By Jane Clapp, mindfulness and trauma coach
We have biologically intelligent responses to stress and traumatic events. We are designed to survive first and foremost, whether we faced abuse or neglect as children or have been hit by events or illnesses we wondered if we could survive as adults. We are also intelligently designed to survive stressful events out of our control. All too often, the fumes of these experiences don’t dissipate, and we can be left feeling stuck, frustrated and even deeply flawed or broken. Sometimes we don’t long enough rests between stressful events. This intelligent survival response gets overworked and we lose our ability to find our centre again.
In a world where we are overstimulated, stressed and pressed for time we are also inundated by media and technology. Our nervous systems also get activated every time we hear our phone buzz and every time we hear or watch something in the media about climate change, terrorism, violence or the economy. Over activation of this survival response isn’t our fault as it’s wired into us from the beginning of our evolution as a species, but it is in our hands to find better tools for coping in a healthier way. Our minds and bodies were actually designed to live with intense stress spikes that don’t last long, with lots of time for recovery between stressful or traumatic events. That’s just not the way most of us are living now.
So what does that mean for our health? Our autonomic nervous system – what some used to think of fight and flight, or rest and digest – actually loses it’s ability to recover from stress. It can feel like being wired yet tired, comparable to having our foot on the gas and hand on the emergency break. We can feel tired yet unable to fall asleep or stay asleep. We might find it harder to concentrate, to have fun and play or to see the world through optimistic eyes. We might even get diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression.
Understanding the body’s response to stress and trauma is an essential element of healing if we are seeking treatment from a naturopath, psychotherapist, osteopath or healing of any type.
That’s what I offer my clients. I educate them about their bodies’ response to stress and trauma and empower them by helping create curated tool kits they can access whenever they need to recharge, calm their nervous systems and find ways to be less reactive and anxious. These tools are amazing compliments to other holistic therapies and treatments, such as Naturopathic medicine, osteopathy and psychotherapy. In fact, learning how to become more body intelligent and conscious can become an alchemic force for a healing and health optimization journey.
What to expect if you see me:
The first step is for us to determine the current state of your nervous system regulation by watching your breath patterns, using biofeedback to measure your heart rate variability (I will tell you all about HRV in person) and seeing how much you can actually feel in your body, a term referred to as interoception.
The next step is to develop body based interventions and mindfulness tools that work the best for you when you feel a spike in stress or anxiety or when you feel cut off from yourself and numbed out. Mainly, we want to help you become more able to maintain a state of mindfulness AKA present moment awareness.
After that, we will jointly choose exercises for building a deep sense of resilience in your body which will feed back up into your mind, comparable to building your own sense of your body as a container and expanding your window of tolerance for stress. My favourite quote when it comes to this stage is “Don’t ask for a light load. Ask for a strong back”.
I find it truly remarkable how much freedom people experience when they understand how their bodies can be a tool for healing and growth. Also, we can use the intelligence of our bodies to compliment our healing and move us from a state of survival into thriving, living, playing and being more grateful for the gift of this life we each are given.