Karen Tompkins – MoveON – Dealing with Anxiety and Anger
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Cathy Tibbles: Welcome back. Next we welcome Karen Tompkins with move on, dealing with anxiety and anger. When Karen’s first child was born, she stopped breathing due to a rare disorder, affecting her brain. It became Karen’s and mission to learn all things neuroscience in order to help her daughter reach her full potential.
Drawing on her 30 plus years experience as a teacher, administrator and curriculum developer, she then taught thousands of students, educators, and parents, to understand the power of their narrow chemistry and how it drives behaviors due to anxiety and anger. She shares simple but effective techniques to trick your brain to move on past these intrusive behaviors.
Karan Tompkins: Hello. I’m glad you’re here. And, uh, without further ado, I am Karen Tompkins. I’m just going to get my slide deck rolling and we’ll get started and we have a good 45 minutes together. Uh, the last five we will try and, uh, reserver for Q and A. All right.
So, um, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the organizers for having me here today. I’m honored to be able to share my experiences with you and thankful. Yeah, just kidding. It’s so not going to be like that at all. Now I can’t see or hear any of you. So I’m just going to assume that you are laughing because I thought it was funny. Some of you just in those 20 seconds may have thought I need to get out of here.
Or this is crazy. I’m not staying here for this. Um, or you just felt really uncomfortable and that’s an anxiety, anger response. When the fright flight fight response kicks in because their stress that suddenly you have to take care of and it happens like that. So that’s what we’re going to talk about today is how that happens. Um, and then a few things that we can do to offset those. Things that happen to you.
So at this point, it’s important that we identify our baseline behaviors. And what I mean by that is what is it that you do or your body does, um, and when this happens, you know, I’m really stressed. I am on the edge. For example, for me, I eat a lot of cookies, so, you know, I kind of get through a half a bag of cookies and I go, yep it’s a bad day.
Um, maybe you chew your fingernails, you snap at your partner or, um, you have indigenous. Issues, irritable bowel syndrome, things like that. Uh, we’ll learn later in, in our time together that your gut is directly attached to the neurochemistry that drives your behavior in an anxiety, anger response.
So we’re going to talk about that. So think about the one or two things that happen for you and you know, that, that means that you’re stressed. And I’d like you to actually jot that down. If you have something to write on or, you know, memo in your phone or something like that. Uh, because we’re going to come back to that in about 40 minutes time. And indeed, I’d like you to take a look at it again in about three months. Okay. So writing it down would be very helpful for them.
All right. So, um, I am a speaker cause I’m speaking an author, I’m an educator. Um, if you want to know more about my credentials and why I think I maybe know something. Hop over to my website. ktomkins.com and there’s a lot there. You can email me if you have any questions. I have two books, one is called purple stew. It’s out of print. So it is now a free download at lulu.com and that’s the story of my journey to a diagnosis of a rare disorder for my oldest daughter, Erin. And it’s because of that journey that I have studied and found these answers that I’m sharing with you today.
I have another children’s book, different is just different. It has lesson plans and stuff that’s available on my website. That’s Aaron. Okay. So Aaron is now 28 years old. And when she was born, she stopped breathing. Which you know is a problem. And so they’ve ran all kinds of tests and couldn’t figure out why she kept stopping breathing. Now they didn’t have to open an airway. We just kind of physically stimulated her and she’d start breathing again. But, um, The breathing was definitely not rhythmic. So this is Aaron at a few years old with her little sister, Sarah, Sarah is only a year and three weeks younger and that was by design. Uh, so Sarah is now 27 and she has a degree in neuroscience and biology. So we really like to talk about brains. Um, and, um, she’s actually at the FAC ed, um, doing a master’s in education right now. So we have a lot to talk about, anyway, this is Aaron a couple of years ago and, uh, she doesn’t stop breathing anymore, which is really good. We found out when she was about three and a half, that the reason for that Rocky start was that she has something called you bear syndrome.
And that’s a very rare disorder. We know of about 2000 people in the world that have to bear syndrome and it affects the part of the brain that regulates breathing and motoric things and really anything sensory, um, And, uh, w well, we’ve also discovered that for you science guys or people it’s a celiac disease, so there are actually four other organs that are involved, but today we’re just going to talk about the brain.
So it’s okay to feel badly when bad things are happening to you. In fact, we are wired that way. My daughter, Sarah has told me that over the years and, um, she’s right. I mean, if we. If bad things are happening and we’re not feeling bad, I think that’s a bit of an issue.
Um, but through my studies in sensory processing therapy, I can also tell you that we need to get our brain juice, our neurochemistry back to an optimum level in order to move. Um, so I did a really quick Google search about, uh, stress, daily stress, and very quickly I got thousands of hits of research and they all tell you that yes, there’s a lot of stress in our lives.
Um, but let’s get our terminology, um, together. Okay. So quite often, and I’m guilty of this, I use stress and anxiety interchangeably, and it’s actually not the same thing. Uh, when we’re talking about it, in terms of your neurochemistry. Um, several years ago, there was a really good article in reader’s digest and the Canadian version because I’m in Canada and it talked about the differences between worry and stress and anxiety and worry, worry, that’s a feeling. Okay. I feel worried. I feel hungry. I do something. And that feeling goes away. Whereas stress, our thoughts. I can’t stop thinking about it. Like, you know, last night I’ve got this big presentation going on. Right? And so you think about it and it’s hard not to think about it. Um, but. It does go away when that situation is resolved, you stop thinking about it and, and, uh, there’s lots of things that we can do in terms of mindfulness and meditation, um, regulating your breathing, things like that. Um, that definitely helped. Ignore those thoughts until the stress has been resolved.
But when we’re talking about unresolved stress, now we’re getting into a physical response and that’s anxiety and that’s completely different. You didn’t think your way into anxiety and you can’t think your way out of anxiety. Let me say that again. Anxiety is your body’s reaction to unresolved stress.
You didn’t think your way into it, and you can’t think your way out of it. It’s a physical response. You will have to physically change something in order to move on from, um, that anxiety state that you’re in. So, is it worry, stress or anxiety? Because, you know, sometimes we think something is, you know, maybe somebody’s personality or a habit, or maybe they’ve just been, um, dealing with unresolved stress for such a long time that these behaviors have just become routine and they don’t realize that, um, they, that you can actually do something to move on from these things. And anger is actually just one way that anxiety expresses itself.
All right. So when we’re talking about anger, we’re not talking about something completely different or two sides of the coin. It is the same thing in terms of your neurobiology. So when I was in Arizona, learning about sensory processing, my, uh, teacher, um, uh, Bonnie, she, um, would talk about people with special needs are like a rose within an onion.
You can see that beautiful sweet person inside all these layers. Uh, things of stuff that gets in the way. And so with different therapies, we can address different layers until we get back to the real person, that person who they truly are. Uh, so when we’re talking about working with people with exceptional needs, um, sometimes you do a therapy and it only works for a little while, and then it stops working. And that’s your cue that you need to do a different kind of therapy. All right. So that layer has been addressed. Let’s go on to another layer.
And so what I’m talking about today is that layer of neurochemistry. Uh, and if you’ve been trying lots of other things, um, like mindfulness or behavior therapy or things like that, and it’s not working for you anymore, maybe you need to be addressing the lady. Of the onion that is neurochemistry.
And so psychologists have all kinds of theories about why we behave the way we do. Um, so behaviorism, if I reward or punish, then you can learn to stop doing that. Cognitive, I can explain to you why we do certain things and why, what you’re doing is wrong and you can choose to not do that. Um, developmental, you know what, she’s only three. She’s not going to be able to do that yet. Okay. So it’s just, we’re waiting for that stage.
And then there’s humanist and there’s personality theories, and there are social psychology theories and there are learning theories. And then there’s your actual brain.
Okay. So this is your brain on slides. And this front section here is the prefrontal lobe. That’s where all the thinking happens. So this is known as your thinking brain, all the information from the environment comes in through your senses. Is gated by something called the cerebellum, which I’ll get to in a minute. And it goes into the thinking brain where it’s processed. You decide what to do with it. You send that message back out to your body and you have that behavior. That’s what you do. Now, the hind brain or the lizard brain is a reactionary part of your brain and, um, for my daughter, she, uh, because she has to bear syndrome, this is an MRI slice of her brain.
These are her eyes and these places in here where it’s dark, that’s where the brain matter is not. So, and. It makes it look like there’s a molar tooth formation in there and all people with GBR syndrome have this molar tooth sign. Um, so this is happening because she’s missing the in her brain, that gates all that information in and out of the cerebellum. Okay. So kind of like you’re at a horse race and all the horses are in the gates and the gun goes off and the gates open and all the horses are on track and they go where they’re supposed to go. Well, actually people with autism, according to MRIs, um, have problems with their seventh and eighth ventricles of their vermes and those are responsible for language. My daughter, Erin doesn’t have a vermus at all. So as you can imagine, things were very, very stressful and it’s not a stress that she can resolve. She’s just not going to grow back that part of her brain, it’s just not going to happen. So there was a lot of anger and anxiety going on with her, just trying to process her environment and be able to organize things in order to, to live her life.
So then we have the, the middle brain, which is your feeling brain with your hypothalamus and the thalamus and hippocampus. And what’s, what’s really important to remember is all of these things in your brain and your body, they all happen together at the same time. It’s kind of like, um, like baking. Okay.
So like I could have sugar flour and water and I could make bread or I could make cookies or I could make paste depending on how much of each I put in. So when there’s a actual recipe, that’s great. Um, and you know, it doesn’t work so you check the recipe and you try again, but in our bodies and in our brains, we don’t actually have a user manual. There’s no, Recipe, we can’t find out how many more drops of this will stop you from doing this, or how many more drops of this do we need so that you, um, can do these things. It’s it just doesn’t work that way. So we know that these things exist, but we’re not sure exactly what levels are what each level is at and how to measure those levels so that you have a recipe to make yourself feel better.
Um, now, uh, this video, um, and I’m just looking at time and I’m actually not going to play it. It’s two minute neuroscience and it’s available on YouTube. And basically it just tells you more about this whole thing. Because what happens is this stressor comes into your life. Everything in your body works together so that you have cortisol released into your system and that cortisol, which is one of many different chemicals in your body, that cortisol, it gets you into the fright fight flight response. It increases your heart rate and make gives you more energy cause you use your sugars more effectively, things like that. And so that cortisol response, when everything is working optimally and the stressor is resolved, the lion has run away. Um, The, your neurochemistry ha comes back to normal, which signals the cortisol to say, oh, okay, everything’s great and the rest of you goes back to an equilibrium as well.
So how do messages get through your brain? And this is just a couple more minutes of science and it’s, it’s really okay. If this is way over your head or you’re having problems concentrating, because I’m going really fast. Feel free to email me. I can send you an article about it. Um, you can request more, uh, actual research that other people have done. Um, but the really important things and I’m going to repeat a few times like this.
So in your brain, the messages. The environment come in and they go through your brain through nerve cells. Okay. But the nerve cells don’t actually touch each other. There’s this little space called the synapse. And so what actually carries the message between from one to the other, are these little things called neuro-transmitters or biogenic and means. As I say brain juice. And there are lots of those. We’re only going to talk about dopamine norepinephrine and serotonin, that’s it.
So let’s go back to the beginning where there are all these worries and the thoughts and there’s mindfulness and yoga and prayer and meditation and breathing and all these things that you can do to help those thoughts and feelings subside. And then there are all these psychological theories that can help you change the behaviors that you have that are sometimes due to, um, unresolved stress, which we can also call anger and anxiety.
And then, the cortisol response you get, the stress goes into, goes into you and the cortisol kicks in and these three neuro-transmitters say, oh wait, wait, wait, we need to fix this problem. So all these things. And I’m going to talk about the layer of just those three neuro-transmitters, because I believe that if you’ve tried all kinds of other things, this might be the layer of the onion that you need to address.
So how does this all work, in real language? So you’re at your laptop and your little brother comes in behind you and says, boo, and one of three things is going to happen. Well, first of all, you’re going to get this rush of cortisol. Cause there’s this unexpected stress. And then you’re going to have a fright response, flight response, or fight response. And you, you do that with, without even thinking, because it’s your hindbrain that’s causing this reaction. That’s what’s going on. You’re not thinking about it and deciding.
So in my years at, um, at a high school teaching, I used to talk to my students about this and I would say, so if this happens at your house and you hit your little brother, you can tell your parent your cortisol made you do it. And if they don’t believe you, um, they can call me and I’ll back you up. But we can only use that excuse once, because if the little brother shows up the third time and you’re just sitting there waiting, cause you know, he’s going to say boo, and in fact you hit him before he even says, boo. So that’s a cognitive. That’s a learned response. You’ve decided that you’re going to do that, which means you can choose not to as well. Whereas that fight, fight or flight response. Um, isn’t a choice. So when you’re red lining, let’s say a your walking down the road and this big truck comes at you and you have a fright response, a flight response, or you have fight response and you’ve seen this happen, right? It’s like that doesn’t make sense. Why is he trying to beat up the truck that almost hit him? And that’s my point. It doesn’t make sense. These fright fight flight responses have nothing to do with thinking it through or deciding. It just happens. Now in a regular situation, in a typical brain, uh, you get out of the way of the truck and suddenly the serotonin floods into your system and says, okay, okay. Nothing to see here. Everything’s fine. The problems resolved and dopamine and norepinephrine say, oh, okay, well, good. It’s resolved. And they go back to normal and the cortisone goes back to an optimum level and you can feel this happening. You can feel your heart rate slow down. Um, you, um, can. Um, you’re aware of your breathing. You start being aware of your environment again, and, um, you, you can feel this return to, um, to equilibrium. So while you are in that stressful situation. The nor epinephrine’s job is to keep you focused on why is there all this dopamine, or why is there all this cortisol? Why is there all this cortisol, which is really, really important if you need to get away from a truck because you know, you don’t want to hesitate and say, oh, that would make a great nail Polish or, you know, shoes or something. Um, you want to stay focused on solving the problem.
But some problems can’t be resolved, like regrowing, a piece of your brain, or like what I used to tell my students, when your parents don’t act like grownups, or you have a boss that just isn’t rational or there’s a global pandemic or uh, the world’s on the brink of war. These are things that are very stressful and can cause you to go into a physical response of anxiety, but they are not things that I can resolve in order for the serotonin to show up. And that’s what needs to happen in order for you to go back off that red line and back to an equilibrium.
Let’s kind of go that through that one more time. You’re you’re sitting around, you’re very relaxed and everything is optimal. And then, um, it’s green. Everything’s a go. And then a lion shows up in your room. And so you have this. Fright fight flight response, your dopamine, and nor upfront, nor epinephrin kick in because the cortisol has come online. It’s like I have to, I have to attend to this. I have to shelve this. I have to solve this. And then once you’ve gotten away from said lion, then you stop red lining. The serotonin comes back in and says, okay guys, we did our job. Everything’s good. And you go back to an equilibrium. But what happens when the line is just in another room and you’re really not sure what’s going to happen next. And you get into this, I’m walking on eggshells kind of thing? Like. Kids who don’t have, um, a good home life. Um, am I going to have food? Is there somebody going to be there? Am I going to get hit? All of these things are building up. It might not be happening at that exact moment, but they are still dealing with those kinds of things. And it’s the same for us in our, um, out of school situations where we’re dealing with unresolved stress. It just never. You just never seem to be able to relax. You get this gray fog or, you know, you just feel like at any moment, you’re, you’re going to explode and that is PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder.
So PTSD is not just being unable to move on from a tram one traumatic event. Okay. I mean, that is true. It’s absolutely that, but it’s also, if you deal with unresolved stress on a chronic years kind of level. Then you are, you have depleted your body of the serotonin, that it needs to bring you back to an optimum level and you are on that cortisol high and you that’s PTSD that. Re you can’t think your way out of that because you didn’t think your way into it. You have to physically do something thing to change the neurochemistry so that you can move on past those thoughts. Um, because after a while, you’re not sure if that’s a kitten or a lion.
Um, so another really quick recap, something stressful happens, cortisol comes into the system. Dopamine says, Hey, what’s going on? I want to be rewarded. What’s happening here. Nor epinephrin says focus, focus. We need to solve this problem. What’s going if we focus, focus, and when it’s resolved, serotonin floods in and says, okay, no worries. We got this it’s solved. And everyone goes back to normal levels.
Let’s go back to that truck. So a few hours later, um, you’re telling somebody that you almost got hit by a truck today, and you can feel your body have those same physiological responses that you, that you did in the real situation. Just the memory of a stressful situation can put you back into a fright flight fight response.
Now in that truck memory, you got out of the way. And so serotonin showed up and so it will show up again, but you will have that same visceral response that you did just with the memory of that event.
In fact, David Rock talks about the scarf model, where there are human social experiences that can also put you into a fright flight fight response, just like a lion in the room. So, if you feel that your status is threatened, you’re uncertain about outcomes, you don’t feel like you have a sense of autonomy. Things don’t feel related or they’re just unfair. It can also get the cortisol going into a fight, fright flight response. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a couple of bosses that, you know, I’ve definitely created a work environment that this kind of thing is, is very real and don’t dismiss it. It is just as real as if a lion has shown up.
Quick, quick, um, Story in 2018. Um, my husband had a seizure at work and we discovered that he had a tumor, a meningioma on the top of this brain. Uh, we had no idea that it was there until he had this seizure on a Saturday after Saturday evening, they did surgery on Sunday. They got. It wasn’t cancerous. It didn’t need radiation Tuesday he came home. Yeah. Three days later. Okay. So my daughter, err, my daughter, Erin was here. My daughter, Sarah came home from school. She was about eight hours away. And of course she was studying neuroscience and biology. In fact, she was also a first responder for, um, like a local like St John’s ambulance, which is, um, You know, like medics paramedics. Um, and so I thought on Tuesday evening, well, he’s home and Sarah is way more qualified to watch him breathe then I am. So I went back to my teaching job. Yeah. Kind of silly, but I really felt like there were all these things that I had to get done and it had to get done by Friday because then Sarah was going home on Sunday. And what would I do? Anyway, I went to work. And this woman talked to me in the hallway and I, I can’t remember exactly who she was. Um, but she said, oh Karen, I’m so sorry to hear about your husband. She said, I was feeling really bad about me. And then I heard about him and on just so sorry. And I was like, oh, You’re welcome. I’m glad the stress of my life helped yours feel better.
But see, that’s not really what she meant. What she meant was, um, I was feeling really stressed and feeling sorry for myself. And then I heard about your situation and I just kind of had to shake my head and say, it could always be worse, but I wish that I could remember who that person was because I need to tell her you can’t compare stuff. What’s on my plate is what I’m dealing with. And what’s on your plate is what you’re dealing with. And whether it’s a burger or a steak, we’re still dealing with our stuff and you can’t compare. You can’t say, oh, they have it so much worse, why can’t I get my stuff together?
Well, you, you don’t know what’s going on with that person. I mean, I go to a psychiatrist. I take really good drugs to make sure I have enough serotonin to, uh, offset all the stress that is unresolved stress that is in my life. Um, I do other physical activities to naturally increase my serotonin. But what I’ve got is what I deal with. Just like somebody with diabetes who doesn’t have enough insulin to deal with the sugars in their system, because their sugars and everything, some people need more serotonin to deal with all the stress unresolved stress in their lives.
So it’s okay to feel badly when bad things are happening to you. In fact, we’re wired that way. If you didn’t feel bad, I think there was something wrong that would be way more concerning for me. Um, and we need to, uh, get our brain juice back to an optimum level so that we can move on from this unresolved stress.
Okay. So the best part. All right, that’s great. What do I do about it? Well, we need to increase our serotonin and, and, uh, first you need to remember that this is not your fault. It’s not your fault. You didn’t do anything to ask for this. This is not a test. This is not something you deserved. It is not your fault. It’s just the way you’re built. People don’t choose to have diabetes. People don’t choose to have chronic anxiety.
Um, so. If you have a little bit of stress, you need a few drops of serotonin. You can be out in the sun, look at the color green, listen to some music. Um, those were like little droplets of serotonin. I mean, it’s not really. It’s just an analogy. It’s a comparison. It’s not really drops, but that’s what I’m going to use. Because if you have a little more stress, maybe you need a shot glass of serotonin. And so that would be your tactile sense. Um, um, a massage or a warm bath or a weighted blanket and a weighted blankets are really in right now. People are very aware of the benefits of that kind of therapy. And that’s good because we need to be aware of that.
But sometimes you need even more than that. And so then you need to use one of your internal census called proprioception, and that’s where your body is in space. And, um, when you do joint compressions from running or lifting weights or things like that, then you get like a glassful of serotonin and that will last in your system for like an hour or so um, according to studies. But the biggest bang for your buck is the vestibular sense or where your head is in space. So if you can get your head moving around, It’s going to be like a bucket of serotonin going into your system. And so that’s like swinging or jumping or being on a roller coaster, or I don’t know if any of, you know, people that have a boat and they say, once I’m on the boat, 15 minutes, I don’t have a care in the world.
And I can tell you that it’s true. And it’s not because of the beer. It’s because that gentle, rocking motion is increasing their serotonin exponentially. And so the dopamine and norepinephrine go, oh, look, there’s all this serotonin, I guess we solved the problem. And everything goes back to an optimal level and that’s what we need in order to move on from those behaviors caused by chronic anxiety and anger.
So there’s, um, there is peer research behind all this stuff that I’m talking about. And, um, if you would like a copy of a list of those research articles, please email me. I can send that to you. I also have an article which kind of recaps everything I’ve just talked about in the last 40 minutes. Um, but please don’t let people burst your bubble. Don’t just suck it up. I mean, that’s, that’s what I was raised as you know, like this baby boomer thing where, oh, suck it up. Don’t let them see you sweat. Well, that’s not healthy. And my kids who are millennials will tell me, no, you have to take a step back and deal with your mental health otherwise it will affect your physical health and you can’t just get through it.
And you know what? Everybody has stuff. Everybody. It’s okay to not be okay all the time. That’s the way we’re wired. And it’s good to need someone else. I mean, I wish we could be doing this live and in person. Okay. Because then you could look around at your colleagues and say, I’m not the only one that feels this way because you’re not. You’re not the only one and their safety in numbers. It’s good to need somebody else.
Um, exercise is really important. Um, listen to your body. If you have like irritable bowel syndrome, you had indigestion those kinds of digestion issues. That’s because there’s a whole lot of serotonin in your gut that keeps things running optimally. So if you’re low on serotonin in your brain, you’re probably going to be low in serotonin in your gut. And you’re going to, um, you’re going to be off things aren’t going to be working. But more importantly, play. You know, um, swing on a swing. I bought a little hammock swing for $60 and I have it hanging in my basement. And I go use that when I know that things are stressful, I’ll go on a roller coaster dance, things like that.
But, what will you do? Pick one of these things that increases your serotonin and, and try it. Make room for it, put it somewhere on your plate or take something off your plate so that you have that time. And then in three months, go back to that baseline behavior that we identified at the beginning of our time together and theoretically, it shouldn’t be happening as often. I’d love to know how that works for you. Email me and let me know.
That’s really what it’s all about is being with other people and knowing how your system works and what you can do to help it. Um, we have about three minutes for questions, uh, but we can absolutely go into the community tent and have a longer discussion if people would like that.
Mike Demo: Hello and welcome back. So that was, uh, an amazing talk, Karen. And, um, we actually don’t have time for questions, but you’ll be in the community tent where you, um, you’ll be hosting an intimate, um, Q and a where people can learn more. And it’s funny, you talk about breathing. I have on my desk, it’s a little inhaler type device which, um, counts my breaths and tries to slow down your breathing. So you breathe into it, vibrates you, then you breathe in. And so, um, this is an FDA device that I use with my, um, therapist. And, um, so when you were talking about breathing, I looked down at that, I’m like, oh, he reminds me of that. So, um, And we have lots of questions so please go over to the community tent. We actually have a 15 minute break right now. So please head over to the community tent and chat with the sponsors. We want to thank all of our sponsors, Bluehost Cloudways. GoDaddy Pro Nexcess Yoast Weglot. Be sure to visit their tents. You might even win some prizes. If you get your photo taken at the photo booth, tweet it out with hashtag #WordFestLive and thank you to our media partners and micro sponsors.
In the next hour in the community tent Cloudways will have their hourly giveaway with another special guest activity. Nexcess will have a chance to win and Bluehost will do a demo of their builder and building a site live with the Bluehost Website Builder. Of course, if you want to donate, click the donate button and, um, give to Big Orange Heart, um, to support this wonderful organization. Um, that’s it for myself.
I just want to say thanks to my amazing cohost, Cathy. Um, it’s been a pleasure, um, hanging out with you for a few hours.
Cathy Tibbles: Thank you. Thanks.
Mike Demo: Excellent. So again, we’re on a 15 minute break, go head over to the community tent, and then we’re going to send it over to the North American Continent.