Ep. 32: Arianna Gray – Outsmarting the Lizard Brain: How to Not Get Stuck in Anxiety and Depression

Looking very simplistically, your brain has only one job, and that is to keep you alive.

Fear, as much as we don’t enjoy it, performs that function as well. It helps us remove ourselves from dangerous situations or not put ourselves into danger in the first place. But often (especially in our modern world) being afraid, or feeling anxious or depressed has nothing to do with dangerous situations.

And in these instances, when we’re going through something difficult, it’s so important that we surround ourselves with people who understand us, support us, and can guide us through the jungle of the scary and unknown.

Arianna Gray is one of those people and I’m so glad that our paths crossed in 2016 when we met at a conference in Phoenix, Arizona. I’ve learned a lot from her and I’m sure you’ll discover things that you can implement in your life when you listen to this episode.

With over 20 years of work as a clinical hypnotherapist and mental health professional in addiction treatments, hospices, and family therapy, the life experience that she can share would be vast even before you add in her own personal lessons and the way she walks her talk.

In this wisdom-packed episode, you’ll discover:

  • What to do so that sadness after an injury doesn’t become depression and if it does, how to resolve it.
  • How to quickly pull yourself out of an anxiety attack.
  • Why taking advantage of this experience is so important for living a happy life.
  • Why pain is not the same as suffering.

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Show notes & links

The show notes are written in chronological order.

00:00 – excerpt from the episode
01:18 – intro (listen to discover a little more about your host. Martin will tell you a new lesser-known fact about Dr. Maya)

Dr. Maya Novak:
Looking very simplistically, your brain has only one job, and that is to keep you alive. Fear, as much as we don’t enjoy it, performs that function as well. It helps us remove ourselves from dangerous situations or not put ourselves into danger in the first place. But often (especially in our modern world) being afraid, or feeling anxious or depressed has nothing to do with dangerous situations. And in these instances, when we’re going through something difficult, it’s so important that we surround ourselves with people who understand us, support us, and can guide us through the jungle of the scary and unknown.
Arianna Gray is one of those people and I’m so glad that our paths crossed in 2016 when we met at a conference in Phoenix, Arizona. I’ve learned a lot from her and I’m sure you’ll discover things that you can implement in your life when you continue to listen to this episode – a conversation we had in 2019 on my Mindful Injury Recovery World Summit. Let it be valuable so please enjoy.

Dr. Maya Novak:
In this interview, I’m joined by Arianna Gray who is a licensed professional counselor, psychotherapist, personal mentor, speaker, and workshop leader. Over the last 20 years, she’s worked as a mental health professional in addiction treatments, hospice, and with children and families. She’s a clinical hypnotherapist and combines this approach with practices of many spiritual traditions in her work. Arianna’s also passionate about walking her talk, so she’s constantly working on her own transformational journey so she can support her clients better at breaking through their limitations and enjoying their lives fully. Arianna, thank you so much for being here.

Arianna Gray:
Hi Maya, it’s great to be here with you.

Dr. Maya Novak:
So, we’re going to be talking a lot about the mental and emotional part of the recovery, but before we do that, can you share your story and how your journey guided you towards psychotherapy and hypnotherapy and counseling?

Arianna Gray:
Well, what a great question. So my first career was in theater. I actually used to work as a director for the live stage and I directed mostly small cast dramas. The process of that is very much in rehearsal getting into the character and the motivations and the inner world and life and experiences of the characters. Very often, because this is what makes theater entertaining, it was about really difficult things that people went through. So I was working with my actors to tap into what they could relate to in those experiences, into what was painful or hard or difficult in their lives. I started feeling more and more like wow, I’m really monkeying around in people’s psyche, maybe I should learn a little more about that so I don’t any damage! For me, I had thought about going into psychology and counseling a number of times, but I just knew that I couldn’t buy into the traditional model. You know the idea that we’re brains and the only thing that matters is our mind and never talk about bodies in the work that we do, never talk about spirituality in the work that we do. So I kind of had to wait a decade until the practices that mental professionals were doing started to expand and include all these different areas. So my first way of exploring that was into the world of hypnotherapy - I was just fascinated. I mean one of the ways to think about hypnotherapy is it is a guided journey that you take in your own mind where you can – it’s sort of theater of the mind, in a way. You can go back into your life or forward into your future or into sort of imaginal archetypal realms and amazing things can be worked out. I mean we’re really learning now with the neuroscience that when we imagine something really vividly, our body response systems experience that as if it were really happening. So the healing potential in there is just – it’s literally only limited by your imagination. So that was where I began, looking at hypnotherapy. I worked as a clinical hypnotherapist for a while and what that means is that I was focusing on transformational work. You can also use hypnotherapy for quitting smoking or weight loss or phobias, but my focus was really on supporting people to transform their life experiences – whether it’s the experience of the past or what they wanted to create in their present and build for in the future. So I did that and loved it and decided that I wanted to learn more. So when I sat down to find a Master’s program I Googled “master counseling spirituality” and, at that time, it was back in the year 2000, there were only two schools in the whole country that would put the word spirituality in a description about what they were teaching. So I went to one of those schools and had an amazing time, but one of the fundamentals of that approach is that we do the work on ourselves first. And for me, that’s a really important ethic, that I’m never going to ask somebody to do something that I haven’t done my version of. Of course, no two people are identical but if I haven’t learned how to navigate the landscape of my own soul, I’m not going to be able to help somebody else because they can – you can feel that when you’re talking to somebody who’s like kind of pitching you something they read in a book. So with all the different approaches that I’ve worked with, I’ve always done them myself. And I’m a therapist who – I have my own therapist – and thank goodness for her. I feel so blessed because I really feel like it’s part of personal and professional hygiene that I keep doing my own work. I would love it if it were the case that we get “done” with our healing and our personal growth, but I have learned that so long as we’re in a body we’ve still got work to do – and that’s okay though because it’s delightful. It’s our growing edge. It’s where our learning is and it’s where we get to be our best selves and our largest most happy selves. And I mean I know we’re talking about injury and you’re doing such a beautiful job helping people understand the whole additional dimensions that are available to them in how they not just heal from the injury, but like move forward in their lives. I just think that that’s so important, how we think about what happens to us and we greet that and work with that. So that’s sort of what’s brought me to being a professional counselor and what had me so excited to be on your Summit to talk about this topic because I think it’s really important.

Dr. Maya Novak:
Well, we’ve known each other for quite a few years now, and we’ve chatted about these things many times and a couple of years ago when I had – when I went through some really difficult moments with depression and all the sadness and everything – you really were there standing by my side. So the thing that I would love to explore with you is depression, because when a terrible injury happens, a lot of times people slide into sadness and depression. Can you talk about why this happens, even maybe to people who have never experienced it before - but when the accident, the injury happens, all of a sudden they don’t recognize themselves anymore?

Arianna Gray:
Yeah, absolutely. Well, first of all, I think I want to start off by talking a little about the difference between – in my understanding and my conceptualization – between depression and let’s say grief or sadness. A way that I like to talk about that is that depression is stuck. Depression is I’m – it’s almost like depressed, right. My feelings are all stuck. There’s no movement. There’s no churning inside. It’s just this – it’s like experientially, for me, when I have experienced depression, it’s like this huge lead blanket over my entire being, and all I want to do is just sort of squish down and lay there and disappear. That’s depression. Sadness or grief is active. There’s feelings that hurt and that make us want to maybe run away from them or make us have all kinds of different sensations in our bodies and that’s active. That’s moving. So certainly there are – I really do believe that there are chemical things that can happen in a person’s body and brain that are not situationally dependent related to depression, right. Where it’s just somebody’s got chemistry that’s gone wonky – wonky’s probably not the best way to put that! You know, that’s not working for them and their greatest happiness. But I kind of want to set that aside because we’re talking about injury, right, so here is a specific event that’s happened. We live in our modern culture in a place where we highly value intellectual intelligence and very rarely value emotional intelligence. So while we’re getting taught how to read and write and do arithmetic, we’re not being taught how do I process sadness. What do I do when I’m really angry? How do I move that energy in a way that’s healthy and productive and healing for me? We don’t get taught that. I certainly didn’t get taught that. So when I talk about having done my own work, it was largely about learning how to do that, how to have emotional intelligence and not just intelligence but like emotional intelligence muscle. So when something big happens in our life, like an injury, we have feelings about it. That’s reality. We just have feelings about it, and different people are going to have different feelings. But we don’t have any muscle around what to do with that, particularly if there’s trauma – and we can talk more about that later if you want to – if there’s trauma related to the accident, that’s a whole other cascade of chemistry and response. Something’s happened to us and we have a thought that it’s a bad thing that’s happened to us and maybe we’ve got pain on top of that thought, or underneath that thought, and all these feelings come up, but our only coping mechanism is to push them down. And sometimes really well-meaning people will deal with somebody who’s addressing something big like an injury and be sort of like, well cheer up, you can do it, it’s going to be great, keep going, rah, you know. And that’s marvelous – there’s a place for cheerleading but there’s also a place in emotional intelligence for breakdown. There’s a place for fear and anger and sadness and confusion. They all have a place, but if my thought is I’m not supposed to have any of those, I’m supposed to be like “go team” every moment, then I’m going to get into this depression place and then we’re stuck because this is a not moving place. So there’s some really great sayings like – what was the one I was just thinking about – like “what I resist persists”. So if I am resisting these feelings, they’re going to hang around a lot longer. What we don’t know when we don’t have emotional intelligence is that these emotions come up, they feel very intense, but if we can have the emotional intelligence to allow them to move through us and inform us – because they’re information, just like intellectual and intelligence is information – emotional experience is information. If we can allow ourselves to have that feeling and let it move through us, then it’s gone and then we’re free. And then we go “yay team” and we can do what needs to be done. Having feelings doesn’t get in the way of taking action. It actually wants to inform the action that we take. But when I think I shouldn’t be having any of these feelings and I push them all down, now this is going to persist. This situation is going to persist.

Dr. Maya Novak:
So what is then your view of “time heals everything”? If we’re talking about sadness or depression, sometimes I see women and men think well, I just have to wait a tiny bit and it’s going to go away, it’s going to be okay. So what is your view on that, and is it necessary to seek help or is it just like, let’s wait a few weeks, a few months, and everything will be okay?

Arianna Gray:
Well, I think there are good points in there. I think it’s a – when you say if I just wait a bit longer it’s going to be okay, there’s some wisdom in that idea. The wisdom in there is expressed by one of my clients as “not always so”. Whatever it is I’m experiencing in this moment, is not always going to be this way. In a universe of change, the only constant is change. So whatever I’m experiencing in this moment, it will not always be like this. When we are facing the thing that is so painful, so sad, or so frightening or so infuriating, it can be really empowering to recognize it’s not always going to be like that. Let me kind of segue way just a little bit here. I’ll talk a moment about these really powerful feelings that can come up when we have an injury or another major life experience. What most of us experienced when we were little is really powerful feelings would come up and because there was nobody around us that was an expert in emotional intelligence, they couldn’t teach us how to work with that. Very often, the people around us were struggling with their own stuff and so those feelings would feel so big to us, but we would get the message that we’re not supposed to have them. And that feeling inside – I mean imagine a little child’s body, right – it’s hard enough for us as adults when we have feelings. Imagine that little child being, with so few resources, having this emotion – anger, sadness, fear – it feels so bad. It’s totally overwhelming for a child. It truly is overwhelming for a child. They really don’t have a capacity to fully move all of that energy, certainly not without support. But what happens is when we have that experience as a child, then we log that into sort the operating system of our being, as “I can’t handle overwhelming feelings”. It gets logged under “it’s going to kill me, I can’t take it”. This comes up a lot, that. So we all have within us different parts. There’s the professional part in us. The part of us that’s a best friend or a parent. We have different parts. Well, one of them is this little child. When we start to have something big happen in our life, like an injury, and then emotions come with it, that little kid gets scared and remembers the message from childhood, which is “I can’t do this. It’s too big. There’s no help. It’s going to kill me if I even go into it.” If I go into my sadness, or my fear, or my anger, it’s so big it will never end. That was true for the child and that’s how it got logged. But for us as adults, it’s not actually true. So to go back to that moment where I think to myself it’s not always so. Whatever I’m feeling right now, it’s not always going to be that way. When I let myself have that thought, I’m actually comforting that little child inside of me who’s afraid. It can actually be helpful – so back to the hypnotherapy imagination – to close my eyes and imagine that little child inside of me and to comfort her, comfort that child inside. Not yell at them to shut up or tell them to go away or they don’t make any sense or they shouldn’t be feeling what they’re feeling. That’s inner child abuse. We would not do that to a child outside of us, but so many of us do it to the child inside of us. So to close your eyes and go in and notice how that little kid inside of you is feeling, and maybe they’re afraid. And to just have that understanding in your adult self, it’s not always going to be like this, right. That is a very helpful comforting tool to use in that moment. But to answer the second sort of part of what you were asking – like does time heal everything and will it just go away if I keep waiting? That’s something different. Time heals everything when we are present with that emotion, when we allow the emotion. When it’s moving through us, then it moves through us in time and then it’s done. When I’m suppressing everything, I’m not letting it be in time so time can’t heal it, it’s stuck. You mentioned I’ve worked in hospice - which I really recommend for a great way of learning what our culture is so afraid about which is the end of life and dying – I’ve learned that we don’t have some magical wakeup age where we suddenly stop habits that don’t serve us start behaving in a wise and whole way. If we don’t choose to unpack some of this stuff, we’ll take it all away with us. So what they show like in the Hallmark movies about how somebody has a terminal diagnosis and everything changes for them and they turn their whole life around, in my experience, how we face stress and end of life is a stress, is how we’ve faced everything else leading up to that point. So how I deal with the injury that I get – you know, how you’ve dealt with your injuries, Maya, and how your audience is considering dealing with theirs – that sets a pattern going forward for the whole rest of your life. So I really want to suggest this pretty radical idea that rather than viewing major life events like an injury as bad and something I want to get away from – I totally understand that thinking, I’ve been there – but if there’s some way that we can think about it as a teacher in our lives. Okay, this teacher is here. I don’t think I asked for it, but here it is now what am I going to do with it? There’s a teacher in my life, am I going to ignore it and repress it and keep it stuck both in my psyche and in my body? Or am I going to – I know this sounds totally crazy, but am I going to find a way to welcome it? Can I welcome this injury as a teacher in my life and learn from it because I really love that saying about it’s not what happens to us in life that matters, what matters is how we respond to what happens. And we can all look around and see examples of people who had things happen in their lives that destroyed their lives and there are also examples of people who had things that we can’t imagine surviving that made them blossom. We – every one of us, every time we’re facing some type of adversity, some type of pain or suffering, we have the opportunity to use that as a teacher to catapult us to the next level of our life. But it takes – there’s a great quote from a movie, was it We Bought A Zoo, I think that’s the name of it, that says all you really need is about 45 seconds of outrageous courage, and I think that’s really true. When I – a couple of years ago when I severely sprained my foot the idea of going into that physical pain, the idea of trying to see it as good. I mean everything in me wanted to resist, wanted to be upset, wanted to be angry – and, of course, there’s a time to allow all those feelings to happen. But all this resistance, all this contraction, it felt like a radical thing to soften and to open and to allow myself to experience what was happening in my foot. It feels like it’s going to go on forever, it really only takes about 45 seconds of outrageous courage to be like okay, I’m going to feel it and then we do. Then all of a sudden, what’s been stuck and repressed gets to start to move.

Dr. Maya Novak:
Yes, I love what you shared here - and Arianna, one of the reasons why I invited you to be a part of this Summit is also because you have personal experience, not just with a sprained ankle, that was the first step, and then it got worse. Can we talk about this, because it’s in combination with injury being a teacher, or in combination with not listening and then maybe experiencing something else? Can you share a bit about this?

Arianna Gray:
Yeah, absolutely. Looking back it is so clear to me that – so first I sprained my ankle, or really my foot, but my ankle and then I broke my foot three months later, the same one, and I can explain how that happened. But it’s really clear to me looking back at that first injury, it was such a gift. My life – I was overworking, I was pushing myself way too hard. There was lots of stressful change happening in my life, so much going on, and I was using my old pattern of pushing when things were hard. Pushing through, forcing, more, more – lots of stick and very little carrot. When I sprained my foot, my ankle, I had to stop. I mean literally, physically, I had to sit on the couch and stop moving with my foot elevated. Like I couldn’t move and it was so clear – the pain was such an important teacher because if I thought oh, I can just go – I couldn’t do anything for myself. I couldn’t get up and make food. I mean I could barely make it to the bathroom. I had to stop and there was no pushing through it. The pain was severe enough, thank goodness, that I couldn’t push through it. I had to surrender and just stop and all of the consequences, everything that that meant about that stopping. I was like but things are going to not happen – and that’s right. Things didn’t happen and courses changed. Now I can see that they all changed in exactly the right ways, in all the ways that I most needed. And I was never – I can see it – like I was never going to stop that craziness until something made me stop and that something was my body. It was interesting because I did really listen to that. I really took great care of my ankle. I talked to you. I did your training. Like I was really involved with all of that and there was a much deeper thing that was happening for me at that time about a fear of being alone. A fear of – it was really based in feeling like I needed other people in order for me to feel happy. I needed the right partner, and I needed the right friends, and I need the right community, and I needed the right career and the right amount of money, and the right town. I had all of these ideas, even though I certainly saw myself as having done a lot of personal work and awake, I had all these ideas that these – I needed these things outside of myself to be happy. And at an even more fundamental level, the little child inside of me had learned growing up that I need other people to be safe, that other people were going to be saving me in the world. And so I had just started to get over the sprain, I had just stopped walking with a limp. I have a small cabin up in the woods in New Mexico and it’s in the middle of the wilderness, it’s totally off the grid, and cellphone doesn’t work, and I had gone up there for a weekend by myself to relax and enjoy the wilderness. There’s a stream goes through and cottonwood trees, very beautiful. I woke up in the middle of the night and there was this orange glow coming in through the window and I thought is that the sun rising? And I realized no, the sun’s on the other side. I stood up, and I went to the window and I opened the window shades, and the outhouse was completely engulfed in flames and the trees around it had begun to burn. I was in a wooded area so immediately I thought canopy fire and the whole valley I was in could go up, and there’s no running water, just the stream. So I like threw on clothes and ran outside and I ran around the side of the cabin and I just stood there for a moment and I looked at this thing engulfed in flames and my first thought was, nobody’s coming. I didn’t have any – there was no phone to call, no police, neighbors were too far away – nobody’s coming to save me. Then I just got this calm and I thought okay, I’ve got to do this and there was a bucket right there and I grabbed the bucket. It’s the middle of the night and I just had like a headlamp on for light and I ran down to the stream and I filled a bucket full of water – which normally I couldn’t carry more than one of those – and I started ferrying buckets back and forth and back and forth. In that process I fell a bunch of times, and I didn’t know it at the time, but one of those times that I fell going back and forth across a rock-filled wash, I broke my foot but I kept going, and I kept going, and I kept going and finally I put the fire completely out. I stood in that same spot where – I don’t know a 100 years or 45 minutes before I had realized nobody’s coming - I realized as I thought it fully out “I’m enough” and it changed me. It was the first time in my life I understood I was enough. Any time after that that I wanted to minimize it and to doubt myself as I went into new areas, as I made really major changes in my life, to doubt myself, to doubt my abilities, to be afraid about being alone – I realized I put out a fire in the middle of the night in the wilderness by myself, with buckets, on a broken foot! I can do it. I’m enough. I almost was grateful to that broken foot because it was the sort of extra element of drama to the whole thing. I mean honestly, I didn’t have pain – I had a little pain when it first happened – but adrenalin is an amazing thing while I’m putting out the fire. But it was just enough to show me that no matter how hard it gets, even on a broken foot, I’m enough. That fire has become a pivotal moment in my life and that broken foot was a part of me learning that I’m enough. I think if I hadn’t had that additional element of drama, I think it would have been easier for me to minimize the whole thing. And then in my healing from the experience of being in a fire in the middle of the night by yourself, that broken foot required that I take really gentle care of myself. I had to slow down. I had to ask people for help. I had to not race around. It almost felt like this guardian that was making sure that I really loved and cherished myself – which are words we throw around – but in a deep-felt way were, certainly then, new for me to actually treat myself gently and with cherishing. That foot taught me. It enforced it because I had to obey the pain that would happen if I would stand on it. So that’s why I just have so much gratitude. And I have absolutely no regret for either the sprain or the break. And I don’t feel in any way – sometimes there’s this talk about like teachers come up and I think it’s part of our Judeo-Christian culture that we’re really guilt focused and we think, even when we hear the Eastern idea of karma, we sort of think like punishment. It’s really important to me to understand that that sprain and that broken foot, those weren’t punishment. Those were generous love that allowed me to grow into more ease and kindness and my life. So that feels really important to me. Those things were not punishment. They weren’t that I didn’t do it right or had to be slapped down. They were about the next level of joy showing up in my life.

Dr. Maya Novak:
Well, I love this and so agree with you about karma and punishment, and I hear this quite often. In the last couple of weeks, or maybe a couple of months, I’ve asked more than 100 injured women and men if they believe that this injury that they have, that it happened for a reason. And yes, some’ve also answered that it’s karma. That I wasn’t good, or it’s my punishment. It breaks my heart because it’s not about the person being bad, it’s a gift. However, I also know that it’s really hard to see something as a gift when you are in so much physical pain, emotional pain, mental pain, and standing so close to the problem. It’s really easy to connect the dots in a year, for example.

Arianna Gray:
Yes, yes.

Dr. Maya Novak:
When you are there, it’s like, I don’t get it. I cannot enjoy this process and just be grateful.

Arianna Gray:
Yeah, yeah.

Dr. Maya Novak:
So since you do have personal experience with injury and healing, what is your number one advice that you would give someone who is right now injured and is recovering from this physical injury?

Arianna Gray:
I know you teach mindset and I think that that’s probably what I’m going to go to here.

Dr. Maya Novak:
We'll continue in just a moment. I wanted to quickly jump in for two things. First, thank you for tuning in. And second, I’m sure you have at least one friend, colleague, or family member who would very much appreciate this episode. So share it with them and help us spread the word. Now let’s continue…

Arianna Gray:
How – when you’re injured, particularly when you’re first injured – how you talk to yourself about what’s happening is the most important thing. Many teachers talk about there is a difference between pain and suffering. Pain is “I broke my foot”. Suffering is “It’s my fault, it’s bad, everything is going wrong”. We don’t necessarily have control over pain. We have control over suffering even though we might not think we do, but the truth is we can learn to have control, to have input into what we think. So if you’re injured, I really want to encourage you to remember that there is a little child inside of you who is hurt and afraid. If you could notice the thoughts that go through your mind, notice if you’re abusing that child and notice how you might comfort that child. What could you say? How could treat yourself to comfort the child? Because if an actual physical little person child is injured, yelling at them about it, telling them to shut up, blaming them, telling them what a pain it is that now you have to do everything for them, or you have to ask for help for them, you’re hurting that little one inside. So my number one thing is please comfort that child inside of you some kind of way. Comfort them in a way that’s healthy and good for them. This sort of a whole other topic that very often, because we all grew up without people for the most part, who had emotional intelligence, and we were trying to manage all of these feelings that were too much and we were repressing them we reached for things outside of ourselves to make us feel better. Like alcohol, like drugs, like food, like sex, like shopping, like gambling, the list goes on, like Netflix, like on and on and on. We reach for outside things and that is not comforting the child. If you had an actual little six-year-old person who was injured, giving them a shot of whiskey, taking them on a shopping spree, that’s not actual comfort, that’s distraction and it’s part of this pushing down thing. And food is a really important thing here, really, really important because – particularly, in my experience, when I can’t move the ways that I can comfort myself if I’m not focusing on what happens in here as what’s comforting myself, it gets kind of small and food can really show as a way I’m going to comfort myself. But that’s actually just another form of hurting that little one. Maybe the food that’s comforting would be warm tea, or a cool drink depending on where you are and what your season is, some soup. It’s not an entire bag of Doritos or a gallon of ice cream, or whatever, it’s not that. It’s just not that. But, if that’s the only way we have of comforting ourselves, we are not going to be able to let go of that. It’s just that simple. If the only way I comfort myself is drinking, or drugging, and I don’t learn other ways of comforting myself I’m not going to be able to give it up, I’m just not. So that’s the big thing, is how am I going to comfort that little one in a true compassionate way and it really is what happens in here. How I talk to me and being able to say things like – and I don’t know, like for some people we get uncomfortable when we hear this kind of stuff – but to be able to say to myself like it’s really okay. It’s really okay that you’re hurt. Sometimes I’ll even close my eyes and picture that little girl inside of me and just say to her it’s really okay that you’re hurt. You’re really valuable. It’s okay, people are helping you. It’s okay - those kinds of kind things. It’s okay to spend all this time sitting on the couch doing nothing because what’s most important is that you’re healthy and that you’re cared for and we’re going to make that happen. That kind of kindness is, I think, the most important thing and from that then grows – we have this weird idea that we need to beat ourselves into working hard. If I don’t scare myself about this injury, if I don’t threaten myself into exercising, I’m not going to exercise. I challenge that. I actually think that when you feel valued and precious and important, that’s a motivation and that is a sustainable motivation. Whereas just beating yourself all the time is not a sustainable motivation.

Dr. Maya Novak:
Wow. I do have a follow-up question on this part, which might be a bit triggering for some who are listening to this. But I am noticing a trend – not with all people, of course, injured people – but with some, and this is especially true with social media. It is pretty popular to be taking a selfie in the gym with a cast on and saying nothing can stop me. So is this – would you say that this is trying to cope with an injury, or is it more like abusing that inner child? Or is it just like something that they found that it’s helping them mentally and now it’s really, really hard for them to be without this because they do not have that coping mechanism anymore, they might feel that they are going to just collapse?

Arianna Gray:
Yeah. I love that you brought social media up, because that’s so, so important and so influential in most of our lives now in some amazing positive way and some really not ways. And as before, we talk about its impact on the developing brain in kids. But to answer your question, I think that it’s not so much what we do, it’s how we do it. I think for one person, a selfie in the gym with the cast and then nothing can stop me, is nurturing. And I think for the next person, it is abusing that inner child. I think it’s really a challenge to suss out what do I need? What makes me feel inspired and care for and how do I talk to myself about that? So if taking that picture and posting it on social media truly feels like it’s a representation of your inner self and it’s empowering you, great. But so often, what I hear from people, and in my office as a counselor, is that they feel like there’s two of them. There’s the them that they put on social media, and then there’s who they really are. And that what we put on social media, is what’s supposed to look good or what other people want to see or what we think other people want to see, which gets super convoluted and it’s not in alignment with who we really are inside. Our bodies know when we’re lying! So if I’m taking a picture and posting it and it’s a lie, my body knows that. That inner little kid knows that. Lying to myself is not going to help. But, this gets funky I’ve had people say to me like I won't do affirmations. Affirmations don’t work for me, they’re dumb. I’ve had a bunch of blowback about that. I am in alignment that you cannot say a sentence over and over to yourself if you believe it’s a lie. If you created an affirmation that feels untrue to you, I can leap small buildings or whatever your affirmation is, if it’s not real, if it doesn’t connect, then you’re just lying to yourself and you’re not accomplishing anything. But let’s find something to affirm that I can believe in. Like day by day, I’m getting better and better. If that can resonate and feel true then let’s do that rather than one person saying an affirmation like my leg is strong and healthy and it doesn’t feel strong and healthy to next person, then we’re getting all gummed up there. So I think that it’s really important with the use of social media because it’s not just that other people are watching, but we’re watching ourselves. That little child inside of us, our body, we’re watching what we post and if what we’re posting isn’t true, if it’s in alignment then, at the very least, we have not advanced the ball for ourselves, or anybody else.

Dr. Maya Novak:
Yes. This is such a great point. We talked about sadness and depression and all these emotions. Do you think that there is a connection between anxiety - which is also pretty common after a serious injury - and something that was not resolved in the past and is now coming out because it might have a way to come out with this physical an emotional pain? What is your view of that?

Arianna Gray:
Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. I think an example people might relate to pretty easily is an example of grief. If somebody dies in my environment, what every often happens is that I might be feeling grief for even – I mean everybody grieves differently, not everybody cries when they grieve. But if I’m doing whatever my grief thing is, I’m crying or I’m making something to honor them, you could start off crying for one person and then realize that you’re crying for somebody who died 20 years ago, and then you’re crying some more for somebody died even before that. I mean my – I had a dog pass away four years ago and in the grieving process for her, I started remembering the dog that I had when I was in my early 20s that died, and the dog that I had to give away when I was a teenager. And this is the beauty of our system because when we have something that’s either been repressed or hasn’t fully been cleared out, when another opportunity comes up to clear that it’s sort of like a magnetic attraction. My grief for my current dog sort of hooked in with my grief for the previous dog and it just – it clears the whole thing out. So that is my experience on all the different kinds of feelings. I can have – I mean you used the word anxiety, that’s absolutely true. I would also bring in because we’re talking about injury the word trauma and not just trauma in a medical sense but in an emotional sense. Having our body injured, broken, can be – it doesn’t have to be - but it can be emotionally traumatic and very often that trauma energy will link up with other past trauma experiences. So it’s not unusual for somebody who’s say been in a car accident who has an experience of sexual abuse to start having dreams again about sexual abuse and it can be overwhelming. Because like in my case, I started off on grieving one dog, now I’m grieving three dogs. It can be overwhelming and then we’re back this emotional intelligence and the weight lifting and the talking to the inner child and saying this is intense and I can do hard things. I can do hard things. The Montessori School teaches that to all of their children and I think it’s like one of the most beautiful lessons to understand and to say to yourself, I can do hard things. When that anxiety comes up, the grief, the trauma, whatever it is, I can do hard things. If it feels like you can’t, get support. For me, I really think about getting counseling, getting therapy, getting coaching as being like going to the gym or going to school. We went to school to build up our intellectual intelligence. We go to the gym to build up our physical strength and intelligence. Well coaching, counseling, therapy, that’s about building up our emotional and spiritual intelligence. Most of us are pretty much given one tool from our family of origin. Like okay, you get a hammer, you get a screwdriver, you get a saw and we just have that one tool and we just keep using it and using it and using it. In my experience, I can get along with the one tool I got from my family of origin, but at some point, I’m going to come up on a project that I have a hammer and it needs a saw, a hammer is not a saw. So to me, going and getting coaching is about getting another tool. That’s what these educators are for in our lives, is they’re tool collectors. That’s what you are, that’s what I am. We’re tool collectors and when people come to work with us or when I go to work with somebody it’s about getting more tools. I think it’s really old school to think about it from a mental illness perspective. Western medicine certainly has that sewn up in our culture that if you want support then you’re broken, but that’s not real. It’s not real for me personally. It’s not real in my experience. It’s not what I’m seeing in my clients. What I’m seeing actually the people who are the healthiest and the smartest, who recognize they need more tools and so they go get more tools. I think that that’s smart.

Dr. Maya Novak:
Yeah, and I love this and asking for help and getting it so if you’re here talking about coaching or counseling, I see those as like a highway. So you get from A to B faster because we all can do things on our own. It’s like, oh, I can do it on my own. Yes, you can do it. However, I know from my experience, from my past experience, there’s a difference between doing something for three years or maybe doing it in one year, or maybe doing it in three months. There’s definitely a difference.

Arianna Gray:
Absolutely. And this gets back to your earlier point about this idea that time heals everything. Well, a) we’ve already established not if you’re repressing it doesn’t, and then even if it does, how much time do you want to – how long do you want to be dealing with this? Like when my foot was broken, I got really clear that I did not want a lifetime injury that was going to hurt and bother me forever. I was really clear, so I was not going to mess around with it. I was not going to be in denial that I needed a lot of different kinds of support in that and I just dove in. But that’s me, that’s you. I mean I was recently talking to a client about wanting to go to – suggesting that this person goes to a 12-step meeting, that they were really having a problem with alcohol. They kept saying that they could quit if they wanted to, and then they’d say okay, I want to, I’m going to quit and then they didn’t quit. Then it was like well, I didn’t really want to. Well, okay, so why don’t you go to a 12-step meeting? There’s a ton of resistance from almost everybody to the idea of doing that and as we were talking it through I said you know, this was a person – a man who is an athlete – and I said well didn’t you have coaches when you were like an athlete? And he was like yeah. I said well, so a coach is somebody is who is an expert at what you’re trying to get better at doing. There’s no disgrace. There’s no bad juju around going to somebody who has more education than you do about something you’re trying to accomplish and learning from them. That’s what, in this example, I was talking with him about, that’s what the 12-step are, this is a group of people who have accomplished what you have been unable to accomplish. How long do you want to keep trying to do this on your own? Like are you saying you want to spend years? Do you want to spend the rest of your life or do you want to get it done, and if you want to get it done, I’ve reached a point the older I get now, if there’s some new task that needs to be done in my physical environment, I’m going to hire a professional to come do it right. Could I do it? Yep, I probably could, but I would also spend a long time, probably break things in the process, get really frustrated, end up with something that looks sort of like meh, or I could just hire somebody who has dedicated themselves to really understanding this. Then I benefit. Like they put in the blood, sweat, and tears, and money to learn it. At this point in my life, I am happy to pay for somebody to save me blood, sweat and tears, and probably more money than they had to spend to learn it.

Dr. Maya Novak:
This is a great point. So since I asked you about anxiety, can you share also when a woman or a man starts experiencing a panic attack, anxiety attack, or something that is coming up, how – what to do? That’s the question. What to do in that moment so that we don’t spiral down and go to a really bad place?

Arianna Gray:
Great question. So let me talk a little bit about the brain first and my understanding of how brain science works. So we have the prefrontal cortex and this is our executive reasoner. It’s the front part of our brain. It’s where we make plans. It’s where we have strategies. It’s where we’re calm and cool and collected. That’s the prefrontal cortex. Then we have the limbic brain, some people call it the lizard brain, and that’s the part of us that’s in charge of survival. That’s the part of us that lifts up the car if it’s fallen on a child, or makes sure we get food. It’s the part that makes us sleep when we’re too exhausted to keep functioning. These are two different parts of the brain. Well, the limbic brain is far older and it has what I think of as a kill switch. When the limbic brain, the part that’s responsible for our survival, turns on it shuts this down. So if I’m in a panic, it’s because this part of my brain thinks my life is in danger and it’s going to shut this down. So whatever nice affirmations I may have come up with, or stories about how it all belongs, and really my injury is my teacher – that all lives up here. This comes online, this shuts down. It’s gone and I’m in this full-blown anxiety panic response. It is a physiological thing. There’s a whole cascade of chemistry that happens when this part of the brain kicks in. Like it did, helpfully, for me in the fire. I needed a ton of adrenalin and cortisol to be able to carry all of those buckets back and forth. That’s what that’s meant to do. It dumps chemicals in our system so that we can put out or a fire, or historically fight a rhinoceros that was chasing us on the savannah. That’s what that is for and we are all descendants of people who have really strong limbic brains because we’re here. The people didn’t were like look, it’s a great rhino running at me and they did not make descendants! So we all have pretty strong limbic brains. So what do with them? Certainly, a panic attack and anxiety has to do with that part of the brain deciding we’re in really big danger right now and it’s going to take over. What you can do with that is really strangely simple and the way that I talk about is that coming to your senses. When the limbic brain has taken over, it doesn’t take in much sensory information, right. If I’ve got to fight the rhino, I’m not smelling the flowers. It will channel all of my attention into maybe one sense organ, like sight if that’s important. It’s certainly not taking in a variety of sense organs, for good reasons. The interesting thing that we have learned is that you can then use that to flip around. So if I’m having a panic attack, I’m having a bunch of anxiety, and I come to my senses what that means is I’m going to go through each sense and actually – and this is a bit challenging – force myself to pull data in through that sense. So to kind of model that right now, start with something I see. I look around my office and I can see the purple and blue flowers behind me, so that’s something I see and I’m saying out loud I see the purple and blue flowers. What do I hear? Well I get quiet and I listen, and right now in my environment I can hear the computer that I’m on – so I don’t even know about computers – some kind of whirry thing in there – I can hear that and I name that out loud to myself. Then smell. So in my office, there’s air that hits a plant and it kind of like brings a little bit of earth smell, that potted plant smell in, and I can smell that right now. Okay. Taste is another one. So I go into my mouth and I focus on my sense of taste and I did brush my teeth – I want to go on note – but what I can taste is a little bit of the oatmeal, kind of that oatmealy taste sort of in my mouth. Then touch, so I’m touching the arms of the chair and I would describe that as they’re sort of – it’s sort of knobbly. It’s like a woven thing. So it’s kind of a little bit rough but patterned and underneath it, it’s cushiony. So we did sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch. I just came to my senses. In order to pull that data in, to actually like – and you watched me – like it took me a couple of minutes because I’m focused on you and I’m kind of in this other headspace, to focus in, get the plant smell, hear this. When we do that – and not just think about doing it – that’s a problem, we all think about doing it but don’t actually. When we actually do like what I just did, just modeled, it turns off your sympathetic nervous system – new word – it turns off the limbic brain. It automatically triggers the system, the parasympathetic nervous system that settles us down. So basically, when we’re having anxiety, when we’re having panic, it’s because this old brain thinks we’re in a life-threatening situation and it’s getting ready to fight or flee or freeze. It’s getting ready to do something. We can shut that off by coming into our senses and actually pulling data in through the senses and I really encourage everybody to try this. Generally, what will happen is you’ll try it once and you’ll think well that didn’t work. If it doesn’t – it actually does work, there’s science, there’s no it doesn’t work. If it’s not working in that moment, you haven’t actually pulled data in through that sense. So you’ve got to go back and do again, and maybe you need to do it several times. I have been with people in full-blown panic attacks, paramedics on the way, and pulled them out of it by asking them to put their hand under their chair and tell me how many screws were attaching the seat of the chair to the legs of the chair. They had to go into their fingertips and feel and count, and they dropped out of the panic. I mean that’s the beauty of some of the things that we’re learning about neurobiology and the brain and how all of this stuff works, is there really are some very simple ways to help settle ourselves. And that coming to your senses is a really powerful way. Another thing that we can really do with any of these emotions is what Eckhart Tolle calls one conscious breath. So if you have a practice in your life of sitting quietly, you’re doing meditation or prayer or whatever that is in your world, that’s great. Not everybody does. But even if you have that, it’s important that the time that you spend in that present moment isn’t just something that you do once in one scenario. Like I sit on this pillow and I do this thing and then I go live the rest of my life. So one conscious breath, the idea is that even if you just do it once a day, you just stop. Put your attention inside and you take a breath in, and then you let it out. That’s it. Just by doing that by putting your attention into that in-breath, noticing when it’s full, into the out-breath, and noticing when it’s empty, you’ve just come to your senses. You’ve just switched out of your limbic brain, out of your sympathetic nervous system and into your parasympathetic. You’ve just helped your whole body chemistry change and you’ve also helped your mindset because you’ve stopped with whatever – we’re all tortured by this constant stream, usually of negativity in here. When you put your attention on your senses, or on one conscious breath, you can’t be thinking something else at the same time. So those are two really powerful ways – coming to your senses and one conscious breath – of stepping out of anxiety immediately that absolutely work. If you’re experiencing that they don’t work, just do them again because it really is not oh, it doesn’t work for me. Like this is how our bodies are wired.

Dr. Maya Novak:
Yes, and it’s really taking the time. Not like, oh, I see Arianna, I see flowers I hear this and that, okay, next! It’s really about taking the time. There is something that we talked about a couple of months ago and it was about these really powerful tools you shared here too, but a lot of the times you need to go back to the basics. It’s not necessary for a method to be extremely complicated, but just the simple deep breathing can change everything, right?

Arianna Gray:
Yes, absolutely. I mean the breath is the core. I mean there’s a reason why so many different traditions throughout history and around the world focus on the breath. You don’t have to have any belief system aligned with any of that. You’re breathing. You actually are breathing, so if you can tune into that. We get busy and think well, I don’t have time. Well, that one conscious breath, that takes eight seconds. Like you’ve got eight seconds, we all do. Then to build on that because you know what, you might actually have more than eight seconds, particularly if you have an injury and you’re sitting around a lot. So what I encourage is to set goals that are baby easy. Like for me, I wanted to have – historically I’d had a meditation practice twice daily and I’d fallen out of that and I was having a really hard time doing my evening meditation because I’d do the mornings really well, but I wasn’t doing the evenings. So I thought all right, how can I make this embarrassingly easy for myself. So I decided okay, I am going to meditate for two minutes every evening. That’s it, just two minutes is the requirement. So then I would sit down, and I hit my timer on my phone for two minutes because there was no way I could convince myself like you don’t have two minutes. No matter how tired I was, or busy I was like really, I have two minutes. Then what I always find is that when I sit down quietly and breathe for two minutes, which is what I mean by the word meditation, when I sit down quietly and breathe and focus inward for two minutes, it feels good. Then I want some more of that. I don’t know – I mean I have been meditating for many, many years, and it is mysterious to me why I still have resistance to it, but I do! So I just set – and sometimes I have to do that baby easy thing again where it’s like okay, I’m going to sit for two minutes and just like you said, just simple. It just doesn’t have to be complicated. Just breathe and notice that it feels good to breathe!

Dr. Maya Novak:
Yeah, baby steps and all those small things. Even just eight seconds, thirty seconds, one minute and then build. Also, if we’re talking about meditation, and it’s often like, you should be meditating for 30 minutes and if we do not reach that goal we, of course, don’t feel good about ourselves. So then it’s a full cascade and the stress that we are putting on ourselves. And since we are talking about great healing, stress is definitely not healthy for the body

Arianna Gray:
No. No, stress is taking you in the opposite direction, yeah.

Dr. Maya Novak:
Yes. So, Arianna, I know that women and men around the globe, they are loving this conversation and they are getting so much out of this. But I’m sure that there are also people who are losing hope about their recovery, about their healing. They don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. So what would you say to someone who is losing hope about their recovery?

Arianna Gray:
Hope is about the future, and the funny thing that I’m learning more and more is that we actually never get to the future. We’re always just in this moment right now. This is like this big weird secret that nobody taught me until I was 50 years old. Like we’re only ever right now, and hope can be a thing that’s about a future and you’re never going to get to the future. We’ll always just be right now. Even the thing that we call future when it gets here will be now. What I have learned is that right now in the present moment there’s usually nothing wrong. In this actual moment, not the story in my head about the moment. In this actual moment, I’m sitting in a room. I am on the chair. Maya is in front of me. It’s warm enough in here. I’m breathing. This actual moment nothing is wrong. And my experience is that either nothing is wrong – either the present moment is actually okay, or there’s action that you need to take. When I walked around the cabin and see this building engulfed in flames, I didn’t actually have fear. Once I saw the bucket and I understood I needed to take that bucket to the stream, fill it up with water, and bring it back and I began doing that, I wasn’t actually afraid. I just was doing what needed to be done. I wrote in my journal after that all fear is illusion. There’s just what is and sometimes you have to take action. So if you’re losing hope, maybe that is a teacher, an opportunity to come into this moment and actually notice the world as it is in this moment. Noticing even the stories that might be going on, because that’s all not real. Those stories I’m never going to be able to walk again, or it’s terrible and I’m going die or whatever all that is. That’s up here. That’s just – that’s not actually happening in this moment. Those stories are there, but in this moment, I’m sitting in a room. So I hope anybody listening to this recognizes that it’s not enough to just hear me say those words and think that’s a good idea – about all of this, right? Like it’s so easy – there’s so much wonderful information available. It’s so easy to listen to it and think that’s a good idea and go on and never apply it. I just really encourage you, particularly if you’re not having hope – practice some of this. Take the breath. Notice the moment that you’re living in right now. Find that 45 seconds of outrageous courage and feel what’s actually happening right now because you can do hard things.

Dr. Maya Novak:
You know I always remind myself of a yoga teacher from years ago when I started doing yoga. What he said is so close to my heart. He said that if you fall out of the asana, just come back to it. You’ve got the next best moment or opportunity. You get it like the next second. Sometimes with hope, it’s just like going from second to second to minute-to-minute because like you said, we are always in the present moment. We are not in the future. We are not in the past. However, our minds are usually there and our bodies are always here.

Arianna Gray:
Yes. That’s beautiful. I like that, right. If you fall out – and that’s kind. I mean that’s something I hear in that. It’s like there’s kindness and he was treating you and his students with cherishing and not the stick, not the beating up, but like if you fall out of the asana, just come back in. Life really can be that gentle, it really can be.

Dr. Maya Novak:
Oh Arianna, I could talk with you for hours!

Arianna Gray:
Likewise, Maya.

Dr. Maya Novak:
We can wrap this with one last question, and it’s a bit of a fun question that I ask every speaker on this Summit. If you were stuck on a desert island with an injury, you do have experience with that, and if you could bring only one thing with you that would help you heal amazingly well, what would that be?

Arianna Gray:
Wow. Okay, well, I’m not going to count me as the thing because I’m already there, and within me is my thinking and all of the strategies that you and I have talked about, all of the ways of being. So I’m going to assume that I get to bring all that with me. So then the question is what else would I bring? I think I’m going to have to go with my acupuncturist. She was amazing. She really helped me get through it, not just the injury itself but also the emotions, some of the emotions. Acupuncture is really amazing for the emotions that go along with an injury. I mean we haven’t talked about acupuncture here at all, but I think in addition to everything we’ve talked about because I get to bring that with me anywhere I go, I would definitely bring my acupuncturist!

Dr. Maya Novak:
Perfect. I love this. So Arianna, where can people find more about you, about your work? Please share it.

Arianna Gray:
Yeah, absolutely. I would welcome anybody coming to check out my website and on there actually, some of the tools that we’ve talked about here today are available for you. You can print those out and use them – the coming to your senses, the conscious breathing, it’s all there, and you can get print out copies of that. My website is ariannagray.com.

Dr. Maya Novak:
Arianna, thank you so much for being here, for sharing all this goodness and helping injured people around the world. Thank you.

Arianna Gray:
Maya, thank you so much and I just really honor what you’re doing here. I think that we’ve come to a time in our evolution as a species where we’re starting to recognize there’s more than just the physical body and I’m seeing what you’re bringing here with this Summit and with your amazing work that you do with your clients. I’m really seeing you raising the bar in those people that are ready to take it to the next step of not just focusing on the physical, but actually focusing on what is beyond that that accelerates the whole process and brings joy. So, I deeply honor you for that Maya.

Dr. Maya Novak:
Thank you for tuning into today’s episode with Arianna Gray. If you haven’t done it yet, subscribe to the podcast on whatever platform you’re using to tune in, and share it with your loved ones – yes, I’m thanking you in advance with a cherry on top. To access show notes, links, and transcript of today’s episode go to mayanovak.com/podcast. To learn more about The Mindful Injury Recovery Method visit my website mayanovak.com and find my book Heal Beyond Expectations on Amazon. Until next time – keep evolving, blooming, and healing.

Love and gratitude xx
Dr. Maya

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