How Anger Affects Your Brain and Body

There are many sources of anger. We can be frustrated,  disappointed, or we may feel fear, rejection, shame judgment, or sometimes we are just plain angry and aren’t really sure why.  I have discussed in other posts the importance of tuning into your body. Usually we feel sensations there, and it is helpful to pay attention and tune in to what we are feeling. Is it that tightening of the chest? Or the pounding heartbeat? Maybe you can feel the beginning of a headache, or even the lump in your throat. The key is to pay attention to what is happening so we can learn from those sensations and get in touch with the messages we are receiving. 

I thought it would be helpful to know how anger affects our brain and body and then take a few action steps that can help us to calm down and learn to self-soothe.

  1. That first spark of anger activates the amygdala before we are even aware of it. This part of the brain is responsible for survival and maintenance.  It regulates our heartbeat, breathing and other vital organs. The basis need that we hope for is safety and avoiding harm and when we are angry we experience fear, anger, etc. We want to experience peace but this is not what is happening.
  2. Then our amygdala activates the hypothalamus.
  3. Our hypothalamus signals the pituitary gland by discharging corticotropin-releasing hormone.
  4. The pituitary activates the adrenal glands by releasing another hormone adrenocorticotropic hormone.
  5. Then the adrenal glands secrete stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline.. .

So by now you are probably saying, “Well, why should I care and you know this is somewhat boring.”

Yes, I know it is at times something we don’t want to think about but because we know so much more now than we did decades ago about our brain, but it is important to know how stress affects us and that we can make choices that will help us to learn to respond in ways that create a healthier lifestyle for us.

The other day I was watching the news and felt myself getting very nervous and agitated. I was angry when I watched the news. I just felt frustrated. I stood up. Turned the TV off, and I went outside for a walk. I came back later and felt much calmer. If I would have continued to listen to the TV, I am not sure what would have happened. I felt stuck. I realized I needed to do something different. Yes, I know it’s hard to break away sometimes, but I needed some self-care and compassion for myself. 

You see, when we are angry we experience different symptoms in our body and mind. The elevated cortisol hormones that have been released cause neurons to take in too much calcium  through their membrane. Research shows that a calcium overload can make cells fire too frequently and die. The hippocampus and the Prefrontal cortex are particularly vulnerable to cortisol and their are negative effects. 

Elevated cortisol in the Prefrontal cortex causes a loss of neurons. Therefore, when we have too much cortisol we can’t think as clearly, we are not able to use our best judgments, and sometimes we can’t have a conversation because we are flooded with our emotions and all we want to do is fight or run away.  It is then hard to make good decisions and plan for the future. 

Elevated cortisol kills neurons in the hippocampus and disrupts the creation of new ones. Therefore, sometimes too much cortisol affects and weakens our short -term memory. I see this many times when I am having a therapy session with people. They have been dealing with many stressors and when they talk about the events that led up to the fighting or trying to remember the event some people see it differently, because  again there are changes that happen in the brain and affect our body. We can all see things differently. Think about the time you went and saw a movie. We can all see the same movie, but walk out of the theater, and we can perceive things different just from seeing a movie. So think about that if you have been under some kind of stress that it affects us in many different ways. 

You see, when we are angry or experience a very stressful event, we release cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. AND the big thing to understand here is, that too much cortisol will decrease serotonin- that’s the hormone that makes you happy and feel content. A decrease in serotonin  can make you feel anger and pain more easily as well as lead to challenging behaviors such as aggression and this can lead to depression. 

These stress hormones affect our body.

They affect our Cardiovascular system with elevated heart rate , elevated blood pressure,  and many more symptoms. When these symptoms become chronic, blood vessels become clogged and damaged and can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Our immune system is affected. Our Thyroid functions go down, our natural killer cells go down and number of virus -infected cells go up, and other diseases may occur.

Our digestive system is affected.. Blood flow goes down, metabolism goes down and sometimes we experience dry mouth.

We can get headaches, migraines may go up, etc. 

The important piece to understand is that our brain and body work together, and we all experience stress at times, and this can  come out as anger  as discussed here. We all try and do the best we can do, but sometimes we make mistakes and that is ok. We are all human and none of us are perfect. Let’s just be kind to ourselves when this happens and begin to be mindful how we can do things differently toward ourselves and others.

The key is to learn to take some steps to calm ourselves down.

Here are a few strategies that might help. I also suggest to make a list of things to do to help you when feeling anger or any kind of stress because sometimes in the throes of that anger or the stress we are experiencing, we are not able to think clearly.  I have a list on my refrigerator or somewhere close to me , I can look at that list and try to implement some changes immediately. 

Here  are a few things:

  1. Take a pause, do some deep breathing, in my next post, I will give a few examples.
  2. Take a walk.
  3. Do stretching, yoga, etc…
  4. Call a friend who has the ability to listen but not give advice.
  5. Play with your pet.
  6. Look at the beautiful smile on your child’s face.
  7. Put something funny on TV. I have a client that whenever she is upset, she puts on Jerry Seinfeld . Yes, they are all reruns and she knows them all but for some reason this calms her down and she begins to smile.
  8. Practice a smile on your face.
  9. Stand up and Breathe, or just even take a few steps, change up what you are doing.
  10. Go outside and look at the clouds.
  11. Occasionally change up your routine. I don’t know about your but I get bored sometimes with the same routine. Meet a different friend, go to a different coffee shop,  allow yourself time to enjoy being with a friend or co-worker and allow time to be with one another.
  12. Close down your screen. I know it’s hard but DO It!  You can do it .
  13. Eat plenty of fruits, veggies, etc. Avoid drinking coffee all day.
  14. Find some time during the day to mediate even if only for 5 minutes or listen to a relaxation or meditation tape.
  15. Write in your journal. You can write if whatever is important to you and don’t worry about grammar, etc.. but when you begin to feel calmer try and think of things you can do differently the next time you are angry or stressed, begin to write something positive but only if it resonates with you. I know it may seem mechanical to try something new and different but the more you do it the more it will help you.
  16. If at work take breaks. Shut down your computer and make sure you eat something healthy. We know that many fast foods and other foods that are not good for us can trigger headaches, stomach problems, etc.
  17. Reduce the noise level in your environment.
  18. We need to learn to speak up about what is affecting us and causing us to be angry. We need to do this though when we are calm. If we are yelling and mean than nobody can hear us.  Yes we can get angry and yet it is how we express our emotion. It is one thing to say we are angry because and describe the situation, it is something else to be yelling and screaming and using our anger in a way that can hurt us and hurt others. Again it is how we express this emotion.
  19. I know if we are angry it is hard to be compassionate towards someone else. I am suggesting that when you have calmed down it is important to be able to have compassion for the other person as well if it is possible.
  20. Look at your stress or this anger you are experiencing as an avenue for growth and change. Think of your problems as potential teachers.
  21. Stay away from watching the news right before you go to bed.
  22. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to ask for help.
  23. Allow extra time to get to appointments.
  24. Take lots of deep breaths. Do a mini count to 10 when you feel stressed, frustrated, or angry. Take a pause and just BREATHE.
  25. Take a mental health day and be your own best friend and take care of yourself like you would a loving friend of yours.
  26. Practice being patient. I know, I know its hard, especially when I am living in Los Angeles and on the freeway, I have to take deep belly breaths, yet I am aware of my impatience hopefully most of the time and I can relax or listen to a book on tape.
  27. Remember please that we do not all see things the same way or do things in the same way. Understand with compassion that we may have different realities, and this affects how we see the world.
  28. Please learn about practicing mindfulness. There are so many benefits. Learn to being to live in the present moment and be grateful for what we have.
  29. Create new rituals that make you feel good. Open a door for someone, pick up litter, smile at that person in the elevator, say hi to the cashier at the grocery store.
  30. When stressed or upset, ask yourself, “Is this really important?” Will this really matter a year from now ?
  31. Be aware when you are judgmental or critical. Pay attention to the voices you hear. What are they saying?
  32. Breathe before you speak and think about what you say and how it may impact the other person. I know this is hard if you are angry but with practice the more you breathe and take that pause the easier it will become.
  33. Have a good breakfast and optimize your health with good nutrition, sleep, rest and most of all self-compassion.
  34. Remember things are always changing, be flexible. Things don’t always go as we planned.


The Four Step Approach to Reducing Stress

This is a four step approach that is helpful for reducing stress and will be helpful in your day to day activities:

  1. STOP
  2. BREATHE (Pause)
  3. REFLECT (Be Mindful)

As I discuss in other articles, I want to spread the message of “Waking UP Before You Get a Major Wake UP Call,” meaning if we can tap into the triggers that we are experiencing or the stressors we experience at work, home, and in our relationships, then we wake up and make meaningful choices that reflect our values and our purpose, rather than be sideswiped into something we didn’t expect. Yes, there will be things we cannot control that will shake us up, but I am suggesting to wake up and pay attention and be mindful before that major crisis may disrupt our lives.

#1. STOP

Each time you encounter stress or a trigger affects you, notice the warning signs. STOP before your thoughts can escalate into a worst possible scenario. Castastrophizing , Awfulizing, or ruminating over our thoughts sets us into a tail spin. The act of simply saying “stop” to yourself can help break your pattern of automatic response and interrupt the negative stress cycle. Try to be mindful and aware of when you notice your thoughts and then go back to the present moment. 

#2. BREATHE  or take a PAUSE

After , you stop, breathe deeply and pause. Notice where the physical tension is, then release the tension. You can do this by deep breathing, but you can also breathe into this area and then exhale with a long breath.  This is useful in breaking the Negative Stress Cycle. Physically taking a breath can be very important because when we are under stress or feeling many different emotions, we tend to hold our breath. When we concentrate on our breath , we are in the moment, and our attention is focusing on our breathing and away from the stress we are experiencing. This momentary interruption allows us to focus our attention and hopefully look at our stress or triggers in a different way. 


Once you have stopped the cycle of rumination  and awfulizing your thoughts and taken a deep breath, you can focus your energy when you are feeling calmer and focus on the problem at hand and reflect on the cause of this stress. We then can drop into the position of observer or witness to gain insight into seeing how our mind works. This process of reflection is helpful in developing awareness of our stress and our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and body sensations of what we are experiencing  at this time. 


After you have stopped the process of responding automatically, it is time to choose how to deal with the stress and wake up and make conscious choices that reflect your intentions, values, and purpose.

This takes practice. As with anything, if we want to change a habit, find more motivation in our lives,  or be able to get unstuck, then we need to take small steps forward. It is one thing to say,  “I want to begin to meditate,” and it is another thing to begin. Please take your time in practicing these steps and be kind to yourself. If you fall off, do not badger yourself with unkind words, just do it again the next day with love toward yourself and self-compassion. 

Coping with Stress: Part 2

What are your indicators that stress may be getting the better of you?

There are many different types of stress management strategies to from to deal with life’s stressors.  Some strategies help you reduce your physical stress response in the moment and assist in helping you calm down and return your body to a more normal, non-stressed state. Other strategies focus on long term stress management and are related to lifestyle and health habits that help reduce the physical impact of stress , as well as the mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects.

Here are a few strategies to help you:

Strategy #1

  • Deep breathing. This can range from taking ten deep breaths to participating in yoga or learning to meditate.


  • Learn how to say no. Know your limits and stick to them. This is important in both your personal and professional life.


  • Avoid people who really stress you out. If a person constantly causes stress in your life, and you have tried to speak with them and can’t turn the relationship around, then you need to think about  maybe limiting the amount of time you spend with that person or maybe ending the relationship.


  • Take control of your environment. If the evening news makes you anxious, turn the TV off. If traffic’s got you tense, take a longer less traveled route. If going to the supermarket makes you anxious or you just hate to do it, try to do the majority of your shopping online.


  • Avoid hot button topics.   If you get upset by discussions involving religion or politics then don’t bring them up. I would like to see people be open and discuss these issues, but sometimes it is not possible because people get so escalated and angry that they cannot hear another perspective or be open to the conversation. If this happen,s take these topics off the list when engaging with certain people.  This may be the time to seek out a therapist who can help you facilitate  a conversation.


  • Shorten your to do list.  What is that one thing you have to get done today? Look at your schedule, responsibilities,  and daily tasks.  If you have too much on your plate, identify the “shoulds” and the “musts.” Eliminate the tasks that are not truly necessary to do. Move them to the bottom of your list for another day or just eliminate them.

Strategy #2:

  • Express your feelings instead of bottling them up. If someone or something is bothering you, communicate your concerns in an open, caring, and compassionate way. Start with I sentences and know that it is important to voice your feelings, because if you don’t and you continue to push things under the rug, then resentment will build up and the situation will remain the same.


  • Be Willing To  Compromise.  When you ask someone to change their behavior, you need to be willing to do the same and listen. You need to listen  and understand where each of you are coming from. What is your position? If you both are willing to lean into the situation and bend a little, you will have a better change of finding a middle ground.


  • Manage Your Time Better. Poor time management can cause a lot of stress. I know sometimes I come home and want to veg out and sit down and watch TV and do nothing else. But then where did the time go? Maybe it is better if I put a limit on my time watching TV and do other things that are important to me. Because if we have many things to do, and we are stretched too thin with time and running behind, it’s hard to stay calm and focused and present. If we plan ahead and make sure we don’t over extend ourselves, or if we learn to use our time wisely and plan time to relax, then we can alter the stress we are under.


  • Take time to quiet yourself when feeling stressed. Remember self-care. Use techniques to quiet and relax yourself. Take a hot shower or bath. Listen to soothing music. Take a personal time out for 15 minutes and sit quietly. Find other activities that will help you return to a more positive and peaceful state of mind.

Strategy #3

Learn to adapt to what you are experiencing:

  • Reframe your problems. Try to view your problems from a more positive perspective and ask yourself what you are learning from this experience.


  • Look at the bigger picture. Take perspective of this stressful situation. Yes, some stressors like death, illness, loss of relationship, job change, money, etc can change our life, but we also need to know that some stressors may not be that important in the long run. Ask yourself how important it will be in the long run. Will it matter in a month? A year? Is it really worth getting upset over. If the answer is no, focus your time and energy elsewhere.


  • Adjust your expectations. Sometimes we all try to be perfect and especially if you received messages growing up about always doing things right. Stop setting yourself up for failure by demanding perfection. Be kind to yourself. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others and learn to be okay with this is “good enough”.


  • Focus on what is good and be grateful. When stress is getting you down, take a moment to reflect on all the good things you appreciate in your life. I don’t mean it has to be the big things, something small. Be grateful for the phone call from a friend  or the smile on the person’s face at the checkout counter at the market. Or the beautiful weather outside. I tend to do this in the evening when I am in bed and think of at least 3 things that I am grateful for.  This simple strategy can help keep things in perspective.

Strategy #4. 

Some sources of stress are unavoidable. Life is impermanent and things happen. We don’t like that  we have to accept the things we cannot change. We can’t prevent the death of a loved one, a serious illness, and many other things. The best way to deal with these stressors is to accept them. I know this is easier said than done, and I have experienced with family and friends many difficult situations. I had to face the pain of what what was happening in my life as they occurred, but in the long run,  I had to learn to be resilient and realize that it’s easier than fighting against a situation that we can’t change.

  • Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Many things in life are beyond our control and beyond our understanding and particularly the behavior of other people. Focus on the things you can change, such as the way you choose to respond to problems.


  • Look for the Upside.  When you face major challenges, try to look at them as opportunities for personal growth. Learn to take time to reflect on the situation and how in the future you might make a similar situation better.


  • Share Your Feelings. Talk to a trusted friend or make an appointment with a therapist. Expressing what you are going through is very important. As I have mentioned, it is important to express our needs even if we can’t alter or change the stressful situation. We have a chance to share what is bothering us and sometimes getting a different perspective can be helpful.


  • Learn to Forgive. Accept the fact that none of us are perfect. We all make mistakes, and we are trying to make this journey of life with some understanding and meaning for the time we are here. Let go of the anger and resentments that cause us so much pain, both emotional and physical,  and hopefully you can free yourself from constant negative energy by forgiving and moving on. LIFE IS SHORT. WAKE UP!

Here are a few more things you can do:

1. Be assertive about your needs, don’t assume people know what you want.

2. Get organized and focus on what is truly important to you.

3. Express yourself in emotionally healthy ways.

4. Use humor appropriately.

5. Take care of yourself is not a one time thing. This is a lifestyle change and consists of proper nutrition, rest, exercise, having good social ties with others, and being always kind to yourself with love , compassion, and acceptance.

Coping with Stress: Part 1

As I watch the news and listen to my clients, I am able to see how stress is affecting so many of us because of stressors we encounter in our everyday life.  I turned on the news this morning, and I realized that I needed a break. I wanted to hear something else, so I put on some music and then went for a walk.. This is what I needed to do. It was a conscious choice to take some time and remove myself from the news and to do something in my life that can bring peace to me because I felt the tension inside my body, and I wanted a break and to feel a calmness within. I know some of you may be saying well that is hiding, or distracting myself from something that is necessary to watch, but I look at it as taking care of myself. I had self compassion for myself that I needed a pause, and I needed to change the pattern of walking in the door and immediately putting on the news. 

Stress can impact us all in different ways, and I was beginning to feel the anxiety in my body of listening to another day of news and seeing the barriers that are affecting us personally and globally in our day to day lives. So I took a break!

We all experience stress, and it affects us physically, mentally, emotionally, and behaviorally. These effects are messages that we are receiving some kind of stress buildup from our bodies, and they are telling us to wake up and that we need to begin to use coping resources. We need to change the pattern. I changed my pattern by turning off the TV. What do you need to do?

Stress can be experienced by the body, not only as stress-related illness as a result of a prolonged stress response, but it can also cause inflammation in the body.. This is one reason why when we are under stress we want to eat healthy foods and make time to get proper rest, nutrition, exercise, and find time to connect with people that we care about and also take care of ourselves. 

Some physical changes that may occur with prolonged stress can be sleep pattern changes, restlessness, fatigue, changes in our digestive systems, loss of sexual drive, headaches, aches and pains in our body, infections, dizziness, fainting, sweating, and trembling.. Even tingling hands and feet . We notice different temperatures in our bodies, one minute we may be cold, the next really warm. Also we notice heart palpitations, missed heartbeats, and at times, we have trouble catching our breath.

Stress affects us emotionally too, and may take the form of negative mood states, such as anger, impatience, depression, frustration, edginess or boredom. I was experiencing an edginess this morning when I turned on the news, and I just did not want to start the day with this feeling of anxiety in my body. When we experience these different mood states, sometimes we having trouble getting going during the day, or we become apathetic, lethargic, or defeated. Sometimes a helplessness sets in, and we can even begin to feel paranoid, or we shut down and don’t want to engage in the world. Stress can lead us to feel alienated from everything and everyone. We can feel hypersensitive to our friends, family, co-workers, etc…, and sometimes we then experience a more extreme emotional reaction to simple frustrations. We then start to feel vulnerable and fragile, which can lead us to feel sad for no apparent reason. 

It is important to know that changes can occur in our brain as a result of the stress we encounter and interfere with our higher functioning ability, such as the ability to think, to reason, to plan, to make choices. We get upset, and we become flooded with our emotions and at times cannot think clearly.  It is important to know that when we are stressed, our memory is also affected by the stress response because stress can cause certain chemicals to be released and these chemicals are responsible for transferring information into short-term memory and then into long term memory. This is why when I work with people, and many people remember past events differently,  I explain that we may all experience and see things differently from one another.  What is important is to honor and respect how each person remembers the event, but it does no good to get into a screaming match and saying my way is right. All that does is push someone away and not validate their experience.

We may also see changes in our normal patterns of behavior in response to the stressors we are experiencing. And remember do not compare what you experiences as a stressor with someone else. We are all different. and cope differently and some of us have a higher ability to tolerate stress than others. 

Signals you may be in a stress state:

  • Appetite changes, eating too much or too little and not being mindful about what we eat.
  • Eating disorders , like Bulimia, or Anorexia
  • Increased drinking or smoking or always reaching for some kind of pill to calm us down or get rid of the pain.
  • Restlessness, Fidgeting, nail biting,
  • Worrying about everything with no real information to back up what you think might happen.

Our bodies are similar to an oil gauge in your car. When everything is fine, the oil gauge does not light up, when things are not fine, and something is not working properly , the gauge light up. The same is true for our bodies.   When there is a problem, like too much stress, our bodies let us know. But do you wake up and pay attention? If you don’t pay attention, then several things may start to occur to let you know that you are reaching a stress overload. 

Wake up and pay attention!

Choose Now—Always!

Choose now—always. Use it as a disruptor the next time your racing mind throws you back to a painful moment in life or pushes you off the cliff because you are afraid of the future.

The surest way to value now is to get in touch with your body. What are you feeling when the mind whips you from one time frame to another? Where does the sensation happen? In your chest, lower extremities, your gut, head? Right now, where is your hand? Is it holding a cup of coffee or caressing a child? What is the physical sensation you experience when doing any one of those things?

Where in your body do you find it easier to access your sensations and feel aliveness? Where is it more difficult? What is happening inside your body right now? Can you notice any sensations that are dominant and can you allow yourself to just be with them? Could anything be more important than taking note of the sensations you are feeling in your body moving through space, of being aware of your gestures, your stride, or anything else you might be experiencing? So why don’t we do it more often?

For a moment, let’s forget about connecting with the big, wide world. Instead, let’s get down to basics. If you are feeling disconnected, chances are you have been estranged for a long time from your best friend-your body. Have you said anything nice about it lately? Have you been grateful for the little thing, like getting up in the morning, being able to walk, helping that person cross the street, putting your arm around a loved one, or expressed gratitude or shown compassion? To some degree, you likely have not bee paying attention to your BFF. The disconnect with our physical bodies means we are susceptible to stress, which leads to loss of vitality, fatigue, obesity, and disease. The maladies grow graver as we age.  Heart disease, stroke, fibromyalgia, ulcers, the beat goes on.

Naming your body Best Friend Forever suggests that you’ll always be concerned for it’s well being. You’ll inquire, “how are you today?” You will listen to its many insightful messages, and regardless of its size or proportion, you will love and cherish it. Dedicate yourself to treating your body like a BFF, and you will feel better and learn to know what is important to your body, mind, and spirit. We will learn to feel better in the moment and learn to be aware of chronic health problems or learn to be aware of the proper rest, nutrition, and care we need to attend to so we can live a more fulfilling life. When we feel better, we can then help others. If we are constantly tired, how can we be there to help those we love and be of service to others?

Has a novel, newspaper article, or movie ever transformed your awareness of the world or your attitude? Think of your body as a family saga, thriller, or comedy. It has stories to tell that may impact you in unexpected ways. Everyone has a history that shapes our sensations and our actions and reactions. We carry these emotional data in our bodies. Tune in, because they can be a gateway to transformation, liberating ourselves from unconscious habits that keep us stuck. 

Bessel van der Kolk MD writes, “Neuroscience research shows that the only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going on inside ourselves.” 

Body sensations aren’t much good unless they are recognized and acknowledged. When you begin to look within  with curiosity and openness, you will have the ability to figure out what you need to have peace of mind. What really matters to you in your personal and professional life. Are you ready for change?

When we begin to pay attention to our bodies, and we learn what is helpful and what is not, we become open to this important gift we are receiving. Remember, our goal is not to remove every agitation in an attempt to become perennially happy. The things that make your body buzz are deep messages. When we tingle with compassion, outrage, or love we are connecting with our true selves. And while some of these sensations we experience may seem annoying at first, what would we do without them?  

Lets become aware of what we receive when we are awake rather than asleep. Here are a few simple tips to help you start to tune-in with your body sensations: 

1. Make a list of the times your body sensations were agitated yet you ignored them. By ignoring a hunch, did you miss an opportunity or meet a new unexpected challenge? Did you even notice what happened in the following hours, days, weeks?

2. Make  a list of the times your body sensations were agitated yet you paid attention. By responding, were you prepared to meet new opportunities or unexpected challenges? Did you even notice what happened in the following hours, days, weeks? 

3. Score cards may seem silly or shallow as a measure of your body awareness, yet they are an excellent way to keep track of how alive with messages your body is trying to relay to you. 

4. Many of us struggle to recall small moments because we are busy with other things, but a simple journal can help you keep account of where you are emotionally, physically, and spiritually, as well as how you have dealt with insights and challenges. 

How to Reconnect with the Wisdom of Your Body

We are so inundated today by the noise around us that we sometimes fall into a comfort zone that lulls us to sleep. We can’t take things anymore and feel bombarded by emails, texts, twitter, etc…  How do we find the time to take care of ourselves? We don’t want to rock the boat or take actions that might change our lives or look at our patterns because if we did take a pause and reflect, we might figure out what we truly want,so we stick to these familiar patterns and can’t move forward. Or sometimes we might lack the self-compassion tot respect our inner voice that speaks to us to help us hear those messages. In my experience, the longer we wait to respect ourselves and act, the harder the fall. So how do we begin to wake up and figure out what we need?

Many of my clients ask, “How do I do that?” We begin by connecting with our bodies. 

Both Buddhist and Western Psychology traditions agree that our bodies are the conduit to life energy. Our physical selves are like an electrical socket. To receive the benefit of that power, to truly become conscious, we must plug in and stay in touch with the body.  There are barriers in our ability to connect with our bodies. More than any time in human history, we are experiencing a confusion and disconnection that comes with being  inundated by the noise within us and all around us.  These disruptions cause our minds to constantly chatter and throw us into worry about the future or the past. The phrase “ lost in thought” is not only universal, it pervades our long days and nights. It sets us up for that unexpected event, the major jolt that head-butts us into wakefulness. 

Doesn’t it make more sense to be present every moment? Stuff comes up, things will happen for sure. But to be blind-sided by fate is the all too common way we are forced into consciousness. Let’s not wait. Let’s get out of our Me, Me, Me head trip and become grounded in our bodies and pay attention to the sensations we are feeling and listen to those messages. Lets also remember we are human, and at times, we may not be present, so don’t berate yourself! It happens to all of us. Be kind to yourself and then begin again. If we don’t wake up, then we miss the small but significant joys and sorrows of life- making love, gardening, seeing the smile on our children’s faces, spending quality time with family and friends, walking in nature, cuddling with our loved ones (including our cuddly pets!), because we are distracted by the noise and acceleration of modern living. It’s confusing and at times frustrating. We are always stimulated but at times numb and not necessarily thoughtful about our choices. Our minds are full of chatter, and meanwhile, our bodies may be sending us an important message. 

Waking up is not a singular event. You don’t cross a finish line and raise your arms in triumph. We must learn to remain wakeful throughout the trials and tribulations of life. It’s an everyday thing not a trophy. Even when we suffer hardship and pain, we must be awake. The gratitude for each waking day.  My personal experience and the time I have spent over all the years with my clients have proved to me that being awake and in tune with the physical world is about our values. Just as we choose the material things we want to place in our homes or offer as gifts on special occasions, we must be aware of the values that guide us.  My own wake-up calls and the events my clients have faced cause me to question what I deeply value. What in the core of my heart do I wish for myself, my friends, and family?

My answers are relatively simple, yet have helped me and others dissipate the fog that so often prevents us all from connecting to our personal values, to other people, and the world around us. 

We have one choice. Either we wake up and remain conscious; or continue to live  autopilot, ignoring the whispering voices and sacrificing our change to have a fully realized life. This is important because life goes by so quickly . Not everything comes up roses. Some things are meant to be challenging so that we can learn from them, and these tough times can enrich us if we are mindful of their impact. Good or bad, special moments demand that we learn and pay attention to our values.

That’s why at the beginning of each day I ask myself, what are your intentions for today? At the end of each day I ask myself , did you live your best intentions? If my answer is yes, I know I remained alert throughout the day, and therefore, lived with purpose.

An Introduction & Invitation: Wake Up Before Your Wake Up Call

Welcome, everyone.

My name is Toni Parker and I’m excited you are here. I’ve been working on my book Wake Up Before Your Wake Up Call and I have so much I want to share. I am looking forward to engaging with community, inspiring conversation, and connecting. As a therapist, speaker, and meditation teacher, I have sat with many people, been inspired to deeply listen, and support the process of getting to know oneself. Through my work, I have helped people to wake up. I have helped people to learn to wake up and pay attention to the sensations in their body, their thoughts, feelings, and to learn to hear the messages that are speaking to them. I have listened to my calling and I am here to offer you the opportunity to do the same.

Often, our minds and bodies are asking us to wake up. We experience subtle sensations, perceptions, or opportunities. However, truly hearing those sensations knock is a practice. Our lives are full, fast paced, and demand a lot from us. Sometimes we are on autopilot going from one thing to the next and we don’t pay attention to the messages we are receiving. Taking time to pay attention to these messages can be a challenge. Navigating boundaries, social media overload, jobs that require constant attention, or raising families can be both wonderful and exhausting. Life asks so much of us. Finding time to steal away, to sit quietly, to get to know yourself offers you the chance to hear when your life is asking you to wake up.

I want to invite you to notice where you might be receiving wake up calls in your life. Are you taking time to slow down, to notice the Spring trees in bloom, or the way you feel as you listen to a piece of music? Are you recognizing when you might be feeling disconnected in your relationship but don’t want to acknowledge it because it could be too painful? Are you experiencing some kind of anxiety but are not sure what it is or where it is coming from? If we begin to investigate those sensations, emotions, and feelings then we can wake up before something bigger happens. We can begin to make conscious choices about how we want to live with intention that aligns with our values.

Sometimes we are shaken awake by a major transition, event, or crisis. However, waking up doesn’t have to come at one of these pivotal moments. Waking up to your life can be slow, soft, and subtle, and teach us to pay attention to those whispers we hear but sometimes ignore. Shifting your perception, awakening your senses, and mindfully walking through your day can alter the way you show up in your life.

Our emotions offer us so much information. Even in moments of feeling sad, or exhausted, or resentful, we can learn a lot about who we are. We can take these experiences as lessons, even as friends, that teach us about our own humanness.

Have you ever asked yourself:

  • What am I feeling sad about?
  • What makes me feel most alive?
  • How can my answers inform my decisions?
  • Can I accept this and continue asking with a curious and open heart?
  • What could I do differently?
  • What am I willing to do?
  • What do I need right now?

Living a life on autopilot can be numbing, or feel safe. There is comfort in knowing what to expect from your routine. I invite you to ask yourself where that routine is keeping you stuck, where it is dimming your vitality, and becoming an obstacle to your authenticity. I believe you can live a life of feeling, honoring both pleasure and pain, and moving forward in a compassionate, conscious, and curious way.

Are you listening?

Please share in the comments below ways that you connect with the authenticity of your life, what makes you feel alive, and how you practice being awake.

I’m grateful for your presence and honor your journey.

With love,



Waking Up to Your Life: My Offering to You

The bulk of my work is geared towards helping people wake up to their lives. As a psychotherapist and group facilitator, I’ve noticed that people tend to come to therapy because a major wake up call or crisis has occurred. We then work on what this means to them and how to transition from such big changes. I also see people that are feeling depressed, anxious, lonely, or sitting with the sensation that something is off. This is where we dig in and take the time to figure things out. I’m ever curious and excited by learning about the needs and experiences of the individuals I work with. From working so intimately with people, I feel grateful to be teaching ways we can find more connection to our lives and others. I’ve come up with five pillars, or focal points, to practice waking up daily. These five pillars have come from years of witnessing people in therapy, facilitating groups, and leading classes. I feel so blessed to be able to share with you what I most deeply care about. It is important for us to understand what is present for us. These five pillars can help you in your understanding when times feel challenging, and offer you a path to waking up to your most fulfilling life.

Pillar 1: Body Sensations

As a starting place, having a keen sense of our physical life, a baseline, allows us to move with grace and confidence. Tuning into the body and listening to its signals bring us closer to our connection with consciousness. In Buddhist and Western psychology, the body is believed to be a conduit for life energy. Are you connecting to the innate wisdom of your body? Are you checking in and listening to the messages? What do you feel? Where do you feel it? Sit with what arises whether it is discomfort or calm, rate it, and try to understand what your body is communicating to you. Often, anxiety can present physically. Do you notice it in your chest? What might it be trying to teach you? I want to encourage you to nurture your body’s wisdom, not to block or numb it. Physical activity can help break up stagnation and a build up of energy. Burst exercise, tapping, walking in nature, and gentle stretching can support your body’s ability to communicate with you as well as to release anything that doesn’t serve you.

Pillar 2: Mind Kindness

Mind kindness works to teach us to separate the noise from the insights/inspiration/intuition we receive. My hope is to support you in breaking through internal chatter that is destructive and distracting so that you can align with true spirit from a place of peace. We can all be victims of our own mind. One practice, and it is a practice, is to take some time away from the bombardment of information–phones, computers, ipads, etc. that deliver a never ending wave of news, email, or messages. This constant flood is a barrier to true connectedness. The goal is not about shutting off or blocking your thoughts. I encourage you to  notice, to say hello, and even thank your fertile mind. Then, you can engage with what comes next. It’s challenging to be fully present when our mind creates stories, lives in the past, or in the future. In moments of overwhelming thoughts, grab onto something tangible to shake up the thought pattern. Bring yourself back to the present and try grounding yourself with breath and movement.

Pillar 3: Emotional Equanimity

There is a paradox I often see around trying to find the balance of being alive with ideas and vitality as well as being at peace. When life feels too serious, or you are taking yourself too seriously, what thoughts can you bring in to make yourself laugh? What brings you joy? What memories make you giggle to yourself? Let’s loosen up with some laughter! When we learn to forgive ourselves, forgiveness of others becomes much easier. Let go of resentment, of the story, and forgive! With the practice of becoming awake, we must learn to be flexible and not stuck in rigidity. Life is in constant motion as are our emotions. How do you bring in movement and levity when life feel too serious?

Pillar 4: Self-Compassion

Humans can be impatient, cruel, and self-critical. How can we be kind to others if we are not practicing kindness towards ourselves? Find your tribe, offer yourself the compassion of connection. Sometimes honoring yourself and being compassionate is a practice of letting go of people that do not serve you any longer. Being kind to ourselves gives us the deep ability to be kind to all sentient beings–animals, children, nature, etc. Scheduling in self-care, alone time, and meditation can help solidify this practice of self-compassion. How do you practice self-kindness and love?

Pillar 5: Waking Up to the World

Let’s work to enrich and broaden life. Are you moving through the world awake or numb? How can you tell the difference? Get involved and give back! This can expand your awareness of the world, connect you to your heart and the needs of the world, and open you up to new possibilities and opportunities. Practice loving others and see how your mind and heart shift. For example, when my husband, Steve, would pass homeless people on the street he would bring them a meal. Have you ever given your time or energy to someone in need? What does it feel like to show interest and love by offering your attention? Don’t be afraid to feel! Give yourself the freedom to activate your senses in nature, feel her beauty, grace, and the immensity of her gifts. How does this influence the way you show up in the world? It is never too late to be who you are meant to be. We can take the fulfillment of our dreams into our own hands!

Stay tuned for my next blog on action steps towards waking up!

With love,