55 – Shifting Your State with Joy Onyschak
written by Safe Harbour Therapy on 10/09/20
Many of us find ourselves in various ‘states of distress’ from time to time, particularly these days. This podcast and blog are meant to help people who are finding themselves stuck in states they don’t want to be in, find a more easeful, balanced state of being relatively quickly and intuitively.
Question: Let’s start by clarifying what you mean by ‘states’.
I’m referring to these broad categories.
Experiencing states is part of being a normal human being.Take a moment for yourself and notice, how am I in these general areas today?
- Mentally, what thoughts are there and what is the speed of your thoughts?
- Emotionally, do you feel sad, happy, worry, fear, appreciation.
- Physically is there stiffness, pain, tiredness, spaciousness, ease?
- Energetically, do you feel grounded/steady or scattered/groundless?
Can you notice which one of these has your attention right now? How does it feel? Could you simply notice where you are at?
We know, through our experience of being human and from science (i.e. Polyvagal Theory and facial research), that states are intertwined. For example, a person returning to work after relaxing summer holidays may experience fast paced, worried thoughts, and feel anxious about the uncertainty ahead. They feel scattered and are having trouble finishing things. To top that off, their low back tension is off the charts.
Question: Why is it important to shift our state?
Short answer is we want resiliency and adaptability. We need different states to manage different aspects of our lives. We want to feel focused and creative when it is time to work. We need fight and flight states to fend off or escape danger. We need calm to listen to others. We need heaviness to settle into rest. Both anger and love can inspire change. Slow and quiet help with reflection and self-growth. They all have purpose and are meant to be temporary and fluid.
Let’s talk about stress and stress responses for a moment. We have ‘windows of tolerance’ for stress. Too much stress triggers a response in our nervous systems (fight flight, fawn, and freeze or shutdown). Too little stress/stimulation can result in apathetic/lethargic. In middle is easeful, connected state. Depending on our innate stress response (that we have from childhood and is influenced by life events and circumstances), we tend to have a go-to states as part of your stress response. For example, one of my patterns under stress is to go into fight mode. I will protect, defend, and overwork (until my adrenals have had enough) and then crash. Others may tend to avoid conflict (flight response), or go into freeze mode, numbing out or going into despair.
Once an external stress has gone away (deadline is over, person threatening us is gone, loss is grieved) we want to be able to shift gears. We want ournervous systems to adjust and return us to a balanced state of being. Back to connection, wholeness, good digestion and proper immune system function. When we get stuck in certain states, they can become chronic and affect our lives.Left unchecked, it’s possible that our our physical tension can turn into chronic pain, anger into always raging about something, sadness to depression and despair, concern into habitual anxiousness. These can adversely affect our work, relationships with others and most importantly, our relationship to ourselves. I experienced this personally struggling for decades with a depressive disorder after a traumatic loss as a young adult.
When we become conscious of our state, we can acknowledge it. Perhaps be curious and, hopefully, offer compassion to ourselves. When we can shift from one state to another easefully, we feel balanced and hopeful. And importantly, gain remembrance for next time we feel out of sorts (that these states are temporary!)
So how do we do this? How do we shift states?
There are many ways to do this of course and lots of therapeutic modalities to seek out and find what works for you. Approaching it from a somatic perspective (felt sense in the body), which is what I facilitate as a somatic movement therapist, there are three steps for me: Awareness, Acknowledgement & Simple Self-Adjustments.
Let’s try it. Can you pause where you are for a moment? Can you take a moment to pause? Where is your awareness? Can you turn it towards yourself, your physical body? What do you notice in your body? Is there tension or tightness somewhere? Now, how can you self-adjust to find more comfort? Is there an invitation from your body to move? How can you find a bit more ease, softness and space in that area? Now could you pause and simply notice, how do you feel? Take a bit more time to just feel. What has shifted?
Let’s try another. Can you come to standing? Could you give yourself a moment to arrive here? Can you feel yourself as a container of gel? Can you notice how the gel feels, what quality is the gel in your low back, neck and shoulders? Now, recall a situation that is emotionally stressful for you…maybe some anger or worry that’s been going on for you lately with someone or a situation. Take a moment to visualize that situation, person, conversation. Can you feel what’s happening to the gel in your body as you recall this? Notice how your breath feels? Does your body feel more tension or tightness? If so, where? Now can you simply find comfort? How could you adjust yourself to find more ease here? Could you sway or rock? Rub your arm? Perhaps a soft bounce? Then let that go and allow yourself to just reach and stretch…whatever feels good.
Now could you pause and notice how you feel? What do you notice? Was there a yawn or a sigh? What has shifted? How would you describe your state?
Note that different movements will influence different states. If for example, someone was experiencing lethargy and lack of ambition, I might guide them to find bigger, bouncier movements to restore balance.
The movement practice that I’m trained in (SomaSensing Somatic Movement Therapy) works because the movements we guide people towards help to release tension in the fascia and tone the vagus nerve, which is key to regulating our nervous system. Our fascia (commonly known as our connective tissue) surrounds our entire body and is the communication pathway from our bodies to our brains. Simply stated, because everything is interconnected, we can influence our mental, emotional and energetic states through the physical body. Unwind the body to unwind and the mind.
There are also many simple adjustments beyond movement practices that we do intuitively.
- When overwhelmed, take a break (especially when you have no time for it), get into nature (even the backyard or patio for 5 minutes), and listen to it through your senses. Birds, water, breeze are all incredibly soothing. Limit exposure to noise and news and loud people. Spend time with people who feel safe and grounded. Reach for warm, nourishing, and simple foods.
- When energy and motivation are low, try a cold shower or splash water on face. Take a brisk walk with big arm swings in the fresh air. Dance around to some enlivening music. Get together with an uplifting, trusted friend and have a good laugh (or cry). Reach for lighter foods, limiting late evening snacking. Practice good sleep hygiene (devices off early etc) so you feel more rested in the morning.
- I mention these because this practice is about influencing lifestyle rather than just a movement method. The more we practice tuning in, the more intuitive and beneficial our lifestyle choices become.
Question: Tuning in to felt sense in the body can be really hard for some people. What do you recommend for those who going within is really difficult or overwhelming?
Absolutely. I recommend, keeping it super simple. Try to find quiet (away from external noise). Invite yourself to slow down and pause. Tune in and notice where you feel some tension in your body and just ask yourself, ‘how can I make myself more comfortable right now? Allow your body to move stretch, yawn. Whatever it needs to do.
I guide groups and individuals who are experiencing distressed states to the inner calm, ease, and wholeness they are seeking, enabling them to become more resilient and adaptable in their life.
I do recommend private sessions for those processing a great deal of overwhelm or struggling to connect with their felt sense. These folks often need one to one co-regulation and guidance. I help people who need the help and safe container to make a compassionate connection to inner felt sense through simple, gentle movements.
My next 4-week intro course to SomaSensing Somatic Movement Therapy begins Sept 24th. People can find more about it or book a private session with me on my website www.joysomatics.ca/bookings. I also have some free video and audio resources available there as well.
Why does this practice feel important for you to offer?
For me this is about helping people restore self-compassion so they can start to shift from survive to thrive. When we are surviving, we are coping and getting by. Maybe being hard on ourselves for not being more, accomplishing more. I’ve been there and I still have moments like this. It’s fine to be there. It’s the awareness and acknowledgement that matters. When we notice we are ‘out of sorts’, we can recognize that early (rather than it becoming a chronic state) and (if we choose) take simple steps to shift it.
We are in a time in history where the need resilience and adaptability are really important for our wholistic wellbeing. Life feels complex and we need something to be simple.
Whether we want to contribute to positive change in the world without burning ourselves out, we want to strengthen our connection to our gut sense, or we simply want more peace in our homes. All this can happen from the simple practice of pausing, checking in with ourselves and following the invitation from within.
If you have questions or would like to book an appointment, please click here (link to email Joy through Safe Harbour website) to reach out to Joy.