Due to the worldwide situation with the Coronavirus pandemic, and everything else that goes along with that, we’re bringing you a special episode today. The current situation has left most of us with very intense emotions that can be quite difficult to cope with. So Suzie Wolfer, who was our guest on a previous episode of The Addicted Mind podcast, (episode 53) decided to join us today, to share some of her insight about emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and somatic experiencing, to help us cope with the feelings that this pandemic has brought up.
Suzie Wolfer, LCSW, SEP, is a therapist specializing in Somatic Experiencing®, a powerful system for healing trauma and addiction at their core, and for completing trauma so that it lets go of you.
Suzie has noticed recently that almost all her clients are experiencing the signs of freeze, and often, they are experiencing anxiety along with that too. She points out that we all have within our bodies certain superpowers, that have come to us through millions of years of evolution, that will allow us to move easily through this very frightening time. So today, she will be talking about those superpowers, and she will explain how to use them to move through this difficult time with a little more ease and, hopefully, a lot less freeze.
Freeze makes our bodies go rigid, feel numb, and get ready to bolt. Suzie always used to experience this at the thought of going to see the dentist. What she realized, after getting some training in Somatic Experiencing, was that she had the superpowers of fight, flight, and freeze. So, the next time that she had to visit the dentist, she tried using these things, rather than letting them control her.
She began to practice noticing, welcoming and allowing the feelings of freeze, rather than fighting them off and letting them frighten her. She became aware that the feelings that she was experiencing were like a wild animal’s response to a threat, so she imagined what she would do to the animal attacking her if her body was that of a wild animal. The image that came to her mind was that she would punch the attacking animal in the face with her super-powerful fist and then she would run away to a safe place, where she would relax.
While imaging the wild animal scenario, she became aware of her body shaking. She allowed the shaking, which was coming from her autonomic nervous system, to continue, and then things started calming down. After getting up from the dentist’s chair, and walking to her car, she noticed that it had been the first time that she had ever been able to function normally after a dental appointment. She realized that this is something that we need to complete, and completing something is very different from managing anxiety and freeze.
We call freeze a superpower because it allows us to become invisible by holding ourselves very still. Predators detect their prey from the carbon dioxide in their exhalation, so holding very still, breathing very shallowly, and keeping ourselves hunched over with our eyes down are the same things that wild animals do to keep themselves safe from threat. But people do tend to become scared when their bodies do these things without them realizing what is happening.
Currently, we are all experiencing an existential, invisible threat. We can’t fight it or outrun it, but we can freeze. Our physical biology can invoke the very smart superpower to hunker down. However, along with that comes fear, so we also need to do something to overcome that and develop within ourselves an ease for readiness.
There are some techniques that we can use, with our friends and our children, to enable us to respond in a manageable way to our current, frightening situation.
Firstly, tune into your body and become aware of where you are holding tension right now.
- Notice, and welcome whatever is going on in your body.
- Don’t try to make your feelings go away. Simply notice them with curiosity.
- Taking a deep breath naturally, is a sign that your autonomic nervous system has hit the reset button. It means that you’re present and that things are returning to normal in your body.
- Let your eyes go wherever they want to, in the outer world. Notice what they are looking at. This will bring yourself into the present moment, through your senses.
- Notice how your body is responding to whatever it is looking at.
- Remember that even a one percent shift towards ease is the beginning of a process.
Ask yourself four questions:
1) Are you safe right now? (Yes or no?) If the answer is “no”, ask yourself if you truly are not safe, or if you just don’t feel safe. The reality is that most of us are safe.
2) Using your five senses, affirm that your body truly is safe right now. As mammals, we often take safety cues from one another, so looking into someone else’s eyes can help us to feel safe.
3) Bring your attention back inside yourself and notice how your body responds when your attention is aligned with your mind and body around the idea of being safe.
4) Take a moment to savor the shift that you have experienced, and know that it is possible to return to this state whenever you need to.
This process can be repeated over and over, whenever necessary.
Links and resources:
To contact Suzie: https://www.oregonsomatictherapy.com/