Friday, November 16, 2012

Art Therapy and Habitual Patterns

From time to time events happen and we may overact. Someone makes a mean or hurtful remark and we experience emotional overwhelm or emotional flooding causing adrenaline and cortisol to flood our system. Often if we have experienced traumatic events in the past, our minds register the event as an attack, threat, or challenge and we go into high alert. It feels like someone has declared war on us. Our sympathetic nervous system puts our brain and body on high alert in a few fast minutes.

The therapy I do with children and adults is trying to figure out how we can slow down this experience so we have control over our habitual pattern of overreacting. To stop the right side of the brain’s limbic system from going into emergency mode and activating the amygdala or emotional brain, we have to practice and strengthen the parts of the brain and body that can bring conscious control to all this. All the somatic, cognitive, emotional and mindful techniques and exercises that I know and teach to my clients are geared to help stop or slow down this process, which cause flight or fight responses.

So, how do we reverse this from happening? There are four things you can do.
First, it helps the body and if the mind can remember and practice other ways of being. By waking up memories of happiness, joy and trust in others helps broaden your world and reminds you of other ways of being and responding in the world. Experiencing joy and remembering past joyful experiences helps regulate and reset the bodies autonomic nervous system. It gives the body a fuller range or more choices of responding so we are not constantly travelling over the same response pathways that are in our brains. Helping establish peaceful, happy or open ways of thinking, and being helps reverse the fight or flight as your “go to” behaviour state.

Second, by learning how to be present means that you can literally pull yourself out of emotional states and observe them but not “become” them. You learn to be present or awake and aware instead of being diminished or reduced to becoming part of an automatic response. You can stay larger than the situation that you find yourself in and avoid being highjacked by emotional responses.

Third, by learning to be reflective, mindful and curious about yourself and the world helps take you out of a frozen response where fear rules. By learning from your trauma, redefining yourself, gaining trust and curiosity in the world again helps you pause or reflect when someone is bothering you so you really can step back and reflect on the appropriate response. You can train your brain to stay curious and engaged in the event without becoming fearful and reactive.

Fourth, the way to change the body’s physical position from a frozen stance to a fluid stance is by being healthier. The healthier your body is through letting it move, eat right, and do exercise the smarter it becomes in knowing what movement or body position is appropriate to stay empowered and not overreact. 

Try this art therapy exercise to gently play with reframing the mind and body.

Gather some art supplies. Take some time to get comfortable and centered in your chair. Do a body scan so you feel present in your body. Take a minute to notice if your feet are tired, energized or relaxed. Take some time to relax your feet and let them make contact with the floor. Imagine your feet in the most comfortable and nurturing place. Where would they want to be? What does the environment look like? What are the smells, sounds and images? If it is outside in nature, what is the time of day? What is the temperature? Now shift your attention to the chair under your legs and buttocks and adjust yourself to get even more comfortable in your chair. Take a deep breath into your stomach. Bring awareness to your back. What are you noticing here? Is your back tense or feeling relaxed? Now move to your chest. Can you breathe freely? Is your chest open or closed? Now move your awareness to your hands and arms. Notice if there is any tension and gently release it. Take time to sense into your hands, stretching the fingers. If your hands could be anywhere in nature, where would they want to be? What would they be touching? Now, bring awareness to your neck, head. Release any tension in your jaw and neck area. Now gently turn inward, sensing into your inner throat, chest and then resting in the belly area.

As you stay Present and aware of yourself sitting in the chair, give yourself a gentle invitation to focus on an issue or fear. Then notice if your body has shifted or changed position as you sense into this fear or issue. Next, while staying present, notice if any thoughts or feelings arise around this memory or image. You are not getting pulled into this experience, you are staying present and you are observing your body and mind’s responses.

Now, on your sheet or paper draw or write the emotion that you are experiencing as you stay with this issue or fear and then write or draw what you would rather be feeling. Notice where in your body you feel this reframed emotion. Now listen to your thoughts and again write or draw your response. Notice where in your body these thoughts resonate and then write or draw what you would be rather thinking. Now notice where in your body you feel your reframed thoughts.
Now notice the stance your body took when you think about your issue. Take some time to physically change your bodies posture.
Bring this self -Focusing exercise to a close by making some closing mark or image on your paper.



The Creative Beast said...

I love this post Karen - the steps for reversing the 'fight or flight' are really good ones, particularly the first step to remember happy, positive memories.

Also loved the previous post on making wands. I have made some in the past and they are fun to make and share with others =-)

Karen Wallace said...

Thanks for your comments Monica. Hugs


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