past and embrace the me I am right now. I can't begin to tell you how liberating it is and how much better it makes me feel when I am able to do it.



I would like to say that I freely do whatever I want whenever I want, but that is not always the case. There are days when things are far too uncomfortable because of the pain and other symptoms of dystonia. Therefore, I do my best to live my life within the boundaries of my abilities and work hard to accept that I can’t always do everything I want, or some of the things I used to. If I don’t allow myself to accept the reality that life is different now, I will mentally torture myself and become a victim of circumstance. I did this for far too long and it resulted in so much pain. I had to learn to let it go, and as mentioned, I still have to work at it every day. Finding joy in whatever I do is where I try to put my focus, so the past does not determine my present or future happiness. I feel I have better accepted the challenges I live with and learned to ride the fluctuating waves that each day brings, but I am still a work in progress.

Every night I go to bed praying I will wake up with fewer symptoms than I had the previous day. If this does not happen, I am better at not fighting what I can’t change physically about myself in the moment, but it comes with constant practice over a long period of time, and I still falter. What I have learned is that I can only change how I respond to how I feel and do my best to be grateful for whatever I am able to do on that given day.

When we focus on the abilities we have now, acceptance follows, giving us greater peace of mind. By holding onto what once was, we trap ourselves in a vicious cycle of emotional pain.


The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.
- Elisabeth Kubler-Ross -


Tom Seaman is a chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, and author of the book, Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey, a comprehensive resource for anyone living with any health or life challenge. He is also a support group leader for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) and Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness. To learn more about Tom and get a copy of his book, visit www.diagnosisdystonia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1


http://www.diagnosisdystonia.com/


Monday, February 27, 2017

$5 Cure 4 Dystonia

Please help support a new initiative to find a cure for dystonia....$5Cure4Dystonia!! It takes only $5 to help me and hundreds of thousands of children and adults suffering with this awful disorder. Please go to www.5dollarcure.com and help today with your tax-deductible donation. 100% of all money raised will go towards research. Please share this with your family and friends so they can help too! Let's spread this like wildfire! Thank you very much for your help! 

https://5dollarcure.com

What is Dystonia?
Dystonia is a neurological movement disorder characterized by uncontrollable, involuntary muscle spasms and contractions, causing repetitive movements, twitching, twisting, and/or abnormal postures. Muscle contractions can be sustained or intermittent and sometimes include a tremor. Dystonia can affect any part of the body, causing varying degrees of disability and pain from mild to severe.

People often describe their affected muscles as feeling like tightropes. You will also hear people say it feels like the affected body part(s) is in a vice, being squeezed by a snake, their head feels like it is being pulled off or is the weight of a bowling ball, and/or their muscles pull, turn, twist, and tremor uncontrollably. The experience is similar to a charley horse that never goes away.

Let's end the suffering! Please join us and be part of the global effort to find a cure by going to www.5dollarcure.com!

https://5dollarcure.com

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Overcoming victim mentality

When the pain and muscles contractions from dystonia were at their worst for me (see below), it significantly limited what I could do. For years I characterized dystonia as an evil intruder that ruined my life. What I could no longer do was my only focus, which caused great anger and depression. I was so bitter that I let myself become a victim. I was lost in a world of pain; a world I felt was out to get me.


Feeling like a victim is normal when diagnosed with any serious health condition, but it is not not just people with a health condition that play the victim role. People who look negatively on life's circumstances complain about everything from the weather, other people, their jobs... the list is endless. We have all done it, which is fine, but it is self-destructive if we remain in this state of mind. We become isolated, depressed, bitter, angry, and resentful. We mainly complain and rarely look for solutions to problems. To the victim, everything is always someone else's fault.

For the first several years with dystonia, this is exactly how I felt. I was miserable. I felt a deep sense of loss and was extremely frustrated, so I had a lot of negative self-talk. My anger and sadness made my dystonia worse because negative emotions cause increased muscle tension. I had to shift my thinking and focus on moving forward if I wanted to live a happier and healthier life (please see my next blog entry about releasing the past).

I had to get out of the “why me, poor me?” frame of mind if I wanted freedom from my mental anguish. Instead of asking, “why me?” I began asking, “why not me?”, “how can I learn to live with dystonia?”, and “how can dystonia help me learn and grow?" I am no better or worse than anyone else so if it happened to me, so be it. Maybe there was good reason for it. "Start viewing it this way", I told myself.

Plus, there was nothing I could do to reverse things so I needed to learn to accept it and find the lessons in it, even when I was in ridiculous pain and could barely function. Easier said than done, but awareness of this attitude is a start!

I try very hard not to, but I still find myself being a victim at times, so I am not immune to any of this whatsoever. I just work much harder now to be mindful of these tendencies. When things get tough, I do my best to tell myself, "although this is a difficult situation, I am going to make the very best of it." This shifts my focus to one that is solution oriented which always puts me in a better frame of mind.



Tom Seaman is a chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, and author of the book, Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey, a comprehensive resource for anyone living with any health or life challenge. He is also a support group leader for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) and Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness. To learn more about Tom and get a copy of his book, visit www.diagnosisdystonia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Tips for better sleep

Ahhh… sleep!! It feels so good when we get it. Unfortunately, quality sleep is something that eludes many of us. It seems that more and more of us sleep less and less for countless reasons, and when we do sleep, it is not as rejuvenating as it could be. Rather than go into the reasons for why many of us do not sleep well, below are some tips for improving your sleep habits. Most of us already know what we can do to help us. It is just a matter of putting them to practice.

Before continuing, I want to mention that I fully understand and appreciate that with certain health conditions, especially pain, anxiety, and depression, that solid sleep can be near impossible. I lived this way for many years with a difficult health condition called dystonia. I know what sleepless nights are like all too well.


Make your bedroom more sleep friendly
Make your bedroom reflective of the value you place on sleep. Check your room for noise, light, temperature, and other distractions, including a partner’s sleep disruptions such as snoring. Keep your room temperature less than 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Consider using shades that darken the room, a sleep mask to cover your eyes, earplugs, recordings of soothing sounds, and a fan or other device that creates white noise.

Make sure your bed allows enough room to stretch and turn comfortably. Experiment with different levels of mattress firmness, foam or egg crate toppers, and pillows that provide appropriate support. If you share your bed, make sure there is enough room for two. If you have children or pets, set boundaries for how often they can sleep with you or have them sleep in their own space.

Stick to a sleep schedule
Maintain a regular bedtime and wake time schedule. A regular wake time in the morning strengthens the circadian function and can help with sleep onset at night.

Create a bedtime ritual
Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine each night to tell your body it is time to wind down. This might include taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book, or listening to soothing music. Relaxing activities ease the transition from wakefulness to drowsiness.


Reserve your bed for sleeping and sex
Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex to strengthen the association between bed and sleep. If you only use your bed for sleep and sex, when you go to bed, your body gets a powerful cue: it’s time to either nod off or be romantic.

Pay attention to what you eat and drink
Don’t go to bed hungry or full. Also limit how much you drink before bed to prevent trips to the bathroom. Avoid nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol. The stimulating effects of nicotine and caffeine can wreak havoc on quality sleep, and even though alcohol might make you feel tired, it can disrupt sleep.

Include physical activity in your daily routine
Regular physical activity can help you fall asleep faster and enjoy deeper sleep. Find a time to exercise that works best for you. Shortly before bed is usually not the best time of day as it can cause you to be too energized to fall asleep.

Napping
If you need to make up for a few lost hours, opt for a daytime nap rather than sleeping late. This helps make up for lost hours without disturbing your sleep-wake cycle. I find that a good power nap during the day revitalizes me.


Boost melatonin production
Melatonin is a hormone in the brain that helps regulate other hormones and maintains the body’s circadian rhythm. When it is dark, our body produces more melatonin. When it is light, the production of melatonin drops. When it is time to go to bed, turn off your computer, cell phone, and television. Don’t read from a backlit device (such as an iPad). Read from something that requires a light source such as a bedside lamp. Use a low-wattage bulb so you can avoid bright lights. Light suppresses melatonin production and these devices can stimulate the mind rather than relax it. Some people find melatonin supplements to be helpful.

Increase light exposure during the day
In the morning, let sunlight hit your face. Try to take work breaks outside, exercise outside, and walk during the day instead of at night. Also, let as much light into your home/work space as possible. When sunlight hits our eyes, the optic nerve sends a message to the pineal gland in the brain that tells it to decrease its secretions of melatonin until the sun goes down again. The opposite happens with serotonin, a hormone connected with feelings of happiness and wakefulness. When we are exposed to sun, our brain increases serotonin production. When sunshine touches our skin, the body produces vitamin D, which helps us maintain serotonin levels.


When melatonin and serotonin production are properly balanced, we feel energized during the day and a slowing down during the dark hours. Some find vitamin D supplements helpful for maintaining this hormonal balance, especially during the colder months when we spend more time indoors.

I hope this information leads you to better sleep. Many of these things have significantly improved my quality of sleep. Of course, the type of pillow you use, your bed, sleeping partner, daily stressors, indoor/outdoor noise, etc., all play a factor, but this list is too long for the purposes of this article. If after trying all the above you still have trouble falling asleep, maintaining sleep, awaken earlier than you wish, don’t feel refreshed after sleep, or suffer from excessive sleepiness during the day, please consult your doctor.


Tom Seaman is a chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, and author of the book, Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey, a comprehensive resource for anyone living with any life challenge. He is also a support group leader for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) and Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness. To learn more about Tom and get a copy of his book, visit www.diagnosisdystonia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1

www.diagnosisdystonia.com