How often have I heard a new client say to me something like, “I don’t know. All of the sudden I felt this wave of panic and my heart started racing, I felt dizzy, and I felt like I was smothering.” These waves of intense emotions can be both mystifying but also terrifying. Paying attention to the more subtle signals our bodies are giving us prior to these really intense emotional states can help us tune into feelings that we aren’t conscious of before they have to turn into a panic attack, bout of serious depression, rage, etc.
The flight or fight response is hard wired into us, biologically, to protect us as a species. Cognitions are not separate from what we feel, physiologically. The expression “She took my breath away”, or “I’m so angry I can’t see straight” are examples of the way both extreme positive and negative emotions can change our physiology. How many of us have heard the doctor say we need to cut down on “stress” for our physical health? For most of us, much of what triggers the physical stress response that our doctors worry about (raised blood pressure, increased adrenalin and stress hormones, imbalance in blood sugar, etc), are unconscious emotional responses to environmental triggers (ie stuff we aren’t even aware of that is bothering us).
Everyone is different, but if you consider your body’s response to stressful situations, you can use your body signals as a barometer, of sorts, to help guide you. Personally, when my breathing changes or the cadence of my voice increases, I know I’m angry about something. I had a client once describe a feeling of tightness in her throat and we soon discovered this frequently happened when she was “choking back” something she needed to say but was afraid to, usually with regard to setting a boundary with someone she loved. Another client described whenever his appetite seemed to increase outside of his normal eating routine, it was often that he was “craving” some affection from his partner but couldn’t seem to ask for it. Obviously, sometimes a physical complaint is just that and needs to be attended to medically, so please seek medical advice to be certain about any underlying physical causes of a symptom. But, other times we can see patterns in our bodies, especially if medical causes for our ailments have been ruled out by an MD.
So, take a moment and do a quick body scan. Are your shoulders hunched up near your ears? Is your lower back aching? How about that kink in your neck that comes and goes? What might your body telling you about what you are feeling that you haven’t been able or willing to examine?