The Living Force
Awhile back I went to a seminar given by a teacher and therapist in Somatic Experiencing. I took some notes during class and re-wrote them with a friend I attended with asked if he could have them. Since they fit well with the theme of the thread I thought I would share it, since there appears to be a lot of overlap.
The stress response is an elevated sympathetic arousal (fight or flight response) above our baseline stress level. People's baselines are set by the levels of chronic stress they experience, as well as their default baseline set by interactions with their primary caregiver. Those who can more easily return to baseline (or even lower their baseline) are said to be more resilient than others. To be resilient is to be able to naturally discharge the stress response by engaging with it in an adaptive fashion that returns our body's arousal to baseline. Few people know how to self-regulate, and as a result people do not discharge the stress they experience, and instead clamp down on it through the parasympathetic dorsal vagal system (freeze response). These people walk around in a subtly disassociated state where the fight or flight energy is still active but frozen in the body, weighing down the nervous system and reducing the resources it has available to handle more stressful and demanding tasks. Those who are easily overwhelmed are prime examples of those whose emotional cups are almost always full (of frozen, undischarged stress), and who have high baselines for stress in their nervous system. Our brains are highly neuroplastic, and we can learn to naturally discharge stress and return to baseline (and even lower our baseline) by educating ourselves and applying knowledge.
The most important skill is to learn to orient:
Look around and pay active attention to neutral features of the environment, as well as feelings or sensate from the body. Do this before and after a stressor, or whenever your mind has wandered off (i.e. disassociated) from the immediate environment. This is a dead giveaway that the freeze state is active, instead of the socially attuned state (smart vagus nerve). The smart vagus is stimulated by orienting toward neutral, non-threatening signals around and within. It is this smart vagus system that we use to control and tone down the sympathetic stress response, and to do so in a controlled, gentle fashion (instead of the emergency brake of the freeze system, also known as the dorsal or slow vagus nerve).
Resiliency consists of four factors:
When I feel something, do I actually feel it, or do I immediately suppress it and clamp down on it? Do we have the awareness and attention to perceive our bodily sensations and feelings?
Can I feel that anger in its totality until it shifts, and stay present to it? Can I expand to contain the pressure of the emotion?
Needed for containment to be successful. My system understands that it can go up and it can come down. It can activate and then deactivate. There are 3 parts of the nervous system: the sympathetic nervous system, the ventral parasympathetic (smart vagus), and the dorsal parasympathetic (slow vagus). Regulation is working when the 3 parts are working when they're needed and off when they're not.
Do I have rhythm and organization and stability in my system? Is there communication between the subsystems of my body? Eg, heart and breathing rate. Heart rate variability is a measure of coherence. Optimal coherence generates a sensory-motor rhythm.
Six main things you can do to increase your resilience:
Understand how our experiences and choices affect our physiology. Read "In an Unspoken Voice" by Peter Levine <3.
Get in the body
Spent even just 5 minutes day noticing the body's neutral sensations. Become familiar with the boundaries of your physical body. Whenever you encounter something stressful or painful, reorient toward something neutral. This builds islands of safety for exploring the body and measuring your capacity to endure an external stressor. When you notice something stressful in you, like a feeling or tension, and you reorient to neutral sensations or impressions (creaing islands of safety to explore the uncomfortable feelings), you condition your nervous system to come down a little in terms of stress because you're implicitly conveying that the object isn't a threat.
Discomfort and stress are undone by resources. Use imagination of a neutral situation or a situation that conveys confident emotions. Pets are very resourcing. Rocking and "stimming" with active attention helps also. Self hug is another strong signal for setting boundaries and containment. Moving and exploring the sensations of leg and trunk muscles helps. Anything sensory can be soothing. Sensation in other senses like smells and touching also work (essential oils, soft fabrics). Orienting and paying closer attention to your environmental and bodily stimuli is always a good resource to stabilize the less comfortable feelings.
Put a tensor bandage on your adrenals (lol). "Ace bandage" works.
When stressed out, don't take deep breaths. Focus on extending the exhale to lower the heart rate by making a "vooo" sound long enough to cause the body to take a spontaneous in-breath. Then immediately orient and observe the neutral environmental and bodily signals. This technique stimulates the vagus nerve and heart rate variability, leading to greater coherence.
Learn to identify the ways you're using hobbies and food or chemicals to soothe. Become aware of your management patterns. The more you deal with your stress and lower your baseline, the less you will need earlier, less efficient management strategies.
The solution to addiction and stress is social connection (a la Gabor Mate). It is one of the best ways to engage the nervous system. Be with people who make you feel seen. People who make you feel safe. People who come and meet you where you are. Call people, do not text them. Nervous systems are always pinging and sensing the environment and the nervous systems of others. You can feel yourself atunig to other people's nervous systems up to 7 feet away. Our baseline stress level is tuned by our primary caregiver's ventral vagal tone. So neglect or even a dysregulated nervous system convey lack of safety to the infant. rhythmical, coherent attunement is necessary to improve the baseline resiliency.
The result of applying all these techniques is increased capacity, containment, resilience, and coherence. Thank you for coming and taking this time to learn about and improve your resiliency. Sessions in town and on Skype. Grab a card!!