Somatic Experiencing for Parents, Teachers, & Caregivers

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In the midst of the second wave of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the well-being of children and youth is the top priority for many parents, teachers, and caregivers. But how can we help young people feel safe and healthy when we, as adults, are struggling to feel the same ourselves?

We are living in dramatically uncertain times. Coping with high levels of uncertainty[1] on a daily basis - and on a global scale - puts our bodies and brains in survival mode, priming them for anxiety and stress. Living with chronic stress is a form of trauma that has been, and continues to be, widespread during the COVID-19 pandemic.

By now, many of us know that stress is contagious within homes and classrooms. But unlike our collective efforts to prevent transmission of COVID-19, stopping the stress contagion requires more than wearing masks, keeping distance, and washing our hands well.

It requires that we, as adults, attune deeply to our felt experiences of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty, develop our capacity to tolerate uncomfortable sensations, and work with our bodies' intelligence to release them.

Somatic Experiencing is a powerful approach for doing exactly that. Developed by internationally acclaimed clinical psychologist Peter Levine, PhD, Somatic Experiencing helps us notice how we hold feelings of stress or fear within our bodies and provides us with simple and effective tools for letting go of them[2]

Basic principles of Somatic Experiencing include:

5 Somatic Experiencing Practices for Parents, Teachers, and Caregivers during the COVID-19 Pandemic

1. Use caring touch to create a physical container for your feelings through "self-holding".

2. Settle your nervous system by recalling, in detail, a time when you felt most like yourself. [4]

3. Create a sense of safety with this 10-minute Somatic grounding exercise. 

4. Dial down pain by flowing between comfort and discomfort with this 10- minute guided pendulation practice

5. Use the iChill app to develop a range of of calming and self-regulation skills to build resillience. 

  • According to Somatic Experiencing, we can either be in a "safe brain" state (in which we feel Secure & Calm and Alert & Engaged) or in a "survival brain" state (in which we feel on-edge, fearful, and threatened).
  • Being in a "safe brain" state requires that we manage our stress reactions and strengthen our capacity to tolerate uncomfortable thoughts and sensations

In their 2015 article, Levine and co-authors discuss how Somatic Experiencing uses interoception (feeling into the body) and proprioception (feeling where the body is in space), along with other forms of inner attention and imagery, to balance to the nervous system and restore feelings of safety in people experiencing trauma and chronic stress.

Further studies on the role of Somatic Experiencing in healing trauma and stress can be found here. 

 

Except by Rhonda Kelloway, LCSW, SEP, for LifeCare Wellness: "5 Somatic Experiencing Exercises to Keep Grounded During Coronavirus Uncertainty".

Peter Levine, PhD, the developer of Somatic Experiencing therapy, sometimes uses this Somatic Experiencing exercise to encourage settling and  regulation in the autonomic nervous system. The first part of this exercise can help you find emotional and nervous system regulation and help to keep grounded.

  • Take a moment and notice your overall experience.
  • Then recall a time in the last 24 hours when you felt most like yourself – or the person you would hope to be more of the time. (Extend the time frame if something doesn’t come to mind from the last day.)
  • As you remember this event in a detailed way – almost as if it was happening again – notice what happens in your body in this moment now. Especially notice your five senses in the memory.
  • Recall another time you most felt like yourself or the person you’d like to be, this time within the last several weeks.
  • Again, as you remember this event in a detailed way – almost as if it was happening again – notice what happens in your body in this present moment.
  • What do you notice now about your overall experience?

Check out this Heart-Mind Online resource to learn more about the effects of uncertainty on body and brain (hint: it affects our ability to make decisions, think rationally, cope effectively, and feel Secure & Calm). 

  • Secure and Calm

    Secure and calm describes the ability to take part in daily activities and approach new situations without being overwhelmed with worries, sadness or anxiety. To be secure and calm also means being able to cope with stress and pressure, and to bounce back from difficulties.
  • Gets Along with Others

    Getting along with others is the ability to form positive and healthy relationships with peers and adults. Children with better abilities to regulate their emotions and behaviours have more friends and experience more positive playtime with their peers.
  • Alert and Engaged

    Being alert and engaged is the ability to manage and direct one's own feelings, thoughts and emotions. In general, the ability to be 'present' and to exercise self-control.
  • Compassionate and Kind

    Being compassionate and kind is closely related to empathy. While empathy refers more generally to the ability to take the perspective of and to feel the emotions of another person, compassion goes one step further.
  • Solves Problems Peacefully

    Managing conflict effectively is about creating an atmosphere where violence and aggression are not likely. To resolve conflict means using empathy, problem-solving skills, understanding other points of view and coming up with ways to make things right in a fair way.