Ah, the body. Our most constant companion. Our oldest friend. There are a few things we should recognize about the body. The first is that our body is extremely wise, it knows what it needs, and it cannot lie in asking for what it needs. The second is that when we ignore what is going on in our mental and emotional world for long enough, the body will speak out against it.
Yesterday in leading group therapy about how we numb, avoid, and withdraw from what we are feeling, several group members began asking about somatic symptoms that they are experiencing. Somatic means ‘related to the body’ or ‘physical’ and these are the signs that the body is speaking up about what is going on in the mind. Not all physical symptoms can be traced back to an emotional root, but many can.
We often ignore, numb, and avoid feeling things for so long that we become unaware and unable to describe what we are feeling. So, to get the group back into their bodies, we began by describing how different emotions feel in the body. We discussed how depression can feel like the body is heavy, drained, and that doing anything takes more effort than there is energy available for. We discussed how anxiety can feel like electricity running beneath the skin, butterflies in the stomach, and an inability to focus on anything. Anger can feel like tightness in the muscles, clenching the jaw, and heat in the face, to name a few examples.
Next, we looked at how the body speaks to us in the form of symptoms. And how we often do not make the connection from the physical symptom to the emotional trigger because it took so long for us to actually begin to listen. We sometimes recognize the symptom, but then we let the mind take over and we tell ourselves that if we honor what the body needs, that will take us off course in some way. However, the opposite is actually true. Overriding what the body is asking for is only prolonging our journey toward health.
The symptoms we experience can vary greatly from person to person and can represent just about any issue. Perhaps we catch multiple colds during a very stressful season at work or maybe we experience low back pain during a time of feeling unsupported in what we are trying to do. It could look like chronic indigestion and heartburn during a time so challenging that we are unable to digest what is happening or perhaps we lose our voice when we are afraid to speak up for ourselves.
Our body can be our best advocate, but we must learn to listen. Rarely do any of these symptoms happen “all of a sudden” and very often they can be traced back to mental/emotional triggers. One of the most helpful things we can do is to take the time to check in with the body and ask it what it is trying to tell us.
This week, give it a try. Take some time to be still, breathe, and then literally ask the body part where the symptom is presenting what it is trying to tell you. You may be surprised at the how clearly you receive an answer. You can have this conversation out loud or in written form, but give yourself permission to channel the message that you may have been avoiding. This awareness will give you the ability to make changes toward health.
I will be listening right along with you.
Chat again soon,