What is somatic processing? Well first, let’s start with trauma. What is trauma? We hear this word all the time, yet very rarely do we know what it means. For many, we struggle to believe that what we have experienced is trauma. This is because we have the belief that others are worse off than we are. Trauma, however, does not have a specific definition. It is a distressing event in which a person cannot control or has lost their power, that threatens or causes harm. It can be a single distressing experience or recurring events over time. Recurring experiences often result in an overwhelming amount of stress.
How does Trauma impact us?
During a traumatic event, our “fight, flight, or freeze” response is activated. This is an automatic response that are bodies engage in as a way to protect us and keep us safe. This response involves our sympathetic nervous system. We may experience increased heart rate, heavy breathing, muscle tension, as well as various other changes within our bodies. Our bodies also begin to actively record and store the sensory stimuli associated with the traumatic event. This means our brains record what we saw, heard, touched, tasted, and smelled during the event.
How does Trauma affect our health?
During this time, we are in “survival mode” and our higher functioning parts of our brains are turned off. If we stay in this response for too long, our bodies are unable to regulate and find safety. Our mind and body begin to believe that the stress response is our “normal state of functioning”. This can lead to physical and mental health concerns. For example, if a person struggles to feel emotions or have reactions after a traumatic event, traumatic symptoms will develop. Reactions include crying, screaming, involuntarily shaking, etc. Traumatic symptoms are known as “triggers” and can cause the person to experience the following:
- racing thoughts
- strong emotions of anger, guilt, sadness, fear, etc
What is Somatic Processing?
Somatic processing is based on the idea that the body knows how to heal from the trauma it has experienced. In other words, the focus is to listen to your body by allowing it to work through the emotions in a natural way. Additionally, by honoring what it wants to do. This may include crying, shaking, feeling anger, and other emotional responses.
Somatic Processing and Nature
When an animal is fleeing a predator, they are experiencing the fight, flight, or freeze response. However, once the animal has escaped the predator and is safe, the animal will have “seizure”. This is the animal’s way to release adrenaline and emotions that were stored in the body during the trauma. As humans, we don’t view this as socially acceptable. Instead, we hold in our emotions and store the adrenaline and stress response. As a society, we put restrictions on feelings by assigning value such as right or wrong. This prevents us from truly allowing ourselves to process through pain like we want to.
Somatic processing involves acknowledging an emotion connected to a memory and bringing awareness to where it is in our bodies. When we can identify where it is in our body, we allow it the space it needs to be felt. This is done without analyzing or judging the emotion behind it. As we bring awareness to the emotion in our body, we allow our body to feel and move as it needs. In doing so, we are accessing our bodies natural ability to process through emotions and release them.
It can be difficult to process through trauma by yourself. If you are struggling with trauma, a trained clinician can help and provide you support. Reach out to Covenant Family Solutions. We are here to help. Additionally, check out our self-guided mental health courses.
“There is no timestamp on trauma. There isn’t a formula that you can insert yourself into to get from horror to healed. Be patient. Take up space. Let your journey be yours.”— Dawn Serra