Trauma in Lockdown – commentary on a recent Guardian podcast interview with John Crace.

link to podcast in Guardian newspaper

Each day we are being fed more info on the physical/mental health of people suffering Covid19 and coming through the other side – an ordeal for some, less so for others. It’s a relief to have something in mainstream press – explained by a director of menal health foundation for England and Wales – about the impact of lockdown and anti-virus measures on our health and connecting the dots between physical symptoms and mental impact.

The first point I want to make is that our nervous systems integrate our brains within the fabric of our bodies – there is no head/heart split. Under lockdown, with social isolation, restriction on movement and reduced access to health services, our nervous systems are being impacted with signals of life threat. Whether we realise it or not in our thinking, in these times we are activating our defenses and protective behaviours and thought processes 24/7. This means that even though we are being told that the government is responding to the threat and we are being given messages of encouragement, we are feeling threatened 24/7.

However, because we are a ‘mental’ culture, mostly dismissive of body intelligence, the interview with John Crace focuses first on his anxiety and depression as the ‘mental’ symptoms of catastrophising with worry; and only later in the podcast, he describes physical symptoms in his inability to get out of bed in the morning and the tendency to adopt foetal position because of terrible nausea and pain in his guts. As a trauma trained therapist, and someone who has experienced PTSD and unresolved traumas, I recognise that Crace is describing fundamental symptoms of trauma, which is a state of disruption and confusion/chaos in the nervous system from previous life events which are still influencing him now. This is not directly addressed, though we understand he has always been anxious and is an addict in recovery. PTSD often is easily triggered by uncertainty or threat to wellbeing. The lockdown can feel traumatic to many people, particularly those living alone and who are vulnerable, but if people also have underlying traumas that haven’t healed then their nervous systems will be in a much higher state of alert/stress than those who don’t. John Crace is one such person and I laud him for speaking out.

I’ve been noticing my own underlying trauma patterns (nowhere near as bad as Crace’s, and I’ve done a lot of therapeutic bodywork) and there are some similarities: stomach churning at times, muscular stress. I have learnt to support myself by reality checking, mindfully exercising in ways that I deeply enjoy and relaxing my body each day, and ensuring good diet/sleep patterns. An ongoing attention to your body involves awareness of your body’s feedback to what you are doing and making this a regular practice can help you find ways of relating with your body and physical symptoms directly. I recommend mindfulness, self-directed movement, and self-administered touch with an attitude of respect, curiosity and aiming to reduce intensity of outside conditions and support our bodies to settle into balance again. The thoughts might then settle and seem less intense.

This awareness can really help to build your understanding and responsive relationship with your body and nervous system and this builds resilience to stress over time. I’m glad that the doctor in the podcast does emphasise the importance of daily maintenance routines, particularly enjoyable ones. And I want to emphasise that last point: it’s really supportive to settling your nervous system if you can enjoy whatever you do to take care of yourself, as this is what helps you settle and activate the recuperative aspects of your nervous system. In these times, the keeping fit and eating healthily is important, but enjoying it will help you de-stress even more, and your body’s natural rebalancing will happen more easily. Otherwise you may just go through the motions and miss out on this fundamental support for your health and wellbeing.

Another related point I want to comment on is that a lot of the thinking and problem solving is going on – as usual – in the conceptual realm and so it’s more likely we will try to mentally work out how to deal with our stress. But especially when trauma underlies our experience, thinking might get confused by this and it is important to reduce the intensity of your physical experience first. Although it’s supportive to have some body-based movement and self-care practices on hand, if you are feeling alone in your experience, it’s deeply supportive to have another person to relate to who won’t just try to fix things by talking to you, but will be alongside you as you settle your nervous system. Our nervous systems are impacted by the nervous systems of others, so if you are stressed, it’s important to seek out people who are able to calm or soothe. If you do not have such people in your life, you may wish to contact a therapist or life coach.

I offer a free 20 minute consultation if you feel you need support. Contact me to get help to take the next step to help you support your body and nervous system in a kind, supportive way.

Healthy fear versus unhealthy anxiety

Sometimes fear and anxiety can arrive as a confusing mix of feelings, thoughts and behaviour. In this post I am offering a perspective to try to help disentangle and validate some of the fear which might be helpful in informing you around how to navigate the impacts of the corona virus. Your instincts will be trying to guide you to stay safe, and they give important information to consider and perhaps act upon in these times.

I also encourage you to pause and wonder what might be ‘unhealthy’ or unhelpful anxiety which you can try to let go of. Unhealthy anxiety might be familiar to you as the kinds of ruminations and unending cycles of worry that lead nowhere but to stress and self-judgment. You might be aware of ‘triggers’ that tend to activate stronger anxiety, perhaps echose from a time when you felt very threatened and the fear from that time. Perhaps you recognise these more intense states adding to the experience.

At this time of Covid19, our communities, countries and international collective humanity are riven with a life-threatening virus which does feel scary in body and mind. Additional to the fear, there is confusion as we are told to stay away from each other, that we might actually cause harm to each other if we get to close. A a social species, this is hugely confusing to our nervous systems because normally when we feel threatened we want to get close to those we feel safe with. At the same time, as is being shown now, we also recognise that there is wisdom in isolating to avoid contamination because through sacrifices to ourselves, we protect our community.

So this fear of each other is supporting our health to some extent. You may have heard the term ‘healthy fear’, which means the kind of fear that stops us to consider risk to our wellbeing and livelihood when we perceive a threat that we don’t know how to deal with. Healthy fear is hardwired into us in the form of startle reflexes when that something happens suddenly or unexpectedly, to stop us and get us looking around; whilst if something is looming, or approaching more slowly, we get uneasy feelings in our guts that might keep us there a while looking at it, whilst we weigh up pros and cons of an action or inaction. Still we need to watch out for exaggerations that can build on healthy fear to become unhelpful cycles of worry.

Whilst it’s important to allow our healthy fear instincts to inform us and prevent us transmitting the virus or becoming infected, we can also easily become unhealthily anxious and even paranoid about our own actions and the actions of others. This is where our bodily feelings and our thoughts might not be working together so well. We have been cognitively primed to be ‘alert’ for danger of contamination by messages from our government and from the news of the spread of the virus globally. Our bodies follow suit and we behave accordingly. We need to be alert, but it isn’t helpful to constantly worry about infection when we are doing all that we can to avoid it. If we worry, our bodies also begin to feel the impacts of unresolvable anxiety in ways that we can recognise as stress and illness.

Do you have a sense of the healthy, and unhealthy fear patterns in your thoughts, feelings and behaviour? I’ve written a few things that help me to sort out the difference between healthy and unhealthy fears. I hope they might be helpful to clarify your experience:

  • Talk about your worry with others, check if they have similar or different worries, an opportunity to ask for and offer any reassurances to each other. Note how you feel after talking it through.
  • Write about your worries and see if there are patterns or themes you recognise and can relate to more easily now. Again, note how you feel in your body and emotions and check these with what you have written.
  • Remind yourself of all of the ways you are trying to address your fears: precautions you are taking that keep you and others physically safe and emotionally connected. If you realise that you are not taking enough precautions, you might want to update things and review again soon.
  • Take the time to enjoy being in Nature, listening to music or treating your body to gentle or vigorous exercise depending how you feel and what is available to you so you can feel yourself taking care of your nervous system and feeling gratitude for what feels good in your life.

Sometimes there are reasons why we cannot let go of the uhelpful worrying. In that case, it might be good to seek professional help. If you would like to have a free 20 minute confidential conversation with me about what is worrying you at this time, I may be able to help you take the next step to getting help. Please contact me to arrange a good time to talk.

Online embodied support

There are many reasons why you might be feeling anxiety or fear at this time. Connection with others is often an antidote to fear, however since Covid19 has spread rapidly and we are being told to socially distance and isolate, I’ve been looking for ways to support connection between people and ways to soften the blow of isolation from embodied contact.

I’m offering a regular zoom meditation circle where I guide your imaginal sense to create an inner environment with features that you choose to bring calm, uninterrupted recuperative rest to your nervous system. This lasts for about 10-15 minutes and then we have sharing time to offer each other the resource from our own inner resource place. I ask for a donation of £3-5 for each group.

Contact me to enquire about the next meditation group and I will continue to offer this online space at various times.

Discover embodied connection to a Tree – an audio to accompany you

I’ve discovered over years that trees can be wonderful companions to me in the ups and downs as well as the flat times in my life. The times I’ve spent in connection with them have usually been wordless, and often times my body senses and emotions become more vivid and energised.

Perhaps it is the biochemical atmosphere around trees which nourishes and supports our breath and vitality and feels conducive to softening and energising our bodies. Do you ever wonder what your exhaled breath offers to trees and plant-life around you?

I feel also that there is something directly communicated between my skin and the skin of a tree through contact with my hand or arm, and that this communication evokes movement in my body and emotional expression – often subtly and with time. Leaning my spine against the trunk of a tree brings my attention to my muscles and energy levels. I don’t think much when I’m with trees, often receiving a sense that I don’t need to be any particular way and am welcome as I am. I often revisit the same trees, wondering if they recognise me as I recognise them. It’s a wonderful mystery that I’m exploring!

I hope you’ll find the audio guidance helpful to you if you are doing this for the first time, or if you value a structure for finding connection to your own senses. If you are experienced in being with trees, this audio might just offer you another perspective which is very much focused on body senses as a channel for receiving and giving connection to trees. Enjoy!

If you’re interested in developing your relationship with Nature as a two-way process, I co-facilitate nature immersion groups in Stroud and Box and you can find out dates and venues here.

Living Body Movement 2020 – becoming more real

The experience of making time for yourself to become more aware and responsive to sensations in your body is a big part of becoming embodied. The environment and guidance I offer help you to relax, slow down and unwind from your day so that you can become more aware of your inner senses. Then your movement can become more authentically responsive to your inner senses, which will tend to guide you towards ease and balance rather than towards movements that make you feel uncomfortable or stressed. We live in a culture that encourages us to move only when we have to, in ways that are culturally acceptable and not bothersome to others. In my classes, the invitation is to drop that baggage at the door and come in to be yourself. How refreshing!

What if your body starts to feel unsure or unsafe? I name this potential as it can sometimes arise for people for many different reasons as they slow down and open sensitivity. I always start the guidance with a resourcing meditation which you can always come back to regain your sense of ease with your experience. I offer invitations, not instructions so you can take or leave as feels right for you. Each person has their own movement space and contact between movers is not invited so you are unhampered with the needs or enquiries of others and can really drop into your own body world. There are some group agreements around sharing the sound space and movement space and these are explained each time. You are welcome to ask me any specific questions you might have about this.

From this place the learning can begin: learning how your body wants you to be and we do this by following a specific living system in our bodies with our attention and waiting for the inner guidance to help us respond in movement, sound and restful stillness. Much of our movement in this zone comes from allowing spontaneous adjustments and letting inner energy bursts move us in randomised ways. We become more organismic and free of ‘shoulds’.

Restorative Touch – a new short course this March!

Are you feeling estranged from nurturing touch in your life? You are not alone. Restorative touch is a birthright which, in our touch-phobic society, is often lost to us as we grow older.

This new course will start on 1st March and run weekly for four Sunday afternoons. It’s an ideal chance to rediscover touch that feels safe, nurturing and restorative in a closed, facilitated group. The course is a special and unique journey with respectful nourishing touch that will build your confidence and support your health and wellbeing.

Please get in touch to enquire and book on as we have limited spaces.

An Audio Time Out / Check In

This audio encourages you to check in with your body and mind. I encourage you to take yourself somewhere with privacy and space to lie down or to move.

During the ‘festive’ period at the end of the year, there are heightened emotions and tensions. Whether we come together with family/friends or feel alone and unsure what we are doing, it’s easy to feel lost and unsure how to be with ourselves in healthy balance.

Either way, we often get drawn ‘out’ of ourselves which means we might neglect our feelings or feel we have to contain and hide them in order to please others. If we ignore our feelings too long, they will become overwhelming. If this is true for you, then you might find it useful to take time regularly to check in with yourself.

My intention is to encourage you to accept what you find and to give time to attend to yourself, however if what you are feeling seems overwhelming or unmanageable, I encourage you to ask for help. If you feel alone with your feelings or circumstances, and unable to reach out to people you know, you may want to enquire about confidential therapeutic support. You can contact me here to request a free 20 minute telephone conversation and I can help you take the next step to getting support.

Touch as Nourishment in a touch-phobic culture

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Give yourself a couple of minutes before and after to get settled and enjoy the aftereffects!

Our bodies are designed to be nurtured with touch, yet the scope and value of the tactile sense is so misunderstood in our touch-phobic culture, that most of us might not give it much thought or time. It might be that you only receive our own touch in order to ease discomfort, for example if you injure yourself or feel an irritation. Less often, you might touch your body to soothe or enliven your nervous system, for example stroking or rubbing the skin, or squeezing your limbs. You might also recognise the need to touch and be touched in order to connect your body to your environment and to people in your life. But how much do enjoy this tactile sense and allow it to nourish you in your life?

In this audio recording, I’m guiding you through a 3 layered touch experience with your own hands, starting with the surface skin, deepening into the soft tissues underneath and then into the bones.

This is an exercise in receiving your own touch as well as giving it, feeling what you feel not only in your hands, but in your whole body at each level. I hope you will enjoy it and take longer than the length of the recording because you are enjoying it so much! You can repeat this many times and each time it will be different and still nourishing. As with all of the practices I am offering you a simple way to enjoy your own body and discover your embodied knowing about what you like and need.

If you like this approach to touch, and want to develop your own experience and practice, you might be interested to contact me for one or more embodied coaching sessions. There are often barriers in the way of deeper self-connection and I can support you to use this technique to connect in other areas of the body, settling more inwards and gaining more confidence in your awareness deeper in.

Being in the movement – spinal curl

There’s a possibility to drop into the timelessness of the body when we engage our attention in a very slow, simple, intentional movement. Glacial movement happened very slowly, elements carving into the rocks. As we move slowly in a direction we know, we can feel grounded and safely open our attention around the movement to notice the sensations, allowing more detail in to inform us in the direction and extent of the movement that is right for our bodies. This exercise invites slowness and I hope that by witnessing how slowly I move, you will feel a quality of presence that transmits a permission to be slow, attentive and timeless in your movement.

As usual, I encourage you to be safe, find a position that really suits you for this and to develop and evolve the movement practice to go with your own flow, your body structure. Being in movement is the intention and then enjoy the presence you feel emerging in your bodyself during and afterwards.

This exercise can relax, refresh and resource your nervous system. If you valued this exercise and would like to engage in more extensive and varied somatic movement practice that fosters a timeless yet grounded presence and a safer, healthier body, please contact me to find out more about movement groups and somatic coaching or therapy.