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Get to Know Your Body

Have you ever paid attention to what happens in your body when you feel angry? If so, maybe you have noticed that your face gets hot, your stomach feels knotted, or your teeth and fists clench. Have you noticed what happens in your body when you are feeling happy? Maybe you feel a smile on your face, a lightness in your chest, or a flutter in your stomach. Learning to notice how your body feels in connection to an emotion is a skill that can be very difficult but so rewarding to develop. Our culture is so fast paced that many of us became socialized to move quickly along with it and as a result we rarely, if ever, stop to notice how our body feels at any given moment.


At the base level, being able to name an emotion is the brain’s way of communicating what the body is feeling and experiencing. Attached to an emotion related word are sensations within the body. Learning to build an awareness for yourself around how your body feels while experiencing a particular emotion can become a very crucial strength for your overall mental health and physical wellness. Since we tend to move past emotions and experiences so quickly, we often run the risk of that feeling becoming stuck in our system and manifesting in other ways.


An example of this could be that after having a stressful interaction with a loved one, you develop a headache or notice that your heart continues to feel like it is racing, even for some time after the event. This can be referred to as ‘activation’ within the nervous system or body. This means that your sympathetic nervous system is activated to fight or flight. The aforementioned sensations, when no medical explanation is present, could be indicators that the activation from the stressful situation remains in your system and may need extra support to be released. When you practice mindfulness and make checking in with your body a consistent practice, you give yourself the gift of deeper self-awareness that can assist your body in moving back towards a neutral, resilient space.


There are several tools that can support discharging the symptoms of activation. Breath work can be one of the most useful tools to practice and can be done anywhere at any time. Simply noticing your breath and spending a few minutes focused on deepening each one can help your body re-regulate and lower your heart rate. Box breathing, a focused breathing technique where you breathe in, hold, breathe out, hold and repeat each breath for the same count, can be a highly effective way to regulate and discharge the energy left behind from a stressful event. A simple Google search will yield various articles and videos that explain the many ways you can use breath work for regulation.


wellness

You may also notice that you feel activation in your body randomly when there is no clear stressful or traumatic event to blame. This could be the longstanding aftereffects of an event or issue from some time before. It could also be due to chronic stress or feeling overwhelmed. The consistent demands of everyday life can be overwhelming for the nervous system when proper self-care measures are not in place. Rest is frequently modeled for us throughout scripture and for very good reason. God knows the system He created inside of our bodies. We are limited in many, many ways and must be intentional about staying in tune with what our body needs in order to move through everyday life at peace. As much as I wish it to be true, the answer isn’t coffee, it is mindfulness.


Mindfulness can be applied to a multitude of activities if you are intentional. A simple walk around your neighborhood, for example, can be done mindfully. As you walk, use your senses to notice the world around you. Feel the sun on your skin, smell the grass, notice how your footsteps sound and huge bonus points for regulation if you do this while also maintaining deep breaths. Prayer is another mindfulness practice that is ultimately our very best resource. Waiting on the Lord requires patience and a slowing down of our mind and body in order to hear how He will speak to us. Inviting the Lord into the process of getting to know yourself and your body is an invaluable way to open yourself up to a deeper understanding that would be impossible without Him.


In my current practice, I encourage clients to practice mindfulness coupled with movement. As you check in on your body during your favorite way of movement, the potential for discharge of negative emotion and sensation increases. Movement is incredibly good for the body and a lot of healthy processing happens when you are active. If you bring in that piece of noting what your body is feeling as you engage with an activity, you may observe that you feel better or your thought process around an issue has shifted and given you new insight. When you are feeling anything negative, something simple as taking a walk can improve mood and shift thought patterns.


Wellness Journal

As you practice mindfulness and invite God into the process of getting to know your body’s sensations and feelings, using a journal to track what you are noticing and learning can be a very helpful way to make connections and deepen awareness. When you feel an emotion, pay attention to how your body is feeling along with that emotion. As you do this, the connections you build between emotion and sensation can help you in situations when you can’t figure out how you are feeling. When you pause to notice how your body is feeling, it may clue you in to what emotion you are experiencing. For example, if my jaw is tight and my fists are clenched, I can pause to be curious about what my body is communicating to me. If I know that these are typical sensations in my body that present when I feel angry, I now have more information to help me take a moment to think back and see if I can figure out what may have initiated this emotion.


An important part of this practice is to just notice what you are feeling without judging it. We tend to judge ourselves for feeling certain emotions. I frequently hear people say, “I shouldn’t be sad about that anymore, it was forever ago.” or “Why is this still bothering me? I should be over it by now.” This type of shaming and judgement can feel constricting and often leads to an avoidance of processing the sensations and emotions that are there. When you allow yourself to just notice and be with what you are feeling, you open up the possibility that it will begin moving and processing through and out of your system. This can be so freeing!

Kaitlyn Thompson

I have found it to be incredibly powerful when you use the Lord’s guidance as you explore your system. He knows you and your nervous system better than anyone or anything. When you slow down to get to know yourself in this way and couple it with asking God for clarity, it is truly amazing to see the journey towards healing and deeper self-awareness that can unfold. As a trauma therapist, I have seen numerous people successfully work through incredibly traumatic experiences. There are some amazing therapeutic modalities out there that serve to assist people in processing through trauma rapidly and effectively. However, it never ceases to amaze me that this healing can happen in such a profound way when coupled with an attunement to your body and the Holy Spirit within it.



K A I T L Y N T H O M P S O N

Kaitlyn Thompson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Psychotherapist for a private practice in Houston, Tx. She specializes in treating trauma using various therapeutic modalities. She is a certified Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapist and a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner (SEP). She loves traveling, the Enneagram, bubble tea and can spend any length of time discussing these topics with animated passion…so maybe don’t ask if you don’t have time or energy! You can check out more information about her practice Cultivating Changes at cultivatingchanges.net.

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