Journeying Toward Wholeness

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How to Get Out of a Rut in the Second Half of Life

November 11th, 2019 · how to get out of a rut

We may not often speak of it, but many of us wrestle with how to get out of a rut — particularly at midlife or later in our journey.

anxiety about the future

As people move through the life journey, they can easily get into certain unyielding patterns in their lives. This can especially occur from the stage of midlife on, although many people feel a sense of stuckness at earlier points, too.

There are certain types of pattern or habit that we adopt that make life easier, and that enable us to cope with the demands of life better. However, we can also find ourselves bound into habitual patterns of response in life that seem flat, joyless and counter-productive. Many individuals end up feeling that their life unfolds like clockwork, but is lacking in any sense of vitality or meaning.

Stuck in the Comfort Zone

We can easily find ourselves stuck, because we don’t want to move out of our particular individual comfort zone. It might seem like “being in your comfort zone” might be a very good thing, but that all depends. We can become very “comfortable” with situations in our lives that really don’t offer us very much. For instance, it can happen that our anxiety hems us in, and keeps us in patterns of behaviour or thought that don’t really offer much meaning or satisfaction, while also making it extremely difficult to try or even to consider more life-giving options.

Anxiety is not the only feeling that can keep us locked in a very flavourless “comfort zone”: the same thing may come about as the result of depression, or guilt or shame — or from feeling powerless to bring about any change, or any different state of affairs. This latter sense of powerlessness may be strongly connected with a sense that change would involve too much risk.

Example. “Tom” has worked in the same white collar, middle management job for 25 years. He doesn’t find it challenging, but the routines of the job are very familiar. It requires relatively little effort for him to go into work and do what he’s always done. He fantasizes about starting a business related to his interest in gardens and home renovation. Yet, whenever he thinks of it, he remembers his father suffering a mental breakdown, which led to unemployment and nearly losing the family home — a time of immense anxiety. “I just feel like, how can I take the risk, when I can just keep on doing what I’m doing?”

Facing Being Stuck…

One of the hardest things about being stuck in a rut can be facing the fact that we are, and that it is keeping us from exploring and opening up new opportunities. It can be uncomfortable to face the fact that “I’m stuck”, and sometimes it’s just easier not look at it.

As we’ve seen, a number of factors may keep us stuck in our habitual patterns. Another powerful thing that may keep us from even acknowledging that we’re stuck can be the investment we’ve made in the status quo. In the past, we may have labored hard to get to this very point in life — that we now so much need to get away from. The time, the money, the giving of our hopes and dreams over to the very thing we’re now stuck in, can be very hard to admit. Yet staying fixated on what we’ve invested in may keep us from acknowledging what we want and need in our lives at this time.

To get past being stuck in a rut may require us to get past our denial about what we need in our lives. It may require us to get to the place of acknowledging our deepest yearnings — the things that we most want in our lives. These can be so deep within us that we don’t even really acknowledge them consciously. They may emerge most powerfully in a person’s fantasies or in their dreams. This is part of the reason that Jungians attend to dreams when they are available: they reveal deep unconscious aspects of the authentic person.

Going on My Journey

How to get out of a rut? A big part of the answer lies in getting in touch with our real identity and what we really want — then finding meaningful and creative ways to live those things out. The journey to wholeness has a great deal to do with acknowledging the devalued or denied parts of ourselves. It is ignoring those parts of ourselves, very often, that leads to getting stuck in ruts that often have nothing to do with who we really are.

A truly supportive relationship with a depth psychotherapist can provide a very important and healing container in which to explore the hidden or undiscovered aspects of who we are. It can be a very valuable and meaningful part of the answer to the question of how to get out of a rut.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Anxiety, Depression and Sleep

November 4th, 2019 · depression and sleep, depression and sleep

We live in a radically sleep deprived society. Many of us face the interconnected issues of anxiety, depression and sleep.

severe emotional distress

In our time, we’re aware that there are many things that can damage our sleep. Certainly, our consumption of commodities such as caffeine, alcohol, tobacco and sweetners can reduce quality of sleep. Similarly, we’re increasingly aware of the negative impact of screen technologies on our sleep. What we’ve learned about the relationship of depression and sleep presents a more complex picture.

As sleep experts such as Johns Hopkins University researcher Dr. Patrick Finan affirm, depression often leads to more difficulty in falling and staying asleep. Yet on the other hand, poor sleep may create difficulty in regulating emotion, which may leave a person with greater vulnerability to depression.

There’s a similarly complex relationship between anxiety and sleep, sometimes known as “the vicious cycle of anxiety and sleep loss”. Simply put, this means that sleep loss often occurs prior to anxiety disorders, but, on the other hand, anxiety can often lead to sleep loss.

Depression, Anxiety & Sleep — What Gives?

If depression and anxiety are often related to insomnia or loss of sleep, what does this mean for us? As experts such as Harvard’s Prof. Clifford Saper indicate, sleep deprivation is usually about degradation of sleep over time, rather something that comes about because of an absolute lack of sleep.

Saper also shows that much of what we mean by sleep deprivation, with all its negative effects, really refers to deprivation of that part of sleep known as rapid eye movement or REM sleep. In this phase of sleep, the body becomes becomes quite relaxed, while the brain becomes more active. Normally, we spend twenty per cent (perhaps an hour and a half?) of our sleep time in REM sleep, but when sleep gets disrupted, this can become much less. When REM sleep is disrupted, there are negative consequences for memory, the nervous system and our immune systems, among other things. We also know that the amygdala, the “fire alarm” of the brain that is in charge of our fight or flight response, becomes much more active when we’re sleep-deprived.

The Meaning of Sleep

During REM sleep, as noted above, the body becomes quite relaxed and the brain becomes very active. Scholars such as Yaneer Bar-Yam have suggested that, in REM sleep, the mind-brain is active, but essentially cut off from sensory input. In this state Bar-Yam theorizes, the brain can process our waking experience, and break it up into pieces that become the building blocks for creative learning, enabling adaptive responses to situations we encounter in the future.

This is what is occurring in REM sleep, which is the period of sleep in which deep dreaming occurs. In the words of Margaret Wilkinson

…one result of such processing is that, through metaphor, the unconscious is conveyed to consciousness. Thus dreaming … may yet be said to revitalize the mind-brain in an associative and integrative manner.

Margaret Wilkinson, Changing Minds in Therapy

So, it would seem that this type of sleep, REM sleep, with deep, intense dreams often involving symbol and metaphor, is essential to the health of the organism, and has an important role to play in avoiding anxiety and depression.

Tending to Our Sleep and Dreams

So it would seem that sleep, and particularly the deep dreaming part of sleep, has an important relationship with staying in a healthy mental state. Sleeping well is importantly connected with staying in an integrated, emotionally regulated place, while tending to our dreams can actually contribute to our becoming integrated, learning, adapting individuals.

These and other forms of self-compassion and self care are all important elements of the journey to wholeness. Working in a good supportive relationship with a depth psychotherapist can be of tremendous assistance in this process.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS:

Some rights reserved by  Ryan Leighty (Creative Commons Licence)

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