In trauma assessment, a key contributing factor for the development of PTSD is the feeling of powerlessness during the traumatic event. If the person of focus was able to take some action, even small action, in the moment, the nervous system is better able to cope with the traumatic event. The action allows the nervous system to complete the stress cycle so as to not store the stress in the body.
As we slowly approach a year of dealing with the Covid-19 restrictions in our lives, I am hearing more and more stories from clients of feeling powerless. Not having the previously used coping mechanisms available, feeling unable to do anything to change the situation, and the strong recommendations to avoid gathering and healthy touch are all making it difficult to regulate the nervous system.
Inside of ourselves, that imbalance in the nervous system feels unsafe. That sense of danger puts us in stress response or “fight or flight”. In leading trauma-sensitive yoga teacher trainings, we are often discussing how to help the client feel safe- in the physical environment, with the teacher, and in their own skin. It is all about enabling the person we are working with to come into their own power and begin to regulate the nervous system, thus increasing their sense of safety.
However, right now, as restrictions and shut down continue and people are feeling unable to cope, the weight of powerlessness looms heavy. As humans, we are wired for connection and cannot thrive without out. Isolation is another factor that feels unsafe in the nervous system and many people are suffering from more isolation right now than ever. When the nervous system senses danger for prolonged periods of time, it burns out. And it is no surprise that the CDC is reporting a spike in symptoms of anxiety and depression during the pandemic.
I am also hearing subsequent reports of clients feeling triggered into shame as they begin to judge their own abilities to cope, worth, and strength. I hear clients reporting that they feel they “should” be able to be “okay” and that they “should” be stronger. Again, this line of thinking can lead to more of the stress response due to it feeling unsafe and unstable to be in ourselves.
So, what can we do to feel safe in our own bodies and to overcome feeling powerless? Often when the question feels difficult or complex, we assume that the answer will be complex, but the opposite is usually true. We start with small, simple interventions.
First, we must get down into our bodies. We start with the breath. Now, I am not telling you that you will be able to immediatly solve the problem by breathing, but breathing is a way to come down out of the stories in our minds and into the body. It brings us into the present moment. A simple breathing technique to start with is an equal ratio breath to pull the nervous system back into a balanced state. Simply inhale while counting to 4 or 5 and exhale for the same number of counts.
Next, we must begin to recognize that we do have the power to take action. When we analyze our day, we can start to see all of the little choices that we make throughout the day. (And yes, the smallest choices count.) We can choose things like what we wear, what and when we eat and drink, when we take a break from what we are doing and stand up for a minute or two, etc. These things may seem inconsequential, but when we pay attention and make these choices on purpose, we are leaning in to our own power.
Then we can choose acts of self-love that can help us feel calm and safe in our bodies such as taking a bath, going for a walk, cooking a nutrient-dense meal, or massaging our bodies with our hands.
Finally, we can reach out and connect with others through text, social media, phone calls, video conferencing, etc. The connection of communicating with others helps us to recognize that we are not alone and that the world is a safe place of connection.
So, this week, I invite you to lean into your own power and see how you can focus on feeling safe in your own body, the environment, and the world.
I will be practicing right along with you.
Chat again soon,