I had anticipatory anxiety while heading to present an evening talk on “3 tools to handle conflict” for the Aviara Women’s Club Tuesday night. I haven’t done a presentation in a while. Once I walked in and saw a packed room full of smiling women, I calmed down. In my talk I pointed out that when someone criticizes us, we are wired to react defensively, to fight or flee. If your goal is to keep communication open, a first step is to respond by paraphrasing what you hear, for example saying, “You are angry at me for…”. How does this help? It has two benefits. Paraphrasing buys you time to calm down, which gets your thinking brain back online and makes the other person feel heard. This can diffuse the situation and de-escalate the level of tension. One woman, who was a supervisor, said, “If I do that to a lazy, complaining employee, I will sound patronizing and phony”. She made a good point. If you feel angry, take a few slow breaths. If that is not enough for you to muster any empathy in the moment, the person you're interacting with will sense the inauthenticity in your voice and you may sound patronizing. In this case, it is better to just walk away and return later when you feel more able to deal with the person. Overall, we had a good discussion, some interactive exercises, people bought my books, and some asked for therapy referrals to get help with their troubled relationships.
I walked out of that gig, my chest puffed up in joy, relief and pride. My husband said, “You were great! Let’s walk to the Black Rail to celebrate.” We sat on cushions in the back patio on this balmy night and ordered light drinks. He ordered chicken wings. I was too hyper for food. As we talked, I kept sighing and basking in my relief, joy, and pride trifecta. Then I ate a few wings. By the time we got home I was belching, bloated and took a digestive enzyme.
I went to sleep smiling but when I woke up my stomach was still angry at being given an overnight job to digest spicy chicken wings. I figured that I deserved a reward and thought that the massage might increase the peristalsis needed for better digestion (helping my innards do their job). After a light gym workout, I went to the massage parlor and had my first hot rock massage. While I lay on my stomach, the masseur rubbed my shoulders, neck and back, then brought in the hot rocks. The warmth of the smooth hot rocks slowly moving down my spine was pleasurable. My body relaxed and floated away on clouds. He placed a hot rock at the base of my neck, another one at the base of my spine, and placed one in the palm of each of my hands. I floated further up into the sky, all the way to heaven.
In the anatomy of the ANS (autonomic nervous system) there are 3 neural circuits. One nerve group is the parasympathetic (PNS). These nerves originate at the back of the neck and at the back of the pelvis at the sacral plexus. The PNS operates baseline survival functions, including heart/lungs, digestion and reproduction. By placing hot rocks at the base of my neck and sacrum, my digestive processes were supported. I could hear the gurgling of my thankful stomach during my fabulous hot rock massage. And hey, maybe no more wings for me, at least when I am hyper-excited.