A proper Wake for Angelique

January 22nd, 2016

21st January

I know I’m better now because I fell in love with a pair of blue boots. The ‘inability to enjoy’ is a defining characteristic of depression and I was depressed so long I couldn’t remember what it felt like to enjoy anything. It was oddly scary, like I was a puzzle I couldn’t solve ‘What do I like doing? What makes me happy?’

And the last thing I was likely to take pleasure in, was shopping. Somehow my political convictions, my horror of consumerism and capitalism, the way injustice and all the suffering it engenders saturates the fabric of how we do ‘trade’ in this culture, robbed me of the innocent pleasure to be had in pretty things. But when I came out of the hospital with the news that the Thyroid Eye Disease might be ‘reactivated’ and another eye operation a possibility, I found out that my mum was right, beautiful things can be a comfort sometimes. It feels somewhat out of character, but nonetheless I am the possessor of a pair of boots I’m happy with, that in the midst of a month in which I’ve felt grief for so many people iconic and in my neck of the woods that have passed on, I am coming back to life and it’s allowed.

I wore my new boots for the first time today, in honour of Angelique. I know some of you have no idea who I’m talking about. For those of you who don’t here’s what I wrote a few days after she died.

‘For days I’ve been doing my best to contain my deep sorrow at the departure of our lovely Angelique. She lived round the corner from me so she was one of the people I’d encounter on the street. She had many, many friends and I don’t count myself among them. But she was a member of my community, my tribe and because I live in the world I do, occasionally, rather than exchanging smiles, we would drop into the heart of things and connect deeply, share truthfully. Angelique gave of her own precious self so generously, touched so many people’s lives, did so much good in this world.

I feel so blessed that Jo knew I’d been lighting candles and praying for Angelique, for Angelique and all those in the inner circle, the witnesses to such distress and suffering that, yes, of course I’m glad her suffering is at an end. But I am grieved to no longer have this lovely Being with us. Angelique with her deep rich laugh, so full of joie de vivre, so ready to enjoy life, to be fun; big-hearted, unique, loving Angelique.’

Ah, how sadness and gratitude can hold hands! She had the send-off she deserved did Angelique, a wonderful wake, a true celebration of the beautiful Being we had in our midst. It is important that we did what we did today, stopping the traffic, standing in the street, asking for the world that didn’t know Angelique to respect the needs of we who did. Bless them for doing so. It is the first time I have witnessed in England the tradition I know from home, where all the shops shut down and the people line the streets.

I felt so on the edge, that place where it is possible that emotion will become overwhelming but it’s not yet. All my usual program about being peripheral, of not ‘really’ belonging, of being somehow incapable of connecting with others that so often drives me out of situations, is chuntering away in the background. It is silenced by the silence that unites us, as we stand in the street waiting for her remains to be moved into the Assembly Rooms. And then we file in after her. I have never seen so many people in the Assembly Rooms before, faces I recognise dotted among faces I don’t. Lots of daughters, women I don’t know but in whom I can see a reflection of the women I do. Such a gathering, these are my tribe, this is my community united in grief and gratitude.

Can I talk about what happened in the Assembly Rooms? The waves of emotion, the tears welling up, the surprise of laughter, the marvelling at how multi-talented Angelique was, the growing sense of satisfaction that everyone was talking about the woman I met. No saccharine stuff here, instead deep love for a complex, creative, REAL person. When they played John Martin ‘May you never…’ it carried me back to the last tribe I loved as I now love the people around me, in Wales, to the night when P. was going on his travels and D. played this track and then gave him the cassette. Long time ago, a rich bubble of love touched in time-travel. And then with David Bowie ‘Let’s dance’ we did. Never danced in the middle of a funeral before but it felt so right. All our love for Angelique in the dance because Angelique was such a glorious dancer. I could hear her laugh. She loved that.

I had to leave before the end, but not before Tina said her wonderful list poem that for me completely captured the essence of Angelique. That was hard. It’s leaving the circle before the ritual is finished and I was very emotional. And yet that space created allowed something important to happen.

We all know logically that everyone dies. This afternoon I realised (and I have no recollection of ever having realised this quite the way I did today before now) that everyone I love is going to die. Whoa, cracked me wide open. I’m just not sure that the people I love, the ones who have their place in my heart, know it. I can be expending so much energy on ‘keeping it together’, that there’s very little left over for connecting with the people around me. So how would they know? I’m not convinced it shows.

They know. They know. That was what was magical and beautiful about this day, this day chock full of deep true real encounters. Thanks to Angelique. Because Angelique was open-hearted, we celebrated her by opening our hearts to each other. I have had more moving experiences of connecting and sharing deeply with people I love this day that I am sad and happy at the same time. Everyone I love is going to die but at least today I had a space in which to tell some of the people I dearly love that it is so. Love flowed, and Angelique? I reckon she loved every minute of it.

Rest in Peace Angelique. Thank you for the time you spent among us. Thank you for the white feather you sent to let us know you’re up there, the prettiest star.

 

 

Happy New Year

January 8th, 2016

Monday 5th January

It is the last day of Christmas so however I am counting the festive season it feels like it’s my last chance to say a big thank you to all the wonderful people who helped me get through 2015. I had set my blog to cover a period of six months so this is a codicil, an appendix to that phase of sharing.

I hope your New Year was one of optimism looking forward and satisfaction looking back. It’s what my sister said in an email and I can’t think of a better way to say what I wish for everyone I love.

Your companionship on my journey, your encouragement, your responses to what I shared helped me more than I can rightly say and you have earned my heartfelt gratitude. Satisfaction looking back is hard to find – spent too much time caught up in the rebel/tyrant dynamic, the eternal and exhausting battle between procrastination and chastisement, whinging self-pity and frustrated fury. What I’ve learnt in 2015 is that it’s a waste of energy. It’s possible to change and it involves releasing judgement, understanding that ‘there is no failure only feedback’.

And because of the bigger picture, the accumulating consequences of climate change, more than ever it feels like now is the time of the Shamballa Warrior, so I will continue practising with the weapons of insight and compassion that are so powerful in addressing my errors of thought and action however entrenched.

So what do I want in 2016?

I want to let life breathe through me as it breathes through trees
to be more alive, more awake, more connected, more real
I want to find my voice again, for the words to roll along
carrying me into the arms of Awen
I want to speak up, speak out, speak truth to power
have the courage the time calls for.

And what that boils down to is that I’m ready to do as Alaistair McIntosh advised me to do years ago and simply declare myself an ecopsychologist and get on with it. So the plan is that by April I’ll have revamped my website and learnt all about how to market myself in this cyberworld. It’s terrifying! Worse than Irish tests at school (and that really is saying something). And what I want to do is have fun sharing what I’m learning in circles I facilitate. My model for the future circles I visualise, is the circle that came together to discuss ecopsychology at the Green Earth Awakening Buddhist camp. I’ve got one booking to run a couple of days in April with Tarika Trust and every time I think about it my heart sings.

And where I’m starting is with a dreamwork circle. I want to reawaken my creativity and it’s all there in the dream world waiting for me to pay attention. Facilitating dreamwork is great fun and I always teach on the basis that ‘we teach best what we most need to learn’. What’s exciting about the idea of working with an ongoing group again is how enriched we are by exploring each other’s dreams. Our dream worlds start to connect and in this group we going to be working consciously with the phases of the moon which so powerfully influence dreaming.

I’m not sure about new year’s resolutions. I’ve only made one promise to myself and that is to write, to write and get what I write out into the world. I’ve got to accept that I’m always going to be frustrated by my limitations and get on with putting one step in front of the other regardless. Whatever else I am, I sure am a talker. And I love learning for its own sake. I want to make my living as a group facilitator and trainer again. Ecopsychology is my bag. It all looks like a very steep climb from here but whoa am I in a different place than where I was this time last year.

Right bed time and past it. I’ll finish and post this when I get a chance tomorrow. Love and light D x

Thursday 7th – and time ran away with me

I don’t tend to talk much about what’s going on with my eyes. I don’t see the point when there’s nothing to be gained from worrying. Tuesday I’d an appointment with the Optics team at the Bristol Eye Hospital where I met a lovely young woman and found out that it was ‘the job’ that did it for my eyes. There’s no room for emotion in the church of Western Medicine but it grieves me sore to know that I did what appears to be irreparable damage to my eyes sticking with a job that I knew was destroying me. Bless. We all make mistakes and live with the consequences.

Today I’d an appointment with the ophthalmology consultant who turned out to be Helen G. Oh my God I cannot tell you what a relief it is! How I felt when I opened the door to see that it was Helen. She’s a senior consultant now but I knew her way back when she was a junior member of staff – 2007 – 9 years ago. She was working on the Thyroid Eye Disease research project then. Whoa! How blessed am I? I didn’t need to explain anything. Helen knows all about the day my eye popped out – subluxation of the eyeball – in all the text books but rarely witnessed in reality. Worst case of TED they’d ever seen and the operation they did on my eyes was a miracle that gave me back the sky (the top section of my visual field was pretty much missing – I couldn’t see the sky for years). It’s not just that I don’t have to work out how to précis the backstory, I know I’ve got one of leading experts on Thyroid Eye Disease on my side, a consultant I know I can trust. Nothing’s clear but I’ve been warned twice that I may need another bilateral orbital decompression – though that’s the worst case scenario. So once again I’ve had one nasty nightmare loom up at me and had the certainty that EVEN IF that’s what’s ahead I have my friends, my tribe, my team, my people at my back and I’ll be okay whatever it involves.

So next step is a CAT scan and then back to see both the teams as soon after that as is possible. It’s a development that means I need to revise some of my plans for the year ahead.

Friday 8th January
And after that I collapsed in a heap, so am only sending this now. Late and all as it is, I want you all to know I’ve been thinking of you as I look back at how I got through last year.

May 2016 be a good year for you all.

Meeting people who care

September 28th, 2015

I’m late. I don’t suppose anyone noticed but my intention was to write my final blog on the 24th and having in nine months fully recovered from the impact of losing it so spectacularly, reflect complacently on how I managed to do it.

That’s not how it’s worked out. I’m a mess. Everywhere I look there’s mess. I still haven’t a clue what I’m doing, what I’m going to do. I have the entire contents of the filing cabinet in boxes I’m sorting through. I’ve found notes from training courses I’ve done, session plans and handouts from courses I’ve taught. Only a fraction of the stuff I’ve done. All of it useless. All of it waste. All of it bin-able.

I remember a conversation I had with my father one winter night when he was depressed. He very rarely opened up, my Dad but this night he did. He should have stayed in America when he loved it so much. He should never have worked for his father. He should have moved us all to England when he had the opportunity. He should never have agreed to send us away to boarding school. On and on, late into the night he went through every major decision of his life concluding that he got it all wrong. It’s a conversation that never would have occurred if I hadn’t trained as a person-centred counsellor. I knew better than to argue, understood that it doesn’t matter what I think, what matters is that I witness and don’t block the release. I let him say everything he had to say and, at the time, made no comment. But I wrote him a letter when I got home saying that I disagreed and telling him what a wonderful father he was and had been. He never referred to any of it again.

Last night I realised that I now feel pretty much as he did then. Only I think there’s no way there is any truth in how Dad was judging his decisions whereas the evidence of squandered opportunities and wasted effort abounds in my life. And into this mix, drop a communication from someone I’ve managed to offend to the extent of destroying our friendship.

I went to London to go to the PCSR conference, a magical event somehow so overshadowed by this information that it all but sucked all the good out of it. I slept no more than three hours the night before but was able, in the moment, to set all aside and engage with the wonderful gathering of 170 psychotherapists and counsellors who care about what’s happening in the world, the crisis in mental health provision in this country, all sorts of issues dear to my heart.

I facilitated one session with the whole group and another with about fifty people. What’s amazing is that at no point did anyone say anything inconsequential or irrelevant, no-one wittered on, none of the normal challenges of keeping a conversation on track occurred. It was only on reflection that I realise just how unusual that is. I think it’s because this was a room full of people listening to each other. The circle exploring ethics was wonderful. If ethics is rooted in dialogue, in an exploration of ‘the good’, the diversity of views expressed captured the heart of ethics. I felt completely comfortable saying my piece when it was appropriate. I know it was helpful to have someone draw attention to people who had something to contribute and ensure that those who were most comfortable speaking in such a large group did not end up being the only ones who spoke. Sitting here, this lovely sunny morning, I’m starting to take it all in. I may have been so distressed by the shock of discovering how I have lost the best of friends that it eclipsed the positive experience of participating at the conference in my thoughts, but I can reflect on it now.

Because I was in my element. It is not everyone’s cup of tea to take the helm and work with a group of 170 people. Me, I loved it. It did my heart good to hear what people had to say, to know that my concerns are shared and to feel that together we can become an effective agent of change. We are forming a Union. We are setting some boundaries around what happens people entering the profession. There were people in the room who pay to work. There are trainees counselling people with complex and multiple issues that would challenge the most skilled of counsellors because there is no financial backing of the provision of services. Errors are inevitable and the reputation of the entire profession is tarnished as a result.

I know most about what’s happening in IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapy, the NHS mental health provision – almost entirely CBT orientated), all those good-hearted well-intentioned people doing extraordinary work under the most difficult of circumstances. And still the truth is the less you need, the more likely you are to have your needs met. A hugely disproportionate slice of the available mental health provision is going to people of least need. The people ‘CBT-based treatments’ don’t help, drop out and are ignored in the statistics. In how NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence – they produce the guidelines in relation to all NHS services) and IAPT are playing the numbers game, the picture that results fails to reflect reality. And I’m in a room full of people who get that, who recognise the urgency with which the failure of the system to meet the needs of people in distress needs to be addressed.

Yet the most significant event of the day for me was after the conference as such was over, when C. talked about reading this blog and said something like ‘Everyone needs a community. Everyone needs people on their team. Well I’m on your team’. I felt like crying but I didn’t cry. I have more friends than I know.

There’s the day half gone. Scary. Time to pick up the threads and start tackling the mess. Keep going. Keep saying yes. Maybe this is the best I can be. I go on getting it right sometimes, getting it wrong at others. Better to be upset by getting it wrong than not to give a shit I guess even if it feels horrible.

It was like I stepped into a particular version of myself at the conference. I was given an opportunity to do what I can do well and I enjoyed it. Hearing what people had to say delighted me even when the content was difficult. I’m hearing care and concern. I’m meeting people who are ready, willing and able to take action on what they see needs to be addressed. It’s the beginning of a movement and I was there when it was born. That’ll do. I am blessed beyond all counting and writing this blog has helped me remember that.

On Playing the Bard

September 15th, 2015

Monday Morning

Every morning I pick an angel card, a tarot card and a medicine woman card. Today’s angel is Openness, Tarot 9 pentacles (harvest) and for the nth time in the last couple of weeks I got 2 Pipes as the medicine woman card. I love what it says in the book
‘You are catching a glimpse of possibilities. Right now you are being given a general view. Focus and concentration will come later. You are being magically drawn towards fulfilment.’ (Carol Bridges The Medicine Woman Inner Guidebook) This feels spot on. I feel more relaxed about where I am up to right now reading this.

And the angel Openness is an invitation to be aware of the gift of this day, however it unfolds. I was out ‘playing the Bard’ on Friday night for the first time in years. Then, it’s like someone pressed the off switch and I lost two days in a fug of tiredness and trudging through to do the things I must do. That said, I did go out for a walk yesterday and managed to mow half the lawn which, odd as it looks, I’m telling myself is better than nothing.

I’m glad I didn’t blog my reaction to the disappointment of getting two responses to the last blog. I plummeted into the pit again. But rather than stay there beating myself up, I went to Brean Down and sat in silence with my dearest friend on top of the hill, bathed in blue of sea and sky, meditating in the warmth of the sun and the perfection of the afternoon. Wonderful. For once in my life I did what I am always suggesting to others that they do, I ‘filled the well’. And then I wrote about how it’s done, how I’ve learnt to be kinder to myself than old habits dictate.

Friday night I performed at the Night at the Abbey on the Bardic Stage. First time I’ve donned the Bardic Cloak, ‘played the Bard’ in so long I don’t remember when I last did it. I said ‘The Power of Nine’, the poem that made me a Bard. I rarely perform this particular poem because it is a powerful invocation, an invitation to Spirit to ‘bring it on’.

‘I am a willing initiate.
I would drink of the cauldron of inspiration
of the potion of truth
open to the wisdom of those who’ve gone before.
I would know the nature of Awen
flowing of spirit
essence of life in motion.’

I do not say such things lightly. ‘Thrice times three, so mote it be.’ is traditionally how a spell is sealed. In ‘The Power of Nine’ I am working with this idea to suggest that we have the power and the responsibility to create the world we want to live in

‘Open to your longing
for right living in the world
and know that it is possible
for the point of power is now.’

I was so relaxed. There is an integration that has happened so that I am no longer as split between the anxious, scared ‘just me’ subpersonality and the role I assume when I stand up as an Elder Bard of the Bardic Order of Ynys Witrin and declaim. I was with friends and met more friends. I so far exceeded my hug quota (8 a day) I stopped counting although there were a few exceptionally lovely hugs that are still warming my heart now.

When I woke up on Saturday, it felt like I’d given it my all on Friday night and needed to recover. I have in the past wanted to dissociate myself from the Bardic Order. I do not like it that to say you’re a Bard of Glastonbury is no guarantee of quality. I do not subscribe the idea that any awl blather will do and it seems to me that far too often both Bard and audience are content with performances I find cringe-worthy. I may call it ‘playing the Bard’ but in reality I take the notion that when I speak ‘as the Bard’ I am seeking to honour the Awen, to be a conduit for Spirit, for a power greater than I to speak through me, seriously. In doing so, I feel like the energy behind the words is more important than what I actually say. It is possible to say these words without the energy that can course through them, same as it is possible to give a hug that is empty, that has no love in it. But such a hug does not enhance our wellbeing and meaning can change depending on how words are said.

I’m coming to the point where I’m due to stop blogging – 24th September I said. The purpose was to keep a record of the last six months of my journey from crashing to being back in business. I am still not clear what I am doing next, but the first steps on many different paths are the same so I’m taking those steps – or actually this weekend I thought about what I have to do and made lists, lots of lists, lists of lists to help me take some stock of what is to do, whatever way I go.

And alongside this decluttering, cleaning and sorting project, I’m waiting for signs and portends. I guess some of you make decisions rationally – or at least think you do. Me, I’m under no illusions. I am not a rational being. When I was thinking of leaving Wales, I had a vision, a sort of waking dream and on the basis of how I interpreted that, I left Wales for Tokyo via India. Then when I was in Derry uncertain what to do, I had a dream that brought me to Glastonbury via the Catskill Mountains (the nearest town was Woodstock!) I have always been guided. I have no idea how it works in the world where you decide things on the basis of some rational process. Right now I visualise my guardian angel putting a golden thread in my hands and whispering in my ear ‘Follow that. Don’t worry about anything. Just keep following the golden thread. This is the path of heart. Walk the truth your Being dictates and all will be well.’

I see circles of people, like the circle at Green Earth Awakening. It is such a wonderful experience to create a circle where people hear their own wisdom, to share our awakening with each other. I am calling the work I offer ‘Healing ourselves, healing our world’ and in integrating compassion-focused therapy with Joanna Macy’s ‘work that reconnects’ spiral, I bring a new strand that deepens the healing power of the work. I have so much good material to share. It is exciting. I may no longer be blogging about my recovery because I am recovered but I am going to keep writing and finding ways to share what I’ve written.

I am no longer in fog, I am no longer spinning round. What I need to do now is stand still and let the wind catch my heart. Today’s angel is Openness. It makes me think of David Spangler’s definition of abundance: ‘the presence of possibility and the openness to emergence’. I have said ‘yes’ to all the people who offered me support, you know who you are and I am deeply grateful to you for all the kindness and generosity that helped me on my way.

Monday night
I’ve just had an email from Nick Totton asking if I facilitate a session of the PCSR Big Issues Conference in a couple of weeks from now. I’m pleased he reckons I’m the right person for the job. I love this tribe and only too delighted to be given the job of bossing a large group of people around! So lots to be excited about – the launch party for Wes’ residency at the Library of Avalon on Saturday, the PCSR conference in London and going to Ireland next month. I am so hoping I get a chance to talk about the workshops I want to run there. There are some great people working in Northern Ireland and I’m looking forward to working with them. I don’t know how it is going to come together but keep going and opportunities will appear like they always have before.

Tuesday
And I didn’t post this yesterday. I wanted to include a photograph from the Night at the Abbey but although I used to know how to do this, I haven’t been able to work out how on this occasion. ARRGGHHHH. So here it is without any visual images as usual. Go well one and all. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

When sane talk doesn’t work

September 2nd, 2015

Hi folks, I want to keep writing but in a somewhat less confessional mode than I’ve been writing in over the last few months. This is a first draft of a piece that I’d like your feedback on. There’s so much to say about the model of emotional regulation and I want to keep it simple. I would greatly appreciate questions and comments so I know what I need to do next.

When sane talk doesn’t work

I’ve had two conversations recently with people about what it’s like when you end up in such a state that no amount of ‘sane talk’ makes a pick-worth of difference. Now I’ve got some suggestions for what to do then that are so simple that you won’t believe that they’d make any difference. This is my solution to being totally freaked out.

1. Do the 3 breath chill out (given below)
2. Drink a glass of water. Then have another glass that you continue to sip on for the next few hours. I’d add a couple of drops of Rescue Remedy if I had it handy, but that’s optional.
3. Avoid sugary foods and drinks and eat a small packet of sunflower seeds instead.

The 3 Breath Chill-out
1. Take a breath and breathe out slowly to the count of 4.
2. Take another breath and breathe out slowly to the count of 6.
3. Take another breath and breathe out slowly to the count of 8.

I also find it helpful to say simple phrases to myself as I’m breathing out. Things like ‘I am safe.’ ‘I am centred’. ‘I can handle this.’ ‘I’m doing fine’. I find that by doing so, what I’m saying becomes true. When we lose our capacity to take in ‘sane talk’ we need to keep it simple. For me to tell myself I’m safe makes me feel safer, that I’m centred, more centred.

So now for the fun bit. To explain why these ridiculously simple steps work.

We begin with Paul Gilbert’s model of emotional self-regulation in which three interactive but separate systems govern what motivates us and how we think, feel, and act. What’s significant about this model is that instead of a binary understanding of how we feel i.e. good versus bad, there are two very different systems that relate to positive affect. We have the ‘Drive system’ that motivates us to seek out resources, to take action, to achieve. The drive system is active when we are seeking a goal and the emotion is excitement. It’s ‘up’ – energised, invigorated, sports come to mind. In contrast, the good feelings that are regulated by the ‘Soothe System’ are ‘down’ – relaxed, chilled, at peace with the world. Or to say it another way, ‘getting ahead’ versus ‘getting along’.

Only the ‘Threat System’ has a negative focus. Its job is to keep us safe and it does so by enabling us to detect and respond to danger. It works fast and it is powerful because if we, as the animals we are, did not prioritise safety over excitement and chilling out, we wouldn’t be here. Evolutionarily the threat system, our powerful instinct for survival, came first so the threat system has been found to activate the simplest and oldest part of the brain – what I think of as the ‘reptilian brain’. It makes decisions on a ‘gut’ rather than ‘heart’ (the connect and soothe system) or ‘head’ (drive to achieve goals) level.

Ideally these three functions of emotional regulation are free-flowing and we spend our time enjoying achievements, happy in our community and with the resources to handle whatever dangers life presents us with. In truth, free-flowing functioning is the exception rather than the rule. The need to be safe is paramount so as Paul Gilbert says ‘threat trumps everything else’. The threat system operates on a ‘better safe than sorry’ basis leading us to easily become sensitised to danger, seeing threat where there is none. Those with less sensitive threat systems are the ones that didn’t survive, so our heritage is a highly effective system for keeping us alive. The downside is that we can easily end up hyper-vigilant, always on the alert for threats and stuck in experiencing the world as unsafe.

When we are stressed we are preparing to deal with a dangerous situation, and once we interpret any situation as threating and start going into ‘panic mode’ (whether this finds expression as anger or anxiety) there’s some mighty powerful physiological changes involved. What’s going on physically when no matter how much sense we talk to ourselves it has no effect is that, in experiencing threat, our access to higher brain functions is switched off. We are in survival mode. We are operating from ‘old brain’, the one we owe to our more distant ancestors. Our bodies are flooded with adrenaline and cortisol and the balance of oxygen/carbon dioxide in our system is out of kilter (we breathe faster when we’re stressed and don’t notice). There are other physical changes happening but you get the picture – what’s going on inside is brilliant if you have to fight or flee because you are in exactly the right state physiologically to do it. However when there is no simple, immediate and high energy solution to the problem that triggered the stress response, finding ourselves locked into our reptilian brain is not entirely helpful. The steps I’m suggesting are ways of restoring equilibrium to our physical system, so we can release distress and return to a state of emotional balance.

The 3 breath chill out works primarily because by increasing the length of the outbreath has the effect of bringing the level of carbon dioxide and oxygen in our blood stream back into balance. The addition of simple phrases is my own and I find it helps to recognise that alongside the physical changes, it feels most unpleasant to be seriously upset by something that’s happened, however small the final trigger might be. Use your own phrases or none, experiment and find what works best for you.

Drinking water helps because, first of all, most of us are dehydrated most of the time and the emotional regulations system (or neurotransmitter system if we’re talking physiology) works best with enough water. If you are stressed to the point where you can no longer ‘talk yourself down’, it suggests your body is flooded with stress chemicals. Drinking water dilutes them and then washes them out of the system (hence the second glass). Simple.

Having sunflower seeds available to eat as an alternative to chocolate, cakes, sweet stuff of all descriptions has to do with the fact that having a lot of sugar in your blood fuels the production of cortisol. Having too much sugar (as most of us do) interferes with how the neurotransmitter system works; a lot of sugar in your system means you’re more likely to get in a state in the first place. On the other hand not eating, and particularly not eating in the morning, also impacts on how the emotional regulation system works. A relaxed social meal in the mornings is the best start to the day. And when did you last have one of those?

The reason I recommend sunflower seeds as your nibble of choice is that as someone who had some serious issues with emotional regulation and hypo-glycaemic blackouts for years, having a small bag of sunflower seeds turned out to be a miracle cure. Sunflower seeds bring the blood sugar level into balance supporting the regulation of insulin in the system. And in terms of how emotional regulation works, it makes you less likely to go into ‘override’ in the first place.

The first two suggestions relate to an immediate response to getting stressed and the last is a more general strategy but it is simple to do and if you have ended up in a place where good talk can’t get to you, regulating your blood sugar level and drinking a litre and a half of water a day is definitely worth doing.

In terms of ‘emotional regulation’, it is also a good idea to have a hug, or at least let somebody know. Following any distress, our natural response is to look for comfort, to connect. A problem shared is still a problem halved and in company, we can begin to let sane talk in. Hugs stimulate the production of oxytocin, happy hormone, one of the neurotransmitters that activates the ‘soothe’ system. A good hug slows us down.

There is no doubt that the ‘connect and soothe’ system is the one least supported in our highly competitive culture. In terms of our emotional and mental wellbeing, we are paying a heavy price for the fact. We can easily drive ourselves into isolation by seeing our natural human response when the threat system is fired as ‘weakness’ or otherwise unacceptable and as something we should hide in shame from others. In my case, it’s because the last straw that triggered this powerful physiological response was often in itself a trivial event – losing keys was a favourite for years.