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Relieve Worry (and Fear) FAST

Confession time: I often fall asleep holding my index finger. Why? Because energy pathways that relate to fear pass through this finger…and this pandemic keeps stirring up my ancient fear ghosts. Holding that finger helps.

Let me explain.

One branch of Japanese bodywork called Jin Shin Jyutsu involves holding parts of the body to move energy. It’s based on energy pathways, similar to acupuncture meridians, many of which pass through the fingers. Each finger corresponds to a different painful emotion or attitude, and holding the finger can help relieve it.

Thumb = Worry
Index finger = Fear
Middle finger = Anger
Ring finger = Sadness
Pinky finger = Trying to be something you’re not

An easy acronym for remembering the order is “Relieve Worry FAST.”

The technique is simple. When you notice one of these emotions, hold that finger (on either hand, doesn’t matter) with your other hand. Then tune in to your body and wait until you feel a shift.

What kind of shift? You might start to feel a pulse in your finger—like a heartbeat. Or, if you feel a pulse at once, it might fade or even out. A shift could also be heat building and dissipating in your finger. Or it might be a whole-body experience, like easing of the emotion or descending calm. Be patient…this could take 1–10 minutes.

I’ve been holding my index finger for weeks. Here’s what I felt last month…

I’d gotten triggered and panicky. So I held my finger and breathed. Slowly, very slowly, my breathing calmed. At some point, I realized my fears were still there…but they felt smaller and more distant. I was no longer lost in them.

Here’s last week…

I slowly became sleepy and dreamy. After a while, I remembered a childhood situation I’d been trapped in and how frightened I’d been. Then I felt a pulling line between my torso and finger—like a taut bow. The bow “sprang” and something whooshed down the line to my finger. My whole body relaxed.

And here’s a couple nights ago…

After a minute, electricity and heat began buzzing along my arms. My finger became hot and started to pulse. My whole body grew uncomfortable, like a balloon waiting to burst. It stayed that way a long time. Finally, the balloon “burst” and cold energy drained off my finger. After that, I slept well.

Just be patient and don’t discount anything you sense. The body’s healing mechanisms often emerge gently. So just breathe, watch, and wait. Something will shift.

My Coronavirus Prevention Plan

I know the news sounds scary right now. But the coronavirus is a respiratory virus, just like colds and flu, so it still has to enter the body through the eyes, nose, or mouth. And that means there are simple things we can all to do significantly reduce our chance of getting it. Below is my personal action plan.

Part 1: Transmission Prevention

  • Do not touch face (especially eyes, nose, or mouth) unless I’ve first washed my hands.
  • Sanitize hands and door knob before entering home and office.
  • Wash hands frequently—with water and soap for 20 seconds—or use high-alcohol hand sanitizer.
  • Always wash/sanitize hands before eating or entering home, after touching any public surface, or before and after touching clients.
  • Disinfect office surfaces between clients.
  • Move more than 3 feet away from anyone coughing or sneezing.

Part 2: Stress Reduction & Immune Support

  • No alcohol
  • No caffeine
  • No refined sugar
  • In bed by 11pm
  • Meditate minimum 15 minutes per day
  • Eat minimum 3 vegetables per day
  • Fit in as much daily walking as I can

The above is just what I’m doing for myself. I know my body well so, for example, I know what a hit it takes when I consume things like sugar and stimulants. I’d love to know what works for your body, or if you have suggestions!

DEFCON 1 Level Stress

Imagine feeling overwhelmed with stress by even the smallest problem in your day. Huge energies and feelings just roar up out of nowhere. And try as you might, you can’t seem to relax.

Such massive arousal in the stress response system—the DEFCON 1 of threat responses—often has a common denominator: oxygen deprivation.

Being deprived of oxygen for more than a brief period is arguably the most extreme threat your nervous system can face. It thrusts your whole body into a near-death state—brain cells die within minutes. So your body responds with extreme, last-ditch survival responses, sending out a storm of nerve signals and stress hormones.

What Situations Cause It?

With oxygen deprivation, we tend to think of the obvious: choking, suffocation, and near-drowning. Less obvious are things like being born with the cord wrapped around your neck, medical intubation (potentially), and lightning strikes or electrocution.

Other situations can produce this extreme survival response, even if they don’t cause oxygen deprivation. Anesthesia and high fevers have the potential to cause it, because they blow you out of normal reality into altered states. And any kind of fetal distress, birth trauma, prolonged infant distress, or early surgery can cause it because a baby’s nervous system is so underdeveloped.

What Happens After You Survive?

Here’s the thing…the nervous system may never really reset. So now, whenever something stressful happens, the body has just one extreme response. This can feel like:

  • Energy storms: your body buzzes or floods with electricity
  • Overwhelm: you have to do everything “right” (e.g., diet, meditation, avoiding stimulants) just to stay calm
  • Floating away: your head gets foggy or swimmy
  • Chest constriction: your chest tightens, your heart pounds
  • Extreme sensitivity: to lights, sounds, scents, etc.
  • Intense fear: with nothing to connect it to
  • Shaky limbs: arms or legs that shake or tremble

The Light at the End

Does the above describe you? If so, one, know that it really is harder for you to relax than for others. You can’t just make it happen. So give yourself a break.

Two, you’re already doing a lot to successfully manage the activation and overwhelm. The key is to start doing it more consciously. One simple tip: Picture your arms and legs as drainpipes and let the contained energy drain downward.

And three, there’s help. Work with a body-oriented trauma therapist. It will likely take time…you’ll be working with small, 2% downshifts. But over time, you’ll reset.

Overwhelmed? Build a Cocoon

Frazzled? Overwhelmed? Join the club. Between the run-up to the holidays, the short winter days, and cold and flu season, I’m challenged myself. So, when I’m feeling overwhelmed and need to reset, I do a mini-cocoon session.

For me, cocooning is about creating a cozy, contained space where I can let the inner whirlwind run its course until the dust settles. It starts with choosing a place.

My place is my living room couch. What’s so special about a couch? Well, perhaps nothing for you, but for me it’s this lovely piece of furniture that I splurged on. It’s also the center of my home. It’s where I relax, write, eat, pet my cat, and talk deeply with loved ones. It’s where I feel most at home.

Your place may be different. Perhaps your bed is where you feel snug and warm…or your bathtub…or closet. Or maybe your place is a backyard bench or a roof under the stars—not everyone likes feeling contained. You know it’s your place because, when you’re there, you feel relief.

I also secure my space. I don’t want to be interrupted, so I lock my door and turn off my phone. I tell Mara, my cat, that she’s welcome to join but no bugging. She gets it.

The next step is to add sensory elements that help you relax. For me, that means sound. When I was three, I experienced my first thunderstorm from the security of a warm house. Ever since, I’ve found rainstorms soothing, so I play a recording of one.

Your sensory elements will be specific to you. You may need warmth to relax, or weight. So get blankets and a heating pad, or try a weighted blanket. Or perhaps you need scent. Lavender can be relaxing…or maybe a scent from your childhood. It might be as simple as candlelight or a plush fabric to rub between your fingers.

Once I’m on my couch, with blankets piled on and my thunderstorm playing, I let the comforting sensations wrap me up and hold me. And then I stop trying to suppress all of the feelings of stress and overwhelm. I just let them wash through. It’s safe to feel them in this place.

The overwhelm often moves through like a cloudburst, all pouring emotions, rumbling sensations, and static electricity. But eventually it peters out. And in its wake, I’m calmer. I’m more here, in my body. And the stressors, out there, seem smaller.

Are You Overdoing Healing?

I’m sick of feeling this way—I want to get it all out now!

Go deeper…I can take it!

In addition to my acupuncturist, I’m seeing a chiropractor, physical therapist, orthopedist and you. What else should I be doing to heal?

When I hear clients say things like these, my heart goes out. Because I hear how strong the desire is to feel better. But I also know there can be an underlying belief driving these statements, a belief that healing has to be hard—that it has to hurt, be a struggle, or be intense. But that’s just not true, and it can make healing, well…harder.

More is not always better…

When it comes to healing treatments, sometimes less is more. If you pile on multiple types of sessions in one week—like acupuncture yesterday, craniosacral today, and chiropractic tomorrow—it can stress out your body.

Think of it like eating one rich meal after another, leaving no time for digestion. It’d make you sick, right? The same is true for healing. Your body makes changes during a healing session. Afterwards, it needs time to pause, rest, and integrate the changes.

Deeper is not always better either…

In the same vein, harder and harder deep-tissue massage is not the best way to get muscles to relax. Often, it’s quite the opposite. Hard or painful pressure can activate the body’s defenses, making muscles more tensed and guarded.

Lighter pressure can slip beneath this defensive radar, allowing muscles to let go. And the very lightest touch can often produce the deepest releases.

Faster and more intense is also not…well, you get the idea

I understand how badly many of us want to clear out old emotional pain and energies. Just get it all out now! I wish it were so simple. But “bigger” or more cathartic sessions often don’t help. And they can actually be retraumatizing.

It’s counterintuitive, I know, but strong sensations and big emotional releases don’t necessarily equal deeper healing. The most powerful shifts happen amidst stillness.

So how does the body heal?

Remember the last time you cut your finger? It took time to heal, didn’t it? And the changes were so slow and incremental, you probably didn’t notice them. But one morning you woke up and your finger was healed.

Most healing is like this. It’s slow and gentle. It arises from within, guided by a deep, inner wisdom. And it works best when conditions support it. The most we can do is create the right conditions for healing and get out of the way.

A Meditation on What Haunts Us

I recently had the good fortune to visit New Orleans, which is a feast for the senses. But it was a message in a book from an old shop in the French Quarter that has stayed with me most. The book was on ghosts and the afterlife, written by a journalist looking for answers. The message was channeled by a medium.

According to that medium, the spirits want us to know that suffering is needed for spiritual growth.

When I read that sentence, my whole attention narrowed to a focus, and something inside me sighed and said yes. If that was true, I could accept the pain of the past, the struggles of today. I could breathe. And ever since, the idea has kept resonating.

Now, I make no arguments for or against the afterlife…or ghosts, or mediums. And I’m aware that the message itself is controversial. Really, Virginia, all suffering is needed? I know, it’s a hornet’s nest. But that doesn’t stop me considering the possibility.

The potential of hardship to lead to growth is mirrored everywhere in life.

Without the irritants of sand, an oyster would never create a pearl. Without problems and challenges, most of us would have little impetus to grow. I think of my own struggles to build a healthy business and know each great leap came specifically because some very real hardship or problem was nipping at my heels.

So when it comes to something beyond blood and bone, something greater than ourselves, something luminous—and most of us have sensed this at some point—is it such a stretch to consider that the same natural process might spur us on to spiritual growth?

I can only speak for myself. Whenever I consider the possibility that my suffering polishes me like a diamond, my chest opens and my breathing becomes soft.

And I think of all the clients I have seen over the years, many of whom have been through immense suffering and trauma, some even believing themselves broken. But the resilience and creativity they’ve shown, the skills learned, depths mined, and wholeness which is so much greater than the wounds it contains, say otherwise. They are some of the most amazing people you could hope to meet.