Our brains and bodies are amazing. I think the more we learn about the bodies we inhabit, the more respect and honor we can grow, the more “Brain Envy,” in the words of Dr. Daniel Amen, that we can gain for ourselves. (And this will help us with both connection to ourselves and connection to others, the goal of this year).
Let us learn something- A Mini Lesson:
Biologically the nervous system in our body is designed to activate in relation to the threat we experience. Once the threat is removed, our nervous system begins to down regulate, and take us to a state of calm. This requires us to move to safety and once we are in safety and there is no active threat, the system will actually increase in anxiety. Trauma therapists tend to tell their patients, “This will get worse before it gets better.”… well this is why. A calm and safe place allows for the body to go through the process of resolution by facing the threatening experience (where anxiety increases) and as many of my patients have experienced, this is not a very fun stage.
Typically, when we experience anxiety or post-experience stress we want to distract ourselves as quickly as possible. Distraction can be healthy and it can be unhealthy. Healthy distraction, or what I like to call progress focused distraction, like exercise, work, cleaning or setting goals allows us to focus on the task at hand and face the facts of the anxiety in micro doses. Unhealthy distraction or avoidance, like the use of alcohol and other substances or, for example, dating someone new right after a breakup or binge watching 10 hours of Netflix to avoid feelings, can create additional layers of issues.
Mental distraction has an adaptive function and we should choose healthier ways to distract ourselves when old experiences are provoking anxiety and demanding for us to face them. Yet, at some point, in order for the body to resolve an experience, you have to actually consciously face the facts of the experience… again, depending on the experience, this may happen in micro doses.
This means, you have to look at the experience with the eyes of your mind. I will teach out how.
Facing the Truth Exercise
Sit down in a quiet place (with a journal) or with a trusted friend. Tell the story of the experience.
What are the facts? What actually happened?
What did all my senses experience? What did I see, hear, smell, taste, feel?
What did my body feel?
What beliefs and thoughts came from the experience?
What can I extrapolate from the experience for the future? Meaning, what lessons can I derive from what happened.
What emotions do I need to feel through? Grief? Sadness? Anger? (Feel the emotions while giving them a voice.. And practice keeping a calm body while doing this.. A calm body allows for emotions to pass and the memories to move from implicit to explicit memory storage)
Experiences can be forever fruit bearing trees, giving us insight into ourselves, people, and the world around us… If we dare look at them honestly.
Facing the Truth should become a daily practice. It will strengthen us with a realistic view of ourselves and others, while guiding us into a life of freedom and wisdom.
A note on traumatic memories: If you know that you have traumatic or distressful memories and experiences to face and feel ill-equipped to do this, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to guide you through this process.