Ouch! How many of us have fallen victim to Legos left strewn across the floor or the odd slightly out of place in the middle of the night. We are completely aware of our bodies in those moments. After all a broken toe or Lego impalement are gifts that keep on giving. What most of us do not know is the source of physical pain that so often accompanies deep emotional pain.
We have all heard how driving and talking on our cell phones requires the focus of the same areas of the brain. The same is true for emotional pain and physical pain. The same center of the brain lights up when we sustain a physical injury as when we sustain an emotional injury. To our brains a broken arm and a broken heart feel the same. Love really does hurt.
We rush to the doctor to treat and mend a broken bone but we have no clue how to heal the physical pain caused by emotional suffering. According to Manuela Mischke-Reeds, in her book Somatic Psychotherapy Toolbox, common mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, stress and trauma cause a multitude of physical symptoms in the body. According to the author, symptoms left unattended are responsible for devasting effects on our overall health.
What do we do? The first step is to recognize we have become a cognitive based “just the facts” culture. Somewhere along the journey into the twenty-first century we have forgotten that that our bodies always know what is going on in and around us before the brain does. Just think about all the times we have the feeling that something is about to go horribly wrong but we still go on the date, eat the sketchy fish, or drive over the seemingly harmless puddle. We always believe we can think our way out of any situation without taking into account the toll our actions are have on our bodies.
A quick and easy way to get in touch with our bodies is to recognize where we are holding stress in our bodies. Next step is let it go! This is much easier said than done. A simple tool is Diaphragmatic or Belly Breathing. Deep, full breath breathing releases stress and helps reset not only out bodies but also our minds and our spirits. Deep breathing allows us to notice where we are holding on to stress while releasing the stress from our bodies. Deep belly breathing is a practice we can add to our daily lives without taking large chunks of time out of our already overly busy schedules. Start the day with 10 to 15 minutes of a breath routine, set aside 5 to 10 minutes a couples of times during the day and end the day with another 10-to-15-minute breath routine. Here are some easy-to-follow instructions from What is Diaphragmatic Breathing by Jon Johnson and found on the website Medical News Today.
Basic diaphragmatic breathing:
Lie down on a flat surface with a pillow under the head and pillows beneath the knees. Pillows will help keep the body in a comfortable position.
Place one hand on the middle of the upper chest.
Place the other hand on the stomach, just beneath the rib cage but above the diaphragm.
- To inhale, slowly breathe in through the nose, drawing the breath down toward the stomach. The stomach should push upward against the hand, while the chest remains still.
- To exhale, tighten the abdominal muscles and let the stomach fall downward while exhaling through pursed lips. Again, the chest should remain still.
- People should practice this breathing exercise for 5–10 minutes at a time, around three to four times each day.
Of course, we all need to do more than deep breathing to care for ourselves and our valued others. Anxiety, stress, depression, trauma, and addictions have become an all-too-common part of our many of our lives. Next time we will explore the question “do I need therapy?”