Body – mind

In reality, there is no real separation between body and mind, but for logic’s sake, I’m going to treat them as separate in this text. Our minds have this incredible ability to come up with stories about everything. It is their job, to make sense of all the stimuli we pick up through our senses and then somehow make sense of it all. We often do this through just that – stories. We make sense of things through different lenses, one being, for example “predictions based on my past”. Sometimes it can be helpful and empowering with these stories and sometimes not so much. When we are stressed or in pain it’s extra easy for the mind to pick the old familiar route, even if that route hurt us in the long run. Let me share a personal example. 

So when I’m anxious and don’t really know what’s going on inside of me, I have this need-jerk reaction to start cleaning. It is an attempt to bring some order, but the order and equanimity I truly crave are on the inside, not the outside. By cleaning, my mind thinks I’m a good girl, doing the “right” thing by being able to present a tidy home. However, my inside is screaming for something else. I can also involve my loved ones in this and complain that they don’t clean enough. To sum it up: my mind makes a story about untidiness being the problem of my unease. Hence, the solution would be to clean. But can you ever get done cleaning?

I’ve been down this road quite a few times now and I’m learning that the restlessness I feel inside is a perfect signal that says: “Hey! Something is going on inside, can you take a moment to pay attention to it?”. The old route screams: “Feeling what is going on inside is scary and I don’t know what that entails, so I rather not plz” and wants to continue to just DO. Going down the old route keeps me acting out and displacing my inner turmoil – which hurts me and those around me. It doesn’t serve me, even though it probably did back in the day when I didn’t feel safe to explore and hold my own inner going-ons. 

How can we help ourselves make space for our feelings, needs, and internal turmoil? We use the body. We ground ourselves in the body, letting ourselves know that we are here and now and safe. Strategies to be used to activate the body rather than the mind could be the following: deep breathing, breathing exercises (inhale – hold your breath – exhale x 15), meditation, stretching, tapping (tap gently with your fingertips different parts of your body), singing, walking (preferably in nature) or some other work out. This helps regulate your nervous system from a stress response to a more “ready to connect” state. 

When we have calmed down it’s tempting to just go on as before, and believe me you will, many times. To change “routes” we need to start doing things differently, we need to take a different turn at our familiar crossroads. Nothing will change unless something different is happening. So when we have taken care of our dysregulated nervous system it is time to reflect. Write if that compels you, or perhaps record voice messages to a trusted friend: what happened? Any idea what triggered you in the first place? Was the thing that made you burst really it, or is there a deeper process underneath? What do you feel, physically in your body? How would you like to take care of this in the future? 

If it’s hard to answer these questions in a compassionate way towards yourself, who after all is struggling and fighting so hard, imagine that you are your best friend, your child, or perhaps a beloved pet – how would you speak to them? And while we are at it, can you thank your busy mind for trying to help you out of danger in the only way it knows? 

There is no way we can only think or talk our way out of our old emotional residue. Traumatic experiences of old, from when you were a child, are stored wordlessly in the body. That you react the way you do in stress is not a choice until you are aware of what you are truly doing and why. You are protecting yourself from annihilation, and we humans as a species have survived thus far for a reason. We need our entire being to heal, not just get an intellectual understanding of things. Therefore, making use of both body and mind, as a whole, is necessary. 

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