Steps to Bring More Joy in Your Life

Steps to Bring More Joy in Your Life

The formula to bring more joy in your life is super simple. Here it is.

Move away from things that cause you distaste and do more things that bring you joy.

How is that for some mind-blowing insight? As you can see, you don’t need a PhD to figure this out.

So why do we find ourselves lacking joy? My guess is that we are not honest enough with ourselves. What are our likes and dislikes? Again, I ask you … What brings you joy? Sit with that question for a while and then begin writing. The act of writing should bring you closer to authenticity. It certainly has helped me and has helped many of my clients. As a therapist this is one of the biggest pitfalls my clients fall into. Often we find ourselves faking being someone we are not. Perhaps these are the do-it-all women that fake happy marriages or the executives that seemingly have it all together leading their team but end the day with a bottle of booze. What a horrible way to go through life. Honestly, I can’t think of something much worse than this.

Think about it. When we behave in a certain way that causes a pulling away from ourselves, rather than a pushing towards, we are not being our authentic self. This is what I meant by ‘causing a distaste’. You may not even realize how much of a pulling away this is for you. Later on, next week, I am going to tell you how I discovered something about myself that caused me a lot of ‘pulling away’, and I ignored it for years. I was trying to ignore it and push through it, rather than be authentic and face the truth.

I was having a conversation with a potential guest for my podcast (sort of an interview before the recorded interview) and he noted the same. He said that for years… he felt somewhat ashamed for being optimistic. (Can you imagine? Being ashamed that you are positive in nature?) The guest tends to always see ‘the bright side of life’. What some others view as ‘toxic positivity’. Then, one day he woke up and realized ‘I don’t need to apologize for this anymore!’ This is who he is – and no one has the right to call him down for it. It is a strength of his, yet there must have been a belief that had been instilled in him that told him it is not normal or natural or right to always be happy. This could have been caused by a parent who is highly irritable and angry at life, or it could be a ‘friend’ or ‘partner ‘who constantly made him believe it is wrong to feel what you feel. I use quotations because anyone telling you not to be authentic is neither a friend nor partner in life.

Move away from things that cause you distaste and do more things that bring you joy.

via @luellajonk

So, it seems then, there are parts of us that we admire and perhaps proud of, and then there are other parts that we do not particularly care for… Have you ever wondered why? Why don’t you like this characteristic about yourself? After all, there is no one description of the ideal human being, is there? I don’t know who that person would be…do you? Sure, we could all likely describe that ideal person in our mind – but that is YOUR perception of the ideal person and similarly, a perspective of how the world and your environment SHOULD be. This reminds me of what one might be searching for in a soulmate, and I am quite sure that your version is different from mine. So who is right and who is wrong?

The answer is neither because that is just our perspective, our culture and grooming of the mind. That is our belief. I want you to start challenging these beliefs more. Are these truths or lies that you have been telling yourself? If you like this about yourself, then continue to believe it and celebrate and reward yourself. If you don’t, then start being honest and behaving differently to feel differently. A feeling that may bring you more joy in life.

Now, back to the question of why you might not like these character traits? The most likely reason is that your experiences shaped you in believing not to celebrate that trait, characteristic or behaviour. Research in child development has demonstrated self-programming (thoughts, habits and beliefs) are established prior to the age of 7. This is why the Jesuits say, “give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” Realize as well, this trait CAN be very culturally based.

That Jesuit quote is the formula/program/protocol for how we think, feel, and behave throughout our lives. Some of it is genetic, but most of it is through learned behaviour. The behaviour was either modelled to us or taught to us in another form, perhaps from the words we heard spoken around us. If I was raised by a tribe of Ugandans, I doubt that I would have an obsession for peanut butter sandwiches, which happened to be a staple in my elementary school lunches. I would also have completely different religious beliefs, fears, needs and desires. My habit formation would be like those of other Ugandans. According to the current society I live in, my behaviours (tendencies and habits) would be viewed as good, bad or neutral.

James Clear, the writer of Atomic Habits, also states similar propositions in his book. He suggests if we really want to study our habits, we should write out our routines and behaviours and then rate good, bad, or neutral. The point being that if we want to get rid of the bad, we need to dissect what reward we are getting by doing a behaviour which is considered bad. He provides all different suggestions as to how to minimize or undo the patterning that was established attached to the behaviour we once felt rewarding (but now somewhat despise). The easiest example that comes to mind is smoking. I haven’t met one smoker who loves the idea of identifying themselves as a smoker, but despite this, continue to smoke. Thus smoking is a great example of a behavior once viewed as desirable and a somewhat sexy behaviour, to now very undesirable due to societal influences. 

There are many many other more subtle examples of what society or your culture (friend culture, family culture, religious or work culture) is telling you what is right and what is wrong, and if we follow someone’s else’s beliefs  we often feel a lack of joy and deserving of punishment. Smoking is a clear example of how societal pressure plus scientific research shifted our way of viewing this behaviour. The use of seatbelts and bicycle helmets are other examples of how society shifted our beliefs towards a behaviour. 

However, there are other practices that we do daily which make us feel unhappy which are not based in science, but we do it largely from cultural and societal pressure. Deep down inside ourselves, we feel pulled to do it – or not do it, but the push against it is so strong. Yet we ignore it. We ignore the fact it will bring us more joy because our experiences have groomed us to believe otherwise. This is what I mean about challenging yourself and STOP doing the behaviours that you believe you SHOULD  be doing – while still being law-abiding citizens. 

I will give you a personal example  regarding my own thoughts – it was a thought that kept pulling me away from my authenticity. It is a thought I need to stop believing and seek forgiveness towards myself for thinking this crazy notion, that is highly culturally based. It came to me in a gobsmacking sort of way. This is the realization I made…

Yes, a cliff-hanger indeed. ☺ Meet you here next week. 

Stop Making it So Personal

Stop Making it So Personal

I don’t normally plan my posts. When I allow my mind to wander, it plans my posts for me.

The title ‘stop making it so personal’ is what that voice in my head often speaks to me, both on a personal level and for all the complainers around me.

Hey, not to say I too can get in a thought rut. As I write this, it is January in Manitoba, Canada. Days are short, the air is, as we like to tell ourselves here in the north, ‘nice and crisp’ which is another way of saying ‘do not expose any part of your body if you want to keep it’. Not to mention we are still dealing with Covid-19 restrictions, post-Christmas blues, and so on and so forth. We can ALWAYS find a reason to be ‘down’. But how about finding the ‘ups’?

Life – in its true sense, has its ups and downs. Think of life as falling within a bell curve. Sometimes you are headed up, and sometimes you are headed down. But what is important is that we find the mean. A normal day (when you are at the mean) is a good day. Cold outside? Go ice fishing, snowshoeing, or my personal favorite…a meditative walk…whilst listening to how the snow crinkles under my feet. You will instantly feel better. There is always a silver lining to every dark cloud, and it is our duty to find it.

Yes, we all need to find that silver lining. ‘Stop making it so personal’ is all about that. It takes you out of your head and into the present.

“Yes, we all need to find that silver lining. ‘Stop making it so personal’ is all about that. It takes you out of your head and into the present.”

via @luellajonk

As a therapist, I give clients the space to do this, to process their feelings. However, after our sessions, it is okay to process those feelings a bit more (maybe the odd journalling entry for example) but not much more than that. Instead of saying “What if?” Or “Why me?” ask yourself instead “What now?” What do I need to do right now?

People talk about MY depression, MY situation, MY trauma, My, My and MY. Oh my!! Get out of your head. How do you know what your neighbour is dealing with or that barista at Starbucks? The barista who greets you with a friendly smile she greets every single customer that enters the frick’n establishment just because it is her job. She signed up for it, and she made a commitment to smile to every miserable customer that complains their $5.00 latte doesn’t have enough foam.

It is your job to do life. You might counter with “I didn’t ask to be born” and depending on how you perceive the universe and the powers at be, that may or may not be accurate. However, my rebuttal is… it is a privilege to experience life. This world has so much beauty and wonderment, but we are often too much in our heads to experience it.

It is sad to hear my clients speak of how they may feel ashamed of their mental state. They speak of ‘their mental health’ like no one else has these same feelings or emotions. Are you kidding me? So, are you telling me no one else wakes up on a dull January morning and thinks “another day of the same old same old?’ or “It’s Sunday? Augh, that means Monday is tomorrow, that means work, that means … throw the covers over my head and make it all go away”.

Come on!! Everyone has these days. Don’t think you are so gosh darn special that it is your own thoughts. Sure, you own your thoughts but countless of others own those thoughts too. True, you are unique, but you are just experiencing some of life’s hardships. We all do. No one gets the ‘get out of jail card’ in life. And if they are telling you that – or their Instagram or Facebook platforms are telling you that – they are straight-out lying to you. In fact, the best thing you could do is get off the social media. Many of my clients speak about how much better they feel when doing so.

Are you still feeling like this is a bunch of BS?

Maybe you wake up to anxiety staring down at you. Dread. Fear. Despair. Those are all heavy emotions to feel and acknowledge, but again, you are not the only one feeling like this. Therefore, you are part of a community and just knowing that might help you get through it.

Support is ALWAYS out there. You just need to get your ass out of bed and make some advancement towards getting it. You need to make the decision that ‘you are not doing dread anymore’. You need to call a friend, a family member, a helpline, a therapist and just be honest. You will find out that you are not alone. Speaking out loud and processing those feelings will feel good. Trust me on this one; this is not my first rodeo.

Best of all – you did something. You made an advancement. You did the baby step. You did it! That is all you needed to do so thank you for doing that.

Want more baby steps? Try these 5 steps to get out of your head.

Get out in nature. I don’t care if it is minus gazillion, sleet, pelleting rain or gale force winds. Suck it up and get out there. Nature reminds you are not alone and there is something greater to admire and adore.

Do a random act of service. Random is important point here. I don’t want you picking up your teenager’s underwear from their bedroom floor. That doesn’t count. Do it for someone or something that appreciates it. Even watering a plant makes the cut.

Bust a move. Play your favorite song and dance. Crank up the tunes. I didn’t want to particularly work out this am, so rather than muddle my way through the workout app, I turned to Spotify and typed in ‘brown -eyed girl’ and well, the rest is history.

Laugh at yourself/crack a joke. Smiling is a way of biohacking your body to feel differently without necessarily changing the environment around you. When you smile, you ‘trick’ your body into believing it is safe and the world is a happy place. Hormones start communicating and chemistry starts to happen.

Deep breath. Another bio hack. You are again telling your nervous system that you are safe. To simplify, you can’t be running away from a tiger when you are taking slow, deep purposeful breaths. It is literally impossible.

There are many more I could list. Journaling, meditation, getting off of social media, etc. These are all proven to be helpful. All these tiny changes are great, but they might not be what floats your boat. So keep trying. What works for you may not work for another person. Experiment. Also, what worked for you 3 years ago may have run its course and it is time to do something different. Variety is the spice of life, right?

Final word.

As far as I am concerned, Nike has one the best slogans out there. Just Do It.

Why do we stay stuck?

Why do we stay stuck?

With a new year shortly around the corner I think a lot of us like the idea of starting anew or approaching the year with a fresh start. I felt it would be appropriate to write about ‘getting out of a rut’ and building new habits in 2022.

 First, a little note about beliefs, behaviours and breaking bad habits. Beliefs are caused by a thought, and if that thought is put on repeat, the thought becomes a belief. Anything that is placed on repeat moves from conscious thought to unconscious thought. Are you with me so far?

Thought always precedes behaviour and we use feelings and emotions to gauge our thoughts.

We use our feelings to come to terms with the thoughts. We could never keep track of the many different thoughts entering our head at any given time. It is only your feelings that lead you to take note of your thoughts. You may not realize a thought precedes a behaviour because of the speed the neurons are firing. This speed is beyond what is occurring within any computer operating system.

This, for the most part, is a great thing. This means we do not need to relearn behaviour. Examples include driving a car, making your favorite recipe, and checking email. Unfortunately, this is the same for unwanted behaviours. I know!! If the rules would not apply to unwanted behaviours life would be so easy! Don’t like the idea that you are addicted to a substance or behaviour? You are not alone. Deep down inside we are all prisoners of unwanted behaviours. We are mere mortals after all. Examples might be screaming at your kid, eating sugar, snorting cocaine, or drinking coffee just to stay alert. These behaviours can become very difficult to simply ‘turn off’.

Well, it turns out the only way to get unstuck or to turn it off is through minding your mind. But it is impossible to do this in the moment of the unwanted behaviour. That’s the kicker.

So, what’s the answer? Is there a pill I can take for that? Well, no… unless you are referring to the broad sense of thought-based behaviour such as panic attacks, which of course there is no shortage of pharmaceutical options.

The best solution is always the longest lasting solution, which is usually the most difficult solution. We simply need to do the work.

We need to start small and work our way to the point of doing it in the moment. Starting small means just accessing our thoughts at any given time of the day. For example, when is the last time you ate a meal, or even an apple and focused on that exact task? How does the apple feel on my teeth? Is it crunchy or soft? Sweet or tart? You get where I am going. If you have done that very exercise with an apple, I bet you it didn’t last for longer than 15 seconds, not the entire time you took to eat the apple.

The above example is what some might call ‘doing the work’. That means taking time out in your day to focus only on what is in front of you. It is not easy! That is why it needs to begin very small.

Choose one thing you can do every day that keeps you out of your head and in the present. It can be as simple as eating a piece of fruit, taking your air pods out of your ears when you are walking the dog and focusing on nature, pulling out a gratitude journal, or sitting in front of the fireplace and starring at the flames and listening to the wood crackle. It doesn’t have to be meditation in the traditional sense, but that is not a bad place to begin either.

Nothing of what I wrote here is new. Meditation and prayer have been the longest practicing ritual since the birth of humankind. We have had meditation apps for how long now. It must be at least 10 years? Has the world become calmer? More focused? I hate to be a downer here, but I don’t think so. I think with so many other aspects of health, we know what to do but we are not doing it.

“Today is December 21st – winter solstice. A wonderful time to sit in the darkness of the season, and I mean in a good way. Cozy up in your favorite chair and pause and relax your mind.”

via @luellajonk


That is why I wanted to remind you today, that you can start today by eating that piece of fruit while concentrating on every aspect of it.

Today is December 21st – winter solstice. A wonderful time to sit in the darkness of the season, and I mean in a good way. Cozy up in your favorite chair and pause and relax your mind. See it as your gift to yourself. Don’t be afraid of your thoughts, as it is just a thought. It is not who you are, or what truly exists, it is simply a thought.

Next week I will send you a special message – it may be a ‘guest experience’. There – I did it. I wrote it. I am going to appear with a video message. This takes guts on my part…but just like the podcast, once it is down on paper it becomes real. I am taking the plunge! Polar plunge, like a true Canadian.

Till next week…have a blessed season. Wishing you all the health and happiness the season can bring. Most of all, be kind to yourself and to others.

It is okay to follow a trend, but don’t forget your own unique self

It is okay to follow a trend, but don’t forget your own unique self

When you press rewind on your tape recording of life, do you notice how you may have branched off and explored another faculty of yourself only to later realize it was possibly not the best decision?

There is nothing wrong with this and, in fact, I think it is great. Too many of my clients get down on themselves for possibly taking a turn in life that didn’t provide them with the ROI that they had hoped for. My suggestion is to acknowledge it and move on. As we grow older in age, we have the advantage of seeing our trends and patterns of behaviour and realize a repeated behaviour has provided us with one of two things: abundance or lack. Rarely is it neutral.

By the way, may I take this opportunity to say…I am so sick of the word ‘pivot’. Is this not the most annoying COVID-19 word? How many times have you read or heard someone say, “We had to pivot” or, “You need to pivot”? Okay, I feel better now. 😊

So, think about this a bit more, are you a trend follower or a creator of your life? Are you one to do your own thing, or are you highly influenced by social media and society? Many of us have wasted a lot of time and money doing something we thought we would like just because a friend was doing it, or we simply believed it would make us happier or more successful, only to later discover we dislike it.

Can you share with me a time or an idea you followed that you later discovered was NOT true to who you are? Please tell me about it. I think we need to laugh at ourselves more often when we discover these things and more importantly tell someone or discuss it more openly. If you have discovered something deeper about yourself, chances are someone else has as well.

Society is constantly telling us what we should and shouldn’t be doing or what not to do. Goodness knows this is so true in the diet world. Billboards and headlines abound with the superfood you simply must have on your plate every day, or the best morning routine, or how to get the best night sleep.

Honestly, it is exhausting. The irony of it all is, although this great information, we are becoming even more sick, fat, and exhausted because of information overload in a world where most are already overwhelmed in just doing life.

“Most of us stop before we start, and we do this because of fear.”

via @luellajonk

I am here to tell you there is nothing more important in life than mindset. It is so much more important than the green smoothie, exercise, or your meditation practice. Yes, I just said it. You do not need to meditate 20 minutes a day to be Zen, happy and successful.

Did you notice I just went full circle? I am back at the reason why I began to write this post today. I see so many of us (including me) feel pressured to DO MORE, and often feel guilty we are not doing more, when really, we need to do less. By doing less I don’t mean watch more TV, scroll through social media, or smoke a joint. I mean just slow down a little, sit with your thoughts, talk more to your friends or partner, and figure out what you really want out of life. I think we are too busy trying to do too much rather than thinking, “What do I want out of this life?”

The second part of this exercise is to share what you want with others, especially the people closest to you, because if they truly support you, they will not only act as an accountability partner, but also provide you with the energy and enthusiasm to believe in yourself (this can also be a coach, therapist, prayer group, etc.). You see…the belief in yourself is usually the thing that is holding you back. Most of us stop before we start, and we do this because of fear. However, once you learn the belief you hold of yourself is only in your own little world (in other words, it is not a belief that others’ have of you), that fear melts away.

If you are curious whether this belief is the truth or whether it is something only in your head, then take some action. Get out a pen and paper and start writing out the question, “Is this true of myself? Is this actually true?” You will soon see it is NOT true, as there is no valid reason for it to be true.

I am excited to see what realizations you unveil about yourself. As a side benefit, those who believe in you will see you become lighter, stronger, and happier because you will be discovering your authentic self and consequently, stop sleep walking through life. Life is so short! Do your best to be more a part of this wonderful world.

Looking forward to your comments and questions on this topic.

P.S. Remember to send questions to Is This Normal? tab of my website. It is great to get people engaged and grow a community of individuals that want more out of life. Therefore, be curious! There is no such thing as a bad question.

‘til the next post, xoxo

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The Best Ways of Releasing Trauma

The Best Ways of Releasing Trauma

I recently read one in five Americans have experienced some degree of sexual abuse as a child. Even as a therapist, that statistic shocked me. Yet, even though sexual abuse is more common than we want to realize, it is by far only one of many forms of trauma individuals endure.

My main message; trauma comes in many forms and with that, varying degrees of intensity. In fact, I like to reserve the word trauma for what we all once believed the word trauma to mean. War, genocide, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters. Events that are extremely sudden and unpredictable. To be honest, I am not even sure if I would include the pandemic in this category. Afterall, none of us starved, saw mutilation in front of our eyes, or experienced other simultaneous instant loss. We could still order Amazon Prime for goodness’ sake.

I would instead describe these events, and other long periods, both intermittent but consistent at the same time, comprising of insidious strain and angst, as stress. Some therapists call this ‘tiny’ traumas or trauma with a small ‘t’. To me this is just simply stress. Children are experiencing stress when a parent can’t get out of bed because they are hungover. Their little minds are perplexed as to why mommy or daddy doesn’t want to play with them. Can’t feed me, wash my clothes, or clean my face? The parent that is not available because of ‘needing to work’. The mom that isn’t interested in my drawing because she seems more interested in her phone, the ‘weapon of mass distraction’.

Children and teenagers experience stress when they are ridiculed by their ‘friends’, or not invited to the event everyone else is talking about on Snapchat. When their photo or post is not liked, or when they dress differently. Young adults experience stress when their peers all seem to know exactly what they want to do in life, while others remain stuck in ‘I don’t even know who I am or what I am supposed to be doing’ or ‘I don’t feel smart enough to do what I truly want to be doing’ instead of following one’s gut instinct. Relationships are inherently stressful at times.

Many of us feel stuck in life and don’t know why, while others seem aware of why they are stuck, but have no idea how to move ahead.

For this reason, over the years of practising psychotherapy, I felt the need to not only use a hammer from my toolbox, but several interesting tools. Afterall, not everyone that walks into my office is a nail.

“Over the years of practising psychotherapy, I felt the need to not only use a hammer from my toolbox, but several interesting tools. Afterall, not everyone that walks into my office is a nail.”

via @luellajonk

So how do I help people heal? I treat every client as a system. There simply is no better way to heal unless you treat the person as a whole. To treat the mind and rid self-limiting beliefs, I practise psychotherapy – but this is just one tool. I also use hypnotherapy for trapped emotions, but the main purpose of my FYI program is to build new neuronal pathways. This, along with continued psychotherapy, builds new habits of thought, which results in new habits of action or behaviours. Clients become more accepting of themselves and can start living a life free of uncomfortable thoughts.

For others however, the ongoing stress or trauma is stuck deep in their tissues. These individuals seem to have difficulty expressing their feelings and emotions openly in front of others or those they trust. Vulnerability is difficult. After years of suppressing feelings, the negative energy becomes stuck. For this I like to refer out to body work, such as massage, osteopathy, acupuncture, etc. to release the muscle tension. However, for those whose central nervous system is constantly ‘turned on’ as if they need to protect themselves from danger, I work at lowering the inflammation in their body. As I mentioned in previous posts, thoughts cause inflammation just as much as a viral infection or a sprained muscle would. Our entire system slows down to compensate for this low vagal tone read by our central nervous system (CNS). As one example of ‘system breakdown’, the liver becomes stagnant and can no longer produce enough adequate bile, which is secreted by the gall bladder to digest food, thus depleting us of nutrients. The stagnant liver can no longer do the job of detoxifying hormones and toxins in our body. We become constipated and our blood becomes thick because of decreased ability to clear and breakdown the fats. This leads to plaque build-up in our arteries and high cholesterol. Our blood pressure rises because of constriction of the arteries, in hopes of adequately delivering blood supply to tissues.

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I could go on and on explaining how stress affects all organs of the body. Chronic stress will lead to physical breakdown; it is just a matter of finding the weakest link within the system, which is normally determined through environment and genetics.

A few more tools I commonly use are high grade nutritional supplements, such as Vitamin B, D, and C to replenish and nourish an overtaxed adrenal system. Calming herbs, such as ginseng, rhodiola, and ashwagandha are also used short term to help calm and stabilize the system. It is important to regain a natural rhythmic cycle of cortisol production, otherwise the CNS will continue to remain in low vagal tone. However, one needs to work with a trained practitioner to do this correctly. Do not think you can just take a trip to your local pharmacy and pick up some generic brand of a multivitamin. It is more delicate and intricate than this.

Finally, another tool I have recently discovered is the use of homeopathy. For now, I am referring out, but I hope to gain further training in this area. Combined with psychotherapy, revamping lifestyle factors, such as healing the gut through diet, optimizing liver function, replenishing the lost nutrients, and renourishing a taxed adrenal system with herbal formulations, one can see incredible changes in a relatively short time.

In summary, healing the mind and body should be done concurrently for maximum results in the shortest amount of time. I want my clients to be open to the use of various tools when it comes to feeling better. Once you open your mind to all the possible ways of regaining the happiness you once had – even if those memories are as far back as childhood, I think you will be very pleasantly surprised at how good you will feel.

You deserve a healthy fulfilling life. Start taking control of it today.

New Ways of Dealing with Stress

New Ways of Dealing with Stress

By now I think we have all heard something about the gut/brain connection. That is, how the food you eat affects your thoughts and emotions and how your thoughts and emotions affect the health of your gut.

How is this possible? There are a few ways.

One of the main vessels of communication is via the vagus cranial nerve. It travels from the brain and innervates the digestive tract. You can now probably relate – at some point in your life you may have received some bad news, followed by a terrible sensation in the pit of your stomach. Have you ever heard of irritable bowel syndrome or IBS? This is a common bucket term in medicine for when a patient comes in describing bouts of loose stool or constipation. Well, it turns out this condition has a lot to do with your thoughts, emotions, and feelings you are experiencing.

How about the messages from the gut to the brain? If things are not right in the gut, such as bad bacteria or inflammation due to toxins or food sensitivities, our head doesn’t feel right. The vagus nerve also secretes cytokines (chemicals that carry information) into the intestines, which impacts the health of the bacteria and lining of the intestines.

The second way the gut affects the brain is through inflammation. The gut will send out pro-inflammatory cytokines (again, informational molecules) – which activate the stress response by signalling to a region in the brain called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus then starts communicating to our pituitary gland to help regulate hormones (again, informational molecules) so it can start doing the work it needs to do. In the case of inflammation, the hormone cortisol will take priority. This intricate system communicates so well, it prioritizes an urgent response by setting off vagal tone. When cortisol production is in high gear, the vagal tone is low. It is the vagal tone that ‘reads’ the health of your microbiome, which then modulates inflammation. Overall, a low vagal tone will impact not only your mental health, but also blood sugar regulation (contributing to high cholesterol), autism, migraines, diabetes, heart health, and autoimmune diseases. Therefore, as the frequency of cortisol (stress, trauma) increases, our health decreases. It is important for you to understand this delicate ‘wiring’ and method of communication is our body’s way of protecting us from danger. If our bacteria are not balanced (more bad bacteria than good) then it will want us to ‘wake up’ by secreting more cortisol and take action.

“Inflammation can be sourced via gut health (through food choices) just as much as it can be from the brain (through uncomfortable thoughts).”

via @luellajonk

The PROBLEM is if we make this more of a chronic condition (ongoing) rather than an acute condition (how it evolved to be) we are going to slowly adapt to this condition. This is an important point for both your overall mental health, as well as for your physiology.

Let me provide you with an analogy. If you often have joint pain or headaches, you might be a frequent user of an anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Aleve, etc.). The more you mask the inflammation, the more you will normalize the inflammatory response and the more drug you will need to get the same ‘effect’ from the drug. Sadly, this is how addictions start taking over your life. Dampening the response system (remember that alcohol and nicotine are toxins), the more you will need this drug to feel a response (whether that be a sense of calm or a sense of excitement). Similarly, if you continue to ignore the stress (toxic thoughts) in your life, the more you tolerate the stress response and the more this becomes your normal.

Our bodies have an amazing way of adapting (surviving). We naturally adapt to small amounts of stresses to be resilient. The problem (toxic thought) is sometimes so small (think of it as a tiny leak behind a wall), we don’t even realize it is there until it is too late. Your thoughts are following a trend over the long term and that trend is not going in the right direction. Your contentment, or happiness, is trending down. Think of adverse child experiences (ACE). Every client who sees me needs to fill out an intake form on ACE. I have seen it myself and literature shows it as well, the higher your ACE score, the more your health suffers.

Thus, the moral of this story is … pay attention to what signals your body is sending. Do not ignore. Remember acute cortisol from time to time is normal – chronic is not. However, I understand how it is not always easy to detect low lying cortisol – just as it is not easy to detect low lying inflammation. If we pay more attention to what we are putting in our bodies every day, the puzzle becomes less difficult. If you want more information on what foods you should be choosing, I can easily help you out. A lot of this is not rocket science, as you know. Despite what you hear out there, this is not about choosing a certain ‘diet’. As Michael Pollan stated so well, eat food (a.k.a. nothing made in a production plant). Not too much. Mostly plants.

Then there are the other lifestyle factors we can easily modulate to keep our stress in check. These include sleep optimization, securing healthy relationships (this includes with yourself), exercise, and a strong sense of community. I interchange community with spirituality. The more you feel you are not alone, the healthier you become.

In summary, inflammation causes disease. Today I explained how inflammation can be sourced via gut health (through food choices) just as much as it can be from the brain (through uncomfortable thoughts). How you choose to perceive your thoughts and how you pay attention to your thoughts will affect the health of your microbiome. It will either cause your healthy bacteria to thrive or your bad bacteria to increase, causing downstream effects. The vagus nerve will sense the health of your gut and start communicating to your hypothalamus to choose a high or low vagal tone.

As a functional medicine practitioner and therapist, I simplify inflammation as having four sources: Food, bugs, toxins (environmental), and traumas.

On the next blog post I will provide you with tips on how to improve vagal tone. Until then, if anyone wants to get a head start on bringing down body inflammation, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.