Category Archives: Teens COVID anxiety

Sometimes you just have to cry.

There isn’t a single one amongst us who doesn’t have a reason to cry right now. I won’t go through the list of things because what I have lost will be different from what you have lost and what you have lost will be different from what your grandparents have lost. And when we lose things we care about, and when we are completely up against a wall of futility, it’s so easy to go off in search of a great distraction. However, that won’t take us where we really do want to be. Feeling soft and tender and like ourselves again is so much better than feeling distracted, and the only way to get there is to let some tears flow. The single best way to do that is to cry in the presence of a family member who totally gets us, but if that isn’t possible right now then writing, painting or dancing out the sadness can often bring just the right number of tears to heal us. I know this for certain. Just before supper one night last week I read a simple story about a woman crying in a grocery store and the tears that had been inside me since the middle of March welled up, spilled over and made me feel a whole lot better!

Here’s a poem by Philomene Kocher that says it best:

rain washes the dust

from the bus window

and I can see

more clearly

what tears do


Want to know some of the science behind this?

I have spoken before about the sympathetic nervous system being activated when we are agitated. When we cry there is a whole host of bodily functions that change as the parasympathetic nervous system takes over and gives us that wonderful relief that comes from a good cry. The emotionally-induced tears we shed are a different chemical composition than the tears that normally keep our eyes moist; they contain hormones that build connection to the person we are crying with, they act as a natural pain reliever and flush the stress hormones from our systems.

Rocking – It’s Not Just For Babies

Rocking Soothes Your System

Here’s another super simple way to calm the nervous system: rock your body, from side to side like your parents did when you were little, or forward and back in a rocking chair or swing in your yard. Do this for 10 min per day. If you do it before bed you will fall asleep faster, have deeper sleep and improve your long-term memory at the same time!

Want to know some of the science behind this? Our brains are wired to respond to rocking – that’s why your parents automatically did it for you when you were a baby. Without even knowing it they were stimulating your vestibular system, the organs of your inner ear which coordinate movement with balance.

If you want to know more, or want to see a clip of a young adult in a rocking bed, go to:


Years ago I was walking through a barn when I saw the word “Duck” written on a beam. As I walked to the far end of the barn my mind thought about Muscovy Ducks which at that time were used around livestock as a natural fly control. Then I thought about Mallard Ducks and how unbelievably remarkable the iridescent blues and teals of their feathers are, when BAM, I was on my knees clutching the top of my head in agony. “Duck” in this case was not a noun but a verb. It was meant to tell me to duck my head!

Ah, the well-worn thought patterns of our brains and how they can get us into trouble! I thought of this a couple of days ago when I woke up totally and completely annoyed with everything about the world, and truth-be-told, everything about myself. Those well-worn thought patterns were about to become much more well-worn, and in the process, make me much more miserable, except that I knew they were taking me towards a figurative bash on my head…and I stopped. Here’s how I did it. This is a tried and true method developed by South African, Leslie Temple-Thurston. It’s called “Lists”.

  1. Down the left side the paper I wrote (it’s important to do it on paper) in point form, double-spaced, all that was wrong with the world, all that was wrong with me, how things were never going to change…(you get the idea). If you are doing this be certain to wallow as much as you like. You won’t get stuck there, I promise.
  2. Once I felt I had everything possible written down I went through the list, only this time I wrote the opposite word or phrase on the right hand side. (For some negative words I had two or more opposites.)
  3. Once I finished, I read through the list slowly, being certain to notice how different the words on the right felt.
  4. Then I offered the whole mess up to “The Intelligence” – whatever that force is that makes the Mallards return to this miserable brown landscape, or what made an embryo develop into the unique and marvellous you that you are! Whatever you want to call that force, that’s what I offered it up to, knowing in that moment I had done all I could do to untangle my thoughts and feelings.
  5. Then I said simply, “Thank you.” And I tell you, I felt a whole lot better.
  6. Sometimes at this point I rip up the papers, so as to not hurt the feelings of anyone who might happen to look at what I have written.

Want to know some of the science behind this? In order to understand the brain you have to look at it in a lot of different ways. It’s a little like when you go to the doctor. They will check your weight, take your temperature and blood pressure, then listen to your heart and lungs. These are all different ways of looking at the same thing, which is your body.

Physically – When we are looking at the physical nature of the brain we could be looking at the overall development of the human brain as I talked about earlier (1st, 2nd and 3rd parts), the function of the two sides (hemispheres), the different parts (pituitary, hypothalamus etc.) and/or the tiny little brain cells (neurons). So you can see this part could get quite complex. At this point let’s just stick with a super simple explanation that comes from Donald Hebb, a Canadian neuropsychologist, way back in the 70’s and that’s that “neurons that fire together, wire together”. The more I think something, the more entrenched that becomes. If the thought, “My elbow hurts” routinely leads to “I shouldn’t have done x, y, z” to “I’m an idiot” to “I’m so mad at myself”, well that becomes more entrenched till I drive myself either mad, or out of that groove with an exercise like the one I mentioned.

Chemically – The cells of our body (including our brain cells) change according to the environment that is provided for them. If there is a predominance of fight-or-flight chemicals including adrenaline over long periods of time, then the receptors on the cells respond one of two ways: they either create more receptor sites on each cell over time (up-regulation) and the body needs a constant fix at the cellular level to keep things in chemical continuity, or the cells become over-stimulated and desensitized (down-regulation) and they no longer work properly. Neither option is good.

Electrically – Our brains are electrical! Some even say help for our brains resides more in what we do with them electrically, than what we do with them chemically. If I had measured the frequency patterns of my brain when I was ruminating there would have been an excess of 15 -18 hertz (low beta) activity. Stuck in that state I had little access to creative problem solving;  that is until I got it all written down. That allowed for more 8 – 14 hz activity which is associated with feelings of peacefulness and safety.


The Flight of Deer

The deer are on the move and I’ve seen more of them in our fields and in our neighbour’s woods than I have all winter. One day last week I noticed a doe watching me from about 400 m (the length of the track at school). Her neck was stretched sky-ward, her body stock-still, her gaze fixated on me (the potential threat), making my way across the thawing field. Then suddenly she turned and bounded away, her tail bobbing like a large white duster suddenly joined by the smaller white duster of her yearling fawn. Boing, boing, boing they bounded to the end of the field where they both stopped to turn and assess the situation. Satisfied I was no longer a threat, they bounded over the cedar-rail fence where I am certain they gave their whole bodies a mighty shake before resuming their grazing in a relaxed, yet alert state.

Wild animals do that. They cycle back and forth between states of activated vigilance and normal, relaxed activity. But imagine how different it would have been if the yearling’s foot had somehow become trapped and I had continued to walk towards it. Can you imagine how frantic it would have become trying to release itself?

The thing is, those of us who are receiving information about the pandemic minute by minute, hour by hour are not unlike a trapped yearling. The information is perceived by our nervous system as a repeated threat and unless we can do something about it we will most likely find ourselves feeling increasingly more helpless and terrified. But the thing is we can do something about it. Firstly, we can expose ourselves to the events around us in manageable doses. My manageable dose is 2. I can handle an influx of news twice a day.  I know this because anything more takes me out of the state of informed/managed/intelligent concern to being like a trapped deer. We can all reduce our stress levels when we turn off the TV, radio, or social media feeds for chunks of time and reconnect only when we feel we are able to handle it (Visuals of disturbing events impact us significantly because so much of the brain is responsible for visual processing). Secondly, we can use some of the exercises I’ve already mentioned or one of these additional ones:

The Calf Pump

The Calf Pump  (from Brain Gym) – Stand and support yourself with hands on a wall or the back of a chair. Place one leg behind yourself and lean forward and bend the knee of the forward leg. The straight leg and the back should be in a straight line.  At first the heel at the back is off the floor and the weight is on the forward leg. Then the weight is shifted to the back leg as the heel is pressed to the floor. Exhale while pressing the heel down and hold for a count of ten, and then release as you breathe in. Repeat this three times on each side.

Brain Stem Release – This is also a simple exercise. It involves clasping your hands behind the head and then holding your gaze off to both the left and right sides of your body. Please see the following video


Want to know some of the science behind this? Whether someone is coming at us with a club, or we are being bombarded with fear-invoking news, our brains respond the same way with the fight or flight response. The brain produce peptides which turn on the body’s stress response. The body’s stress response signals to the brain to produce more peptides and around and around it goes till we post nasty comments, yell at the nearest person or kick the dog out of the way – all attempts to disrupt the loop and restore balance to our poor fried nervous systems. It’s so much simpler to just not fry the poor thing in the first place by reducing the stresses you are exposed to!

Calf Pump – When a creature (be it a deer or a human) perceives danger the tendons in the feet and lower legs shorten to prepared for running. By pressing down the heel and lengthening the tendon in the calf, you discharge the fear reflex and the muscles can return to their normal tone. You break the feedback loop where the body is telling the brain there is a threat.

More for Your Inner Squirrels

My inner squirrel is doing pretty well the last few days, but I still had a lot of fun doing each of these exercises today. I hope you do too!

A SIMPLE CENTERING EXERCISE* – Stand with your knees bent and pay attention to the connection of your feet to the floor.  Begin to sway, shifting your weight gently from side to side, from foot to foot.  Notice when you feel yourself off balance and coming back into balance by finding the centre of gravity. Keep swaying and notice where in your body you feel centred. You can either keep going in this pattern or switch to moving forward and backward.

TALKING FUNNY** – Press the tip of your tongue against your lower teeth. Relax your tongue so that it’s like a jelly-fish. Now talk about anything at all from funny stuff to everything that is bothering you and let yourself laugh.

YAWNING** – Take a deep breath in. At the top of the breath, open your mouth wide and make yawning sounds. If you don’t have a natural yawn right away, just relax and do it again without trying hard.

JIGGLING** – Stand with your feet about hip-width apart and knees slightly bent. Bend and straighten your knees just a little. Repeat over and over until you find a nice jiggling rhythm. Let all your body parts hang loose and flop.


Want to know some of the science behind this?

Talking Funny – This action relaxes the tongue which in turn flexes the palate and dura across the base of the brain to the occiput. As it does that it causes the free flow of the cerebrospinal fluid of the brain and spinal column, making us feel freer, more relaxed and less constrained by our circumstances, and who doesn’t need that.

Yawning – relaxes the throat, plate, upper neck and brain stem. This helps you notice the sensations in your body, increases saliva production, which improves digestion. It also increases the production of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that helps balance your mood by calming you if you are wound up or enlivening you if you are feeling gloomy.  It also helps balance the flow of cerebrospinal fluid which helps to keep the brain and spine flexible. Who knew!

Jiggling – relaxes the joints, pumps the diaphragm and moves our body’s fluids. It also increases energy by stimulating metabolism and loosening us up when we are stiff or rigid.

*From Trauma Through A Child’s Eyes by Peter Levine and Maggie Kline

**Also from Trauma Through a Child’s Eyes, but borrowed from Embodying Well-Being or How to Feel as Good as You Can in Spite of Everything for kids and adults by Julie Henderson

The Inner Squirrels are Back!

OH NO, my Inner Squirrel is running the show again! My mind is racing and my body feels like running in a million different directions.

Fortunately for me I’ve been taught a few more super-easy, mind-stilling body exercises that can bring me back to a calm and focused state and here they are:



HOOK-UPS*– You can either follow these instructions or you go straight to the following:

-You can do these standing, sitting or lying down but will gain the most if you are able to stand (not everyone can – they’ll keel over).

-Cross one ankle over the other

-Cross, clasp and invert your hands by stretching your arms out in front of you, with the back of your hands together and the thumbs pointing down.

-Lift one hand over the other, palms facing and interlock the fingers.

-Roll the locked hands straight down and in towards the body so that they eventually rest on the chest with the elbows down

-Rest the tip of your tongue on the roof of the mouth behind your front teeth

-As long as it’s ok with you, close your eyes and balance for 2 – 5 min.

(You may notice yourself sighing. This is a sign that the squirrel is giving up and calmness is on its way!)


POSITIVE POINTS* – This is my all-time favourite as it reminds me of when my mom used to soothe me by putting the palm of her hand on my forehead.

-Just simply put the palm of your hand on your forehead and leave it there, with your eyes closed for a couple of minutes.

(Again, the squirrel may give a sigh or two with this one)

*These are “Brain Gym” exercises


HORSE LIPS – With your lips nice and loose blow air through them just like a horse would. That’s all there is to it.

(Squirrels who do this together have been known to laugh together.)



Want to know some of the science behind this?

You may have thought you had one brain, but inside you have two more. The first brain (called by different names including Instinctive, Reptilian and Old Brain) we share with birds and reptiles. It is responsible for survival and the many mechanisms that keep us alive. The second brain (also called Mid, Emotional, Limbic and Mammalian Brain) we share with older mammals like dogs, cats, mice and horses. This processes memory and emotion. The third brain (called Thinking, Neocortex and New Brain) is something we share only with primates (monkeys, gorillas etc.) It gives us the ability to plan and helps us have complex social interactions. When we are stressed it’s the first brain that is running the show and we are in survival mode! The following exercises to the rescue:

Hook-Ups – They decrease adrenaline production by bringing attention away from the survival centers of the 1st brain. The crossover action balances and activates the sensory and motor parts of each hemisphere of the 3rd  brain and placing your tongue on the roof or your mouth brings attention to the 2nd brain which is just above the roof of your mouth. Everything together connects the emotions in the 2nd brain to the reason in the 3rd  brain and the squirrel can calm down.

Positive Points – They help us access the 3rd Brain to balance stress around specific memories stored in the 2nd brain around situations, people, places and skills.

Horse Lips – They help loosen the tension around the lips which in turn relaxes the 1st brain.


Spring birds and Breathing

Redwing Blackbird


Since school was cancelled and we were told to stay home, I have to admit I’ve had small moments of fear. Yesterday as I stood above a culvert funneling water from one wetland to a lower one, I closed my eyes and listened to the gurgle of water and the warbles of the newly-arrived spring birds. I felt calmer than I had for days, partially because of the beautiful surroundings, partially because I was with a friend at a healthy distance of 2 m, and partially because she was leading me through an exercise meant to calm my nervous system. She instructed me to take a long breath out, then a long, slow inbreath followed by an even longer outbreath. This I did a second time. Then she told me to notice where I felt tension in my body and to imagine breathing soft baby or puppy breaths to those poor tight spots. She said she set a timer for every ½ hr throughout the day. When it went off she stopped and did what I have just relayed on to you.

Want to know some of the science behind this? Being in nature soothes us. Exercise soothes us and so does being with positive friends but I’ll explain more about that at another time. See the diagram above? As we go through our days our nervous systems cycle through periods of charge (activation) and discharge (deactivation).  A door slams and our systems become more charged. We look up and see that the wind blew it shut and our systems settle down. When we are in the middle of exams, our systems tend to remain activated so that the wave tends to be higher on the y-axis (see, graphing IS something worth knowing!) and although it deactivates when we, say, eat a good meal it never comes as close the x-axis as it does when exams are over and we are lying on a beach in the sun (which I promise you, we will do!). Our systems remain on alert. With this past week’s barrage of alarming news all our nervous systems have remained much higher on the y-axis and even if we are doing fun things, it’s much harder to have a sense of complete discharge and hence relaxation.

But our mind and body can convince our brain to take a break and tell our nervous system to deactivate and the simplest way to do that is to deliberately change our breathing! I did it all day today as I stacked wood and it worked. Despite the grim news I feel the best I have felt since it was first announced that schools would be closed. Wanna give it a whirl?


A little more of an explanation if you are still with me:

In a healthy response to a threat the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) releases the brake, which in turn allows the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) to respond to the threat. Readiness for fight or flight kicks in. If the person/animal is able to respond with movement until all is well, the PNS kicks in again and the system relaxes until the next threat comes along.

Squirrels and Groundhogs


Squirrel Running Clipart | Clipart library - Free Clipart Images

I miss school. I do! I miss the chatter and the laughter and the smiles in the halls and it seems that when I don’t have all of that I get very grumpy and squirrrelly. I’m not at all proud of the squirrel I’ve become: jumping from project to project, thought to thought, suggestion to suggestion, demand to demand, so that the other person in my house has become an equally grumpy groundhog who has dug his way to the subsoil, having already passed through meters of organic matter and topsoil and he’s not looking back! The thing is, the more he digs, the more I behave like a squirrel and the more I behave like a squirrel the more he digs. You see the losing battle we were locked into?

Our solution (this time): With our phones in another room we sat down to a meal together and I asked him, of all things, what toys he’d enjoyed playing with as a kid. He told me about Red, a plastic dog his mute and emotionally-frozen grandmother had given him. Then he told me about carving animals out of pieces of soft wood. I told him about my doll Anney who was special to me, but not as special as the fields, woods and hay mows I explored and escaped to.  And voila! We both relaxed. The squirrel settled herself down at the mouth of the hole and the groundhog turned his fat little body around and climbed up to where he could hear.

Want to know the science behind this? The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) operates all the basic functions of our bodies automatically (duh), without our control and is the source of our survival responses. There are two branches of the ANS: the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous system (PNS). In many ways they are the exact opposite of one another. You might enjoy looking up images of these two systems, but it’s enough to know that the PNS acts like a brake pedal and helps us relax, unwind and get rid of any unwanted sympathetic activation. The SNS is like the gas pedal and gives us energy and helps prepare us for threat. In this instance both My Love and I had our SNS’s pedal to the floor, and what it took to ease up and access the PNS was some non-threatening (that’s essential!) conversation about an enjoyable time, some food which also stimulates the PNS and the absence of phones. (Studies have shown a dramatic decline in the quality of conversation when a phone is present, even if no one is looking at it. Our nervous systems perceive them as threats to the connection we are having with the other person.)

Some bad news and some good news to all you squirrels and groundhogs out there… the stress reaction is automatic and we have little control over it (bad news). The relaxation response is harder to bring about (also bad news); BUT the good news is that we can create it once our heads realize we are locked in squirrel-like and groundhog-like desires and we seek out comfortable eye-to-eye and/or voice-to-voice conversation; preferably over a tasty morsel of food.