Because we’ve collectively experienced a lot of trauma over the past 2 years, many of us are currently feeling a deep sense of exhaustion, also known as burnout and even depression. This often comes with an intensification of our physical symptoms too; when our brains feel unsafe they sometimes amplify our tension or pain to make us reach out to someone for help.
Despite being cloistered at home so much in recent times we are simultaneously living outside of ourselves, desperately looking for signs from the external environment that things are ‘normal’, that the danger has passed. And when we’re looking outside of ourselves for things to make us feel better, we usually find something – often more than one thing – that makes us feel worse.
So what to do? How can you stop spiralling into burnout, feeling guilty about not being able to do anything about the big traumatic events happening in the world and ending up in a heap, unable to look after our families or ourselves or get out of bed each day?
Soothe the body to calm the mind
The best way I know to help yourself is to come home to your body. It’s the only thing that’s with you in every moment. It’s the only place where you can create a tangible, repeatable feeling of safety, a sense of being in control. It’s the only place where you can really take care of yourself. And taking care of yourself is the only way to start making a difference in the world, when everything else is out of your control.
Traumatic and stressful events are emotionally – and physically – exhausting. Our recovery from them requires two things:
1. Complete the stress cycle
We must release the built-up charge from our bodies so that we don’t stay in the stress cycle. There are examples of this in Nature – when the deer outruns the lion it shakes all over and leaps about, discharging the excess adrenaline, sweating and releasing the intense energy from its muscles – and signalling safety throughout its nervous system. This is a great model for us too, because we, like deer, are animals in Nature (though we deny it to ourselves). The difference is that we live with constant daily stresses, so we must actively release the charge every day to complete the stress cycle and return to a calm baseline, allowing our bodies to repair, recover and restore. Some great ways to do this are
- walking, running, cycling, swimming – any exercise that increases your heart rate
- punching or screaming into a pillow
- dancing (on a dancefloor or in the loungeroom)
- laughing – with kids, with friends, at funny movies
- rolling around on the ground outside – with kids or animals if you have them (with the added bonus of connecting with the immune system-supporting natural biome)
2. Deliberately, intentionally R E S T
Resting is one of our superpowers – one we vastly underestimate. We must rest as a matter of course every day. It should be scheduled in – it’s a non-negotiable basic daily need, like drinking water, moving and eating real food. Nature is always seeking to repair and restore balance and your body is the same. You don’t need to force it to repair itself, it happens naturally given the right conditions – one of which is rest.
Fortunately the Ortho-Bionomy self-care techniques offer a way to deliberately take your body into a deep resting state to soothe your body AND calm your mind. One of the ways we do this is by using the principle of exaggeration. It assumes your body knows best what it needs right now.
Test it now:
- Sitting where you are now, close your eyes and tune in to your sit bones – the two big bones under your butt. Is your weight evenly balanced on both sides, or do you feel more weight on one side?
- If it’s the latter, normally we would try to ‘fix’ it, to correct it by adding more weight on the lighter side to even it up. Instead, I want you to try exaggerating what is present by leaning slightly towards the side that feels heavier to add more weight to that side.
- Stay there for about 30 seconds, breathing slowly, then move back to the centre.
- Now notice again how the weight is distributed on your sit bones. Do you still have the same imbalance with more weight on one side, or has it changed?
When I use this with clients, they almost always notice the weight has at least changed – if not completely balanced. This happens because your exaggeration of the imbalance has acknowledged something your body needed – with gentleness, not force – and your brain has responded by restoring balance.
You can use this with any part of your body that feels tight or sore. Find a way to exaggerate the positioning or tension in that area – e.g. if your shoulders are held up towards your ears, position them up closer to your ears while lying down (so you don’t have to hold them up) and relax into the position, breathing slowly for up to a minute. Then slowly sit up and notice the changes and responses in your body (in your physical body and also in your breathing, emotions and thoughts).
This process brings you into a calmer state because it also brings your whole self – brain/nervous system/body/mind – into present time, into your body, into your breath. And it avoids re-traumatising you because you’re not talking about the things that are stressing you.
Image credit: Shane – Unsplash