Over the past few weeks, I have been checking in with clients about larger events in the world. I am a systemic thinker and therapist, considering how the outside world impacts us individually–I want to know about families, relationships, jobs, culture, oppression, friendships, and all of the other contexts that we exist in. Lately that larger context includes the pandemic, the upcoming election, public protests against white supremacy… And, when I bring this up, I find that there have been so many things happening in our world lately that I can’t even remember them all. When I list a few, I am often reminded of others–Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s death, the ongoing investigation into the Breonna Taylor case, the presidential debates (which for some were triggering, for others hilarious), the president hinting at a coup, natural disasters, changing guidelines around COVID-19 safety… the list is long, and it seems that for everyone I talk with different issues stand out, and the impact varies widely. All of this on top of the personal stressors of day to day.
How is this showing up in your body?
Our attention may not immediately go to our bodies when we think about these broad issues or the smaller stressors. Yet, our bodies and minds are powerfully connected. We know this on many levels–when we hear young people complain that their stomach hurts but we suspect that it is about not wanting to go to school (that does not mean that that stomach pain isn’t real!), when we get a headache after a tough meeting, when worry raises our heart rate or blood pressure. At the extreme end of the spectrum, some people even experience symptoms like blindness or limb paralysis that has no known physical cause (again, that doesn’t mean it isn’t real–and, this can be treated). Some of us may not connect the dots between our physical health and the world around us, or we may ignore those connections. We may think, why would election stress give me a headache, or anger at systemic social justice issues cause my chest to tighten up? We might make meaning of that, thinking we should be able to stop these things from impacting us in such a personal way, or that since a particular issue doesn’t impact us in our daily lives it can’t have anything to do with our bodies.
I invite you to check in with yourself–your emotions, your body, your mind. Your spirit, if that’s an important part of you. One way some people like to do that is with a body scan–starting from your toes or the top of your head, slowly scan your body, and notice what’s going on. I encourage you to just notice, rather than judging anything you notice. Do you notice any sensation, warmth, coolness, tingling, tension, openness? Any parts of your body that are sending you messages? You might choose to investigate those signals and sensations, checking in to see if there is any meaning there.
You could envision something soothing–warm light, cool water, a color, a sensation–slowly flowing down your body. You could choose for what you visualize to carry a message of peace, hope, calm, power. You could send a sense of relaxation or safety to a body part that is carrying some tension. You could imagine something you want to cultivate growing and expanding within you–maybe visualizing love spreading from your heart through your body and even surrounding you. Or, anything that you think would fit for you.
You can simply sit with yourself for a moment–meditation or mindfulness can be as simple as closing your eyes for a moment, and asking yourself how you are doing. You can give yourself as much or as little time as feels right, listen to a guided meditation, guide yourself, or just breathe.
You might check in with the muscles of your core and pelvic floor, muscles that can tense up to protect us from perceived harm. Are those muscles tightening up when you read about something that upsets you, or talk about a difficult experience? You could, if it feels right, take a moment to let those muscles know that you are safe, and that they can relax a little bit. I highly recommend checking out this wonderful blog post by Carol Ann on how to relax your pelvic floor muscles: http://northstarcounselingcenter.com/title-its-a-global-pandemicrelax
You could also take a moment to check in with all parts of yourself, and perhaps write about what you notice–are your thoughts churning over and over, are you curious, is your brain foggy? Your body sore, relaxed, tense? Your energy low or high? How’s your communication, your patience, or anything else that stands out to you?
If you have a persistent physical issue that bothers you, like tightness in your chest, headaches, a lump in your throat, high heart rate, pain, heaviness, tingling, or anything else you notice, it is important to talk with your healthcare providers to check for a physiological cause of what’s going on. And, regardless of whether there is or isn’t a clear cause, I encourage you to bring up physical symptoms with your mental health providers as well. Our physical bodies can take up a lot of our awareness, sometimes causing us even more stress. For many people it is important to give our bodies some attention, and perhaps even a little bit of patience, care, and tenderness. Caring for our body supports our mind, and caring for our mind supports our body. The next time you find yourself wanting to brush off a concern, consider spending a moment to be curious about what your body might be telling you, and if you might be able to offer yourself some care.