Published by Simon Brown

Categorised in Health & Wellbeing

For over a decade, Thor Rain has helped hundreds of people use a method which they call ‘First Aid for Feelings’ to deal with stress, pain, fatigue, anxiety, and overwhelm. Having pioneered this approach to aid their own recovery from ME and fibromyalgia, they set up a social enterprise, The Helpful Clinic, to share it more widely. First Aid for Feelings is helpful, not only for feelings like anger and overwhelm, but also for pain, fatigue, and anxiety, which is an experience that many carers can relate to. One-to-one sessions are available, as well as group workshops supporting people to build their own First Aid Kits for Feelings.

Just before lockdown, Thor released a 10-day online meditation course teaching the basics of First Aid for Feelings. It was quickly featured as a staff pick on the InsightTimer platform, and is receiving rave reviews.

This course is powerful. The information on the importance of feelings and how best to be in relationship with them is accessible and life-changing. Thor’s calm, encouraging and well-paced delivery is a balm in itself…

Amelia (review from Insight Timer)

What is ‘First Aid for Feelings’?

“First Aid for Feelings is a proven method which helps you respond to your feelings in the moment and in real time.  Just as with medical first aid, once you know how to use the tools, it’s a rapid response that you can apply in any given situation when you experience intense feelings that you struggle with.”

You mention tools, what sort of tools do you need to do First Aid for Feelings? 

“Well, the mediation course teaches the basics, but to truly practice First Aid for Feelings, you need to build your own First Aid Kit for Feelings, which is like a first aid kit, full of useful things you can turn to in the moment of needing them, but for feelings. For now though, let’s just explore one or two of the meditations.

“Lesson three, for example, introduces the first building block of First Aid for Feelings, looking at why the ABC (which stands for Awareness, Breathing, Choice) for feelings is just as vital as the ABC (Airway, Breathing, Circulation) of medical first aid.

“Then, lesson four introduces Professor Linden’s analogy of the brain as a three scoop ice-cream. The bottom scoop is structured like a reptile’s brain and is capable of the level thinking of, say, a crocodile. The middle scoop is structured more like a mammals and experiences more complex emotions than our reptile brain, such as guilt, love, boredom and confidence. It’s the part of the brain that wants to look after the group, it’s what makes us social. The top scoop, the prefrontal cortex, is where all the clever stuff happens. It’s where we analyse and assess situations and solve complex problems.

“When you are not stressed, you can access all three scoops. However, when your brain perceives that you are under threat, it will reduce resources, first taking out your rational scoop, and then, if the stress persists, your mammalian brain. The trick is to be aware (the A part of your ABC for feelings) of when this is happening. The mediations help here, and also take you through how to use your breathing to bring your whole brain back online, and how to help yourself to make helpful choices about what to do next.”

That all sounds very practical – could you talk us through an example of how a carer, who was, let’s say, struggling with anxiety and fatigue, could put it into practice please?

Awareness

“Let’s work through the ABC of First Aid for Feelings, looking at the feeling of resentment. So, Step A is to become ‘aware’ that you are feeling this feeling. For many of the carers I work with, the signs they identify as indicating resentment are impatience and anger. I ask them to get curious about why they are feeling like this as, reminding that all feelings are information, and that getting curious about what our feelings are trying to tell us is the key.

“If, as a carer, you are struggling with the feeling of resentment, it might be because you are giving more than you you’ve got and are running low on self-care. That you’ve not had any respite in a very long time.

Breath

“Once you are aware of the information your feelings are trying to tell you, it’s time to move to Step B, ‘breath’, and to do a breathing exercise which will prepare you to move through to Step C, ‘choice’.

“The breathing exercise we teach is simple. Breathe in through your nose to the count of five, then out through your mouth to the count of seven. Repeat this five times. In doing this you are actually changing the biochemistry in your brain. Breathing in brings oxygen to your brain and activates your sympathetic nervous system (the stress state). Breathing out activates your parasympathetic nervous system (the maintenance state) and releases carbon dioxide. When you make these micro-changes, you shift the hormone levels in your brain from, e.g., adrenalin and cortisol (stress hormones) to dopamine and serotonin (happy hormones).

Choice

“You are now ready to move to Step C, ‘choice’. 

“Now, you’ve already recognised that this resentful feeling isn’t helpful, and you probably recognise too that the feeling that usually follows resentment is ‘guilt’, meaning you end up snookering yourself!

“So, it’s time to choose what you can do to change the way you feel. How would you like to think and feel now? What would be more helpful in this moment? What one action can you take in the next little while that would make this experience easier?

“Remember the reason for resentment? That you are giving more than you have got and that due to your caring commitments you just do not have the time to practice self-care. Even though, now in the moment, you may not be able to ‘do’ what you would like to do to take better care of yourself, you can plan to do something. Take the first step now to put that in motion or if you’ve not got the time for that now, put a note in your diary for a specific time in the next 24 hours to take that first step.

“There is something you can do now, in the moment, that will help you in the short term. You can talk to yourself with compassion and kindness, as you probably would a friend or a family member in your situation. You can say something like: 

It’s understandable that I am feeling this way. I have not had a break for a very long time. It’s nobody’s fault. My time for a break will come and I can, in the meantime, choose to do some small things to take better care of myself.

“It is often helpful to have this written down on an index card or a message on your phone. This is because it can be difficult to be kind to yourself without a prompt when you are feeling resentment.

“You can also listen to a piece of music that you know can help you to get through this hiccup. One carer I work with knows to sit down with a cup of tea and listen to Labi Siffre’s ‘Something Inside So Strong’ whenever he is aware that resentment is showing its face again. Another carer I work with turns to Mariah Carey’s ‘When You Believe’. If you have a First Aid Kit for Feelings, you will have identified a song for feelings you struggle with. You can also write a prescription card for troublesome feelings that you can turn to, which reminds you why you are feeling this feeling and what you can do to move through it in a way that is helpful.”

Very relaxing meditation and voice. Great insight on how the brain/body and emotions/behaviour influence one another. Thank you! I really enjoyed it, will definitely listen again. Specifically, the one on the analogy of the brain with ice creams, so interesting!

Elise (review from Insight Timer)

Thor publishes a fortnightly blog, which we know many carers find helpful. Recent posts are Covid-19 related. To be sure of regular updates, you can subscribe to The Helpful Clinic’s newsletter here.

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