The body has a strong ability to heal itself, especially when given the resources and support to do so. However, time and again, with our solutions to healing, we tend to reach out for medications that often only provide temporary relief. Dr. Jodie Skillicorn, a diplomate of the American Board of Holistic Integrative Medicine, believes otherwise and helps patients take back their own health through simple but effective lifestyle changes. In this episode, Timothy J. Hayes, Psy.D., interviews Dr. Jodie to share about the practical tools she uses with people who are asking for help, overcoming the anxiety, fears, and stories we tend to tell ourselves. She takes us into breathwork and the Emotional Freedom Technique, an acupressure treatment for anything that bothers us physically, mentally, or emotionally. Follow along to this discussion to hear what Dr. Jodie has in store for us that could help manage the stress, tend to that inner child we never grow out of, and lovingly heal ourselves and our bodies.
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Holistic Healing: Breathwork And The Emotional Freedom Technique With Jodie Skillicorn, DO
Dr. Jodie Skillicorn is board certified in psychiatry and neurology. She is a diplomat of the American Board of Holistic Integrative Medicine. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Skidmore College with a BA in English and working for nearly a decade as a photojournalist, she attended Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine. She completed her Psychiatry residency at Northeast Ohio Medical University. Dr. Skillicorn is the author of the book, Healing Depression Without Medications: A Psychiatrist’s Guide to Balancing Mind, Body, and Soul. At her private practice in Stow, Ohio, Dr. Jodie Skillicorn integrates conventional medical training with evidence-based holistic methods that include breathwork, meditation, yoga, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, known as EMDR, Emotional Freedom Techniques, Mind-Body Medicine, nutrition, exercise and auricular acupuncture. Dr. Skillicorn believes strongly in the body’s ability to heal itself if given resources and support, and the importance of empowering patients to take back their own health through simple but effective lifestyle changes.
Dr. Jodie, thank you so much for coming back and talking with us again. How have you been?
I’m good. I’ve been hanging out, playing and working.
I invited you back again this time to talk a little bit more about the practical tools you use with people when they come to ask you for help. What you’d start with and the order in which you would introduce them, we’ve already talked about things like the breathwork and the Emotional Freedom Technique tapping, which I tell people, “This is a way to give yourself an acupressure treatment for anything that bothers you physically, mentally or emotionally.” There are other things that you mentioned in your toolkit. Can you give us an example of how you begin to work with somebody who comes to you for one of the more common complaints? I would imagine that would be the anxiety, depression, and focus.
For those things, I almost always start with the breath. Often, people come in with an idea of what breathwork is and I’ll often have them show me. They’ll say, “I breathe all the time. I take deep breaths.” They’ll take a deep breath and their shoulders will be up to their ears. They’re gripping their whole body and everything’s tight and tense. We work with breathing more into the belly and I lay using that Dan Siegel hand model. Are you familiar with that? Why the breath is so important?
Briefly for our reader, describe the Dan Siegel hand model.
If you imagine taking your fist and you put your thumb, fold it across and drape the four fingers over the thumb, so the thumbs in the middle. If you look at your own hand and imagine that’s half the brain. Your forearm is the spinal cord. When you come up to where it meets the wrist, that would be the brain stem. It’s that ancient part of the brain that’s in charge of the breathing and the heart rate. You come to the middle and that’s the limbic system. That’s where your thumb is. The limbic system, that’s our threat detector. That’s where our fight, flight, freeze response starts from. Over that is the frontal lobe. That’s the part of the brain that’s involved in thinking, planning, contemplation, and doing all those kinds of things. It’s the part of the brain that ruminates and gets caught up in all those stories that we’re worried about all the time. It’s a blessing and a curse.
What I always explained to people is when we get stressed, what happens is the limbic system that part in the middle, the thumb, takes over and the frontal lobes literally get hijacked. Eighty percent of the blood from the frontal lobes drains to other parts of the body so it can prepare to fight, flee or freeze. We can’t just talk to that limbic system. It’s pre-verbal. We can’t just have a communication and be like, “Everything is okay. We’re just sitting on a couch.” What we can do is start to breathe into the belly.Use the breath to check-in, not just to practice it each day. Click To Tweet
When we do that, it activates the vagal nerve, which minds up and comes to the brainstem analytics system and tells it everything’s okay. It allows it to shift and put the brakes on so that the whole system can slow down and settle. It lets the body know that there may be things we’re worried about in the future, but in this moment, we’re safe. Lots of people don’t breathe into their belly at all. It’s totally into the chest. Part of it is teaching people to breathe deeper into the belly and not try to force it, but sometimes putting your hands over the belly and starting to notice whatever little movement there is. Bringing your focus there, it starts to fill a little bit more.
One of the things I tell people in a much simpler explanation than Dr. Siegel’s model is if I can get myself to take a long, slow, deep breath, hold it for a couple of counts at the top and then resist the exhale so that my exhale is 2, 4, to 8 times longer than the inhale. That’s what sends the message to the body and the vagus nerve that this is not fight or flight. If there is an actual physical threat, my body won’t let me breathe like that. It will have me doing an action to try and protect myself or run or whatever. There are many different breathing techniques out there. There are yoga techniques or meditation techniques. There’s in one side, out the other side. There are all of these 4, 7, 8 count. What do you recommend? Is there anything specific or is it just what you said? This idea of getting the conscious logical mind to focus on what happens when you take a breath. What is it that you use specifically with your patients?
Where I start is working with their breath in the moment. First, noticing it as it is. I find a lot of the yoga breathing is too advanced in a way. It’s requiring too long of a breath. With people that are anxious, the breath tends to be shallow. Most of the people I see, the breath count is maybe 1 or 2. To have them breathing in for a count of 7 or 8 or longer, it isn’t going to happen. It creates a lot of stress. I start by having them notice their breath in this moment. If they’re breathing more in the chest or in the belly, and then I start to have them become aware of the inhalation as compared to the exhalation. What you usually find is one is going to be more restrictive than the other.
By paying attention to that, you start to notice that it starts to relax a little bit, and then noticing the count of their own breaths. Most of the people I see, it’s usually a count of 1 or 2. A healthy breath though, we want 5, 6, 7, or longer counts. It’s starting where they’re at like everything else. You start where they’re at and then I slowly have them build a little bit. It’s a count of two then maybe I would do a box breath. Breathing in for a count of two, holding for a count of two, breathing out for a count of two, pausing for a count of two to break the habit of the breath, and then start to slowly increase that.
You mentioned for some patients you have to include movement with the breath.
I’d like to do things sort of like raising the arms with the breath. For some people, it’s hard to sit still, so adding some gentle movements in with the breaths. They also help expand the breath as you’re doing that.
Do you have them sit or stand to do that?
It could be either. You could even be sitting here right now. You take a deep breath in and raise your arms and then releasing it out as you lower your arms. Usually, I have people stand but if someone can’t, then we would do it seated.
What if you have someone and they’re following along, they’re willing to breathe, they get a little bit more relaxed and they notice that, what do you do next?
To become aware of what’s going on in their body as it’s shifting. If they start to become relaxed, you’ll recognize that often a couple of minutes of breathing, even a few seconds for some people, can shift dramatically the state they came into the room in. It’s the awareness of what’s going on in this moment.
You’re trying to build their sense of agency or actual control over their emotional state and physical state. What’s next?
It depends on what they’re coming in for. That’s one of the primary tools I teach. EFT is another primary tool I teach. Sometimes if sitting and breathing, if we’re so agitated, we’re already past, we can’t get ourselves to do that. That’s where the tapping can be useful because it can get you to that place where you can start to breathe a little more easily. With the tapping, I explained to people the idea of acupuncture, acupressure, and these energy channels running through the body and how each one has a different role in our physiology and our emotions and charge the different organs systems. By tapping on them, we can start to balance those energy systems and balance the body. I’ll teach them that the tapping. That’s another option.
Do you have handouts use for that or is there a website you direct them to? I know there’s a lot of stuff available free on the internet about EFT.
I have a handout I give them, but I also do like EmoFree.com. There’s a bunch of them out there now that are quite good and have lots of free information on even how to teach the basics. I used to teach it during the session, but I always refer them to those places so they can have it if they need it in the moment.
YouTube has been a real good source for a lot of people to put up some nice videos. You can watch somebody talking you through it and tapping on themselves or tapping on somebody else. That’s one of the resources I like to give people because you don’t have to go sign up or pay money. It’s one of the more powerful tools I’ve encountered over the years. Do you do much actual EFT tapping with patients in sessions?
I tend to do more of the EMDR, but I do a lot of the tapping. As things come up, we work with whatever’s coming up as it comes up. If they’re in the state of panic or fear, as it’s common right now. There’s so much fear around COVID and different situations. I will start tapping through and calming the body around that. EMDR, in the session, I often have people holding the little vibrators in the session, even as they’re telling whatever is bothering them in a moment. I’m helping them settle the nervous system, even if we’re not formally doing the EMDR.
That reminds me of years ago when Gary Craig was taking a break, having created EFT. It caught on in Australia and they had a series they called Tapping Down Under. One of the things they would do is they took out the first part of the tapping that Gary Craig called the setup, and they didn’t do the setup. Even though I have this problem, I love and accept myself. They would start tapping on all the energy points while they talked. They’d have somebody come in and talk about their week or the session or whatever problem. They would be doing the tapping nonstop as they talked through the session. It’s like you’re using the EMDR vibrations left or right while people were talking. They call it continuous tapping and they call it a variety of other things, but they found it was very effective and far more than just a distraction technique.
The other one I do often, especially now because I’m working completely virtually, is to have people tap back and forth on their own arms, a butterfly hug. Crossing the arms and tapping at whatever speed that feels soothing. Regardless of whatever they’re talking about that’s bothering them, it helps settle and integrate, because it’s been back and forth.Recognize we can only control what we can control. Click To Tweet
I love that word integrate. It helps them have awareness of more than just the thoughts racing in the frontal lobes.
It’s sending a signal of what a story maybe activating and charging the sympathetic nervous system. You’re getting different message to the body.
Your use of the word story triggered me to think about how Brené Brown talks about a little tool that saved her marriage a number of times. That tool is the phrase, “The story I’m telling myself now is.” She shared in an article how she and her husband have used that. He came home one day and said, “Did you have something planned for dinner?” She immediately went into all of the negative thoughts. “Just because I’m the woman, I have to take care of all the food?” They’ve practiced this. She caught herself getting all tight, tense, and triggered and she took a breath and she said, “The story I’m telling myself now is you think it’s all my responsibility because I’m the woman.” She took a breath and he said, “Thanks for letting me know that. The reason I asked is because on the way home from work, I stopped and picked up makings for a lasagna. If you didn’t have anything planned, I was going to make lasagna. If you had something else planned, I can make it another day.”
The whole situation diffused. I’ve had people tell me because I’ve shared that with a number of people over the years since I’ve read that from Brené Brown’s article. I’ve had them tell me they use that in their own thought process. They’ll do the butterfly hug and they’ll say, “The story I’m telling myself now is it’s all doom and gloom. It’ll never get better. I’m going to be a failure for the rest of my life.” They’re verbalizing it clearly. We often recommend people to write it down and journal it because when you put it out on paper, sometimes the absurdity of what the thought is gets clearer when you write it out. Doing the butterfly hug and using that phrase, “What’s the story I’m telling myself right now? The story I’m telling myself now is.” That can interrupt the nonstop loop of negativity that we’ve become so accustomed to.
It gives it that little bit of space. I use the word story all the time with my patients. Sometimes they get very upset, “It’s not a story. It’s real,” but the meaning we’re attaching to whatever the event is the story. There’s the event. There’s how we’re interpreting and how we’re judging it, whether we’re defining it as good or bad, wrong or right. That all amps everything up.
Hopeless or hopeful, that’s my story. The events are actual. That idea about first recognizing and then making use of that space, the little bit of space between the thought and the emotion. James Purpura in his book Perception: Seeing Is Not Believing, makes use of that very strongly. He talks about how if you can start to recognize the rush of emotions. Right before that, there was this pause where your thoughts said, “This is what this means,” and then there is that. A lot of people have said, “That’s part of why it’s so useful to get into the habit of breathing, to bring my attention to my breath, because I can recognize my breathing has changed.” I can take a breath and say, “What’s going on with my breathing?” That can interrupt that vicious cycle.
That’s what I always teach my patients is to use the breath to check-in, not just to practice it each day. I even have some of them set an alarm every hour, check-in, see what your breath is doing. It’s this barometer that can tell you ahead of time what’s going to happen. You can prevent the full-blown panic attack if you notice that the anxiety is building throughout the day.
If I can get myself to do that regularly or if I have somebody who’s dealing with anxiety 10 to 15 times a day, if I have somebody who’s the average person or somebody dealing with depression, I’ll say, “Practice this 4 or 5 times a day, whatever breathing routine is comfortable for you.” Part of that is because I want to develop that muscle memory. I want them to develop that muscle memory. Part of that muscle memory is taking some part of my conscious logical mind and always having it tuned-in to what I like feeling. Many of us have gotten cut off at the neck and we stay with the thoughts and we push away all of the body sensations and the early warning signs of the emotional system. That’s why the breath training is functional at many different levels. Is there somebody that comes to mind, a story of someone who’s had good effects with the EFT tapping?
Most everyone has a good effect with the EFT tapping if they stick with it. The problem often with EFT is initially it can stir things up a bit more sometimes. If you back away at that point, it feels like a failure, but often that’s the point you need to get through before it recedes. I was talking to someone who was in a total panic because she had to go back to work after being off during the pandemic. She lives with someone that’s very fragile and at risk for getting sick. I heard this story many times from many people, we’ve all been tapping on it. They’re in a work situation where masks aren’t required and she’s terrified that other people aren’t willing to wear the mask and she’s terrified that she’s going to get sick and then give that to the person she’s living with. It’s to recognize we can only control what we can control.
It’s just tapping through all those fears. The story in our head is it’s already happened, and then she’s already sick, and this other person is already sick and dying. She’s all the way out so far in the future. Whereas right here, right now, she is safe and she has the ability to take several steps. She can wear her own masks. She can ask other people to wear a mask. She can keep the distance. She can keep washing her own hand. We have control over what we have control over, but when we focus on what we don’t, our whole nervous system goes off. We started tapping. This was over the phone because she was all anxious and tapping on all that fear. There’s still a real fear there. It’s real, but the stories around it and how far she jumped into the future and the helplessness that she felt, those are not. Those were the stories.
I’ve had several people who at various levels have been saying they’re not able to wear the mask. When I inquire what do they mean? “I’m not getting enough air. I’m going to pass out.” I understand that that’s an emotional response because surgeons wear these masks all the time. I’ve suggested EFT tapping and several people have been able to tap their way free and clear so that they can wear masks now.
I haven’t had anyone on the other side of the fence. Everyone I’m seeing is mad that other people aren’t wearing it, but absolutely. I’ll be honest. I myself have that response when I put the mask on. I feel like I’m suffocating. I have to breathe in and notice my body and notice that I am breathing and I’m fine.
Most of us that have practiced that EFT tapping, and this was something Gary Craig said before taking his sabbatical, “There are a lot of people that get benefit by remembering and visualizing tapping without even touching the tapping points. Much of it is with the breath and with the intention.” If I find myself in a store with the mask on and the glasses are getting fogged up and I can’t see much well without the glasses, so I have to keep them on. I take a breath or two and remember tapping. I’m perfectly okay with tapping right out in public. If I’m in a situation where I get triggered, I don’t care if people think I’m silly. I’ve been doing this and teaching it long enough. Most of the time, I don’t need to raise a hand to the different points on my face and the fingertips. I remember it, visualize it and breathe through it.
What we imagine is it affects our body as if it’s happening. I’ve been doing that too because lots of people right now, especially in some OCD patients who are afraid to touch their face. I’m like, “That’s fine. You don’t need to touch your face. Just imagine it and then tap these other points so you can physically get in contact with your body a little bit.” Just imagining it or when you’re out in public, it’s the same thing.
Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies is one of these acupuncture and acupressure system books. They talk about how the terminal points for all of the energy meridians are right at the end of the finger on either side of the nail a bit. I’ve been telling people for a lot of years now, the shortcut version is I start rubbing my fingers. I have people that are CEOs or executives in boardrooms and they don’t want people to know they’re nervous, so under the table, they’re rubbing their fingers or right out on top of the table. A lot of people have nervous habits and I’m one at a time going through my finger. They’ll think I’m cracking my knuckles.
Especially at this time where I don’t want to coach people go ahead and touch your face if you’re in a store, visualizing, tapping, rubbing the fingertips or the fingers or the wrist. These energy meridians run through the wrist and come up in the Ayurvedic pulse points in the wrist. I have people that don’t like the idea of touching their face, so they’ll put their hand in the other hand and now they’re wrapping around to the fingers. They are touching those pulse points and gently rhythmically squeeze.
Rubbing in the palm of your hand is another one. There are many ways.
I tell people, “Find the one that works best for you.” It’s not a right or wrong thing. It’s your energy system. What we’re trying to do is help you explore it, be aware that it’s there because you’ve probably been trained to think it’s not important. It’s not the body. It’s not the mind. The mind is the problem. The emotions are the problem. What’s my body got to do with it? A lot of us had been trained to believe that. They’re separate.We are so alarmed by the body that every little signal is a threat instead of to give us information. Click To Tweet
Were so alarmed by the body, every little signal is a threat. We’re learning that they’re there to give us information.
It kicks off the negative self-talk and the negative self-talk is so common that we allow it. Most people don’t realize how brutal their own negative self-talk is. That’s another real important part of my work with people. Helping them interrupt that negative self-talk pattern and question it. “It’s my own thought. It must be right.” It reminds me of one of my favorite bumper stickers, which is, “Don’t believe everything you think.”
Was it Mark Twain who said, “I don’t like to travel around too long in my mind, it can be a dangerous place?”
I don’t want to go there unattended. The idea that you mentioned that the body doesn’t know at a certain level the difference between a thought I have about something or a fear I have about something happening and the actual event happening.
We can be sitting outside the front lawn reading a book and we can start thinking about all the things that might happen in the future, all the things that are going wrong in the world. There’s certainly plenty to choose from. If we get caught up in all that, our body’s responding as if it’s happening right here right now. It’s like the woman who was afraid that she was going to get COVID. Her body was already responding as if. I saw a text on a Facebook post. Someone ended up in the hospital and she thought she was going to die because she has COPD. She was convinced she had COVID and she was convinced that was the end. In reality, she had bronchitis and she’s fine. The sensation of the tightness in her chest immediately, she had already jumped to that. Her body was responding as if that was true. Undoubtedly, it made the sensations so much stronger that it was confirming what she believed in her head. She ended up in the ER over it.
It’s ancient wisdom. I remember years ago reading The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin where he said, “I’ve experienced many horrible difficulties in my life, most of which have never happened.” That’s the ancient wisdom about what our modern-day science is letting us know. We talked about it in our first conversation that the muscles in my body light up if I visualize playing tennis as though I was actually playing tennis.
If we’re picturing sitting on a beach and imagining seeing the sand and the water, visual parts of our brain light up. If we’re imagining hearing the waves, the auditory parts light up as if we’re right there and it’s happening. We can harness that power or we can become victims of it.
That’s the idea of teaching these skills that you teach people. It’s helping them harness that power. Instead of calling it with disdain, the placebo effect, Bruce Lipton recommends we call it the belief effect. The positive power of the mind to create productively.
I’m forever telling my patients the story of the two wolves. They get tired of it, but nonetheless, the one where the grandfather’s talking to his grandson and he’s telling him about the two wolves. You’ll get that same idea of the angel and the devil, but the two wolves are the good wolf and the bad wolf. The Good Wolf is full of joy, love, and hope. The Bad Wolf is all the negative emotions, fear, hopelessness, terror, and anger. The little boy’s eyes get big and he’s like, “Which wolf wins?” It’s whichever wolf you feed and that’s the whole deal. Whichever pathway we keep feeding, it keeps getting stronger and stronger. That becomes our go-to pathways. As soon as anything happens, that’s instantly where we go because we’ve wired it. That’s the path that’s stronger. It’s the path we tread more often. What fires together, wires together. It’s a matter of training and daily practice to wire that. Implicitly, our brain wants to go there, but the negative bias. We need to know when there’s danger. We don’t need to remember the rainbows and the good things that happen. We have to train the brain to shift in that direction.
Awareness is so important here because you mentioned the idea of for some people to get into the breathing pattern or technique, they need to move a little. It’s a fairly common thing for me in therapy that I watch as people are talking about something. As they get to something where they’re feeling shut down or overwhelmed, they’ll move in a certain way. They’ll drop the head or look to the right or tightened. Pointing that out to them and getting them to change that physical positioning is powerful for change. Can you say something about that?
There was one interesting study that was done in a psych in-patient unit where they had a group of people. One group of people are sitting up tall and one group of people were slouched and they gave them a bunch of words. Some of them are negative and some of them are positive. Afterwards, they had them recall the words. The ones that were sitting tall recalled them pretty much equally, but the ones that were slouched could only remember the negative words. It influences how we remember things, how we recall things, and how we see things. One of my favorite stories about that with a patient was I had this woman came in. I was teaching her breathing and everything about her was everything had to be done now.
It had to be perfect and it had to happen now. She wanted to get fixed now, not tomorrow. She wanted everything resolve now, even though she was in her 70s and she’d been working on this for a long time, but nothing ever worked because it had to be done right now. There’s all this pressure. I started to teach her the breathing, but she was getting tenser and tenser because she’s trying to do it just right, which is causing more and more tension. I noticed while she was doing it, she also had a permanent frown. Her lips were turned down. I had her try to breathe, focusing on turning up her lips a little bit. That slight smile shifted everything about her.
She found this softening, this space and her breaths started to get full. She does light up for a moment, but then she said, “That’s it? You just have to turn my lips up?” I was like, “It’s not it, but it is simple. It does change your whole physiology and had that effect. Imagine if you could do that more often and practice.” She instantly got into her head that it wasn’t what she wanted and it wasn’t the solution she wanted. She got back into her head and the frown came back on and instantly she was back in that other place again. It was such a subtle shift in the body and yet had a huge profound impact on her mood, her physiology, and everything about her in that moment. Even her muscles instantly softened. They’ve done those studies with the pencils and have a bunch of college kids watch the comedies. The ones that gripping their pencils so that they had a frown, they didn’t find it nearly as funny as the ones that had gripping the pencil so that they had a smile. Our bodies are powerful in how they influence and how we perceive the world.
There’s this constant feedback loop. If I have this negative assessment of myself or the future going on, it’s going to create the physiological response to go with it. If I can change that to something a little bit more positive, there is a corollary response in the body.
Also, vice versa. Change the body, changes the thought.
They’re connected. You were talking about studies. There’s a study I remember reading in one of the books about this. They decided to see what a minor change in the filter conscious, subconscious, or unconscious would have on someone’s test performance. They gave people an introductory letter saying, “You’re coming in to take this standardized test.” Everybody’s going to get a letter. They randomly assigned to two groups. One letter had a neutral set of words as determined by some third-party judges. One had some negative words and one had more positive words. It was clearly beneficial in the results for the people who read the letter that was geared to positive. “We’re glad you’re here. You’re going to have a great time. It’s going to go well. This is a relatively easy test” versus, “This is a very challenging test. You better brace yourself.” The intro letter dramatically affected the test results.
There’s another study I love. The hotel maids with Dr. Ellen Langer. She took two groups of women, all of whom were overweight and had some health problems. She divided them into two groups. One group continues to go about their daily cleaning. The other group, she gave it a little intervention and all she did was she had asked all the women ahead of time how much they thought they exercise. None of them probably did because as soon as they went home to work, they pretty much collapsed on the couch and watched TV all night because they were exhausted. They all thought that they weren’t getting exercise and they were lazy. They have all these ideas about themselves back to the story.
The intervention with the other group was she simply told them, “Do you realize that you’re getting above and beyond what most Americans get for exercise? You’re exercising all day long.” Just that small change, in two weeks, the study was short, but they already dropped weight, their blood pressure dropped, and their glucose levels dropped. There were major shifts in a short period of time by shifting their idea of what exercise was and wasn’t and that they were getting it versus that they weren’t.What fires together, wires together. Click To Tweet
That is coming back to the idea of what’s the story I’m telling myself. If I can get people to recognize that they’re telling themselves a negative story, and then introduce the possibility that they’re probably creative enough to put a little bit of a spin on it to make it a more positive or neutral story, just watch what happens. That’s an intervention I use with people.
She did another cool study where she took a bunch of older men and took them to a monastery. Are you aware of that study? Everything in the monastery was from a time about 25 years earlier. All these men went back and they were supposed to live, act and speak as if it was this earlier point in time when they were younger and healthier. The magazines and the TV shows, everything that was in there was from this other time. They were there for three days. In that time, almost all their health parameters from lab work and saliva tests and everything else improved. They looked and acted younger when they walked out of there than they had walking in. Nothing’s changed except for their idea about their age and what that meant in our ideas of aging.
It’s a very powerful tool. Getting us to recognize the role of the story we’re telling or the filter we’re putting on our mind because most of us don’t understand that that’s happening. Michael Singer in his book, The Untethered Soul, talks about if you had a way to get a transcript of your negative self-talk and handed that transcript to one of your good friends and had them follow you around all day and read it to you, you’d kick them out of your life before noon. You wouldn’t let anybody talk to you from the outside the way you talk to yourself on a regular basis. A lot of my work with people is helping them see the error, the falseness of most of the negative thoughts they have about themselves.
I do the same thing when they’re in the middle of it. I’ll be like, “Would you ever tell your friend that? If they were the same situation, would you ever say that? Would you ever even think it?”
When I’m trying to coach people, I routinely have them modify. You don’t have to turn it around 180 degrees, but slightly modify or improve their negative self-talk. They’re very stuck. They’re very clear with, “This is the truth, this is what I did, this is who I am, this is how I feel.” I’ll ask them to think about what they would tell a favorite niece or nephew if they were going through the same thing or if they have a child that they cherish? What they would tell their child? That’s a powerful way to flip the filter. It isn’t magic, but it is a powerful way for people to create at least a more accurate, if not even more positive self-talk pattern. As you’re demonstrating by these two examples that were done through research, the self-talk pattern has a dramatic impact, not for our emotional life, but for our physiology, which is never separate.
I had a patient and she had come to me initially because she had a hard time. She hadn’t left the house in the longest time. She was afraid to leave. We had her worked through all that using EFT and EMDR and breathing and all this stuff. She had been fine for years, but now in the pandemic, she doesn’t have to go anywhere. Although it hasn’t happened, she was afraid that when she has to go back out into the world, she won’t be able to re-enter the world. Her nephew also has a lot of anxiety. She took him to the store and she had to talk to him and talk him through it and be like, “It’s okay to feel anxious. We’re going to get through it. We’re okay.” That’s what we worked on, pretending her nephew was always with her and talk to him, talk to herself in the same way she was talking. Gently, being with him forced her as parents and adults. Often what we have to do is we have to put on our braver self, our adult self when we’re with people that aren’t as brave, as big or as old. It’s always to imagine that.
What you’re saying as a medical doctor and a psychiatrist is so powerful. I want to slow it down for people and amplify what you said. You as a psychiatrist and the author of the book, Healing Depression Without Medication: A Psychiatrist’s Guide to Balancing Mind, Body, and Soul, you said, we as adults often have to talk ourselves through these things. As you sit there, you are not devoid of negative thoughts or waves of anxiety. I was bringing this up because I’ve had a couple of patients who said to me, “I feel like a complete hypocrite because I was telling my daughter when she was sick in the middle of the night, ‘It’s going to be okay, you’re going to be fine.’ I’m rubbing her stomach and I’m rubbing her back. I had to walk down the hall or I had to go in the other room where I had to be on the phone with somebody else. I’m in a panic as the parent. The whole cycle of what if we have to go to the hospital during the COVID-19 time.” One was a female, the other was a male. They go back and deal with their kid and they’re putting on a brave face again. They said to me, “I feel horrible about it.” I said, “You don’t need to feel horrible about it. It’s exactly what all of us have to do. Nobody does this thing called life without the fear and the trepidation, the neutral times, the positive. It’s all part of the experience.”
What I often talk with patients too is we still have the five-year-old inside of us. A five-year-old still pops up when they get scared. I almost try to create a little space on those like, “That five-year-old needs to be tended to.” Even though they are 50-something-year-old, I still have the five-year-old that needs to be tended to in those moments. To tend to that child the same way you would your own child, your own pet, your own niece, your own nephew, or whatever. We all need that still. We never grow out of that just because we’re older.
I flashed on a time when my oldest was maybe two walking and running. He took a nosedive onto the pavement and split his lip and had particles of the pavement embedded in his lip. I almost threw up watching that happen. In the next moment, I realized I have to be the adult here. I’m with him in the emergency care room and they’re saying, “Hold him down while we dig out the stuff from his lip and stitch and talk to him.” I have to fight off my horror and all the projection of what’s it going to look like in the future if his lip is mangled and whatever. I’m a psychologist at that point so I’m thinking, “What if he staring at me as they’re doing these horrible things and he imprints a negative image of me?” I had to breathe through that and put that aside. None of us are immune to this. That’s why I wanted to slow that down when you said you’re talking about this woman who got through it better because she was coaching her nephew about managing the anxiety in the store. How she can, if she chooses, if she remembers with your coaching, to use that very same model even when her nephew isn’t there, to talk gently lovingly and respectfully to herself the way she would a favored nephew or her own child.
Unfortunately, many of us never learned that. You can see that on the playground because you see kids fall and scrape their knees not as seriously as your son, but the minor ones. You see on the playground different responses. You see the parent that runs over and start scolding the kid right out of their own fear. “Stop crying, shut up, deal with it. You’re fine. It’s a little scrape. It’s not a big deal. It’s all your fault.” The child, either when they’re small, they scream louder, and over time they learn not to. They learned to ignore their emotions to cut off from all of that. You’re not allowed to do that. There’s a parent that comes over and it starts barraging the child with questions.
“What’s wrong. What happened?” The child wants their scraped knee to be acknowledged. The parents trying to figure it all out and trying to ease their own anxiety through figuring out what happened and that’s all the child wants. There’s the third parent that goes over and gives the child a quick little hug, a little a kiss to the knee. The child goes off running again because the need has been managed. I think the work for all of us is learning to be that parent to ourselves.
Recognizing that we have each of those various versions of the memory of my 5, 15, or 20-year-old self, that when it gets resonated, when it gets stirred up, it floods me in the moment. Instead of seeing myself as the competent psychologist in his own office, I feel like the traumatized teenager. As you’re saying so often. If I can get grounded in the breath, bring my awareness back to the present moment and then start telling myself the same thing I would tell my son or one of my patients, and being gentle with myself. To put my hand over my heart space and talk gently to myself with a few breaths, “Timmy, sweetheart, you’re in pain. Take a few deep breaths. Calm down, then we’ll look at what’s going on and then we’ll decide what to do. For now, Timmy, you’re in pain.” That’s the most important thing to interrupt that cycle. Is there something you would like to mention that we haven’t mentioned yet?
Based on what you are doing with your hands over the heart, research has shown that doing that when we’re scared releases oxytocin, that love hormone that helps us connect with others, but it also helps the body heal. It heals our heart cells. It helps dilate our vessels. It’s a powerful thing. It seems like not much to do. It’s so simple to do. This is one thing you can do anytime, anywhere. It doesn’t look strange, but it is a powerful tool in and of itself.
It has the physical component, but it also brings my conscious awareness to that heart center. I’d be open to doing this again if you have another topic you’d like to share. I greatly appreciate your being willing to share this time with us. Your book is Healing Depression Without Medication: A Psychiatrist’s Guide to Balancing Mind, Body, and Soul. Jodie Skillicorn, what is the website you would direct people to if they wanted more information?
Thank you so much for your time. I greatly appreciate it.
Thanks for having me.
- Healing Depression Without Medications: A Psychiatrist’s Guide to Balancing Mind, Body, and Soul
- Previous episode with Dr. Jodie
- Perception: Seeing Is Not Believing
- Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies
- The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
- The Untethered Soul
- @DrJodieSkillicorn Facebook
About Jodi Skillicorn, DO
Dr. Jodie Skillicorn is board certified in Psychiatry and Neurology, and a Diplomate of American Board of Holistic Integrative Medicine. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Skidmore College with a BA in English, and working for nearly a decade as a photojournalist, she attended Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine. She completed her Psychiatry Residency at Northeast Ohio Medical University.
Dr. Jodie Skillicorn is the author of the book, Healing Depression Without Medications: A Psychiatrist’s Guide to Balancing Mind, Body, and Soul. At her private practice in Stow, Ohio, Dr. Jodie Skillicorn integrates conventional medical training with evidence-based holistic methods that include breathwork, meditation, yoga, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), Mind-Body Medicine, nutrition, exercise, and auricular acupuncture. She believes strongly in the body’s ability to heal itself if given resources and support, and in the importance of empowering patients to take back their health through simple, but effective lifestyle changes.
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