8 Self Help Tips from Somatic Experiencing Trauma Therapy
I am frequently asked about how clients may use the benefits of Somatic Experiencing trauma therapy in their everyday lives. These may be to provide comfort or healing in between therapy sessions or as part of a self help efforts. Explore each one that sounds interesting or intuitively a fit for your needs during a calm or content time. Most of these exercises are best used on a regular basis so you become familiar with the steps and your body gets a chance to learn that it is a cue to settle into a sense of safety. They are more effective during intense stress if you have practiced them before to get familiar. If any of these tips do not work for you or seem to activate distress in any way, please skip to a different one that is more soothing for your mental wellness. You may consider meeting with a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner like myself to address that unpleasant activation. Here are eight ways you can integrate healing your nervous system into your own recovery journey:
◦ Orienting to 5 senses. This is a meditation practice that involves slowly and mindfully noticing each of your five senses. Spend about a minute each observing what you see, hear, feel, taste, and smell. Move your neck slowly as you look all the way around you. Notice what bodily sensations come up as you become more present in the moment and environment. This process communicates to your nervous system that you are safe now, grounding you in the present moment. Can be done still, walking, or while engaging in any pleasant activity.
◦ Sensory tracking. Non-judgmentally notice various sensations in your body: tightness, softness, textures, temperatures, urges to move, breath, stomach, pressure, etc. Observe how the sensations evolve as you name them. Try this in joyous time and when relaxed just as much as the hard times. If noticing sensations becomes disturbing, please bring these concerns to a trauma-informed therapist.
◦ Resourcing. Self care is essential, so engaging in both our internal and external resources regularly is a lifelong intervention that makes you more resilient. When you are in difficult moments, struggling with a trigger or simply stressed out, bringing these resources to mind can help settle your nervous system and help you cope.
◦ Journal with Sensations. If you keep a journal, make a note of the bodily sensations that came up before, during, and after the events describe as well as thoughts, emotions, images, and behaviors
◦ Trauma First Aid. These are simple, structured exercises that you can do to integrate your nervous system. Sit in a calm and safe space with both feet on the floor. Start noticing the sensations in your feet and really feel the contact with the ground. Body part by part, work your way up scanning your body and trying to put words to describe the sensations you feel. Feel the support of the chair under you. Feel the air in your lungs. Imagine a color that represents your current state.
◦ Breathing with a Stretchy Object. Each breath serves our body the way it needs to in that moment. Paying close attention to your breath can help your nervous system settle and calm down when activated. Trying holding a stretchy fidget to represent your airways and lungs. Stretch it with each inhale and relax it with each exhale. Try to keep it in sync with the rate and depth of your breath, and watch how your breath naturally slows down and gets so very deep. Spontaneous breath comes on its own, and washes over you with an indescribable calmness.
◦ VOO. This is a breathing exercise comparable to an “Om” in yoga. The vibrating waves created by making a deep, fog horn like projection of the sound “Voo” over the length of your exhale give your vagus nerve a gentle massage, restoring flow and releasing historical gunk. The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in your body and regulates key functions such as social engagement, digestion, alertness/consciousness, and emotional regulation.
◦ Safe Place Meditation. This is a therapeutic daydream that gets developed overtime. Create an imagined place with great vividness. Fill out the details of all 5 sense and how your body feels in that setting. It may be inspired by a real place or fully fantasy, there are no rules other than it is safe, only yours, and how you get there remains secret. The grounding experiences and intentional focus in the imagined place is what differentiates this from a dissociation or avoidance.