EMBODIMENT - The Best Way to Handle Anxiety

EMBODIMENT – The Best Way to Handle Anxiety

Today I talk about how to feel more at home in your body. I’ll be talking about embodiment and somatic awareness as the best way to handle anxiety.

Hi, I’m Shelley Treacher from the Stress and Anxiety Podcast.


Podcast Q&A – What is a comfort food?

But first a question. Somebody’s asked,

“What exactly is a comfort food?”

It’s quite an interesting one. It might seem obvious, but there are a few things to consider:

1. The first thing to note is; please don’t think you are completely alone in liking comfort foods. I’m willing to bet that most people have at least one comfort food. It’s just that some people have more than others, and for good reason.

2. Comfort food is usually quite simple, and it’s often something that we associate with a memory or has psychology attached to it. Usually, this association is from early childhood, but it could be from any early time.

I, for example, could not stop thinking about custard creams for a very long time in my life. Custard cream biscuits were something that I much coveted when I was a child. My mum always had them in the biscuit barrel. I can see and smell that biscuit barrel still to this day, and I associate love, warmth, homeliness and security with custard creams. So my comfort foods are along the same sort of flavouring. There’s a vanilla-sweet, creamy biscuit. That kind of food makes me feel happier just thinking about it!

So what kind of comfort foods do you associate with your childhood, and does that relate to the kind of things that you crave?

3. I’m not sure I have a definitive idea of what comfort food is. I’m not sure there is a dictionary definition. There might be, so you might want to look that up. But, to me, comfort food is something that you choose when you need comfort. It’s as simple as that!

4. It’s usually a food that will alter your state. So if it has sugar in it, then it’s going to give you a bit of a lift and it might make you feel numb too.  Comfort food is going to change your state.

5. And it’s also going to act like an addiction. So there’s the addiction to the feeling of comfort as well as potentially to the substance.

But the thing I’m going to talk about today (being more embodied or being in touch with your body and your experience) is something that you can start to question in terms of what comfort food is. So I’ll start by asking:

– Is it really comforting?

– If it is, in what way is it comforting?

– If it’s not, in what way is it not comforting?


What is Embodiment?

So let’s turn to today’s subject. In the last three podcasts, I’ve given several techniques to help you calm your nervous system down and self-regulate when you feel discomfort or emotion, just before you eat. Today’s podcast goes a little bit deeper. Today I’ll start talking about embodiment and becoming more at home in your body.

This is a big subject, so today I’m going to explain a little bit about what becoming embodied means and then next week I’ll take you through an embodiment experience.

Bessel Van Der Kolk, a researcher into Body-Centred or Somatic Psychotherapy, said

You can fully be in charge of your life only if you acknowledge the reality of your body in all its visceral dimensions.

In my work, you’ll hear me guide you to how something feels in your body quite often. This is because I believe it’s the root of healing on a deeper level. As far as I know, this is the best way to get in touch with your unconscious and to heal through that. Getting in touch with your instincts, your drives and your needs leads you to treat yourself with better care and to experience more satisfaction.

But I do recognise that this is hard for the ginge-eater because, for one thing, in the culture and society that we live in most of us are encouraged to be quiet about feeling vulnerable. For another thing, it’s human nature to avoid pain and discomfort.

This might be a survival instinct, but there’s also a disconnection and a dissociation involved in soothing ourselves with a substance or with food. There’s also the habit of turning away from the self. So I know it’s frightening for a lot of people to start to get in touch with their unconscious and body. But it is essential to recovery because it is the source of inner strength and resources. You don’t have access to that if you’re not in touch with what you’re experiencing.


How to Heal Anxiety Through Embodiment

Recovery through getting in touch with your body’s experience happens in approximately these four stages:

1. The first is to become aware of and sense your body’s experience.

2. The second is naming and labelling your sensations and feelings.

3. The third is bringing compassion and honour to your experience

4. Lastly, redirecting your body’s energy to something more positive or resourceful.

Here. Rather than trying to ignore the anxiety, you’re encouraged to acknowledge it in your body, to be interested in where it is in your body and what it feels like physiologically. Sometimes just staying with a feeling or naming it calms the nervous system down and helps it to shift.

Often it’s the fear of feeling rather than the feeling itself that is the difficulty. Here I’m going to quote one of my favourite mentors. I’ve been blessed to have so many great teachers in somatic psychotherapy and Maci Day is my absolute favourite.

In talking about defensiveness (which overeating might be for you), she says,

To see what’s driving our protective or defensive behaviours, we must also be willing to touch into the helplessness, grief, confusion or fear, whatever pain our protector or defence is trying to prevent us from feeling, in an open, curious way. This open stance allows new information to emerge from the depths of our being. The longer we linger, the more information emerges, as memories surface. Sometimes we get only a general understanding of our wounded part…

…Here are some of the things we might investigate in mindfulness…

– What kind of state is this?

– What emotions come along with this?

– What is my body expressing in this state?

– How old do I feel right now?

– What earlier situation seems connected to this state?

– What am I expecting as I protect myself like this?”

These are questions you can start to be curious about.

Your feelings always have a message. Uncomfortable feelings like frustration, irritation, upset, hurt, worry and shame always point to what we care about. But they also point to what needs compassion, and possibly deep healing.

I talked a little bit about this in my last podcast. It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s helpful to do something we call ‘support the defence’. If you feel resistant to something, (for example, if you don’t want to practice mindfulness), you might need to allow and get curious about what your block is to it before you can remove it.

– In the case of practising mindfulness, you might think it takes hard work or be too long.

– On exploration, you might see you’d much rather rush around cleaning the house or sit down and watch TV.

– Going deeper, you might realise that you need to let go and relax, but you’re afraid you won’t be able to do that. This might be because it will put you in touch with how you feel.

All of this deserves compassion and understanding and has a message for you. Often when we’ve done this the block melts away, and we can consciously choose a healthy option.


Somatic Awareness in Action to Reduce Anxiety

I have an example from my own life about how I put this into action:

Two weeks ago I decided to embark on a massive new marketing project. Because I want to reach more people with this stuff and because I don’t think enough people know about it. But it involved making a huge time and financial commitment. I wasn’t even sure it would work. So I was frightened. After the initial excitement, I was thrown into fight-or-flight and became super activated. This was obvious because I was having trouble sleeping and I was craving junk food. So I recognised and named it as an overactive nervous system or ‘overstimulated’.

Then, starting with step one, I observed it. I explored the intensity of feeling in my body And it was intense. I had a tightness in my stomach and my belly and I was breathing shallowly. I was also a bit manic and fast.

Moving into step two, I started to explore what the fear was about, and what it wanted. What was I afraid of? Here? I found  I was afraid of failing. But I also found my ultimate goal; to reach more people with what I believe in.

Using some of the resources I’ve mentioned, over the next two weeks, I brought my nervous system back down. I used mindfulness and calming, slowing down with helpful audio:

Moving into step three, I started to bring compassion to how I felt by allowing it to be okay that I was scared, and by giving that some time and attention.

I started to look after the teenager inside me who had seen my mother fall into bankruptcy in self-employment. This had made my mother ill. No wonder I was afraid! But I realised by doing this that I am not my mother. I’ve had access to so many more inner and external resources than she ever had. I reminded myself of the support I already have for my business, but also for my soul. This is bringing more compassion. I researched support for expanding my business. It made me feel liberated. this is bringing more compassion.

And finally, moving into step four, I decided to use the physical energy I was carrying in this fear and excitement. I decided to embrace it, to enjoy it, maybe even to have fun with it. I channelled it into doing something and it felt good. You can do the same as this!

Next week. I will take you through your own experience of this, but first, for today, sense into your body.

How do you feel after hearing my story?

Did you feel sympathy for me when I talked about my mother?

Did you grieve with me?

Did you feel liberated when I said that I felt resourced and that I had so much support and felt excited?

All of these experiences might be in your body. They might resonate with something familiar to you.

What we’re doing here is trying to explore what’s going on for you. Your body stores your experience in every cell, in every body, in your nervous system, and in your muscles. So if you get stuck somewhere in tension, your body holds that. We are trying to access that experience, to see what wound your body carries and to work through it to find healing. We bring it out little by little, bit by bit, rather than all at once, (which would be too traumatic), and we work through it to heal it.


Final Words on Embodiment and Anxiety

Today I’ve talked about starting to see yourself and your defences as something to explore and be curious about, rather than suppress or to fix. Healing from a lifetime of comfort eating (or from anxiety, or any addiction) is not a simple process. But it is possible through gradually getting in touch with what you suppress, and finding other ways to manage so that you can flourish as the person you were always meant to be.

To give you a bit more of an example of how this stuff works in the body, I’m going to tell you how I feel right now:

I feel quite emotional after saying this because I believe it. It’s so vital to me that I’ve got a little bit charged up. I feel nervous in my belly, just below my diaphragm. Some might call that area the chakra that governs a sense of yourself, so that fits. I also feel a kind of nervous excitement in my chest. I’m breathing both deeply and shallowly, because I’m excited. I’m also nervous because I want so desperately for people to understand this. And it’s through this kind of activation that I get to do my life’s work, so you can see the benefits. This is what I hope to teach you.


Next Episode – Heal Self-Worth Through Embodiment & Somatic Psychotherapy

In next week’s podcast, I’ll start to take you through an experience of your own in your body. So please join me next Wednesday, and I’d still very much like to hear your questions or comments. So if you have anything you want to pass on to me, please be in touch and know that everything I ask here, all the questions that I put forward from you, are completely confidential, unless you tell me explicitly that you want to be named. Thank you so much for listening. I’ll see you next week.


For help overcoming stress, anxiety or binge-eating through somatic psychotherapy contact Shelley today, here.

EMBODIMENT - The Best Way to Handle Anxiety