The word anxiety gets bandied around a lot these days doesn’t it and we have all experienced it to some degree. From the ‘normal’ anxious feelings we have when we are waiting for important news, to the crippling and irrational fear that takes over our whole world.
Anxiety is something that I see at least daily in my clinic and it affects people in different ways.
Often it’s early trauma that puts us into ‘fight, flight or freeze’ (a healthy coping strategy in the short term) and we stay there (feeling anxious), not knowing how to find the ‘off switch’. Sometimes its ongoing stress that gradually takes its toll without us realising particularly, or we try and carry on as if we are okay, until we are debilitated (either by the anxiety itself or by a physical symptom which has been caused by the anxiety). The body has a habit of saying, STOP, TAKE NOTICE and if you ignore it, it will SHOUT LOUDER! At some point, we are forced to take a look at our lives and take steps to address things.
It’s a big subject so here, I am going to give an overview of how Craniosacral Therapy can help you if you are feeling anxious or have symptoms that you think may be related to anxiety and also what you can do at home to help yourself. Because however bad things are, there are things you can do that will help.
So how does Craniosacral Therapy help a stressed nervous system?
I can tell a lot about a person’s system by listening to it with my hands. A system which is in ‘fight, flight or freeze’ can feel revved up, tight, it often feels quivery and ‘slowing down’ is a challenge. The body can be very dissociated, a sense that parts (or all) of the body are missing, or parts of the body are a different shape or size to how you know they are, are common. The system sometimes feels ‘shut down’, the potency is very low and / or the client feels it is impossible to find anywhere in the body that feels ‘okay’ (these are all symptoms of trauma / stress / fear).
Step 1 is for me to work with the nervous system according to how it is presenting. Transforming a system from that which I have described, to one which is whole, present moment, grounded and feels safe and calm is MAJOR. So simple eh! Not always easy (!) but it is a simple concept. Gosh how I love this work! Because really that is a transformation and then with the newly down regulated nervous system, a new world of clarity, coping and calm becomes clear and in the stillness and resource that the system now has, is the ability to process and release specific tensions and unresolved restrictions (I won’t go into this process right now).
Now a short list of things that you can do to help yourself:
See how it is to allow the possibility that things will get better, Having hope will help you.
The first and probably the most important thing to do is feel your feet on the ground. I mean REALLY feel them on the ground. Take your shoes and socks off and go and walk on the grass or barefoot in the earth. Ooo, the beach would be lovely! Make this a daily thing and really notice the sensations you feel through your feet. This is what it is to be in the present moment.
Notice that in this exact moment (truly being present), 99% of your worries are gone. There is no anxiety.
Be interested in the intense sensations that you feel, rather than going into panic – you have a choice here. Practice curiosity and notice how your physiology prepares you for action. Notice what is around you and that you are actually safe in this moment. This will often help the feelings to change or ease.
Recognise that in anxiety, we often imagine the worst case scenario (predicting the future). Our brains want to protect us, but by imagining the worst, we are sent into panic mode. Recogising that you are doing this is fabulous progress. Consider that this is not rational thought. There is a choice here.
Surrounding yourself with people who are good for you is great for anxiety. Who do you feel safe with? Conversely, who do you need to avoid? Is that possible?
A hug or a listening ear can really help anxiety. Tell someone close how you are feeling, else they won’t know.
Its always important to do the basics, but especially when you are struggling with anxiety. Eat as healthily as you can and prioritise sleep. Try and spend some time outside, preferably moving / doing exercise. Treat yourself (i.e. something that’s good for you).
The more we do all of this, the more automatic it becomes (our default in other words). Otherwise anxiety can feel like a trap that we can’t get out of.
But you can get out of it. By understanding more about what is happening in your brain, you can show yourself how to respond differently.
Remember, you are not alone. I can help you with all of this and guide you to a more relaxed way of living. Support from a professional can really make the world of difference. Your mental health matters!
What does it mean it to you? A spa weekend and some retail therapy or is it the simpler (but not easier) things like monitoring your self talk or looking at why you find it so hard to take care of yourself?
What forms does self care take? And why is it hard for some people?
The more I understand about self care, the more I have come to appreciate that people are very different.
Probably due to early conditioning, at one extreme there are people who only know how to be self critical. Possibly they grew up with a lot of critisism, or parents with low self esteem. They don’t feel worthy of anything better and this continual harsh self talk only serves to do more harm. “What would you tell yourself if you were your own best friend?”, I often say. Sometimes we need to be the nurturing mother that we never had.
Others who find it easier to love themselves and show themselves kindness and compassion tend to be better not only at identifying what they need, but prioritising those things. They consider their physical, emotional and mental well-being, to be of paramount importance, and they take the time and invest the money in that. They feel worthy of self love.
The role of Craniosacral Therapy in self care
When people first come to see me, they can be at various stages of connection, grounding, resource and ability to process trauma. Craniosacral Therapy is the best way I know to meet your system where it is at and to gain a better understanding of what it is that you need. You are likely to become more and more aware of what your needs are as your treatment program progresses (i.e. your self awareness will improve).
My role is to support you in this process. I will listen to your system (with my hands). Your system knows what it needs and I will follow your body’s own inherent treatment plan, in order for you to move closer to health.
What are your reasons for seeking help….?
How self-care got me to my first ever 5k at 46 years old!
Anyone who knows me well, would tell you that I’ve never been a runner. I’ve been a wanna-be runner.
My dad ran marathons into his late 70s (he used to get automatic entry into the London marathon, his time was so good).I’ve tried to get into running several times over the last 4 or 5 years and never got very far. I even had a personal trainer at one point. Seriously, every time I tried, I’d either get injured or ill and had to stop. It was crazy. I came to the realisation that, for some reason that I didn’t understand, I would never be able to do it.
However, in recent months, I had been paying more attention to the fact that generally in life, I have always been pretty hard on myself and getting a better understanding of that. How, being driven, determined, and focused had served me well in life and got me through situations that otherwise I certainly would not have. However, where was that nurturing mother part of me? I was super comfortable looking after others, in fact its probably my favourite thing to do(!), but looking after myself, hmm, I still find myself squirming slightly at the idea.
And in amongst this self reflection came a thought… what if all the struggle with running was down to my lack of self-care? That idea that I HAD to push myself, that I could succeed against any odds and didn’t need to go slowly (I must be fairly fit surely?!). What if that was the problem? How would it be to approach things as if I was being my own nurturing mother? The answer was, I realised, that I would follow a gentle program like ‘Couch to 5k’. To the letter. No skipping out the first three or four weeks, or skipping anything out in fact. Just….. going…. slowly. Then I’d really know if it was possible for me to run a 5k.
So I did. I started ‘Couch to 5k’ and I can honestly say that the hardest part for me was the going slow. Sticking rigidly to the program, arrggghh, so hard to do!! I had to getting back in touch with that nurturing mother part of me
But here I am, week 9 and running 5k, three times a week. I honestly cannot believe it! And what’s more I’m really enjoying it and whilst there’s that urge to push on and do more (surely 10k isn’t that much!?), I’m going easy on myself and sticking with this for now.
So, self care for me isn’t just about booking a spa weekend or treating yourself to something new, it starts with the way you talk yourself. And I challenge you to look at that very seriously. Just observe and then ask yourself what you would be saying if you were own nurturing mother? For me its an ongoing process, but one which I know will be good for me and it is likely to be good for you too.
Many of us will have experienced insomnia at some point in our lives.
Acute insomnia is when you experience temporary sleep problems, the night before an exam for example or when you have suffered a bereavement.
Chronic insomnia is when sleep is disturbed at least three nights a week for at least three months. The result of this is obviously fatigue, low energy, difficulty concentrating, mood disturbances, and decreased performance in work or at school.
Ultimately lack of sleep can have a drastic impact on our physical and mental health. It’s a big subject so I will be including just the most important facts in this article.
We need to sleep to sustain life, its as simple as that. Its important to remember thatyour system is programmed for effective sleep; its the most natural thing in the world! However, feeling pushed for time (have you ever cut short your sleep because there was too much to do? I know I have) and the habits of modern day life often impact on our ability to achieve good quality sleep.
If you think your sleep quality could be better, have a look through these two checklistsand what you can do to make things easier for yourself….
Keep a regular routine in terms of timings and go to bed when you feel tired.
Manage those stress levels (more on that later)!
Relax for at least an hour before bed
Your bedroom should be dark, quiet and cooler than daytime temperature (but not cold)
Exercise regularly during the day
Ensure your mattress, pillows and covers are comfortable
Try to get 30 mins exposure to natural sunlight per day – this helps to remind your body which is day and which is night! Artificial light is not the same!
Have a hot bath before bed to relax, plus the drop in your body temperature will aid sleep.
Remove distractions from your bedroom: screens, phones, clocks
Do not smoke, or drink alcohol, tea or coffee at least 6 hours before going to bed
Do not eat for about 3 hours before bed, especially sugars / carbs
Do not exercise late in the day (that is, less than 4 hours before bed)
Do not watch screens in the 2 hours before bed – they block the release of melatonin by 23%, interrupting your normal sleep rhythms
Do not nap during the day
Do not sleep in after a bad night’s sleep – stick to your regular sleeping hours instead
Do not drink too many fluids before bed as you will need the loo in the night!
Drugs – clearly recreational drugs will impact sleep, but often prescription ones can too, so speak to your pharmacist about this, it may be that taking your tablets at a different time of day may help
Don’t lie in bed awake. This breeds anxiety and makes it even harder to get to sleep. Get up and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy.
Try to avoid sleeping tablets if you can, even those you can buy over the counter. They can help in the short term, but they do not induce natural sleep and can make the insomnia worse.
Back to the big issue of STRESS. Stress clearly impacts on our ability to sleep and then insomnia tends to increase our stress levels further – argghhhh!! I quite often see people suffering with insomnia and Craniosacral Therapy often helps them. In fact, people often report that their sleep has improved since they started Craniosacral Therapy, even when that was not the main reason they started coming to see me!
The point is, that when our systems are hyper-vigilant, or in fight, flight or freeze, of course it is often hard for us to ‘switch off’ at night. A good example of this would be a man I worked with a long time ago who had been in the forces for many years who had big sleep issues. He said, ‘When you’ve slept with a gun in your hand every night for so long, its kinda hard to get any kind of deep sleep’. And many of us (albeit for other reasons) have systems which are equally on ‘high alert’.
The best way to address the stressed / hypervigilant system is to show it how to down-regulate from ‘fight, flight or freeze’ to ‘rest and digest’. This is of the main things we do in Craniosacral Therapy. The system is being shown the ‘off switch’ and little by little, it gets easier and easier to access the ‘off switch’, until the system is generally much calmer and sleep becomes much easier. Plus of course, the person feels less stressed / anxious generally!
If you have taken board all the suggestions above and are still struggling with your sleep, please do seek the advice of your GP.
1) What conditions does Craniosacral Therapy (CST) help with?
The effects of CST are far reaching, so it would be impossible to draw up an exhaustive list of symptoms than can be helped by CST. However, to summarise, I specialise in the following three areas:
Stress and Anxiety. Craniosacral Therapy is unique in its ability to treat the source of symptoms on every level, mental, physical or emotional. Letting go of tension and fear held in the body enables it to settle into calmness.
Pain Management. People may come for Craniosacral Therapy because they have acute physical symptoms like headaches or back pain, or long standing issues with pain.
Babies & Children. Craniosacral Therapy can offer support for colic, reflux, sleeplessness, irritability in babies and many common behavioural, social and learning difficulties in children respond well
2) There’s nothing actually ‘wrong’, can I still come along for a session?
There doesn’t need to be anything ‘wrong’ as such for you to benefit from a session. Many people use it simply to maintain their sense of well being and calm. I actually still have regular sessions myself for this reason.
3) So how does CST actually WORK?
It took me 3 years to train in CST. It works on many different levels and different approaches are used depending on the needs of the individual. To summarise:
“Craniosacral Therapy is a subtle yet profound and powerful hands-on technique, developed from osteopathy, which identifies pain and tensions held in the body. It supports the body’s natural tendency to find health and optimum balance by relieving the body of these restrictions and allowing it to realign. Craniosacral Therapy can often effect structural change, but also has much wider implications, both physically and psychologically. Craniosacral Therapists are trained to feel motions in the body which are more subtle than the heart beat and lung breathing that we are all familiar with.”
The best way of understanding the treatment is to experience it yourself. You don’t have to believe its going to work for it to work and you certainly don’t have to understand how it works for it to work. But it does take at least a little bit of hope on the part of the client (I always have hope).
4) I’ve had this insomnia / back pain / depression for 20 years. Can you resolve it in one session?
I have actually had people ask me this. One lady even said that even though there wasn’t a doctor in the land who could help her, she still expected me to resolve her long standing symptoms in one session!
It’s only right that I manage people’s expectations the best that I can. Generally speaking, fresh / recent trauma / restriction in the body tends to resolve very quickly (new born babies suffering with birth trauma are a good example of this). When symptoms have been there for decades (or the tension has been gradually building over this time), it’s likely that it will take longer to resolve. I usually recommend a short course of treatments (maybe 5 or 6) and then a review to see how much progress has been made.
It is true to say also that there might be other issues that your system needs to resolve before the specific issue that you want me to address is able to come to the fore (that is, your body has its own sense of priority and since I am working with your body’s own innate ability to heal itself, the ‘inherent treatment plan’ of your body will dictate the order of things).
Amazing things happen in my clinic but I am not a magician!
5) So……what are you actually DOING?
This is a question I often get asked either when someone is watching someone else have a treatment or when they are having a treatment themselves but have not been able to ‘feel’ much changing.
In Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy (CST), there will be no physical manipulation ever. I am working at a much deeper, more fundamental level. For various reasons, some people are able to notice a lot of the changes that are happening in their body during a session and some will notice fewer or maybe even none (this does not mean that nothing is happening!).
Somebody watching a session may observe jerky movements, changes in the clients breathing, movement and so on but obviously they will not see all of the changes that are happening inside the body (again this does mean that nothing is happening!).
If you want someone to ‘click’, ‘crunch’ or otherwise manipulate your body you need to seek a different kind of therapy!
6) Are you being honest with me (Will you tell me that I need more sessions than I actually do for example)?
One of the reasons that my practice is a successful one is because I get good results. Another is that I take pride in running it with honesty and integrity. I have a firm belief that a therapeutic relationship built on mutual trust and respect gives you the best chance of getting the results that you want.
This said, I cannot fix everything for everyone! I also cannot guarantee in advance how your system will respond to treatment. However, I am a highly experienced practitioner and my advice to you will be based upon the successes that I have seen in the past. I know what tends to work best and I will be honest with you about how I think we can achieve the best results possible. We will discuss this in order to ensure that your treatment plan is a good fit for you.
7) Can something so gentle make me better?
YES! I am working with your body’s innate ability to heal itself. I will be listening with my hands to what your body needs and facilitating the process of release and restoration. When we are working at the level of the mid-tide, changes are gentle but profound.
8) Can CST work even when many other avenues can be exhausted and the doctor says nothing can be done or that my condition will only get worse as the years progress?
That is very possible yes, I have seen it many many times!
9) How long have you been practising for / how well qualified are you?
I graduated from the Craniosacral Therapy Education Trust (CTET) in 2011 after a three year training. For over two years, I have worked as a tutor in CTET’s teaching clinic, supporting final year students. My practice is very busy. I will soon be qualified to work as a supervisor (mentor) to other CSTs.
10) I’m sure I must be the worst case you’ve ever seen?
People say this a lot. There can be a lot of shame and embarrassment over our condition. Rest assured that I have worked with a lot of trauma (military, road traffic accidents, abuse, violence, the list goes on). I am not here to judge you or your situation. I am here to create a safe, listening, neutral and supported space for your system to express what is going on and then I will facilitate the processes that need to take place in order for you to recover, at a pace that feels okay for you. You are getting help and that is what’s important.
11) Your life must be really perfect! / You must be really sorted!?
Often people see their practitioner as being someone who is ‘shiny’; someone who sets a good example and they assume that the practitioner must have a pretty perfect life. Typical things that people often assume about me are that: I am vegetarian (probably vegan), that I meditate daily, that I have a VERY happy marriage, that I never shout, that my children are completely zen, that I am super healthy and fit, that I never take prescription drugs and that I probably don’t drink. It is true to say that my focus is very much on my own health first (otherwise how can I help anyone else), but I am far from perfect.
Honestly, I am on a journey just like you are. I have suffered a fair few traumas in my life, more than I care to recall. I have a belief that often therapists are people who have ‘been through the mill’ themselves. Hence why you tend not to get therapists in their 20s. I have worked very very hard on myself over the years (receiving CST has been a big part of that but not all by any means) and I will continue to do that always. Not because I aspire to be shiny, but because I know I still have a lot of growing to do and growth brings me better health, a better understanding of myself and others and the result of that is that I feel happier, make wiser decisions and I enjoy life more – yay!
There are many facets to Craniosacral Therapy, but my favourite and by far the most profound is that of dynamic stillness. Nearly all of you who have been me for therapy will have some understanding and experience of this. So what does it mean to you? Why am I always banging on about it? What is it exactly and why does it matter?
I like this description of Michael Kern’s from his book, Wisdom In The Body…..
“Dynamic stillness can be experienced as something that is universal, beyond the duality of subject or object. It has no defining characteristics or qualities, as it is the realm of our pure unfabricated nature. Consequently there are no words on concepts that can adequately describe it. At this level of our being there is no inertia and no conditioning, just the presence of peace, luminosity and stillness. It may be perceived as a sense of Grace. When we emerge from this experience, something has changed – for we never come out the same way that we went in. We become touched by our deepest nature.”
Some people will simply experience stillness simply as a sense of calm (usually unlike anything they have experienced before). We all need to be able to access a still place. It is essential to health (of mind, body and spirit). It can be tricky to access, particularly when the system is overwhelmed or dissociated. However, I often view stillness as the gateway to everything because once a client’s system is shown how to access stillness, big changes tend to take place. The resources of the system build too. Michael Kern talks of the 7 different levels of stillness and how each level “brings a settling of some further aspect of our life process“.
“It is the stillness of the Tide, not the stormy waves that bounce upon the shore that has the potency, the power.” William Sutherland.
My experience also is that once the system gets practiced at accessing stillness, clients report that they are better able to access a calm place at other points in time and that they are coping better with life, feeling less stressed, anxiety lifts, they sleep better and so on – see why I love it so much!!
Does your child suffer with anxiety? It is very common and can show itself in many ways such as worrying, difficulty sleeping, digestive issues, being moody and snappy, withdrawal, depression, obsessive behaviour, panic attacks and so on.
This time of year can be especially challenging, with the new academic year, which brings lots of change and new experiences for school aged children. But what can you do to help your child? Some children are more prone to suffer with anxiety than others, but part of our job as parents and carers is to act, when they show that they are struggling and not just ignore it and hope that it’ll go away by itself!
I see a lot of children in my practice who are suffering with anxiety, and Craniosacral Therapy is usually fundamental to changing things for them.
Our nervous system should spend most of its time in the ‘rest and digest’ mode and rarely need to be in ‘fight, flight or freeze’. However, after experiencing stress, our bodies can get stuck in the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode and finding the ‘off switch’ can become almost impossible. This results in a variety of symptoms: anxiety, stress, being hypervigilant, being aggressive, very tired, depressed, and so on. And yes, this can be the case in very young children too, even babies. The priority here is for the therapist to show the child’s nervous system how to down-regulate from the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode to ‘rest and digest’ and this is what I do. This practice alone usually has a profound impact on the child’s anxiety or stress levels.
The next stage of their treatment is for me to identify any specific tensions or restrictions that are being held in the child’s physiology, and then help those tensions to release in a very gentle way, and at a pace that is right for the child.
It is worth saying at this point that nearly all the children that I see, REALLY enjoy their treatments and will ask to come back, even once they are all better! It is not unusual for them to be asleep by the end! Making your child feel safe, and secure in the knowledge that I am there to help and support them is a top priority for me. And if you don’t feel that your child could lay down during the treatment or keep still, don’t worry, we can work around this and treatments can still be really effective.
So there is a brief explanation of why Craniosacral Therapy and how it works. Now onto the ‘toolbox’ part…..
When parents bring their children to see me, they often ask me is there’s anything they can be doing at home, with their child, to support them whilst they receive treatments and I tell them about the toolbox, which I believe everyone needs. A toolbox of resources, or in other words, things or skills that we know help to keep us well and happy, help us to cope and keep us strong. Things we should use on an ongoing basis, but could turn to particularly when the going gets tough.
So, I’ve put together some suggestions of some things to go in the toolbox. These are things which either I have used myself with my own children, or that have been recommended to me by other health professionals or other parents. If you have any of your own ideas, please let me know because I am always keen to extend the list!
The Wishing Star by Relax Kids. Relax Kids do various books along similar lines for children. This one is full of creative visualisations, meditations and relaxations. Children can imagine they are lying in soft grass, sitting in a peaceful cave, watching a beautiful sunset and flying like a bird. From 5 years old.
What To Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide To Overcoming Anxiety by Dawn Huebner and Bonnie Matthews. A favourite of mine – this book is aimed at primary aged children, and talks about how ‘feeding worries’ helps them to grow and introduces the idea of a ‘worry box’.
Sitting Still Like A Frog: Mindfulness Exercises For Kids (And Their Parents) by Eline Snel. A book and CD, which teaches us how to be in the moment, rather than the past or the future, a key skill in mental health.
Affirmation Cards For Kids by Catherine Keller. Often children find it hard to say good things about themselves, but with daily practice, it becomes easier and easier and soon it is a new way of thinking!
The Law Of Attraction For Kids by Jennifer Quaggin. Similar to the above, but aimed at slightly older children.
Mindfulness / relaxation / sleep apps
There is vast array of these apps available. A lot are free. My advice would be to do a search and try several until you find one that your child likes. Some people prefer talking, some music, some white noise. They can be used for mindfulness practice and / or at bedtimes to help quieten the mind.
Abdominal breathing is the most efficient and relaxed way of getting enough air into out lungs. However, we sometimes get into the habit of chest breathing which increases our stress levels. There is good advice online on abdominal breathing and how to train yourself (or your child) to do it habitually, eg. http://www.guysandstthomas.nhs.uk/resources/patient-information/therapies/abdominal-breathing.pdf.
Help from the school / GP
Do the school know about the situation?
Have you told your child’s GP?
Schools are often able to offer additional support where appropriate. Both schools and GPs are able to refer your child to a mental health specialist for assessment.
Life can be stressful. We all need healthy coping strategies / support in place. Many children are under a lot of pressure from school and so on. Start filling up your child’s toolbox. By taking action, you are showing your child that it is good to be open about their feelings and to tell you when they need help or are worried; that they are not alone and that things can and will get better.
And please note also, that often when we take a look at our children’s stress levels, we realise that our own stress levels need addressing also. It’s really hard for children to be calm when their parents are not, so its important to address your own stress levels too. How about filling your own toolbox?
Please do feel free to get in touch if you would like to discuss anything in this blog or if you have concerns about the impact that stress or anxiety is having in your child’s life or your own. I’ll be happy to have a chat with you.
Special thanks go to Julie Clark of Julie Clark Nutrition for suggesting that I write this blog in the first place!