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  • teresamckee

Body Talk

As we’ve sadly crossed the half-million mark in deaths in the US from the virus, I’m sensing we’re entering yet another confusing phase of this pandemic experience. We have some people vaccinated, some not, many waiting, some refusing and a lot of mixed messages about what it all means. So I just want to take a moment to remind people that even if you’re vaccinated, you still have to wear a mask and stay socially distanced from others. While you’re absolutely safer from the virus if you’re vaccinated, until everyone is vaccinated or we reach true herd immunity, you may be able to continue to spread the virus and that’s the opposite of what we’re aiming for.

Most infectious disease experts believe that a highly effective vaccine will help lower the risk that you can spread the virus after you’re immunized, but as of this writing, data hasn’t been released yet on whether the vaccines offer what’s known as sterilizing immunity, which means that those who are vaccinated can’t contract or pass on the virus at all.

According to Dr. Stanley H. Weiss, an epidemiologist and professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, “We expect that the level of risk of transmissibility is greatly diminished, but not eliminated.”

Until studies shows otherwise, there’s a chance that people who are vaccinated can still become infected with COVID-19 without experiencing symptoms and shed the virus. Even after you receive your two doses, the available vaccines are not 100% effective at preventing COVID-19 infection. So, if the novel coronavirus makes its way into your body after you get the vaccine, your immune system will have a good chance of fighting it off—but it also might allow small amounts of the virus to replicate. That means that you may have a mild case or no symptoms at all, but your body can still release the virus, potentially infecting someone else who does not have the same level of protection from immunization. This is where things become tricky: Researchers really don’t know if this viral load would be big enough to make someone else sick.

I know we’re all tired of all of this, but we’re so close, let’s not blow it now. Remember that even if you’re vaccinated and careful, this virus is an invisible killer and the new variants are more contagious than ever. So your level of risk to others isn’t just about being vaccinated or being careful. It’s about your level of exposure and unknown ability to still pass it along.

If you’re not vaccinated yet, these are important considerations when determining who you gather with. Stick with the pod concept until you’re vaccinated to minimize your risk and the safety of others. It’s so exciting to see schools re-opening, businesses getting to increase occupancies and public spaces available again, so let’s not set ourselves back. We’ve got the resiliency to do this just a little while longer and the day is coming soon where we can finally just relax and hang out with whomever we choose. But in the meantime, until we know for certain that it’s safe, we need to keep doing what we’ve been doing. Follow public health practices, don’t gather in large groups, and don’t let your guard down. I sincerely look forward to the day when we won’t be discussing this pandemic anymore. But we’re not quite there yet. We need to remain mindful.

Even though the one-year anniversary of the pandemic doesn’t seem like something to celebrate, most of us can be grateful that we’ve made it this far with our physical health relatively intact. Our mental health, however, continues to struggle. Stress remains high for many and the constant anxiety will eventually erode our physical health if we don’t take steps to mitigate it. A couple of weeks ago, we reviewed a cognitive exercise of writing down and analyzing our worries to reduce our stress levels. It’s very effective and an excellent method for increasing self-awareness, but what if we’re too stressed to remember to focus on our thoughts? When we’re stressed, we don’t think clearly and if we haven’t built up our self-awareness skills, it’s easy to simply react to the stress versus going through cognitive exercises to re-balance our state of being.

One way around this is to listen to the body. There is always a physiological response in the body when we’re stressed and for many, it’s easier to notice a pain or stiffness in the body or perhaps an upset stomach, than it is to think about what we’re thinking about.

Somatics is the field which studies the body as perceived from within. Every person is an integrated system of mind, body, and spirit; one does not exist without impacting the other. Somatics describes any practice that uses the mind-body connection to help you survey your internal self and listen to signals your body sends about areas of pain, discomfort, or imbalance.

These practices allow you to access more information about the ways we hold on to our experiences in the body. Somatic experts believe this knowledge, combined with natural movement and touch, can help us work toward healing and wellness.

In Somatics, we view the body as the place where sensation, emotion, and thoughts all meet and interact to form one’s moment-to-moment experience of life. Somatics suggests that our physical sensations impact our thoughts, emotion, and behavior, and that increased bodily awareness allows for increased understanding and control over them. Somatics also suggests that we learn to be mindful of not just thoughts, but also sensations situated in the body. This is called somatic awareness.

Being connected to sensations brings us back into contact with ourselves, and with the present moment. As somatic awareness develops, so does the ability to intervene to choose new and more effective emotional responses. More choice, less reaction.

Through somatic awareness we can become conscious of the bodily responses that accompany our conditioned tendencies, or habits, maybe even before we are cognitively aware of a thought or feeling. This allows us to halt those habits and make a choice as to how to respond. When the brain “drops out”, we still have control of our physical bodies, and we can use our physical bodies to change our internal state.

We have a thought, it generates a feeling, and it changes our bodily sensations, but it can be hard work to control our thoughts and emotions. Through somatic practices, this process works in reverse and we can use our bodies to regain calm and the capacity for thoughtful action in moments of stress or high pressure.

The body experiences and responds to stressful or triggering situations just as our brain does, through activation of neural patterns, resulting in systematic reactions that are largely unconscious. The body’s reaction occurs in parallel to the mind’s reaction through symptoms such as clenching the jaw, clenching our fists, tensing of the shoulders, crossing our arms, tingling in our stomachs or coldness in the extremities.

As we check in with our bodies and notice these symptoms, we can take action through various somatic exercises to realign the mind, body and heart. To strengthen the ability to do this, try practicing when stress or anxiety are at low points or non-existent. As with any somatic practice, pay attention if doesn’t feel good, and stop if you become uncomfortable or your anxiety increases. I’ll describe how this works and you can practice it whenever convenient to build your skills.

Sit quietly and bring to mind a stressful event. As you’re focusing on this stressful event, scan your body to see how it responds. You may feel a tightening in the heart area, contracting of certain muscles, like the shoulders or forehead, or tension in other parts of the body. After a few of moments of this, take a deep breath and shift your attention to a joyful event for a few minutes. Notice the state of your heart area, shoulders or any other area where you noticed tension before. There is typically a very different sensation in these body parts as you focus on something joyful. The more you practice this exercise, the more aware you become regarding which state you are in at any given time, providing you the opportunity to shift it through your focus when needed.

Now let’s try a simple somatic exercise together that you can use anytime you experience an event that causes anxiety. Sit comfortably and notice your breath. [10 second pause]

Now, notice what you feel in, on or around your body. Notice your speed of breath, heart rate and body temperature. [10 second pause]

Reflect on a recent moment when you felt safe and calm. When you felt like your normal self before the anxiety rose. [10 second pause]

Now, identify at what point in time and/or which part of your body began experiencing the stress or anxiety.

Replay the event where you went from calm to a stressed state in slow motion, as if watching a movie. Identify the people, conversations, environment or other factors that may have prompted your anxiety to rise, or that made you feel uncomfortable as you’re replaying the event. [5 second pause]

Tune into your body sensations as you recall the event and slow down and notice if there is any shift in your body, from temperature to skin sensations. Tune into the chest, arms, shoulders, legs and face. [5 second pause]

Place your hands on any area that has experienced a shift or change and breathe deeply. If your whole body feels different, you can place your hands over your heart. [5 second pause] This practice allows the body to process the somatic experience and creates a pathway to release the tension.

Notice if anything comes up, like another sensation, a visualization, a deepened sense of awareness or clarity about the situation. [10 second pause]

When you feel ready, take in a deep cleansing breath and notice if your anxiety level has decreased. If not, you can repeat the exercise, but try to slow down the process even further.

Somatic exercises change not only your physical state, but changes the hormones the brain releases that can increase the relaxation response instead of the stress response. And any somatic practice will increase your mind-body awareness which furthers your ability to better control and respond to stressful situations.

Remember, we must take care of ourselves in order to support others, to ensure a healthy state of being and to increase our resiliency to the external events that have occurred, and that will occur in the future. Please be mindful, be patient, and do your best to ensure your safety and the safety of others as we endure what is hopefully the last leg of this long, disruptive period in our history. We have the ability to support and protect our mental health, through mindfulness, our behaviors and practices, or with the support of mental health professionals. We just have to mind our minds.

Have a wonderful week.

Don’t forget to check our website for information on our Dynamic Coaching Certification Program. The courses are self-paced and designed to increase your ability to improve your life and/or your career. You can also access our YouTube channel from the site and see our past interviews with amazing guests, access our Here at Home animated video series and follow guided meditations to support you through these challenging times.

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