This article about Somatic Therapy is written by therapist, Rachel Shanken.
Have you ever felt like you wish you could just snap out of a bad mood or shift the way you feel? Science has proven that the way you hold your body and the way you move can dictate much more about how you feel than you may have realized. You can use your body to heal your mind. You have ability to change your mood by shifting your body.
As a Somatic Therapist, I help clients connect with their bodies to both recognize and change the way they feel. My clients experience immediate relief and long-term change both in their bodies and their minds by accessing all parts of themselves in gentle and mindful ways.
Where do you hold your stress?
I have noticed that most of my stress lives in my gut, my lower back and my jaw. When something feels scary or threatening, like a stranger in New York City invading my personal space, my child getting hurt or a phone call from a doctor with test results, my body used to go into trauma mode. This means that my IBS would flare up or my back would spasm and go out completely. After processing my issues somatically, I don’t experience these strong body-responses to life’s challenges anymore.
In essence, I’ve strengthened my mind-body connection so that every part of me is communicating more effectively. I’ve also discovered the roots of my emotional and physical pain as well as learning tools to manage mild discomfort that arises from living a full life.
Your body releases a constant flow of hormones that influence your mood, your thoughts and your feelings. This is the power of the mind-body connection.
Tension in your body sends a false alarm signal to your sympathetic nervous system, alerting it to perceived danger (which actually isn’t danger at all). When this alarm bell sounds, your flight/fight/freeze/fawn response gets turned on. You have the power to begin to stop this false alarm cycle.
MindBodyWise Therapy (Somatic Therapy) Can Help You Change Your Mood
MindBodyWise Therapy is a holistic method for unearthing deep emotional issues, processing trauma that gets stuck in the body, decreasing anxiety/stress and working through body image challenges. Sessions are a combination of mindfulness, physical movement and discussion. For more details on Somatic Therapy, I recommend reading this article from The Good Trade or this one from the New York Times (gift article).
You have the power to change your mood using quick and easy body tools:
Consider choosing one of the following quick tools to help break the cycle of stress in your body, thus healing your mind too. Over the next week, set a timer twice a day and try out the tool of your choice. While you may or may not notice immediate changes after using these tools, over time you should notice that you feel less emotional stress and less physical tension. If no changes are detected, you may want to try a different tool or let me help you take your healing to the next level.
Give yourself permission to try some of these each day. If you struggle to take time for yourself, these gentle reminders may help.
12 Easy Ways To Shift Your Mood With Your Body
1) Loosen your Jaw – If you’re a jaw-clencher, just stop. Ok, I know, it’s not that simple! Start by taking a breath and softening your jaw. Start with a huge open-mouth stretch, extending your tongue out as far as you can. Follow this stretch with a little jaw massage by doing circular movements with your fingertips at the spot where your lower jaw meets your upper jaw.
2) Soften the space around your eyes – Holding tension anywhere in your face increases your body’s sense that there’s something to be worried about. Let your body know that you’re safe by closing your eyes and imagining the area around both eyes releasing. Breathe into this sensation. Then, open your eyes and again envision softness surrounding your eyes. Breathe.
3) Relax your belly – Your gut is known as your second brain. There are more receptors for specific hormones related to mood in your gut than in your brain. So, take a moment to breathe, with the intention of inflating your belly. With each breath, feel your belly soften and the muscles of your core release.
4) Drop your shoulders – Holding/tensing your shoulders is a sure-fire way to create a stress response in your body. In cold weather, especially, it’s very common to tense your shoulders as a way to abate the cold. Play with shoulder rolls – practicing rolling your shoulders forward, up, then down while breathing into the center of your shoulder blades.
5) Stand tall(er) – Your central nervous systems relies on you to know if there’s a threat to your well-being. Slumping makes your body small, as if you’re hiding from danger. Making your body small has been proven to increase the stress hormone (cortisol) and decrease the confidence hormone (testosterone). Try standing up and taking up as much space with your body as you can by placing your feet wide and putting your hands on your hips or outstretched overhead. Breathe and allow the stance to do the work of reversing the stress response.
6) Sniff a lemon – It’s that simple. Grab a lemon and cut it open or open a bottle of pure lemon oil and inhale. Exposure to pure lemon scent is shown in studies to improve brain function and improve mood.
7) Fake laugh – You may not be in the mood to laugh, but start with a simple “Ha Ha Ha” and keep it going for a minute to get a release of dopamine (the happiness hormone). It can feel super silly and it may even turn into a real laugh!
8) Fake Smile – Similar to #8, but a little less silly is to fake a smile. If you can’t muster a fake smile, put a pen across your teeth lengthwise to force the corners of your mouth to turn up slightly. This little act helps your brain to release small molecules called neuropeptides that help fight off stress. Then, other neurotransmitters are released, including: dopamine, serotonin and endorphins. The endorphins offer mild pain relief and serotonin is an antidepressant.
9) Name your feelings – In moments of high stress, it can be hard to pause and check-in with you’re actually experiencing. Proven by brain scans, the act of labeling your feelings in simple terms (ie: sad, angry, frustrated) vs. denying or avoiding uncomfortable feelings, reduces the impact of stress on your body. The catch phrase is: “Name it to tame it!”
10) Chamomile tea – Chamomile tea may help to calm you down. Some of the compounds found in chamomile bind to the same brain receptors as drugs like Valium. And, drinking tea forces you to slow down, which helps with getting present and being more mindful – which is proven to help with stress relief.
11) Thank someone – Send note of thanks to someone who has made a difference in your life. When you’re steeped in your anxiety, it can be tough to get out of your own head and to connect with others — and it’s not uncommon to isolate. Try reaching outside of yourself and showing gratitude to someone else to help reduce your stress. This action redirects the focus from you to someone else (bonus: it makes someone else’s day a great one!).
12) Take a deep breath – The simple act of taking a big, conscious breath makes a huge impact in your body, mind and soul. Sit tall and feel the breath inflate your lungs, and expand your diaphragm, expanding your rib cage and back body and inflating your belly. Then, feel the release as your body deflates on the exhale.
The more you practice these simple stress relieving body-based exercises, the more you create healthy patterns in your body, mind and mood. Which one will you try first?
More somatic therapy resources:
Interested in learning more about the mind-body connection? Work with MindBodyWise Therapist, Rachel Shanken. Initial consultations are free and she can help you go deeper and create long-term change. Sign up here.