The Truth About the World

This isn’t a post about how I’ve figured out the meaning of life or why any of us were put on this earth. Rather, it is about a song, and more specifically, about the power of music – to lift us up, to carry us through, to help us heal in times of need.

I was recently introduced to the song “The Truth About the World” by Andrea Marie during a Saturday morning Zoom session with some local Nia sisters. To be honest, I couldn’t hear the song that well through Zoom but fortunately, I tagged it through the Shazam app. Later, I found the song through Apple Music and had a chance to listen more closely. And I was blown away.

The song starts with a simple blend of acoustic guitar and keyboard, with some soft, non-lyric vocals. Then comes the first verse:

Have you grown tired
of feeling alone
Numb to the earth
and numb to the soul

Whoa. My first thought was how these words struck a chord given that so many of us have been staying at home, social distancing since the pandemic started, leading to a sense of isolation – and a need for connection with loved ones, near and far. Then I learned that the song is from an album she released in 2016…and it made me think about how many people may have been feeling this way before the words “corona virus” became a part of the lexicon.

Over the next two verses, a variety of percussion instruments join in as well as some strings. A simple drum beat, echoing a heartbeat, growing louder as the song continues…and then we reach the repeating chorus:

Everyone is hurting
Everyone is searching
Everyone is looking
for the truth about love
For the truth about a god
For the truth about the world

On the fourth and final chorus, the instruments begin to drop out until it is just vocals and the drum beat. A simple end, mirroring the simple beginning to a song that is anything but simple in meaning. And so, so powerful. I have had this song on daily rotation for the last week – sometimes it makes me cry, other times it brings a sense of hope and healing. I was not surprised to learn that the artist is also a member of a contemporary worship band called United Pursuit. I don’t typically listen to “religious” music but there are times when music transcends faith.

Click here to listen to a live performance or search for the song on your favorite music streaming app.

Breathe in, breathe out

One of the self-care strategies that has helped me manage much of the anxiety and uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic is a daily meditation practice. For almost four years now, I have started my day with Insight Timer, listening to either a guided meditation or meditative music. As anyone who practices mindfulness meditation knows, a mainstay of the practice is focusing on your breath as a way to stay anchored in the present moment. Perhaps now more than ever, I have come to appreciate the calming power of deep breathing.

In thinking about the breath, I had the idea about a month ago to create a playlist of songs that have to do with the breath or breathing. A few favorite songs came to mind and I also did a quick search in my music library. I started with the following songs, but plan to add to the list as I come across others that fit the theme – and contribute to my peace of mind, particularly on those days when I am feeling rattled by the state of the world. Lately, I have been listening to this playlist on Monday mornings, as a way to start off the week on a positive note.

“Breathe” playlist
I’m Alive (with Dave Matthews) – Kenny Chesney
Breathe (feat. Colbie Caillat) – Taylor Swift
breathin – Ariana Grande
Breathe – Michelle Branch
Catch My Breath – Kelly Clarkson

If you have not already done so, I encourage you to use music as a way to manage the roller coaster of emotions you may experience as this pandemic continues to unfold and evolve, with no clear end in sight. Find songs that will make you smile when you are feeling down, as well as those that will help you relax when you’re wound a little too tight. You can even throw in the ones that make you want to get up and move. Create your #pandemicplaylists and tap into the healing power of music.

ACEs and Resilience

This spring, I had the opportunity to attend a screening of the documentary “Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope” at my daughter’s high school. It was co-sponsored by Public Schools First NC, a statewide nonpartisan, nonprofit organization focused solely on pre-K – 12 public education issues. The documentary addresses the link between toxic stress caused by Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the increased risk it puts children at for chronic disease, homelessness, prison time, and even early death.

I was somewhat familiar with the topic of ACEs before I watched the film, but I have to admit the data and information shared was eye-opening and thought-provoking. For those not familiar, Adverse Childhood Experiences can include:

  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect
  • Mother treated violently
  • Substance abuse
  • Mental illness
  • Parental separation/divorce
  • Incarcerated relative

The more ACEs a child experiences, the more likely he or she is to suffer from things like heart disease, diabetes, poor academic achievement and substance abuse later in life. Children who experience four or more ACEs are at greatest risk for these negative health outcomes. Experiencing multiple ACEs can cause what is known as toxic stress, or excessive activation of the body’s stress-response system. This can lead to long-term wear and tear on the body and brain. One way to think about it is as if you were to rev a car engine for days or weeks at a time. Imagine what that would do to your engine.

When children experience this toxic stress, they are essentially in survival mode. Self-protection becomes the priority, thereby affecting their social skills and their ability to learn. This can lead to difficulties in school. In addition, the increase in stress hormones can suppress the immune system, leaving children susceptible to illness and poor health in general.

Although exposure to ACEs is harmful, the good news is that the damage is not irreparable – and there are ways to reduce the effects of ACEs and toxic stress. Obviously, the primary approach should be to reduce the sources of stress in children’s lives, by meeting their basic needs or providing services in the community to help avoid exposure to these adverse experiences. However, for children who have already been exposed, strategies such as professional counseling, meditation, physical exercise, and spending time in nature have been shown to counteract the effects of ACEs. In addition, studies have shown that building resilience helps reduce the effects as well. Resilience is the ability to adjust or bounce back when bad things happen, and it is a skill that can be learned – by children and adults.

I have to admit that my interest in this topic and the documentary is really two-fold: understanding how ACEs can affect youth in my community but also how they may play a role in the lives of the adult clients whom I coach. Many of the clients I work with are often overweight or obese and may also have chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes. Oftentimes, these adults are struggling with anxiety and/or depression as well. It is highly possible that these physical and mental health conditions are a result of ACEs that these individuals endured in their youth.

My experience watching this documentary and learning more about ACEs has prompted me to think about how I can possibly address this topic in my work as a coach. To be honest, helping individuals heal from the trauma of ACEs and toxic stress is really more appropriate for therapy or counseling, which is outside my scope of practice. In addition, coaching differs from counseling in that it is more focused on exploring the present and the future (e.g., through goals and action steps) rather than investigating and healing the past. However, as a coach, I think it would be helpful to know if a client did experience one or more ACEs in the past. It could open the door to introducing evidence-based practices such as mindfulness and meditation, which are helpful tools for behavior change as well as building resilience. It could be a win-win for the client – helping them heal from trauma in their past while also moving them forward in the direction of their vision and goals for optimal health and wellbeing.

I plan to explore ways that I can broach this topic if a client shares information that leads me to believe they may have experienced toxic stress due to ACEs. Sometimes clients offer this information outright. Others may drop more subtle hints about their past, allowing me to test the waters for further exploration with a gentle inquiry to share more if they are willing and able. Clients may or may not wish to elaborate, but if they do, I now feel more prepared to explore the connection between ACES and current health concerns – as well as strategies to counteract the damage that may have already been done.

If you are interested in learning more about ACEs, below are some resources that may be helpful:

CDC website about ACEs

Infographic: The Truth about ACEs

Finding Your ACE Score

The Gift of Patience

Patience. It’s something I have been thinking about a great deal, especially this time of year when there are extra things that need to get done for the holidays on top of my usual responsibilities. A quick internet search produced the following definition:

Patience: the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.

I like that definition as I have come to learn that patience really is about acceptance and tolerance of things that are not quite the way you want them to be.

There are several things that have been testing my patience lately. I have a morning ritual that includes reading the newspaper – and I am an old-fashioned girl who likes to read the actual paper version, not the e-edition I can access online. For some reason, the carrier has been delivering the paper almost an hour later than usual…which is too late for me to read before I head to work. This has forced me to choose between reading the e-edition or skipping it altogether, neither of which I prefer. I’ve opted for the e-edition for now. I do plan to reach out to the carrier after the holidays, to see if this is just a short-term change or if this will be the new norm, but for the time being, I have had to accept that this is just the way it is.

Another situation that has tested my patience for the past several months is related to health insurance coverage. After several years of having to purchase health insurance on our own, I feel fortunate that my family and I have access to more affordable health insurance through my part-time position as a wellness coach. However, I have been wrangling with the insurance company since the spring regarding payment for the anesthesiology services provided during my colonoscopy. Turns out, the facility where I had my procedure is in-network, but the anesthesiology practice is not. (Yes, head-scratcher, isn’t it, considering you can’t bring your own in-network anesthesiologist to your colonoscopy – and I can’t choose where my gastro performs the procedure!) The insurance company initially denied the claim from the anesthesiologist, who in turn appealed the decision on my behalf.

I was excited to get the initial letter saying that the appeals committee agreed to process the claim as in-network, only to be followed by a more detailed letter explaining that they would only cover the “maximum allowable amount” and the anesthesiologist could balance bill me for the difference. From reading the EOB, it appears that the maximum allowable amount is only about 10% of what the anesthesiologist actually billed (incredulous and I will be calling the insurance company about this but not today). Fortunately for me, the anesthesiologist is only charging me a small portion of the remainder of the bill. I have decided to go ahead and pay it as the poor provider deserves to be compensated for her time especially given that the colonoscopy was back in May…but this is just one example of our broken healthcare system. I just don’t have the time or energy to fight the insurance company any longer. I’ve come to accept that this is just the way it is, right or wrong.

As I mentioned earlier, the holidays are another time when my patience often gets tested. This happened last night, as I was trying to finish up shopping for gifts before we travel to visit family. I didn’t really have a hard time with the shopping itself but rather the frustration that the responsibility was all falling on me while my husband and daughter were home watching a movie. I could feel the resentment building by the time I finished up at the last store. When I got home, I calmly informed them that I didn’t appreciate the fact that I was the one doing all the work while they were having all the fun. I could tell they felt a little guilty, and I will be sure that the holiday tasks get divided up more evenly next year. However, I also realized that I took on a lot of the responsibility myself and did not ask for help when I started to feel a little overwhelmed with everything on my plate. Lesson learned.

One thing that I am grateful for is that I am much more patient than I used to be – and I credit that change to my mindfulness meditation practice. I used to have a very short fuse and blow up over the “small stuff” as they say. I didn’t like that about myself and I knew it was really only hurting me and my wellbeing. I still consider myself a work in progress and that is why my wish for the new year is to cultivate even more patience – with myself and with others. We are all human and we all make mistakes now and then. Treating myself and others with compassion is the greatest gift I can give myself.

I wish you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday season and a happy, healthy New Year!

 

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