Wild Animals Know the Secret.

Scientists have made a fascinating discovery about the way animals in the wild discharge anxiety and trauma. They are able to release the experience and move on. If they didn't do this and had to live in the wild in a shut down state, uptight or confused as their human counterparts, they would not survive long. Wild animals release their anxiety and trauma. Humans think about their trauma and hold on, becoming even more anxious, never realizing their body has a secret weapon to let it go.

Scientists believe that animals' lack of higher brain functions to explain reality simplifies their lives and survival skills. We ask “why?” We make up theories. We think "if only" or "what if" and the painful memories take up residence in our bodies. Our language, thoughts and feelings act like the "save" function on a word processing program.

Wild animals on the other hand, after a trauma, find a safe place, re-experience the trauma from start to finish, and get up as if nothing had happened. And here is the secret that scientists have discovered: When a trauma is contained and experienced start to finish in the body rather than the mind, the nervous system discharges the memory, like erasing an Etch-a-Sketch.

The Body like a Photo Plate.

You may know someone who has had a car accident, experienced fright as a child, or has had a scary medical procedure. These traumatic events embed in our bodies like image on a photo plate. Each time we think about the past trauma and become anxious, we anchor them more deeply in our bodies and nervous systems. If the experiences are particularly severe and chronic, we may experience the traumas as flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive memories and debilitating physical sensations. We spend our resourcefulness avoiding situations and relationships to try to feel safe at great cost to our careers and relationships.

The compulsion to repeat.

When difficult experiences are cut off from conscious awareness we may find ourselves in similar situations over and over again as we attempt to work out the trauma. We may think of ourselves as unlucky in love, or accident prone or start to feel defeated because we can't break the pattern of challenging experiences. We wonder why we feel anxious all the time, as if something bad is going to happen.

So how do we get free?

For Peter Levine the answer is not through talking or thinking about painful memories. Our memories are shaped and reshaped by thoughts and experiences. But they may not be an accurate record of what happened, more an interpretation of what happened as a way to try and explain the freight and distance ourselves through insight. But sadly this mental process does not change the "photo plate" of our nervous systems.

When we are stressed, the fight or flight part of our sympathetic nervous system turns on and we feel:

• Hot, tense, tight jaw, twitches, itchy, sweaty, rapid heart beat, shallow breath
• Heightened sense of alertness, like something bad is going to happen
• Emotions such as excitement, fear, anxiety, annoyance or anger

When the anxiety or stress overwhelms us, we feel stuck. When the parasympathetic nervous system activates, we notice the symptoms of shut down:

• Cold, sleepy suddenly, slower heart rate, nausea, heavy limbs as if under water
• Tunnel vision, difficulty seeing,
• Feeling depressed, blank, numb, detached or dissociated

So armed with this knowledge you can take your foot off the brakes and learn to release these patterns in your body. Then the mind will follow. Our bodies store the problem. And they also hold the solution. We can use our minds to access the solution.

Things to do in a calm and ground place, even better if you have a loved one to observe and support you:

• Believe your body. It cannot lie. Symptoms speak the truth.
• Feel your body, notice a specific sensation. If you don't notice anything tap the top of your thigh and notice as many sensations as you can name
• Ground yourself by imagining a solid cord connecting you to the earth. If you have pet notice how deeply your pets breaths into her belly. Try to match the breathing.
• Make a list of resources: activities that leave you feeling safe, happy or/ and relaxed? Place where you feel grounded, favorite memories, people who make your body smile or relax.
• Feel deeply into your present experience, describe and track what happens as you simply observe your body without trying to fix or change it. Notice thought and emotions as they simply flow through your awareness like a river flowing. Just observe.

Start the discharge process.

When you can comfortably do the activities listed above, invite a painful memory or a stressful thought to come to mind. Start with something very easy. Use the tools above to witness and observe until the pain subsides. Toggle back and forth from the stressful image to one of your resource images.

It may take a few minutes with something simple. And it could last for a much longer period of time for a complex, intense memory. Notice the feeling of spaciousness in your body after the experience has discharged. Place your hand on the skin of your upper chest and notice a subtle flow of well being come into your body.

Suffering can be transformed and healed and we all have the means to do it ourselves. This simple method can restore your aliveness and help you recapture your sense of wonder.


Focusing , Eugene Gendlin

Healing Trauma, Peter Levine

Author's Bio: 

Suzie is the co-founder of Counseling Services of Portland. And with over 25,000 hours of face to face hours with clients, she is best known for her down-to-earth approach to helping people shed the cocoon of anxiety and depression to step into more authentic, confident lives. “Not counting that day in second grade when Debbie, another 2nd grader, came up to me on the playground wondering if I could help her with a problem she was having at home, my passion for this work began 20 plus years ago when I began offering counseling professionally. And of course training and experience are critical for a professional, I also know that practicing what I teach gives people confidence that they can overcome the challenges of anxiety, depression, stress and relationship problems.”

At Counseling Services of Portland, our therapists are caring, experienced, respectful and practical in their approach. People ask us “how can you stand to listen to people’s problems all day?” The truth is, we don’t just listen we help people make changes by a unique type of skilled listening we’ve developed over years of helping our clients. We love this work. Helping you come alive and re-claim your life with skills we’ve honed over decades energizes us. We passionate even after 20+ years. You’ll find lots of articles on our website on how to start these important changes. Call us 503-342-2510/, you’ll see it’s not as hard as you think. Why wait?