Touch Into Calm

LA and Orange County Body Centered Psychotherapy
Therapy for Stress, Trauma, Depression, Relationship Issues
Adults, Children, and Family

Somatic Experiencing®

Stress is an inevitable survival response to events or perceptions in our life. It is a bodily response to the sense of threat in our environment.  Stress can be related to the pressures of work, finances, relationships, health issues, grief, loss, accidents, chronic pain, aging, anxiety, depression, etc.  When we are stressed, the part of the brain that is activated is the fight, flight, freeze or submit response in the oldest part of our brain, the reptilian brain.  We know the physical signs. Who has ever been stressed about something in their life?  Who knows someone who is suffering from chronic stress?
Our breathing gets shallow, our heart rate goes up, we might sweat and have cold extremities at the same time. Adrenaline and other brain chemicals start to flow.  This is because our bodies were built, just like all other animals, to respond to threat. We are getting ready for action.  For example, without stress, how would we have the energy to run, fight or play dead in response to seeing a tiger?  The problem is that at the present time, our threats are numerous and more vague.  We respond to some financial bad news with stress, and we may not know what to do about it.  We perceive abandonment by our loved one and we are not sure how to respond.  Our boss or colleague says something to make us feel threatened and angry, and we cannot respond with fighting or fleeing.  So stress gets stuck in our body as an incomplete response.  When enough incomplete stress accumulates in our bodies our brain and nervous system will begin to interpret that as a routine stress pattern.

Stress is reportedly on the rise in epidemic proportions.  This generation has been termed the Stress Generation.  When our brains reset on constant default stress levels, we will experience things like chronic anxiety, fear, and anger.  Our bodies are pumping adrenaline, cortisol and other prepare for fight or flight chemicals throughout the day.  Over time, this causes not only mental health issues, but has recently been linked by scientific research to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, chronic immune response problems, chronic inflammation, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, memory problems, premature aging, premature death.  A person in a stressful relationship is twice as likely to have a heart attack than someone in a healthy relationship.  Then there are traumatic issues, which I would call high intensity stress events such as a surgery, medical problems, accidents, divorce, death of a loved one, etc.  If someone is already at their maximum level of resiliency, in other words, we are stressed to the maximum but pushing through life somehow because we have to; and a traumatic event occurs, it can push us right outside our resiliency zone and we either shut down and feel totally stuck, or we start to act out our unresolved stress in our environment and with the people in our lives.  We also start dissociating from others, and also from our own internal experiences.  It is too scary to go inside and feel our feelings so we space out, self-medicate, etc. In some cases, children and adults will cut themselves, either isolate or become aggressive, lose impulse control, act out sexually, develop eating disorders such as over eating, anorexia, etc.  And all the while, our bodies are taking the brunt of all these stress chemicals running through us. We start to develop health issues that will show up in middle age.

There is an answer.  You are most likely aware of the scientific research coming out saying that the mind and body are connected.  What a concept!  The mindfulness movement is taking hold in western culture as it has been in some eastern cultures for centuries.  We have to put the body back in the psychotherapy session.  We are not just talking heads. Do you know anyone who has gone to see a therapist who sits and lets them talk and talk, even have huge cathartic moments where they have talked from their frontal cortex, yet the problems eventually resurface and remain.  The anxiety and stress continue.  This is because we have not addressed the high stress states that are in the body, our fight and flights that never had a chance to complete themselves like they do with animals in nature.

How Somatic Experiencing Can Help

As a highly-trained Somatic Experiencing Practitioner™ (SEP), I help people gently and slowly turn inward to experience what we call the felt sense; which is another way of saying, what is my body sensing as I am here in the present moment?  Can I tolerate it or is it too much for right now?  Can I sit with the feelings, images and sensations that are in my body at the present moment?  I help guide the person, at their own pace to go within.  We practice grounding exercises and noticing our breath.  We imagine or find something positive in our lives or a pleasant sensation within ourselves that can help balance out the pain.  With practice, we experience short periods of calm.  As we practice, the periods of calm become longer.  Then we realize we are able to access the calm on our own, outside of the counseling session, as we turn inward on our own.  The calm grows.  Then the reptilian brain says ‘Aha, we can reset our default normal high stress level to a daily normal calm.  Our memory and health start to come back.

We begin to find little subtle things in our lives to be happy or grateful about once again.  Over time, the individual begins to regulate their own system, without my regular help.  This process does not happen overnight.  Like learning to play the guitar or learn a new language, we need repetition and practice in all areas of our life for a new calmer way of being in the world develops.
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