What can help when we are STUCK mentally and emotionally? We often hear about Flight or Fight responses, but there is an often unaddressed Freeze response. We often experience the freeze response when we perceive a threat and recognize that we don’t have a good chance of escaping it by either fight or flight.
The issue with the freeze response is that our bodies can stay trapped in this mode long after the threat has disappeared. Sure we aren’t in danger anymore, but our bodies still hold the energy built up from our natural fight or flight response. But, because we froze, the energy was never used so it remains in the body and prevents us from recovering from the experience.
There is an understanding that trauma gets trapped in the body when it is not processed effectively. This trapped trauma can create symptoms of PTSD and emotional dysregulation. Negative symptoms of trauma – such as anxiety, hypervigilance, aggression, and shame – result from denying the body the opportunity to fully process the traumatic event. Therefore, in order to address these symptoms, one must process the trauma from which they stem.
One avenue used to address trapped energy, trauma, and emotion is called Somatic Experiencing. Somatic Experiencing (SE) differs from other cognitive therapies in that its main strategy involves directing the client’s attention to internal sensations, rather than only focusing on cognitive or emotional experiences. SE works to help the client gain an internal awareness of what is happening in their body similar to meditative practices like Yoga and T’ai Chi. This type of therapy is called a “bottom-up” method which starts with bodily sensations before addressing thoughts, unlike many other therapies which are “top-down” and address thoughts initially before bodily sensations.
So how is SE done? First, your therapist will help you increase your awareness of your bodily sensations and physical symptoms. What is happening inside, where you feel discomfort, breathing changes, sweats or chills are all important to recognize.
Next, you’ll learn how to resource. This is all about finding your inner strength, resilience, and serenity. To resource, you will draw on positive memories and experiences when you feel distressed or triggered. Resourcing can help you stay calm and in control when you have trauma sensations or memories.
After learning to resource, you’ll begin to slowly revisit your trauma with your therapist. This is called titration. The process is slow, allowing you to process each moment and aspect of the event at a pace that is right for you. During this process, your therapist will observe and note your response and physical symptoms like breathing, clenched hands, tone of voice and so forth. They will also check in with you to understand things they might not be able to observe such as changes in body temperature, a feeling of dizziness or nausea, numbness, etc.
When these physical sensations happen, they are considered to be a release of that trapped energy from the trauma. Once you have released that energy, your therapist will help you move to a calmer state by resourcing or using breathing or other calming techniques. To move from this state of releasing trapped energy to a calm state is called Pendulation.
What are some things to be aware of in your body?
- What does your posture feel like: Rigid, slumped, flexible?
- Your heart rate: is it racing, pounding, slow?
- Where are you carrying tension: Shoulders, stomach, neck or back, eye twitching?
- What are some internal or external elements that offer a sense of peace and calm: a book, a loved one, a favorite blanket, a hot drink?
- What external stimuli trigger you: crowds, noise, heat, traffic, darkness?
Knowing the answers to these questions can increase your somatic awareness.
If you would like to practice a somatic exercise on your own at home, here are six steps that you can do:
- Notice. Notice what you feel on, in, and around your body. Notice your breath and your heartbeat. Notice your body temperature.
- Think back to safety. Think back to a most recent moment when you felt calm and safe.
- Identify. Identify at what point in time your body began experiencing disturbance or stress.
- Replay. Replay that scenario from a calm state to a stressed state in slow motion. Note the people, conversations, objects, and behaviors that have triggered you.
- Tune in. As you recall the event, tune in to your bodily sensations. Is there tingling, tightening, warming, numbing; is it in your arms, face, stomach? Notice what the sensation is and where it is manifesting.
- Healing hands. Place your hands on the area that is experiencing a change and breathe deeply. If you feel your whole body has experienced a change, place your hands over your heart.
Doing this process allows your body a passageway to release the trapped energy from the experience.
Receiving therapy is the best way to process trapped emotion from trauma, but understanding your own body’s responses can help you to avoid getting trapped emotion in the future. It is inevitable that we will all have stressful situations in which we feel triggered or upset. But learning to listen to our bodies and allowing them healthy passageways to release that stress can drastically improve our overall health.
People who do not process trapped trauma can experience a variety of symptoms like depression, anxiety, guilt, and anger, trouble sleeping, digestive issues, etc. Many people think trauma is just psychological, but the effects of trauma on the body and how it operates are vast. Somatic Experiencing is an effective and therapeutic way to release that trapped trauma so you do not have to experience it over and over again.
At Recovery Ways we have over a decade of experience helping those who are struggling with mental health related issues. We offer a wide range of services including Residential and IOP therapy to help those in need. Please contact us today if we can be of assistance in getting your life unstuck and back to finding more purpose and joy. We accept most major insurances.