Sherry gives an update on her families health problems and its impact on her schedule. She also talks about the importance of deep breaths and takes you through a breathing exercise to end the episode.

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Episode Transcript

Sherry Walling:Yeah nothing like an emergency root canal to make the week awesome.
Rob Walling:Yeah. Yeah that’s crazy. You’ve just never had trouble with your teeth.
Sherry Walling:I have very well cared for teeth.
Rob Walling:Yeah.
Sherry Walling:So, it’s been like a month, I think, since we’ve been on podcast together.
Rob Walling:I know. Cause I recorded one solo one, or two? An interview or something I don’t even remember but yeah.
Sherry Walling:Why was it? I did a couple solo ones.
Rob Walling:You did.
Sherry Walling:And then we did one together, and then you did one alone, and then last week we didn’t do one. So, yeah it’s been a little here, there and everywhere on the ZenFounder podcast these days.
Rob Walling:Yeah for sure.
Rob Walling:So updates, where have you been for 3 and or 4 weeks? I guess it’s probably 2 or 3 weeks at this point.
Sherry Walling:Yeah, I have had the craziest rollercoaster of family health problems. Really like beyond anything that’s ever happened in the life of my family, so, you know, a few weeks ago on the podcast, we talked about the fact that my dad was recently diagnosed with cancer, and just how that’s kind of changed our lives and how that’s shaped how I’ve been thinking about my business and, you know, it’s just the reality that family health stuff effects who you are as a professional and as an entrepreneur.
So my parents have been here in Minneapolis with us, my dad’s been receiving his care at Mayo Clinic, and in the midst of that kind of major crisis, my brother ended up in the ICU in Montana. So I won’t go into all the details of his story, but basically I’ve made 3 trips in 3 weeks to Montana, in addition to lots of trips out to Rochester to Mayo with my dad. So, I have been in lots of hospitals and spent lots of time in hospital waiting rooms, and that has kind of derailed, well maybe not derailed, but it’s just added, like, a whole new element to my life in the last month.
Rob Walling:Yeah you’ve been on and off planes 5 or 6 times in the past 3 weeks. One was a conference, and then you went to Montana 3 different times, and it just feels like kinda you’ve been on the road nonstop. And during that time, while you’re trying to manage everything, and you were, you know, driving your dad to get – it wasn’t chemo yet – but it was to get all the tests and everything, you drank some hot coffee and burned your mouth.
Sherry Walling:This is just insult to injury. So I’m –
Rob Walling:I couldn’t believe it when you told me. You’re like I burnt my – My mouth hurts. You know, as you’re sitting in the hospital with your brother who’s in a coma. And I’m like, what is going on? Like I drank hot coffee and it was suddenly like are you kidding me? But then it like progressed.
Sherry Walling:Well okay, this is how stress works though. Like, I see this in my clients all the time and now I’m just right in the middle of it. So I have these really big stressors happening in my family, and I’m generally like handling them very well. Like I feel very … You know have my whits about me, I feel pretty emotionally calm, like I’m doing, like, great, except I keep having all of these like little crazy things happen to me. So one thing is, I just was distracted and took this big gulp of ridiculously hot coffee, and burned the inside of my mouth. And it got infected, and then spread through the bone of my jaw, and I ended up having this emergency root canal. And it was like … Crazy. Like there’s no cavity in my tooth, there’s no compromise to the tooth, and so the dentist was like, “in twenty years I’ve never seen this happen.” And I was like, “this is the power of stress, right here.” Like that my immune system just wasn’t functioning that well, and … Anyway, so, I’ve had a sore mouth the whole time that this has been happening.
And then my other symptom of too much stress, or the thing that I’ve noticed that’s making me crazy is I’ve gotten 4 parking tickets in the last 3 weeks. Like since this all began. And I’ve like never gotten a parking ticket in my life. And 4 in the last 3 weeks, so, it’s definitely starting to feel like although I feel really, like I said, just calm and solid and up to the task of handling these challenges, like, all of these things in the periphery of my life are starting to fray, so, you know, that’s how it goes, I guess.
Rob Walling:Yeah, some minor things are slipping like the parking tickets and the hot coffee. I would guess your mind has been elsewhere, right? And you just kinda, you aren’t paying attention you take this chug of coffee, when you normally would have been more careful about it, it’s been pretty fascinating, so, it’s a bummer. You’re recording this today with, like you said, pain pills, Ibuprofen, and all that stuff.
Sherry Walling:And Oragel. Woo hoo.
Rob Walling:Yeah, oof.
Sherry Walling:All I can say though, is I felt totally fine about asking for the maximum dose of nitrous oxide.
Rob Walling:Yeah, crank it up man. Act like I’m a street race car. Crank up the nox. [inaudible 00:05:42]
Sherry Walling:I was like, “look guys, I’m already anxious just give me the juice, please.”
Rob Walling:I could totally see that. And for me it’s been, um, you know, during that time kind of holding down the fort at the house, there’s a lot of folks at our house now. You know, as extended family has come to live with us for a short period of time as people are transitioning in and out. And, you know, as it turns out, Minneapolis, or Minnesota in general, but Minneapolis has just exceptional healthcare, and so as we’ve researched this stuff about your family, and should you get care in California? Should they get it in their local town? Should they go to a different relative? I mean just Minneapolis kind of hands down has been the choice, right? It’s like for quality and then for, just the, you know, some of the financial support that they are able to provide, so it’s kind of an interesting thing. Having grown up in California, both of our whole lives really, it’s a trip to see a state that actually has a budget surplus and is able to take care of people when things go sideways.
Sherry Walling:Yeah, it’s been neat to be here. Again, just because it has made possible some resources that wouldn’t have been possible in other places.
Rob Walling:For sure.
Sherry Walling:So, how are you kind of coping with the added stress of me being gone a lot, and then having additional people living with us?
Rob Walling:Deep breathing. Which leads us into today’s topic.
Sherry Walling:Nice. Nice transition.
Rob Walling:You like that?
Sherry Walling:I do. Actually, I wanted to say one more thing before we jump into that, and that is I’ve been feeling kind of stressed about feeling derailed. Like, all of these family things are happening, my attention is diverted, I’m traveling a lot etcetera. And I just, even in the midst of that, I’ve had lots of new client referrals, and lots of really, I think, positive and focused sessions with people – both with consulting clients and therapy clients – and that’s actually been really cool in the midst of all of this is – I just really love my work and so it’s felt like, even like a nice break from personal stuff to be able to really jump in and be focused on the problems at hand that my clients are presenting. And I think because my attention feels diverted, like I’ve just felt like really, really focused and sharp when I am working with clients. So, I guess that was a little bit of a reassurance to me that all the things that I’ve been building or working toward don’t have to get totally derailed, or undone because there’s like a family crisis, or a health issue coming up. That it’s still possible to sort of balance both, I guess. It’s not easy, but it’s still working out okay.
Rob Walling:Yeah that’s been the cool part of when I text you and say, “hey, how did today go?” It’s like when you were sitting at the hospital for 2 days straight, it’s like well it’s kind of lonely, and kind of sad, and it’s kind of these things. But when I would talk to you on the days when you had client calls, even if you were at the hospital most of the time, you would say, “I just had this amazing call today, like I really helped somebody,” or “I really impacted what they’re up to, and, you know, their lives,” and so that’s been nice to hear. I really haven’t heard you tell me, “Oh, I had a really bad client call today cause I was distracted.” That hasn’t happened at all, you know? I mean it seems like it’s been where you’ve been able to come alive and continue to be fed a little, yourself. Fed may not be the right word, but to at least have a feeling of real accomplishment, and like you’re still contributing to the world.
Sherry Walling:Yeah. Using my brain, using my training. I’ve also, you know, taken steps to make sure that I am not having client calls when I’m really, really tired, or on a travel day, or … So I’ve moved sessions around more than I normally would, but I think that that – my clients have been patient with that, and then I think it’s worked to their advantage. Because when I do have the call, I’m really on, I’m really focused.
So, one of the things that has been helpful for both of us during this season of additional stress, has been to be really careful and intentional about taking deep breaths. And every time I talk about this with founders, it’s like, I kind of anticipate the eye roll. Like, wow we’re talking about this? But yes, we’re talking about this. And one of the reasons that we use deep breathing or relaxation training, in many, many realms of psychology or mental health intervention, is because it is a super powerful, easy thing that you can control, that can help manage stress and calm you down really well, and really efficiently, in a moment of either emerging panic, or just a high level of distress.
Rob Walling:Yeah, and what I like about the article that you sent over. It’s on, and we will link it up in the show notes. It’s called The Rhythm of Breathing Effects Memory and Fear, and they basically did studies on this, which was – this, of course, for my left brain self was kind of like oh, I’m into this. You know, there’s at least some data here. I had never realized that this was based on anything more than, kind of, you know, common practice, or how it makes us feel, but I mean – and which, is fine – It doesn’t necessarily always have to have data and be studied, but with something like deep breathing, like you said, since it’s typically an eye roll type of thing, seeing some data behind of how deep breathing impacts how you process things, and then they kind of go into a little explanation of why that might be the case from an evolutionary perspective, I was intrigued by.
Sherry Walling:Oh, and to jump in on that, there is a tremendous body of research, actually around the power of breath, or meditation. Primarily from a neurological perspective as we look at how those kinds of adjustments in our physiological regulation modify the brain’s function. So, yeah we can post lots of resources, but there’s a very extensive body of scientific literature that talks about the importance of breath as a relaxation strategy.
Rob Walling:That’s cool. Do you often peruse for your pleasure reading?
Sherry Walling:I do, yep.
Rob Walling:Nice, you’re one of those.
Sherry Walling:Yep.
Rob Walling:That’s why it’s good to have you on the podcast.
Sherry Walling:Well it’s sort of like neuroscience pop culture, to be honest. It’s not –
Rob Walling:Like this article is based on a very academic study, they have the abstract, right? And it’s like, the paper’s called Nasal Respiration and Trains Human Limbic Oscillations and Modulates Cognitive Function. And as I read the abstract I’m like whoa there’s no chance I’m gonna be able to get this, but Neuroscience News seems to have turned it into much more of a palatable article for someone made perhaps of my intelligence level and education, but what I like about is I don’t feel like it’s the People Magazine version, right? It’s not the 4 second soundbite that’s really like well that’s not actually true. It seems … it feels to me like, perhaps, they represent it pretty well.
Sherry Walling:Yeah, it seems pretty scientifically sound.
Rob Walling:Cool. Do you wanna pull out of this article, or did you wanna step into other stuff?
Sherry Walling:Well, you know, I think just a little bit of the science behind deep breaths when we are … when our stress response is activated, from an evolutionary perspective, from a functional perspective, our respiration is fast and shallow because we are preparing to fight or flight. We are, you know, needing to respond very quickly and make quick decisions about threat in a very limited amount of time. But the importance of deep breath is it sort of undoes all of that. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which, the main function of that is to calm down. To return the body to homeostasis. So, because most of us live in sort of this chronic state of stress and anxiety, many of us are often taking very shallow, quick breaths, because we’re often [inaudible 00:13:14] living in elevated stress. So, by taking the moment to really slow down the breathing, we’re kind of signaling to the rest of the body that all is well, and that it’s okay to turn off that acute stress response.
Rob Walling:Yeah, which is just fascinating. I mean, as I was, you know, I’m looking at the diagram in this, the article and it has … points out the amygdala, and it’s specifically talking about parts of the brain that are impacted with the fast breathing vs. inhaling vs. exhaling, and you know just the impact it has is really, it’s crazy to see it at that level. So it’s actually, you know cause you always know – I know that when I breathe deeply and when I breathe slowly, I calm myself down. And I often do that before, if I’m getting stressed at all, you know? Or if I’m getting nervous about something, you know, if I’m gonna go up on stage and sometimes I feel nervous, sometimes I don’t. But if I do, I do the deep breathing and I know that it works for me. But to see why it works laid out like this is really kind of interesting to see that that like micro level.
Sherry Walling:Like I said, there’s so much science to this, so much physiology that’s happening when you are breathing slowly, I mean, you’re just creating all of this expansion in your chest, you’re circulating air and blood better, you know, there’s lots of things that are going on.
But one of the things that I have been interested to learn about, both in my work as a psychologist and my practice of yoga, is that most of us kind of walk around with this shallow breathing, but we also do most of our breathing from our chest, which is not the best, calmest way to breathe. When we talk about breath that really calms you down, we’re talking about diaphragmatic breathing, or breathing into the diaphragm, which is of course that – is it a muscle? I don’t know, whatever it is, at the bottom of our lungs that’s responsible for helping to expand and contract our abdomen with our breath.
So one of the major practices of yoga is diaphragmatic breathing and moving breath all the way through the torso, and not stopping just at the chest and at the throat. And I think, again, this is particularly helpful in moments of anxiety because many of us feel this sort of constriction in the throat. Sometimes, you know, if you’re getting ready to go on stage, or you’re getting ready to have a hard conversation, you might even get some hot or redness in your neck, your chest feels tight. It feels more difficult to breathe. You might be more aware of that shallow breathing, and a great intervention is to just really work intentionally to move your breath all the way down to your diaphragm. So you, sometimes I’ll even put one of my hands like over my belly button, and then I can feel for whether or not my belly is moving. So as you inhale, if your belly rounds, then you’re breathing into your diaphragm. And then when you exhale, you know, your belly button should contract toward your spinal chord. But if your belly isn’t moving and all of your breath is happening in your chest, then you know you’re not engaging in that diaphragmatic, calming breath, in a very efficient way.
Rob Walling:Yeah, and I would guess most people listening to this, cause I do it, I, you know, do the shallow breathing. Especially when I’m working, when I’m sitting down working for 8 hours. Like it would be so great to without effort or without having to think about it to naturally do the calming breathing, but I don’t do it and I would guess most people don’t as well.
Sherry Walling:And it’s one of those little adjustments. I mean, breath is sort of interesting because it’s an automatic response, right? It’s something that we do without intention, but unlike our other reflexes, we have some behavioral control over it. Like, we can’t really will our heart to beat faster or slower, but we can change our rate of respiration. It is something that we have some behavioral control over. So, making those little tweaks, even taking a minute and sitting with one hand on your belly, and practicing. Even just sitting at your desk, breathing into your diaphragm, breathing all the way through your torso, is really helpful. And I love this as a technique because you could do this relaxation exercise, you can do this technique without anybody knowing, you know, you don’t have to hum or chant or do a full meditation mantra, you can just simply give your attention toward your breath, for even, like, five breaths. And even in 4 or 5 breaths kind of change the way that your body is responding to stress in that moment.
Rob Walling:I get the feeling that you want to lead us through a breathing exercise right here on the podcast totally live, don’t you?
Sherry Walling:Oh, on the spot.
Rob Walling:I knew it was gonna happen. This is something you do with clients, right? Cause you seem pretty good at it. I mean you’ve done it up on stage at [inaudible 00:17:59] and I heard you do it a few times and I’m like huh, this is actually coming out very natural like she’s done this a lot.
Sherry Walling:I do it with clients and I do it, I did it when I was teaching yoga a lot. [crosstalk 00:18:08]
Okay, so, yeah let’s do this. Are you sitting down?
Rob Walling:I know, yes, so you … I’m not gonna respond cause I don’t want people to think that you’re talking to me, you’re actually talking to the person listening to the podcast.
Sherry Walling:Yeah. Yeah. You know, if you are in a place where you can close your eyes, sometimes that is helpful. If you’re driving, or caring for kids, or doing dishes while you’re listening to this podcast, please keep your eyes open.
And just take, maybe your left hand and place the center of your palm right over your bellybutton. And just take a moment to kind of feel into your torso. And then if you’re able to, depending on what you’re doing, take your right hand and place it just under your collar bones on your chest. And just take a moment to kind of quiet your mind. And then on your next breath, breathe in through your nose, and feel the air – the oxygen – entering into your nose, moving down through your neck, through your chest, and all the way down expanding into your belly. Almost like you have like a balloon in your belly that’s inflating. And then on your exhale, first press the air from your bellybutton, and then let it travel all the way back up the way that it came in. Belly, ribs, through your lungs, through your chest, through your neck, and out your nose. And just take a few more breaths like that. Maybe even count, count to 4, count to 5, intentionally slowing your breath so that your inhale and exhale are even.
And just notice how it feels to pay close attention to your breath. If this is maybe something that’s hard for you to focus on, you can attach a word or a phrase to your breath. So I will often, when I’m needing to calm down or relax, I will say in my head as I inhale, I will say, “inhale to be calm, exhale to let go.” And it’s a little sentence that takes, you know, 4 or 5 seconds to say, but then I match the rhythm of my breath to those words. So you have the double combination of elongating your inhales and your exhales, but also then attributing meaning to the inhale and the exhale.
So if I could kind of summarize these quick techniques we talked about: hand over the belly. Moving the breath all the way into the belly, visualizing the breath’s movement through your torso all the way down to your belly. Counting to slow down your breath, or attributing a phrase or a word to your breath, both to slow down and to kind of get some positive thoughts in your head. So that’s a quick primer on relaxation breath, and again it usually only takes a cycle of 4 or 5 breaths to really feel some sense of calm or relief. If you’re really in a highly anxious state, it can be helpful to lay down on the ground, and let your body really be anchored to the ground, you know, or your office floor, or your bedroom floor or wherever you happen to be. And then, do this breathing exercise with your whole body sort of focused on the breath aspect of your body’s functioning.
Rob Walling:I’m not saying anything because I’m so relaxed. That was really good.
Sherry Walling:Hey thanks. Maybe I should do this professionally.
Rob Walling:It seems like you might have a future in talking to people – and helping them calm down.
Sherry Walling:Am I gonna be able to do this in [inaudible 00:22:38] again, or …
Rob Walling:Not now that you did it on the podcast. You can’t do the same material, you’ve gotta keep coming up with new stuff.
Sherry Walling:I know. Can’t be a one trick pony. Breathe guys, just breathe.