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New Program Day 10: Somatic Tracking II: Anxiety Strikes Back

Discussion in 'General Discussion Subforum' started by Alan Gordon LCSW, Jul 21, 2017.

  1. Alan Gordon LCSW

    Alan Gordon LCSW TMS Therapist

    Day 10: Somatic Tracking II: Anxiety Strikes Back

    A Tale of Two Fears

    Steer Clear of Fears

    John Madden was a Hall-of-Fame NFL broadcaster. Every season from 1979-2009, he traveled from city to city to announce the games. His first year on the job, he was flying out of Tampa, and before the plane even took off, he had a panic attack.

    “You think you’re going to die,” he said, “I was sweating, shaking…the whole thing.”

    A few weeks later, he got back on a plane, and had another panic attack. And then it happened a third time. After that, he bought a bus.

    For the next 30 years, John Madden drove around the country, and never stepped foot on a plane again.

    Blood, Sweat, and Fears

    For as long as he could remember, David Burns wanted to be a doctor. While this would be an ambitious goal for most people, David had a particularly unique barrier: he had hemophobia – an extreme fear of blood.

    It’s not a good sign when a doctor’s more afraid of giving a shot than a patient is of getting one.

    To overcome his fear, David took an extreme step: he volunteered to draw blood at Stanford Hospital, three times a week, for two years. The more exposure he had to blood, the more his fear began diminishing…and after several months, it had completely disappeared.

    David Burns went on to get his MD, and became a best-selling author and a leader in the self-esteem movement.

    The Road Less Traveled


    Anxiety is an unpleasant feeling, and most of the time we run away from it. We distract ourselves in whatever ways we can – drinking, smoking, stress eating, living on our phones, checking Facebook twenty times a day, watching reality TV – all to avoid facing the uncomfortable sensation of anxiety.

    There are two ways you can deal with fear – you can habitually avoid it, like John Madden, or you can lean into it, like David Burns.

    Somatic Tracking is a direct way of confronting your fear. Instead of running from the physical sensation of your anxiety, you embrace it.

    In the following clip, Denise is able to use Somatic Tracking to regulate her anxiety, and hone a sense of safety:

    So, I have two questions for you:

    1. Do you avoid / run from / distract yourself from your anxiety?
    2. Is it working?

    When we avoid any physical sensation, we're giving our brains the message, "This feeling is dangerous." But there is another way. Simply by attending to our anxiety, we stop running. This action alone communicates a message of safety, and can help deactivate our brains' danger signals.

    Unlearning Fear

    Neural pathway pain arises in those with a strong mindbody connection. Not everyone can generate such powerful physical sensations with their brain. My favorite analogy for this comes from Star Wars: “The Force” is stronger in some than others. And fear is the path to the dark side.

    If you can change your relationship with fear, you can develop new neural pathways and deactivate your brain’s danger signals.

    Like Yoda said, “You must unlearn what you have learned.”


    When you attend to the physical sensation of anxiety with genuine curiosity, you’re leaning into the fear. Your anxiety might increase, decrease, or move around. You don't need to change it, you don't need to fight it, you don't need to run. All you need you to do is watch.

    Last edited: Sep 4, 2017
    Nzl, Piano Mom, jon10 and 32 others like this.
  2. Carol Omans

    Carol Omans Peer Supporter

    Fantastic. Thank you.
  3. plum

    plum Beloved Grand Eagle

    Two things:


    "TMS arises in those with a strong mindbody connection. Not everyone can generate such powerful physical sensations with their brain."

    What a totally cool and positive spin. I have this great skill that I haven't been using in a great way. But I can change that. It's actually quite a remarkable gift.


    "My favorite analogy for this comes from Star Wars: “The Force” is stronger in some than others.

    And fear is the path to the dark side.

    If you can change your relationship with fear, you can develop new neural pathways and deactivate your brain’s danger signals.

    Like Yoda said, “You must unlearn what you have learned.”

    Star Wars was the first film I ever saw at the cinema. My dad and my orange and white cuddly mouse queued with me through at least one viewing and then finally finally it was our turn.
    I was Mindblown.

    I came away obsessed by Star Wars and my first ever crush...Harrison Ford as Han Solo...happy sigh ;)

    Long way of saying I totally get this.

    Use the Force Plum.

    Seriously though little Plum must have laid down some strong neural circuits because I feel them now as I write this. Somatic Tracking has become something very tangible.

    Thanks for the awesome explanations Alan. This program rocks.
    Jag419, Katya, kim marie and 15 others like this.
  4. MicheleRenee

    MicheleRenee Peer Supporter

    i am absolutely loving this program so far. i have a lot of work to do but ill get there
  5. Lauren T

    Lauren T Peer Supporter

    Such a gift - I look forward to every day seeing and feeling and practicing. I realized yesterday that while trying to let go of fear, by being in the body and the pain, it showed me that 'it' was afraid of letting go of fear because 'it' wouldn't know who or what to be if it wasn't afraid. Like Eyore, so vulnerable and exposed. The pain has diminished in my legs from an 8 to a 2 or 3 today!!!! Self-love, compassion and curiosity are so healing. Thank you!!!!
  6. itmsw

    itmsw Peer Supporter

    Hi Alan, I was just wondering - How long do we do the somatic tracking for when we are in physical or emotional pain? As I relayed yesterday, I did too much without lying down and I immediately experienced low back pain, tension, pressure, stiffness and as if there is a whole in my back accompanied by leg tingling and weakness like my legs will give out from underneath me. I did the somatic tracking and a 45 min. meditation- I think it decreased some, but was still present. So, I just lied down from 3:30 pm yesterday until I got up this morning. The pain and weakness is still there in my back and legs- so I was wondering how many times and for how long do you do the somatic tracking for?
    Also, I wanted to share that I just came from seeing a pain management specialist doctor for the first time. I am feeling very sad and depressed. I think the whole appointment lasted maybe 15 minutes and it ended with him saying, "I have to get going, but lets meet again in four weeks and you can tell me if you made up your mind to have the spinal stimulator implanted." During our 15 minutes, I explained that i have had back pain for over 30 years with the last eight very bad to where I cant work due to the pain. I explained after I had a nerve ablation to seven levels of my spine- it made my back pain worse and was in bed for three weeks. He said to me that that didnt make sense as many people walk around with extreme pain, so he doesnt know why I cant and there is no physiological reason for that. I said that I am not saying there is, I am just sharing what I am physically experiencing. - so I felt like crap about myself at this point. I had brought my mom along with me for support. I didnt get but one question answered about the spinal stimulator- so I dont know how I am supposed to make a desicion and return in four weeks without having my questions answered. My mom told me that this is the way our health care system is and I should have told him that I had questions to ask before making a decision and that I should make another appointment and share that with him. I feel extremely intimidated and crappy about myself not to mention scared. I dont know if I want to do a spinal stimulator as the whole idea of another medical procedure puts me into a panic attack. But now I feel like my mom was blaming me for the outcome of the doctor appointment and that I should have been more assertive. However, I feel like I didnt have much time to even think about that because as I was mid sentence with a question, he just said he had to go and to schedule another appointment in four weeks and then he was gone. I feel like crawling in a cave or a dark hole somewhere- feeling very helpless. Thank you for listening and sharing any and all opinions on stimulators and my experience.
  7. hsbarry

    hsbarry Peer Supporter

    Thanks so much for telling us that we have a talent. Boy, I have never thought of all this pain as a special talent. While practicing, I experienced some of the pain moving to my tooth. I just came back from the dentist, so I know nothing is wrong with my tooth. How odd is that? I saw a quote in my local paper this week I'd like to share. It's attributed to Johnny Appleseed of all people.

    "Do not worry about being worried, but accept worry peacefully. Difficult but not impossible."

    Here's to more somatic tracking.
    Benjuwa and caligirlgonegreen like this.
  8. hsbarry

    hsbarry Peer Supporter

    Bless you! This is a tough spot for you. I hope others will reply, but I would say if you're feeling anxious about a procedure to just STOP. Don't get pressured into anything. I, too, find that the health care system makes me very anxious. You are not alone at all. Sending some hugs.
    bebe, Toonces, Oscar B. and 2 others like this.
  9. Fabi

    Fabi Well known member

    Well, I have always have this belief: You can´t unlearn what you have learned. It applies to other areas in my life: languages, sports, riding a bike, etc.
    So, how do I change what I believe? Can a belief change? What does it take?
    Saffron likes this.
  10. MicheleRenee

    MicheleRenee Peer Supporter

    i feel the same way!
    Tilli and Bodhigirl like this.
  11. Alex1991

    Alex1991 New Member

    Alan do you suggest to take i dont know some 20 minutes a day to just lay down and practice this somatic tracking? in addition to do the best we can all day long while doing other stuff (like learning working and all the days stuff).
  12. itmsw

    itmsw Peer Supporter

    Thank you hsbarry- I really appreciate your reply to my post, your kind words and your experiences with the health care system and your very wise words! Thank you
  13. Mooreck

    Mooreck New Member

    I am not conscious of being anxious although I almost certainly am. I am however very aware of what may be hurting within my body at any particular moment. The only emotions i can feel are often how much being in pain annoys me and depresses me. I don't attribute these feeling to anxiety so my question is where does my somatic tracking start? Do I observe the pain and watch to see if feelings/anxiety emerge?
    I feel this is important and yet I cannot quite grasp it and feel i may just be focusing on my pain which if i have understood correctly is my minds purpose of the distraction in the first place. I hope this makes sense. Chris
    kim marie, Bob, James59 and 3 others like this.
  14. Emre

    Emre Peer Supporter

    Can anyone please tell me what "attend to yourself" mean?
    And what does Allen mean in this sentence?
    Thank you all soo much
    I think i am the only TMS'er from Turkey here❤️
    Krmzydn, Kerrj74 and Ellen like this.
  15. jjbuckler

    jjbuckler Peer Supporter

    I'm not speaking for Alan, but I always take "attend to yourself" to simply mean: pay attention to yourself/take care of yourself. In this case your thoughts/feelings/pain. In TMS we tend to run away from our feelings and anxiety, or try to pretend it doesn't exist. We don't take care of ourselves or pay attention to what we are feeling. Attending to yourself helps create a feeling of safety.

    But again, Alan probably speaks to this better, this is just my interpretation.
    Bev, Benjuwa, plum and 2 others like this.
  16. Emre

    Emre Peer Supporter

    So Allen please help me:
    are we trying to achieve this: observing all our physical symptoms in a relaxed and mindful way?? And if we are successful with that, our brains will have new "no-fear of any physical-pathways", which will lead us to a pain free life???? We are not trying to get rid of the pain, we are trying to build new pathways fearfree from any physical symptoms?????
    jennplac likes this.
  17. Emre

    Emre Peer Supporter

    Thank you:))
    kim marie and Bodhigirl like this.
  18. Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021)

    Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021) Beloved Grand Eagle

    My mother gave me the best advice when I feared anything.
    She said, "It's going to be okay."
    Since working with TMS, I amended it to be a strong positive mantra: "Everything is okay." It often is.
    laurasn, sarah2254, Lauren T and 4 others like this.
  19. Bodhigirl

    Bodhigirl Well known member

    I am loving this journey with you all. Alan, your sense of humor is such a balm in the demonstrations when you say "Great!" when someone manages to pay attention to pain or even have pain. Smiling is definitely part of re-wiring our stubborn minds.

    I swear that addiction is a trance and that my pain is part of my addiction to adrenaline. At a chemical level, when I hurt I am likely producing natural endorphins to kill the pain. I think I got addicted to this when I was really young. I remember being about five and sitting in the back seat of my parents car and announcing, "Everything in me feels good right now! Nothing hurts!" (I had a lot of tomboy accidents as a kid and was always getting a bump, bruise or bandaid.)

    Your story of the blood phobic must be a common thing at Stanford and other schools! I laughed when I read this: cognitive therapist David Burns, MD has a very similar story but he was in medical school and avoided blood for the first couple of years; entirely! Finally he went to his dean and confessed and the dean assigned him to the ER where his first task was pulling dozens of shards out of a man whose homemade bomb went off in his house. By the end of the bloody day, David was no longer afraid of blood, and after years of practicing psychiatry, he worked with the early cognitive therapists on such techniques as exposure therapy!
    We are exposing ourselves to our symptoms instead of running from them.
    Fear has a funny acronmyn: F--k Everything And Run. Run from pain, run to get food, run and drink, run for tv, sex, you name it, we run for it. We are so fortunate to have found a community where doctors like Sarno, Schubiner and Schecter and researching and writing about this phenomenon. It's a defense against pain. Fortunate for the therapists who take this up as a calling (Alan!)
    So long as I place my pain in this context, and have a direct contact with my ego (which isn't easy, it's mostly unconscious), then I can place my ego into the care of something else: my pre-frontal cortex, my greater Self, my higher power, it doesn't matter so long as the ego is not in charge and deciding how to avoid pain.
    This took me years to understand. And it takes even longer to remain humble to how enlightenment is something I do each moment, one moment at a time. I always thought I had to find the cure, the cure that lasted forever. I thought relapse was a shameful thing, which only made matters worse.

    A technique I might add to the tracking and curiosity practices, that has helped me enormously when I am not forgetting to use it: pendulation. It's from the early teachings of Peter Levine who developed Somatic Experiencing. Once you feel pain, notice where in your body you feel good or neutral. Then, decide to move the pain from the source of the pain to the place that is neutral - and back again - and back again. After a few 'swings of the pendulum' the pain has subsided. My patients have been known to call it Witchcraft but it's really mindfulness and curiosity and compassion - giving that little kid Alan referenced yesterday - a game to play with the pain. And we know kids love games, including inner kids.

    Gosh, had no idea that I had so much to say today. Well, that's what happens when I feel good and on day ten I have to say I am feeling better than in a long, long time. Beginner's Mind: starting over with any program... reboots the system and allows for upgrades!

    Thank you.
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2017
    Cat H, Katya, Bev and 15 others like this.
  20. Christie Uipi MSW

    Christie Uipi MSW TMS Therapist

    To jump in with my two cents here, I think that that's a great idea, if that feels good to you. Practicing for 10-20 minutes a day while also doing your best to apply the principle throughout your normal day to day activities is a great way to learn.

    That being said...as much as we all want to know the "right" way to practice these new techniques, the long and the short of it is that the only way to know if you're doing this stuff "right" is if it feels good while you're doing it. Somatic tracking, as with all the techniques you are learning through this program, is meant to be done with self-compassion.

    If you experience anxiety sensations for nearly all your waking hours ... so you tell yourself that you have to constantly use somatic tracking (OR ELSE!) ... while expecting the anxiety sensations to go down .... and getting angry with yourself because it's "not working,".... and then telling yourself ,"I need to be better at tracking!!!!!!"... and then bunkering down harder ........... this is not being kind to yourself. This is pressuring yourself. We all need to keep working to develop trust in ourselves to know what feels good and best for us.
    NST, Katya, Katy Elise and 13 others like this.

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