by Viviana Diaz, LPC
Individuals are complex and no experience of existing is identical. Life events, our environment, and our perceptions make up the overall experience of being human.
When considering mental illness, it is common to forget the delicate connection and harmony that occurs in the human container (body and mind). I believe mental illness is the result of the lack of balance and congruence among these two entities, also known as Dis-order (alteration of the order).
Typically in therapy we focus on the client’s perceptions and interpretations of their own experiences. It is often neglected to emphasize how the body is involved in these processes, especially in milder symptoms. It is easier to identify maladaptation in the body and mind when an individual is experiencing chronic clinical mental illness because it becomes clear that the body is being affected. Individuals who are functioning quite well despite symptoms may “fall through the cracks” when it comes to receiving proper diagnosis and treatment.
In fact, these high functioning individuals have difficulties noticing their own symptoms as serious because they are able to accomplish what is required of them and have survived difficult experiences.
The disengaged body creates scenarios and stimuli to sound the alarm for the individual to pay attention. When we ignore the relationship between body and mind, the more often and severely the body expresses it through physiological symptoms. Individuals may become detached from their bodies or feel trapped in unhealthy thinking cycles.
People may assume that therapy should stay focused on changing our thoughts and using clinical techniques to alter behavior. This view is simplistic and fails to integrate the importance of involving our bodies in the therapeutic process. By engaging the body, we have a door to enter the subconscious mind and be able to slowly change the way individuals feel and think about themselves.
Trauma can create blocks and a lack of safety in our own bodies. It can impact how our nervous system creates protections and dissociates to survive. This is actually helpful for surviving experiences, but not being present in our body can impair our ability to use skills to thrive long term.
How to become more attune with our body to support your mental health:
Awareness: One of the most important steps in change is observing the body— noticing pains, aches, repetitive movements, tics, and physical illness. Not with judgment, but with curiosity. The body is like a compass that highlights perceptions and experiences then expresses and releases it. Noticing these difficulties in our bodies can provide us with valuable information about our mood and reactivity levels. In therapy we can lean in this information and uncover patterns that are present in all areas of our lives.
Engagement of the body: Exploring different exercises practices such as breathwork, movement, yoga, dancing, sensory work, full expression of the body, and other physical disciplines explore the elasticity of the body, and the possibility of peeling layers and deepening our own knowledge about ourselves. Engaging our body challenges us to revise our unhealthy thoughts, perceptions, and behaviors.
Connecting the body and mind: When we adapt our bodies and use movement, we are challenging our unhealthy perceptions, painful sensations, and difficult memories. The capacity to adapt to trauma can be explored by allowing the body to recreate feelings of safety and adaptive behavior. Engaging the mind in processing the experiences through journaling, meditation, grounding techniques, and mindfulness supports a stimulated nervous system and a body experiencing pain.
If you desire guidance in dealing with your mental health, please feel free to contact us to schedule an appointment.