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When You’re Drowning In Stress, This Keeps You Afloat!

Life is stressful (that’s not going to change). Even on days when it feels like we’re all just getting flushed down one big existential toilet, surprisingly, there’s a lot we can still control.

Once upon a time...

When I was very small in height but tall with anxiety, my mom enrolled me in summer swim lessons.  Naturally, summer was my least favorite holiday since my pale skin blistered upon contact with sunlight. Alas, my mom had lofty hopes this might help me learn to love summer (and avoid shrieking when the chilly waters of Lake Michigan touched my feet during a benign walk on the beach). 

During these lessons, I dutifully followed the instructions and learned the basics of the front crawl, backstroke, and dead man’s float (my favorite!). Once I was proficient enough and made it to the deep end, my mom was satisfied I had won the game of swimming. 

My lessons stopped. 

Fast-forward to high school P.E. class. On the first day, the gym teacher slung her whistle around her neck and asked us to line up on the pool’s edge, according to our self-identified swimming ability.  I confidently marched to the deep end, assuming that my credentials in Deep Water Swimming carried over from a decade ago. One staccato “TWEET” on her whistle, and we jumped in. To my shock, I was instantly OVERWHELMED. I bobbed up to the surface, coughing AND sputtering. My arms were flailing, desperately trying to remember the forgotten swim strokes.  Suddenly, I felt a cool metal rod tap my right shoulder.  The instructor asked that I hold on as she dragged me towards shallower waters.  I felt like a waterlogged, limp squirrel, shamefully caught in the tiny, backyard kiddie pool.

In hindsight, it’s laughable. I thought I understood how the brain worked. I assumed that once a skill is learned, you can move on. A skill is simply a neuroplastic connection of neurons that creates a circuit in our brains.  What I hadn’t accounted for was what would happen if we didn’t practice. Without repetition, the circuitry runs slower and slower, eventually becoming forgotten. When we don’t practice our swim strokes, we don’t improve efficiently. We can’t move through the water, and we can’t help ourselves.

Deep blue sea...

Taking this metaphor further, the world is an ocean. As humans experiencing limited time on this deep blue ball of water, we can’t control much of anything: the size of the waves, the swimmers in front of us, or the weather. We can’t control their speed, what swim stroke they choose, or what pace and direction they swim.

The only thing we can control is how well we move through the water!

We Can’t Control:

  • Size and splashing of the waves
  • Swimmers ahead of you
  • Types of swim strokes others use
  • Direction and pace other swimmers take
  • The weather

We Can Control:

  • Our swim strokes
  • Our breathing
  • Our mindset 
  • When to float and when to swim
  • Improving the efficiency of movement

Perceived Stress

One doesn’t have to have physical stress (like jumping into the deep end of a pool with atrophied swim skills) to feel the effects of fear.  Just thinking stressful thoughts will speed up those well-worn circuits of worry in our brain and can lead to a cascade of cortisol and inflammation

This fictional perceived stress can sabotage all our best non-fiction efforts. In my private  practice, I’ll meet some patients who are absolutely committed to change. We uncover things missed in conventional practice like mycotoxin colonization, severe intestinal permeability or leaky gut. They will go to great lengths to adhere to new cooking instructions, circadian coaching, and supplement suggestions. However, if they’re stuck in those thought loops, running ragged in their mind, their whole body can completely sabotage their efforts because of this perception.

Our brain just wants two things:

  • Avoid pain
  • Find pleasure

Those patients that diligently practice how to downshift from their high-gear, stress overdrive into their calm and grounded center will succeed faster than anyone who takes “all the right vitamins.”  If you don’t make a priority of learning and practicing new swim strokes, any pond you try to cross will feel scary and uncertain. 

As a functional medicine physician, I can help you make smart, evidence-based decisions on how to optimize your deep biochemistry and physiology. However, if you’re constantly stressed and you feel like you’re drowning, you will be sending repeated messages to your body of cortisol overload.

List of “Certified Swim Instructors”

By not addressing unhealed trauma, unhealthy thought patterns, codependent thinking or other limiting beliefs you might have, it’s going to be harder to move through the water. If you’re like me, and you are still using the same swim strokes that you learned a decade ago, it might be time to look at a certified swim instructor to teach you some new moves.

You can learn the following:

  • Functional holistic doctor
  • Primary care doctor
  • Trauma-informed Therapist 
  • EMDR or Brainspotting specialist
  • Acupuncturist or Chinese Medicine Doctor
  • Massage therapist
  • Naturopathic doctor
  • Spiritual healer (shaman, Reiki, faith-based)
  • Osteopathic physician
  • Etc.

Everyone will have unique ways of teaching you different “swim strokes”. The best part is that you don’t have to wait! You can start improving now without an appointment!

Here Are 3 Ways To Improve Your Swimming!

These actionable tips will anchor you so that you can think more clearly about how to move forward in the ocean of life.

1. Try Some Breathwork

Take deep breaths. Don’t worry about doing it “right.” Just pause and aim to make your exhale longer than your inhale for the next five breaths. Mitochondria use over 90% of our oxygen to make ATP, so let’s deliver more oxygen to their factory door! Learn more about Mitochondria by reading this article.

2. Look for places to float

When you are feeling overwhelmed, look for opportunities to “float.” Ask yourself, “Do I really need to be thinking about this right now?” Look for people that you can lean on to help with tasks (or even just to listen). Don’t wait for your next planned vacation, be a guru of taking mini-breaks! If you find yourself clawing your way towards your next vacation, that’s a sign that maybe you didn’t float enough during your regular weeks in life. Schedule opportunities to “float” in your daily routine (short walk, gratitude journal, quiet meditation, dancing in the kitchen). Life is lived between vacations.

3. Use Your Body In Different Ways To Develop More Neuroplasticity

Here are a few ideas to wake up that right brain and help you learn new ways of coping.

  • Meditation
  • DNRS, The Gupta Program
  • EMDR, Brainspotting
  • Vagal Toning Exercises
  • Creative Hobbies
  • Moving Your Body (Walking, Dancing, Tai Chi)
  • Weighted Blanket

If you’re looking for ways of learning new swim strokes, look at programs like Annie Hopper’s DNRS or The Gupta Program. I also suggest exploring your hidden creative hobbies, or try new ones like painting or comedy improv classes. For meditation, I love my nightly Yoga Nidra routine on Insight Timer. Don’t forget vagal toning exercises! There are many types from tapping to sound therapy. Finally, don’t underestimate the power of moving your body in new ways: whether it’s walking, running, playing tennis, pickleball or learning Tai Chi. 

There are a plethora of ways that you can help yourself from feeling like you’re drowning in the big ocean of life. Life is stressful (that’s not going to change), BUT what you can control is how you move through the water, how you breathe and how you know when to just FLOAT!

Need Help Moving Through The Water In More Efficient Ways?!

If you’re a patient in Wisconsin or Illinois, apply for a Strategy Session from my website.  I’d love to work with you and help you find your inner spark.

If you’re a practitioner looking to build the most organized, streamlined and unique creative practice of your dreams OR you’re just looking for some professional development and mentoring, I’m your swim buddy.  I won’t let you drown, and I’ll share my most efficient swim strokes so you can start dancing in the deep end!

Click here to book a Discovery Call. You can also sign up for my Creative Medical Professionals Facebook Group. It’s a private group where I share a lot of my tips and tricks that help you blossom and grow using creative flow. I can’t wait to meet you!

Keep coloring outside the lines!

Right Brain Recess!

Watch a replay of Episode 31 of Right Brain Recess! Don’t forget to watch LIVE on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or LinkedIn at 8:00AM CST on Mondays.

Dr Lara Salyer Blog Author Photo

Dr. Lara Salyer

I am a Functional Medicine Physician, Speaker, Author and Mentor located in Monroe, WI.


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