There is an interesting process that happens when you feel upset and it is very similar to what happens in nature when a storm rolls in. In nature, you may notice the temperature change, the wind picking up, a change in the color of the sky, clouds rolling in or birds taking off. Ayurveda tells us that our bodies are a microcosm of the macrocosm, in other words, we are a miniature or a reflection of the world we see outside. It is no wonder then, that when we experience an emotional storm, the process is so very much the same. In our bodies, we may notice the same change in temperature, a quickening or shortening of our breath (the wind), a change in how we see ourselves or others or the experience itself, or a shift in our mood (the clouds rolling in), and a change in our thoughts (the birds taking off).
As a somatic therapist and the creator of embodiment yoga therapy, this is the realm in which I work. You might say that my work is a reclamation process of skills that were innate to us as children. Because as adults, for many of us, emotions have become an unsettling experience that we have become adept at avoiding.
The thing is, like storms, the emotional process has a very clear beginning and end, but with emotions, we actually have an advantage. This is because feelings, emotions, and thoughts are distinct from one another, with each one having its own phase. Like the phases of a storm, we can recognize what phase we are in and can implement strategies to bring ourselves back into regulation.
In the first phase, our body responds to a trigger. This can be an event, a thought, or an interaction with another person. Using all our past experiences as a gauge, your body determines if the situation feels safe or unsafe and creates a series of physiological responses within your nervous, endocrine and cardiovascular systems. In this phase, you may need to go into contraction to allow yourself to calm down or you may need to invite movement to help the energy that has been activated to move through the body and released. It is in this phase that we experience the beginning of emotional sensations within our body that alert us to something being off.
In this phase we may experience the bodily experience of emotional states of sadness, fear, anger, anxiety, awkwardness, disgust, and confusion. These are felt sensations that are experienced in the body. As such, these sensations can be addressed within the body. You can essentially interrupt the storm before it escalates with somatic practices that teach you to respond to and work with your body. Helpful strategies here are to become aware of what you are noticing in your body, and where you are noticing it, and to then bring acknowledgment to your felt experience. This is an area where somatic therapy can be incredibly helpful, as the therapist can support you in learning how to work with your body so that you can move the sensation and come back into a place of regulation and calm within your nervous system.
The second phase can be activated when we are not given time to support ourselves with the space to allow our emotional body sensations to settle or to move. This second phase occurs within the sphere of our feelings. Our perception of ourselves, the situation, or of others may feel skewed and we may even begin to experience a shift in our mood as our emotional reactions become conscious in the form of these feelings.
The second phase is where the wisdom of yoga therapy is supportive, encouraging us to acknowledge our feelings, say them out loud, and bring clarity to what it is that we are feeling. Often, this is where many of us, have been conditioned to avoid, numb, or play down our experience. Expressions like 'high vibes only' teach us to hide or discount this very human part of our lives. The thing is, acknowledgment of your very real feelings is the tool that can interrupt your emotional storm from progressing into its final more cognitive phase.
As your feelings build, they contribute to your mood and your mood then impacts your thoughts, the metaphor of the birds taking flight in our proverbial storm. This is our final phase, where your mind and your nervous system will lead your thoughts into hyper or hypo mode. You may experience racing thoughts or your mind may go into a repetitive loop. These only serve to heighten the sensory experience from the other two phases.
When we get to this third and final phase, we need help. Talk to a friend. Talk to a counselor. Get cognitive support so that your mind can learn new thought patterns.
I also suggest working with a somatic therapist who is trained in yoga therapy so that you can learn how to regulate your body in those earlier phases of the emotional storm and possibly even prevent going into the final phase at all. In my own experience both personally and in supporting my clients, learning these strategies has helped to both lessen going into unhealthful thought patterns and has also lessened the amount of time in which dysregulation occurs.