Sometimes just the mention of “what makes you anxious?” or “what stresses you out?” can be enough to cause immediate anxiety. We all deal with stress and anxiety daily. Some of us deal with it better than others, but we all deal with it. Women who are pregnant and parents with small children at home are two defined populations who often experience difficulty balancing the stress that comes with their circumstances. Both can receive help managing the balance through seeking counseling. When we realize the power of our brains, we can find how it can help us deal with our stressors in life. Counseling can offer different approaches to managing stress and anxiety.
One therapy that taps into the power of our brains to handle stress is EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy. EMDR therapy stimulates our brains in a way to sort out those stressors, to help our brains differentiate different forms of anxiety that require a different level of attention-for example, helping us adapt to different stressors such as test anxiety, compared to an attack of a wild animal. EMDR works by using the same process our brains use naturally when we sleep.
When we sleep deeply, our eyes move back and forth in a bilateral movement, which engages both sides of the brain to work together to process through our day. Rapid eye movement (REM) describes the depth of our sleep. When we achieve REM sleep, our bodies wake rested and we feel good in the morning. REM sleep is a deep sleep where our bodies are the most relaxed and that allows our brains to process using both hemispheres cooperatively. If we do not reach REM sleep, we wake in the morning with the unrested, “wrong side of the bed” feeling and often complain we didn’t sleep well. REM sleep is important to our healthy and efficient functioning during the day, including how we deal with our stress and anxiety.
EMDR therapy uses bilateral stimulation to help the two sides of the brain to work together while processing through trauma, stress, anxiety and many other issues. Our focus today is on a part of EMDR referred to as “Calm Place,” during which the client and therapist work together to create a place of retreat. Some may call it a “happy place” but it is truly much more than that. Calm Place, using EMDR, becomes your happy place greatly enhanced.
Using EMDR, we can create a Calm Place where a person can bring in all the senses to the experience. When accessing their Calm Place, a person brings in the five senses; smell, sound, touch, sight and even taste. For instance, if a person finds the beach calming, they may feel the sand between their toes, hear seagulls and waves crashing, smell the seaweed or flowers nearby, and taste the salt in the air. Using the bilateral stimulation, these senses become a part of the Calm Place. It is no longer just a pretty picture you bring to mind, but with practice, one can actually feel themselves in the Calm Place setting and experience the things that calm them and bring peace out of their anxiety.
Imagine, if you will, the place you find most calming. It can be a place you have been before, a memory from childhood, a place you have read about in a book or seen in a movie, or it can be something you have totally created in your imagination. It is your Calm Place, so everything about it is personal to you. It may be grandpa’s farm and the smell of cows and other farm animals, it could be futuristic or animated, any place you decide. The Calm Place is completely personal, you are totally in control of your creation and what brings you the peace to move away from the stress and anxieties in your life. It can bring your anxiety level down in any situation and can be used at the onset to prevent the experience of a full-blown panic attack.
After having found your Calm Place, the therapist will have you add a mantra to it to repeat in your head or aloud if that is more comfortable for you. By adding the mantra to the Calm Place and using the bilateral stimulation, your brain can process this experience to bring you peace at times you have often felt overwhelmed. The empowerment is extraordinary, and the peace is welcomed.
Once you and your therapist have created your Calm Place, your therapist will help you find ways to create and retreat on your own without their help. They will encourage practicing Calm Place, as the more you practice, the easier it will be to find relief from the things that cause you stress, and to find your very own place of peace and calm.
Cindy Wade, LPC, is a counselor at Health West Pediatrics and OB/GYN. She enjoys walking the journey with her clients, being in the mountains during any season, and treasures time spent with her children and grandchildren.