Updated: Oct 8, 2022
“You cannot experience stress in a relaxed body.” -J. Eric Gentry, PhD
As Dr. Gentry teaches clients and clinicians, anxiety cannot live in a relaxed body. Viktor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space…”. What we can do in this space to make a difference in our lives is practice self-regulation skills such as centering, grounding, containment, and relaxation techniques. This blog post presents 5 ways that are accessible for most individuals to practice some of these skills.
I like to visualize it as a way of feeling the heaviness of gravity in our bodies. We are connected to the earth in a very literal sense, grounding is the act of connecting to that felt sense of being connected to the ground (as opposed to floating without direction or control). One way to practice grounding somatically is: place your feet on the floor and feel the four corners of each foot connecting with it, sit on a chair and feel your sit bones (if you are having a hard time connecting to them just with your mind, touch your sit bones on each side and then touch your hips on each side, you can place your arms on a chair or your lap and feel how they rest on it. You can find other options here: open in a new tab.
Breathing is such a powerful tool to relax (and get energized). It is so interesting that breath is an autonomous function that we can exert some control over. When you need to relax, it helps to make your exhalations longer than your inhalations. That sends a message to your system that says "All is alright. Relax.". One of the most wonderful things about breathing when it comes to relaxation is it can only happen here and now, which helps to mindfully connect to your body in the here-and-now experience.
3. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Sometimes we are so disconnected from our bodily experience that we cannot find the muscles on our bodies that are tensing. Exaggerating the tension in our muscles can help us notice more of a difference when we relax them. You can find a great Progressive Relaxation Guide by one of our counselors here: open in a new tab.
We don’t always have 10 minutes or more to get comfy and relaxed, right? Our need to self-regulate arises as our nervous system’s threat response activates in response to a perceived threat in the demands of daily life; they may or may not be actually dangerous, often they don't present an actual danger to our existence but are perceived as such as a result to previous painful experiences. “Noodling” is a quick body scan. As you breathe in and out, start from the top of your head all the way down to your toes, embody a release or softening each time you breathe out as you bring attention to each area of your body.
An essential way to regulate is called co-regulation. Even though it is an essential part of the human experience, it is often left out. Maybe, because you need someone else -who is able to self-regulate- to be with you (in-person preferably but nowadays we also have virtual spaces) and create a sense of safety and connection; when our storm meets their calm our system starts mirroring the state it perceives in the other person. However, in an active threat response connecting with others becomes very difficult which may prevent us from reaching out in the first place.
We learn to self-regulate through co-regulation experiences as we develop. People that had adverse experiences in childhood and/or caregivers who had self-regulation difficulties or did not give the child tools for managing and expressing their emotions in a safe container – as well as the messages we get from society about emotions and the 'right' way to feel and express them- may make it harder to develop and practice healthy self-regulation and reach out when they need support from others to co-regulate. Recognizing when we need support from others is a very important aspect of taking care of ourselves. Thaina Cordero is a Certified Sexologist and Care Coordinator at Cypress Wellness Center. She has an MS in Educational Psychology, is a trauma-informed yoga teacher, and doctoral student of Clinical Sexology at Modern Sex Therapy Institute. She has completed Levels 1 and 2 of Clinical Foundations in Gottman Method Couples Therapy. She helps individuals and couples explore their sexual expression, needs, fantasies, preferences, curiosities, and difficulties as they create more pleasurable, satisfying, and fulfilling sex life and relationships. Click here to request an appointment.