In recent years, the medical world has begun to acknowledge the deep connection, by which thoughts, feelings and beliefs directly affect the body on a physical and chemical level (1). The affects of trauma further prove the mind-body connection, where emotional distress creates lasting changes to the chemical secretions of the brain, including increases in cortisol and norepinephrine levels.
Cortisol and norepinephrine production is regulated by the pituitary gland in the brain. They are hormones released by the adrenal glands to stimulate and regulate our fight, flight or freeze response and is a natural response to perceived threats. But when trauma becomes chronic, and the effects of trauma are felt long after the traumatic experience(s), the body is overloaded with these and other hormones constantly. The body can no longer easily return to homeostasis. This causes a cascade effect on physical health. Prolonged, elevated levels of cortisol and other stress hormones are linked to obesity, increased risk of type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal issues, cardiovascular disease, fertility issues and more (2).
When trauma becomes a chronic state, memories and thoughts trigger the same fight or flight response and we become stuck in this state. For this reason, many living with PTSD try to deaden their senses or distract themselves from the constant feedback loop of reliving the trauma, by turning to drug use, alcohol, self-harm and other high-risk behaviors. Studies have shown that trauma and PTSD can cause alterations in the default network connectivity (parts of the brain associated with self-awareness and body-awareness) (3).
PTSD and the ways we cope with it can create mental disconnect from the body and, often times, moments of reconnection with the body can be painful. Similar to a foot fallen asleep, when it begins to wake back up and the nerves feel like they are on fire, with pins and needles, so too can the reconnection process feel equally uncomfortable. But it doesn’t have to be. Reconnection can be done with intention, through exercises meant to gently bring us back into ourselves.
Reconnection is all about engaging the senses in a positive way. Below are some suggestions to help you reconnect.
1. Grounding, Meditation, Guided Imagery
Grounding, Meditation and Guided Imagery are easy ways to engage our mind in a safe space, while guiding us through grounding exercises meant to bring us back into awareness of ourselves and our body. Find an app or explore the many talented content producers on YouTube. Find a voice that is calming to you and slip into a new journey.
2. Exercise, Yoga, Dance
By moving the body, you tune in to the physical functions and engage mindfulness in how you move. You become aware of proper form, and focus on the breath, or you can dance ecstatically and live in the moment to a rhythm and allow yourself to become a part of it. Create a playlist of your favorites and dance it out!
3. Intentional Bathing
Bathing with intention can include dry brushing before bathing, adding luxurious oils or bath bombs to your bath water, washing yourself with care while appreciating your body and your skin, applying a rich lotion or body oil afterwards. Recite words of affirmations to yourself, even if it feels silly. You’re learning to love this body again and you are literally reconnecting with it, on your terms. Do what feels safe and comfortable to you.
4. Aromatherapy Inhalers
You can create nasal inhalers with essential oils that calm or comfort you, using it as an anchor to keep you grounded. A knowledgeable aromatherapist can help you formulate a blend specifically for you, or you can find them in herb shops and health food stores, or make them yourself. Tutorials are easily found on Pinterest and supplies are easily obtained, including in your own kitchen!
5. Progressive Relaxation
Progressive relaxation is a way to bring awareness and intention to the various parts of the body and consciously relax each body part. Focus the attention at the feet. Consciously tighten, hold, then relax the foot. Work your way up through each body part until you reach the top of your head. You’ll scrunch up and make funny faces, but you’ll feel great doing this right before going to sleep.
Whatever the process of reconnection, know that it is indeed a process. Allow yourself the time, space and grace to do so safely and gently.
To learn more about mind-body reconnection, Delia Tobin and Sacred Stardust Wellness, visit www.sacredstardust.life