I recognize that there are a lot of us who are having a hard time carrying on with our day-to-day lives, and due to global and local events I want to share a few personal and profession tips that may help us to show up for ourselves and eachother during these challenging times.
To start, I want to mention that many of us have lived through some sort of traumatic experience, and these experiences have shaped how we deal with stress, conflict, challenge, change, boundary setting, self advocacy, and just general day-to-day living.
I am one of those people who’ve been affected by trauma, so I understand first hand how exhausting and frustrating and challenging it is to move through life when life feels scary. And one of the ways I take back my power is through awareness. So I believe it’s important that we understand what’s happening on a physiological level, so our actions of self care make more sense. and have purpose.
The first thing that I want you to know is that whatever you’re feeling, whether it’s hopelessness, rage, fear, or even a sense of numbness or lack of feelings, everything you’re experiencing is valid and real. And these feelings can affect your decision making, and how well your brain and body are functioning. And none of this is a character flaw, or confirmation of your personal failings.
So that’s the second thing I want to talk to you about.
When we feel threatened, our brains kick into something called the sympathetic response. Most of us know this as fight or flight. But there’s also a third reaction, which is freeze. When we encounter a situation that feels threatening, the body prepares itself to either fight back or to run away by releasing adrenaline, heightening our senses, increasing heart rate and puts the digestive system on pause. But for many of us, when we’ve felt threatened, fighting or running away wasn’t an option. So we froze, for the sake of our survival. And this process can rewire the brain in how we deal with challenging emotions whether they’re triggered by memories, people, or personal or global circumstances. The subconscious brain isn’t really good at parsing out what is and isn’t a real threat. It just knows that stress is stress, and it’s going to react in a way that’s familiar and proven to keep us safe.
Another thing I want to mention about what happens during the sympathetic response is that if you are able to carry through the actions of fighting or fleeing a dangerous situation, that’s going to help your brain and body complete the process of the sympathetic response. You’re able to utilize the physiological effects of the adrenaline, and rapid heart rate, and so on. When we freeze, however, that process is incomplete, and we risk trapping that trauma within our body. And THAT is one of the reasons why we may feel incapable of dealing with anything right now. Our systems are overloaded with stress and we don’t have a productive way of processing it or completing the cycle.
Stress is a somatic experience, meaning it affects the body. And we need to use our body and conscious brain to move through it.
But, before we get into some techniques, I want to mention that, of course, not everyone’s experience or reactions to stress and trauma are going to be the same. So don’t worry if parts, or even all of this doesn’t resonate with you. But if you are feeling a bit frozen right now, I hope what I’m sharing is helpful.
I also want to make it VERY clear that none of this is to be used as psychotherapy. My intent is to bring about awareness of the mind-body connection, and share a few tools that may help you reconnect with your body in a way that helps you process the physiological response of stress in a healthy and productive way. Please seek out the services of a mental health professional if you have unresolved trauma or any other mental or emotional wellness concerns.
RECONNECT WITH YOUR BODY
Physically and consciously connecting with your body can help you reestablish ownership of it and feel more in control.
You can try gently squeezing and squishing your body while saying “this is my body”. Start at your head, face and neck and work your way down to your toes. Take your time, linger, squeeze in a way that feels comforting and use a calm voice. Repeat the process but try saying other body-affirming mantras like, “I control my body”, “I love my body”, or “my body is safe”.
STABILIZE THE NERVOUS SYSTEM
We see a lot people demonstrating breathing techniques online, and for good reason. Your breath has a direct link to the parasympathetic nervous system which is in charge of your rest and repair response. You can follow any number of techniques, they’re all pretty great. The important thing is that you breathe deeply (down to your belly), slowly inhaling and exhaling in a mindful way. If your brain tends to wander, you can try counting or repeat a self-affirming mantra.
WRITE IT ALL DOWN
The physical act of writing your thoughts and feelings helps your brain process and release them. Try not to get hung up on grammar, spelling or writing complete sentences. Just let whatever’s inside you pour out onto the page even if it doesn’t make sense.
IDENTIFY AND MOVE
Identifying your feelings and using their energy to move your body is a powerful way to help your body complete the cycle of stuck emotions. If you’re sad or lonely, try swaying or rocking. If you’re angry or frustrated, try stomping your feet or punching a pillow. If you’re scared you could try shaking your hands or arms, or running in place. And you can always use music. Find a song that fits your mood and move your body however feels right or natural.
Identifying and connecting with your body and feelings can be scary, and sometimes hard. Don’t push yourself to do more than you feel safe doing. How you and your body have responded throughout your life has proven to keep you safe. And it’s okay to keep doing what you’re doing. These are just simple ideas if you feel like you’re ready to try something new.
SHARE YOUR LOVE AND WISDOM
It doesn't matter where tragedy strikes, we're all in this world together. Please practice acts of kindness to yourselves and others, and share your strengths when possible. Some of us are good at listening, some are good at finding resources, some of us have helpful professional training, some of us are funny, or have creative talents, are good at baking, have a flair for house plants. Whatever spark of joy, beauty, or wisdom you have, please share that. I believe the only way we can truly survive is if we call on our humanity and support, and see the good in one another.
I love you, I appreciate you, and I’m so glad you’re here.