Relieving Chronic Stress with Somatic Experiencing

April 19th, 2016 by Daniel Ruiz

In one of our previous installments, we focused on the ever present struggle of soldiers living with PTSD. We wanted to give this the proper attention it deserves — there is so much work and techniques to help and many perspectives, that one article is just not sufficient! PTSD is getting a lot of attention from all types of news and media sources. A recent article in Vice magazine brought the complexities of PTSD into the spotlight. Chronic stress, whether in the form of PTSD or anxiety, affects the lives of many. It is important to illustrate how individuals can seek relief, even when it feels impossible.

Chronic Stress: What It Is and How It Affects Us

Stress, as a basic emotional experience is one most people are familiar with. Pressure at work, with friends, families, or any relationship can make us feel overwhelmed and worried. These stressful situations can also make us feel temporarily run-down and energetically drained. Basic levels of stress in our daily life are to be expected, and for many this is manageable and temporary.

Chronic stress, however, is the significantly prolonged and habitual experience of these systems. It no longer functions as beneficial energy useful to accomplish necessary tasks. Chronic stress takes a toll on your emotional and physical well-being, often triggering an endocrine response which only further weakens the body’s capacity to heal and recover. It is important to articulate, however, that chronic stress is not always a product of a traumatic event. This form of stress, that can lead to severe anxiety and depression as well, can always be from exposure to daily stressors that are left unaddressed or improperly managed.

Peter Levine’s approach to chronic stress through the healing technique of Somatic Experiencing, has a unique way of framing chronic stress, particularly when brought on through a traumatic experience.

Trauma and the Slinky

As Peter Levine explains, trauma is the body’s response to stress and involves a lot of energy. He models this with a slinky. As a coil, energy is passed back and forth between the coils, the more rapidly, the more wild the passing of energy. However, trauma, as he explains, is the compression and suppression of this energy. If imagined as a spring or slinky, the body requires a lot of energy to keep this energy compressed down, contained, trapped.

Through Somatic Experiencing, the goal is to help release this energy. However, as we know through experience, whether your own or from experience with a loved one, when we try to address trauma in an incoherent and unsupportive manner, that energy that gets released is wild, sporadic and undirected. And for those with PTSD, especially veterans, this can be very dangerous and violent for both the individual and those around the person.

Our bodies experiences senses and our memories are wired into this. Levine calls this “sensory body memories.” The goal of Somatic Experience is to explore trauma by bringing elements of sensory memories together in a coherent way. This helps release the energy of trauma gradually, allowing the nervous system time and guidance to reset.

PTSI vs. PTSD

In the process of healing chronic stress, Levine began to view folks suffering from PTSD differently. Rather than viewing the trauma and stress as a disorder, he started to understand it within the frame work of an injury. Much like a broken bone or torn ligament, it is specific and can be treated. This framework of post traumatic stress allows Somatic Experience techniques to view each client as having a specific history. By trying to address the specific moment of injury, Levine believes that healing will be more easily and willingly achieved.

So, whether you are reading this to find support for yourself or for a loved one, remember this idea of energy and injury: If we stay present, calm, and supportive for ourselves and our friends, we can work through this stifled and compressed energy in a productive and healing way. Peter Levine will be part of the World Wide Transformational Summit, where you can learn more about the Somatic Experience healing practice.

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