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  • Colleen O'Flaherty-Hilder

The Importance of Strengthening Emotional Resilience To Support Post Lockdown Emotional Wellbeing

Updated: Mar 23


It’s hard to believe that the Covid-19 lockdown has been with us in one form or another for an entire year. Whilst there has been a great deal of emphasis on dealing with the virus itself, the detrimental effect on our emotional health is just as serious. With each day that passes, we are presented with more and more evidence confirming that we need to be just as conscious about our emotional wellbeing as we are about our physical health. Lockdown forced us to make compromises and bend our values to accommodate various forms of isolation but emerging from that isolation back into society will also bring new demands to our already challenged emotional health. Some health professionals are already referring to this challenge as Post Covid-19 Stress Disorder and several mental health charities are concerned that the pandemic-related emotional health crisis will become a second pandemic.


Having said all that, I think the ‘gift’ that Covid-19 has given us is a greater appreciation of how vitally important it is to be part of face-to-face communities to support our emotional wellbeing. That community can be work, the gym, walking groups, voluntary groups, even going to work on the tube requires interaction with people. It doesn’t matter what context that social interaction is, as long as we are not in any form of isolation for extended periods. Virtual communities have been a lifesaver for many, and they have taught us how to be more flexible within the workplace, but they only work up to a point. We humans are not two dimensional; we are complex and rely on many non-verbal cues from face-to-face interactions to support our emotional wellbeing. Let’s not forget that in certain penal contexts isolation is a punishment or torture, therefore the release from any form of isolation needs to be handled with intelligence and, in some extreme cases, in the same way as we would deal with any trauma. This is possibly the first time in our history that we have had to cope with this type of transition, and we are going to be travelling in uncharted territory for a while. It would therefore be naive to think that we can jump straight back into our busy and over stimulating contemporary world without having an awareness of how both our bodies and minds will need to adapt and assimilate into a post-lockdown world.


As we emerge back into society with all its many distractions and stimulations, we will need a more informed understanding of how to support our emotional wellbeing and strengthen our emotional resilience. By recognising the early physical or emotional symptoms that indicate that we are not coping, and by taking the necessary preventative measures to stop such symptoms from spiraling out of control, we will become increasingly more resilient to any stressors and uncertainties in our lives that we may have to face in the future.


Thankfully, in the last decade there has been an increasing awareness of the need to address ‘mental health’, but Covid-19 has catapulted that whole subject into centre stage. The phrase ‘mental health’ is typically used to describe many conditions from feeling low, anxiety, panic attacks and depression, to the extreme end of the spectrum of significant psychiatric disorders. We have inherited the phrase mental health, from a time in our history when it was associated with stigma and shame because there was an absence of knowledge about the workings of the mind, and unfortunately that stigma is still there to a lesser or greater degree. I think we now need to adjust the narrative around the whole subject so that it is more readily accepted and embraced by all sections of the community. I prefer to use the term ‘emotional wellness’ because the word ‘emotional’ describes more accurately what is actually happening in the mind, particularly in the unconscious, when we face challenges and, more importantly, emotional wellness does not carry the stigma from the past.


When I talk about emotional wellness, I refer to how well we respond instinctually to our world; how effectively we deal with change, uncertainty, or feelings of being out of control and overwhelmed. To be specific, how emotionally resilient we are when life throws us a curveball. To help explain this complex subject particularly in relation to the mind-body connection of emotional wellness, I have chosen the conditions anxiety, panic attacks, depression and trauma to illustrate what motivates them, how our physical bodies develop associated symptoms that are indicators of emotional health imbalance, and how preventative natural health methods can strengthen our emotional resilience. If we learn to recognise those very early signs of imbalance and take steps to rectify them promptly, we can prevent those minor, treatable symptoms from developing into more severe conditions.

  1. Anxiety and Panic Attacks

  2. Depression

  3. Trauma


ANXIETY AND PANIC ATTACKS


The subject of anxiety and panic attacks is complex, and I do not wish to minimise or dismiss in any way the serious effects of those conditions. When they occur it can be frightening, confusing and limiting but the understanding of what is going on in both the mind and the body to stimulate such a response, is an important step in preventing any health condition from limiting or defining your potential.


Our emotional resilience has definitely been put to the test over the last year with the threat of the pandemic and the impact of the extended lockdown. On top of the many stressors experienced by our hectic contemporary world, we have had to deal with even further layers of concerns and uncertainties that weigh heavier on our shoulders with each passing month, resulting in the voice of anxiety becoming exponentially louder. Anxiety has its roots in the survival/fear part of the unconscious and Covid-19 plus lockdown has presented us with many survival-based concerns.


EVOLUTION AND EMOTIONAL RESILIENCE

So, what is the magic ingredient that determines whether we have sufficient emotional resilience to deal with anything that life thrusts at us? It is definitely not a mystery because it can be broken down into a series of chemical and physiological reactions. How we react instinctually to people and our environment is hard-wired in the deepest part of our unconscious, a place where our emotional history is stored from both lived experiences and experiences inherited from our ancestors. This history is a major contributor to our personal survival mechanism. Although we have advanced at an incredible pace technologically, we only need to scratch the surface of our emotional programming to find that the survival instincts of our ancestors are still very much present and active underneath the layers of our perceived sophistication.

To understand anxiety and panic attacks fully we have to look at everything that contributes to our emotional reactivity: how the body physically responds to negative triggers in our emotional memory. Our primitive survival mechanism is working throughout our waking hours, and to a lesser degree when we are asleep. It can be compared to a well-trained sniper who scans our environment, searching for perceived danger - physical and emotional - ready to jump into action at the very first sign of danger. Physiologically, as soon as a threat is recognised, a signal is immediately triggered in the brain, automatically sending messages, via the autonomic nervous system, that delivers a cascade of stress hormones to every part of our body, initiating the survival responses of fight, flight or freeze. There is no internal dialogue requiring logic or reason at this stage, there are just biological reactions.


When I talk about danger, I refer to our emotional memory interpreting any situation to be a threat to our survival. That threat will be interpreted differently from person to person based on the negative emotional trigger responses stored in their survival memory, and therefore the intensity of that response will depend on the individual’s experienced and inherited danger/threat programming. Generally, if you feel unsafe, you are reacting to a stored memory of fear. When we talk about fear, people will occasionally claim they have no fears, but I am not just referring to the more obvious, conscious fears like the fear of spiders, heights, or deep water, I am talking about those subtle emotional fears that cause blockages in your emotional programming that will prevent you from experiencing joy and fulfilment. For example, those fears can be fear of losing your job, fear of losing a partner, fear of failure, failing an exam, being alone, dying, the unknown, fear of punishment, and even the fear of success.


BIOLOGY

Biologically, what happens just before the onset of an anxiety or a panic attack, at the point that a threat has been identified, the body produces stress hormones that causes the heart to pound faster, blood pressure increases, blood sugar levels rapidly spike and drop, and breathing becomes fast and shallow. Those immediate reactions can cause symptoms such as shaking hands, difficulty with breathing, cold clammy skin, confusion, dizziness and even fainting. If the stress hormones - adrenaline and cortisol - are being released regularly and inappropriately the neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine, important for feeling emotionally balanced and positive, will decrease which can cause depression and in the long term your immune system will also be compromised.

When we produce excessive quantities of stress hormones, our conscious mind defaults to being hypervigilant to the anticipation of negative outcomes. The phrase ‘what can go wrong’ takes precedence over positive outcomes and that way of thinking can eventually become a habit. Whilst this is a facet of the primitive, survival response, that negative view will impact on all the decisions we make: from day-to-day value judgments to long-term decisions about careers, relationships, and can impair the ability to formulate creative solutions to problems.


The diagram below describes the impact that the release of stress hormones has on different systems of the body.

THE REMEDY

In my natural health practice, I approach these conditions in two ways. Firstly, because I prefer to take away some of the mystery associated with anxiety and panic attacks, I explain to my clients what is happening in their body and why. Removing the fear of the unknown by understanding what is happening in the body is vitally important - information is power in any situation. We are talking about physiological symptoms, so it’s not a mystery, your body is reacting to a message: your survival memory has recognised that you are in a situation which is not safe. Secondly, I address the fear trigger in your survival memory that prompted the physiological reaction. One of the rules of natural prevention is to identify the cause of any symptoms, physical or emotional, to ensure that the point of origin is addressed thereby preventing symptoms from degenerating or recurring.


The theme that runs through my natural health blogs and videos is natural prevention and this is indeed important when we consider emotional resilience. The problem is, when you are in the eye of the storm, experiencing an episode of anxiety or a panic attack you have gone past the point where you can implement preventative measures like, for example, taking 10 deep breaths to help regulate your autonomic nervous system. Because your body has catapulted you into survival mode, no amount of cognitive negotiating with your autonomic nervous system is going to counteract that instinctual, primal reaction. Therefore, the priority must be on prevention rather than trying to just manage anxiety and panic attacks when they occur. By focusing on early prevention, you will have the tools to minimise and eradicate the occurrence of these conditions.


In addition to the negative triggers stored in our survival memory being responsible for the over production of stress hormones, diet, exercise and lifestyle can also contribute to excessive production of those hormones. Whilst it is important to address the underlying emotional triggers in the unconscious that prompts this overproduction, changes in diet, exercise and lifestyle can help regulate and recover from hormonal spikes. The following are some examples that can contribute to the overproduction of stress hormones:

  • Skipping meals, particularly breakfast

  • Inappropriate and over-exercising

  • Alcohol consumption

  • Sugar consumption

  • Eating late at night

  • Eating large portions

  • Working for long hours without a break

  • Too much screen time

  • Poor sleep quality

  • Deficiency in vital nutrients

  • Taking stimulating herbal supplements

  • Not drinking sufficient liquids

  • Too much caffeine

  • Taking recreational drugs

  • Not being organised – leaving everything to the last minute


Like all health challenges, anxiety and panic attacks rarely occur without giving some warning signs - physical or emotional symptoms. Minor symptoms that are not dealt with, or not dealt with effectively, will develop into more severe symptoms if left unchecked, so it is imperative to recognise those early indicators. Some examples of symptoms that could be early indicators of an emotional imbalance are:

  • Disruptive sleep patterns

  • Digestive problems ranging from IBS, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, acid reflux.

  • Headaches, migraine

  • Episodic tiredness throughout the day,

  • Mood swings

  • Blood circulation issues

  • Frequent urination at night

  • Infertility, low libido and menstrual disorders


Whilst you might think that taking a natural or a pharmaceutical remedy to stop the symptoms is the answer, the intelligent response is to treat the symptoms, at the same time investigating the factors that initiated those symptoms.


When it comes to emotional resilience, we are definitely all different because, thankfully, we are all unique in our emotional programming. For example, the ability to overreact to emotional stimuli is formed even before we are born. Science now recognises that during pregnancy the levels of cortisol produced by a mother will influence the development of the section of the baby’s brain associated with emotional development. I cover this interesting subject in more detail in a ‘Stress in Pregnancy’ training module that I created a few years ago for the International Federation of Aromatherapists. Cortisol is one of the stress hormones and if the mother regularly produces high levels during pregnancy it could impact on the emotional and social development of the child, determining both its natural baseline of stress hormone production and influencing their long-term emotional wellness.


When I work with clients for any condition connected with emotional wellness, before I create a programme for them, I establish the status of their physical health to determine whether any symptoms experienced are indications of an underlying health issue. Having identified the level of health of their background condition, I adapt their diet, exercise and lifestyle to help reduce their daily base level of stress hormone production. Once that has been established, we can then address the negative emotional triggers which prompt the survival reaction of fight, flight or freeze. To be able to conduct any deep enquiry into the emotional resilience of an individual, they must be physically healthy. Therefore, because I understand the fragility of the unconscious mind of someone suffering from emotional over-reactivity, I always assess the individual’s suitability to the level of enquiry and intervention that is appropriate for them based on the status of their emotional and physical health.


For anxiety and panic attacks to be addressed fully, it usually requires the exploration of stored negative emotional triggers in the many deep levels of the unconscious. The objective of Alchemical Transformation Programmes- a system that I created combining modern therapeutic techniques with wisdom traditions - is to be able to transform negative programming within specific safety parameters. Any form of enquiry into the unconscious, even simple forms of meditation, visualisation and mindfulness, must be tailored to the individual’s emotional resilience based on their emotional history - experienced and genetic - as each person will respond differently to enquiry and intervention. Unfortunately, if this does not happen, then the negative programming you are wanting to transform actually becomes more deeply engraved in the unconscious, which leads to an increase in emotional reactivity.


A necessary component to my clients’ emotional and physiological recovery is Oligotherapy and in any conditions that are triggered by the over production of stress hormones I always recommend the Bioligo Trace Element Complex No. 7, which contains Zinc-Manganese-Cobalt-Magnesium-Lithium-Phosphorus-Potassium. This complex supports the natural balance of important neurotransmitters that are responsible for our emotional wellbeing with absolutely no side effects. When dealing with brain chemistry, the balance and synergy of the catalytic trace elements are necessary otherwise further imbalances will develop. For example, magnesium is an important catalyst for the correct function of brain cells, but if magnesium is not taken in the correct form, with the correct co-catalysts, in the correct amount, an imbalance will occur not just in brain function, but it will eventually lead to health problems in other systems of the body.


For examples of conditions that can occur because of an imbalance of trace elements please go to: www.oligotherapy.co.uk/aboutoligotherapy.


I have successfully prescribed this complex over the last 26 years for symptoms of anxiety, panic, aggressiveness, depression and insomnia and it is particularly beneficial for clients undergoing withdrawal from cigarettes, alcohol, recreational and prescribed drugs. The No. 7 is also invaluable when working with the deeper unconscious; within the therapeutic context, the complex No. 7 allows clients to assimilate the issues they need to address more efficiently to enable profound healing.


I also provide essential oil preparations for home use to assist with the day-to-day challenges of keeping the autonomic nervous system balanced. In my blog: Debunking the Myths Surrounding Clinical Aromatherapy and my Vlog: The intelligence of Essential Oils, I cover in more detail how essential oils have the unique ability to balance brain chemistry and balance mood via the process of olfaction - the inhalation of therapeutic essential oils. By using various methods of inhalation, i.e. nasal sticks, room diffusers, and bath oils, essential oils assist and balance our emotional reactions and responses to perceived stressors.


So, moving the conversation back to today’s scenario where Covid-19 is still dominating our lives with many unknowns, many situations that are out of our control, and having to adapt to a different way of working and socialising: some of us are on our own, or confined to one room for work and recreation, home schooling children as well as caring for elderly parents who are shielding, coupled with concerns about losing jobs or losing the family home, within that mix of challenges, there are many situations that can trigger the over production of stress hormones and put our mind and body out of balance.


Lockdown has limited our interactions with every form of social connection that we have come to expect, forcing us to bring ourselves and our immediate vicinity under more scrutiny. Without the social distractions we typically employ to divert our attention from that which is challenging about our life - holidays, going to restaurants, going out to work, shopping, music events, and going to the gym - we are confronted with a much-reduced world that highlights what is not working and you might discover that you do not have the necessary skills to deal effectively with that scrutiny. For some, this can be too scary to consider, and any negative issues are buried or suppressed, but for others it will be yet another opportunity to meet a challenge to facilitate a change for the better and to reset your personal values. But ultimately your degree of emotional resilience, your emotional wellbeing, is dependent on your initial emotional reaction to challenges and stressors.


DEPRESSION


Depression is a label that generally describes a variety of conditions that indicate an imbalance in brain chemistry – the neurotransmitters that make us feel relaxed, joyful and motivated. Those conditions fall into a wide bandwidth ranging from mild to severe; from feeling low, unhappy, demotivated, physically exhausted, confused, overwhelmed, feeling emotionally numb etc, to feeling suicidal.


One of the reasons I prefer to use the phrase emotional wellness rather than mental health is because the degree of how we react emotionally to people and events is the real issue that needs addressing, whereas the word ‘mental’ relates more to our cognitive, conscious thought processes. As I have mentioned earlier, I do not wish to dismiss or minimise any conditions related to emotional wellness, but I do believe that if you are experiencing any negative feelings that stop you from participating in life to the full, it should be addressed fully by viewing both the health of the mind - with all its complex layers - as well as the physical body. Until recently the world of psychology has focused just on the functioning of the mind but, fortunately, they are now catching up with what has been understood by natural health traditions for centuries, that the healthy functioning of the mind is inextricably linked to the body and vice versa, a concept that has influenced my professional practice for nearly 40 years. With this understanding I implement a three-pronged approach to address any emotional imbalance by incorporating the physical health of the body, balancing brain chemistry, and where necessary, addressing any negative emotional triggers in the deep unconscious.

If we are low in specific neurotransmitters in the brain - serotonin and dopamine - or they are out of balance, then we will feel ‘depressed’ to a greater or lesser degree depending on the individual. Invariably, before someone manifests symptoms of depression they will begin to have issues with their physical health: sleep dysregulation, difficulty concentrating, irritability/anger, headaches, migraine, digestive problems, tiredness, susceptible to colds and flu’s, relationship problems or the need to self-medicate with alcohol, food and/or recreational drugs.


The picture below gives a summary of the neurotransmitters – Dopamine, Noradrenaline, Serotonin – important for emotional balance, their negative and positive effects, as well as their relationship with each other.

Observing the physical health of the body has two benefits. The body is a tangible reflection of the emotional status of the client. If a practitioner understands anatomy, they will see where emotional tension is being held in the body, which gives an indication of the degree of emotional imbalance. Equally, by treating the physical symptoms first, by a process of elimination, you can uncover the deeper emotional issue and, in my experience, to address any level of emotional enquiry the client has to have a good level of physical health.


In the previous section about anxiety, I explained how diet, exercise and lifestyle changes can mitigate the overproduction of stress hormones - adrenaline and cortisol - responsible for triggering anxiety and panic attacks. I would like to expand on this further to help you understand the relationship between adrenal health and depression. Over 28 years ago I was asked to help create a programme for ME/chronic fatigue. All the patients involved in the project had severe and chronic symptoms and most cited depression as one of the many health issues. Indeed, the general opinion of the medical profession at that time was that ME/chronic fatigue was purely psychological, and patients were often dismissed with just a ‘pull up your socks’ attitude and/or given anti-depressants. With all the patients in the project, I investigated their physical health history and invariably was able to trace the start of their physical degeneration back to adrenal fatigue to some degree as being the contributory trigger to their chronic and degenerative condition. Since those early days I have worked with an extensive number of clients with the same condition and with few exceptions, I can trace the condition back to adrenal exhaustion.


Adrenal exhaustion occurs when we are in a constant state of ‘fear’ and we are over producing stress hormones as a consequence. Our conditioning, based on the primitive survival mechanism, is to keep going even though our body is screaming, ‘stop’. Where there is overproduction of stress hormones there is insufficiency of the necessary neurotransmitters that make us feel balanced, joyfully and relaxed. Another serious consequence is that adrenal insufficiency will eventually lead to lowered immunity.

There are also other health conditions that can cause mood swings and depression and that is PMT, post-partum, menopause for women and andropause for men. During these times of hormonal shifts in both the male and female body, adrenal activity requires extra support. If this doesn’t happen our brain chemistry is pushed out of balance and there will be feelings that could be described clinically as depression. I will cover this more in a subsequent blog on Menopause/Andropause.


Whilst orthodox medicine might look at depression as a condition of the mind - I see it being a more complex condition that is motivated and affected by all levels of health, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual therefore the solution must be sought by investigating those levels.


Of course, there can be many diverse reasons for depression, but I invariably lead with the physical body, which is frequently overlooked by psychotherapists and counsellors, but it is the key to treating emotional issues efficiently as well as ensuring long-term recovery. Having a healthy body enables you to handle emotional challenges much more effectively, as well as any programme of enquiry.


The recovery of balance in brain chemistry is dependent on the brain receiving the necessary nutrients. With depression in any form, in addition to changes in diet and lifestyle, I prescribe the Bioligo Trace Element Complex No. 7 which includes Zinc-Manganese-Cobalt-Magnesium-Lithium-Phosphorus-Potassium to balance brain chemistry, and if there is also adrenal depletion I add the Complex No. 14 which includes Manganese-Copper-Zinc-Gold-Silver-Magnesium to support adrenal function. Click here for a full list of Trace Element Complexes.


For the body to operate effectively, it must absorb correct nutrients, in their correct form that match the delicate synergy and harmony of the body, which is the reason I specifically use these Trace Element Complexes because they are extremely effective, fast acting, and most importantly have no side effects or put the body or mind out of balance.


Having focused on balancing the physical body, which is relatively easy because we are dealing with tangible physical symptoms, if, and when it is appropriate, I address the emotional memory to reprogramme negative triggers. Many years ago, I was taught that depression can result from ‘suppression’. If we have learnt to bury feelings from our lived or inherited experiences then our true nature will be suppressed and that will ultimately cause disquiet, frustration, resentment and withdrawal. Again, this is a complex subject, and I will go into further detail about this in the section about Trauma, but in the meantime I think it is always important to remember that, when dealing with the health of the body and the mind, there is invariably a cause-and-effect relationship. A condition, symptom or disease does not just appear. There is always a starting point and a logical pattern of degeneration. It might start with perhaps a minor sign that your physical, mental, emotional or spiritual health is not in balance but by recognising those early signs and addressing them effectively, you are preventing further degeneration.


Our health system has not educated us to look for the small signals that alert us to change or, indeed, to make an improvement. We have been conditioned to take a ‘pill’ to address just the symptoms but look no deeper. But that is not the answer. True health is based on the efficient communication between the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels of health. We are all different in our response to our environment and that difference is determined by our lived and inherited experiences stored both in the mind and the body. Emotional and physical wellbeing is an extremely intricate and complex subject to address and any form of healing must come from a place of deep humility for the uniqueness of each individual.


TRAUMA

WHAT IS EMOTIONAL TRAUMA – IS IT STORED IN THE MIND OR THE BODY OR BOTH?


Emotional trauma, as a condition, falls under the broad umbrella of mental health to describe what happens to us when we are confronted with fear/threat situations that prompts the stimulation of one of the three Fs – fight, flight or freeze. A variety of events can stimulate this reaction, for example, an injury received in a car accident, experiencing or witnessing extreme emotional and physical abuse, or being involved in the chaos and carnage typical of a war situation. In addition to the emotional trauma triggered by lived experiences, trauma can be inherited and stored in our bodies in the form of physical health issues and unexplained pain.


MEMORY AND THE MIND BODY CONNECTION

Without wishing to minimise or negate the distress that anyone who is suffering from trauma experiences, I feel that there needs to be a better awareness of how trauma is created, and how the memory of that trauma is stored in both the unconscious mind - with its many layers - and also the physical body. Until recently, conventional psychotherapy has approached trauma by focusing just on the mind, but I am happy to say that there is now more understanding of the mind-body connection - a concept that has been understood by natural and traditional wisdom tradition practices for centuries - and with that understanding a realisation that talking therapies are not always sufficient to release trauma. In most cases, trauma causes a physical reaction in the body, and the memory of that reaction is stored in the cells of the body as well as in the part of the unconscious that does not respond to verbal reasoning, therefore a different method of accessing that memory is required.


I have mentioned in previous blogs that 35 years ago I was trained to remove the trauma that is held in the body using a specific method of enquiry combining the use of essential oils with touch. I trained in hypnotherapy and mind dynamics five years earlier, which gave me an understanding of how our deep memories, experienced and inherited, motivate and determine our reactions to emotionally challenging situations. But whilst that training concentrated on the mind, conscious and unconscious, knowing how trauma is locked in the physical body gave me the further necessary and deeper understanding of how we humans deal with situations that overwhelm us to the point that we cannot function in our daily lives.



HOW ARE MEMORIES STORED

To comprehend trauma, we need to be able to understand how memories are stored in the unconscious. One of the challenges of this quest is that the deep unconscious is not tangible - can’t be measured, weighed or quantified. We are all different, our experienced and genetic memories are therefore unique, which means we will respond differently to emotionally charged situations. Science is able to measure brain waves and changes in brain activity when people experience different emotional stimuli but understanding what really happens on deeper subtle levels is not easily measured with the normal science-based tools. Therefore, it falls to the practitioner, therapist or coach to ensure they have the relevant experience and necessary comprehension of this complex mind/body trauma connection.


Obviously, we have good memories and bad memories. There is a part of the brain called the limbic system which stores the memories of how we reacted emotionally to different events and interactions. This part of the brain does not store the actual details of the event, only its emotional reactions and is responsible for our survival mechanism. Memories associated with fragrances - good and bad - are also stored in the limbic system as the sense of smell contributes to our survival responses, and the reason why essential oils can contribute a valuable therapeutic effect on the unconscious, which I cover in more detail in my blog: The Myths surrounding Clinical Aromatherapy and my Vlog: The Intelligence of Essential Oils.


As mentioned previously, whenever we are confronted with a challenge, our survival mechanism will scan our emotional memory to identify any threat associated with that situation. Once the degree of threat is ascertained, stress hormones are released to create one of the three Fs: ‘fight, flight or freeze’. At that moment the body produces a cascade of hormones that prepares its organs and muscles to respond; it is the memory of that reaction and what triggered that reaction which is stored in the cells of organs and muscles as well as in the unconscious.


THE MEMORY OF TRAUMA STORED IN MUSCLES

‘To release the muscle, you must release the trauma’, this is a mantra that I was taught and comes from ancient traditions to describe how muscles retain the initial memory of trauma. An example of this is when someone is injured as a result of emotional and physical abuse, the emotional reaction to both the pain and the fear of the perpetrator of that pain is stored like a snapshot in time in both the unconscious survival memory as well as in the memory of the muscles of the body that were injured, holding the affected muscles in a state of tension or spasm - the muscle doesn’t realise that the threat has gone completely and therefore believes it has to be ready to respond to that threat.


There are two types of long-term memory, implicit and explicit. Like everything to do with memory, this is a complex subject and I hope to describe in a very simple way how these two receptors of memory work. implicit memories record only the emotional reactions to an event and not the detail. Details of events are stored in the explicit memory which allows the recall only of the detail and not the emotion, which is like describing a scene in a film without any emotional attachment. Implicit memories are responsible for the negative triggers in our survival memory. When a negative emotional reaction is registered as severe then an individual might not be able to recall any detail of the actual event, but the implicit memory will definitely store the associated negative emotional reaction in the deepest part of their survival memory.


An example of this is where an adult has an explicit memory of being humiliated at primary school by a teacher; they are perhaps able to remember the details of the event but their full emotional reaction to it might not be remembered because it was so traumatic at the time. That traumatic memory would have been buried in their implicit memory and will contribute to their lived experiences of negative triggers stored in their survival memory ready to come to the surface when confronted with similar situations. Of course, in extreme cases, the adult may have absolutely no memory of the actual detail of the event.


This is where talking therapies on their own can be limited. Yes, you might be able to talk about specific negative situations that were identified as traumatic to some degree, but the original emotional trigger might be buried in the deep labyrinth of your unconscious, and if it originates from genetic memory, then it is buried much deeper; and without accessing this level of memory, then true healing cannot take place.


WHY IS THE MEMORY OF TRAUMA SO DIFFICULT TO ACCESS?

Where a trauma has been identified, a few things have to be in place for that trauma to be successfully accessed, reprogrammed and transformed. I like to use imagery when explaining the part of the unconscious memory that stores our survival memories because we are dealing with an intangible concept. I describe the deep unconscious as a place that has many levels of memories relating to our survival, each level having a different degree of negative triggers, ranging from mild to severe, that relate to our perceived sense of danger or threat. Those memories are important for survival, so they have to be guarded by strong ‘gatekeepers’ to ensure that the survival is kept intact at all times. However, those gatekeepers only understand the emotions connected with fear and danger and do not understand verbal language. This makes any therapy challenging if you only use verbal intervention because the gatekeepers are not going to allow access to heal that memory. To be able to reprogramme negative emotional triggers it is important to access those protected levels, but they must be approached in the correct sequence and with the appropriate methods. You cannot jump into extreme negative emotional memories without working effectively through less traumatic layers first. Equally, some techniques like specific breathwork or various kinds of meditative interventions, if not conducted in the correct way, can break through those first level gatekeepers prompting the next level to become over-protective, pushing the memory to a deeper, and in some cases, impenetrable level.


This situation also occurs when certain plant-based psycho-active drugs are used without the correct preparation and guidance. The use of plant remedies to accompany someone on their journey of transformation, originates from wisdom traditions and their associated rules and rituals must be fully respected, understood and followed for true transformation to take place. Through his exploration into shamanic and traditional practices of working with the unconscious, Carl Jung brought the techniques of those wisdom traditions into the world of psychotherapy using imagery and archetypes to help access and understand the complexity of memory – lived experiences and genetic. But today, I don’t think there is sufficient emphasis on the need for a practitioner to be ‘in right relationship’ with those practices which are steeped in ancient wisdom traditions. One cannot ‘cherry pick’ parts of a tradition to use therapeutically. (I cover this in more detail in my vlog: The Intelligence of Essential Oils). This might be a controversial point of view, but it is a view from someone who has extensive experience of using these methods successfully and safely, as well as assisting clients balance, heal and integrate the emotional unravelling and discomfort that can occur after experiencing poorly executed traditional practices.


The method that I use to connect with the implicit memory combines a number of modalities within a traditional framework of alchemy - Alchemical Transformation ProgrammesTM. The true meaning of the word alchemy is ‘purification’ by undergoing a specific process which must be thorough and exact otherwise, when dealing with the multi-layered unconscious mind, you could be very easily side-tracked by those survival gatekeepers into a labyrinth of confusion. The main objective of any therapeutic intervention or enquiry, and this can be a personal enquiry, or an enquiry held in the workplace, must always be that the individual feels safe at all times, can go about their every-day life without emotionally unravelling or becoming over-reactive to situations and, more importantly, does not become co-dependent on the ‘therapy’.


I am constantly repeating that, the part of the memory that stores our survival triggers is complex and whilst I feel that I have created a method that is safe and profound, I still have the humility and awareness to recognise that there is still much more to comprehend about how memories are stored, not just in the mind and body but in all organic matter.


When discussing any of the modalities, programmes and treatments that I offer, I always emphasise that I do not wish to influence or judge anyone who is following a more conventional pathway of enquiry or medicine, because you must always feel comfortable within any form or stage of therapeutic enquiry that you choose to follow. My methods are for people who wish to explore a different path, a path not just for self-healing or self-discovery. When dealing with the deep unconscious we are on the threshold of accessing more understanding, not just about ourselves as individuals, but also about humanity as a whole. Whilst the objective of most therapeutic enquiry or personal development is person-focused and inward looking, I believe it is much more than that; it is a tool to understand what is required for global healing - a viewpoint echoed by traditional wisdom traditions - and a tool to help bring the magic of nature back into our lives.


For examples of conditions that can occur because of an imbalance of trace elements please go to:

www.oligotherapy.co.uk/aboutoligotherapy.



Youtube Vlog Click here:

Vlog: The intelligence of Essential Oils


Colleen O'Flaherty-Hilder



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