‘The Body keeps the score’ is a book by Bessel van de Kolk that was published in 2014. It talks about the impact of trauma on the body and how long-lasting these affects can be. It’s a book I read a while ago, but the concept has stuck with me and regularly comes to my mind when thinking about my children’s experiences and my own.
It doesn’t have to be childhood trauma that affects our bodies. The way we live currently seems to activate lots of stress and anxiety. Cost of living, threats of national crisis, personal challenges can all add to a restless nights’ sleep for sure.
For some time now I have also been aware of how long-term stress, from wherever it comes, can show up in our bodies. During COVID I noticed this more and had the time to try to do something about it – I’ll talk more about that in a moment.
In the book though it talks about the connection between our mind and body and how trauma, even from a long time ago, can impact us in the present. Even remembering traumatic events can raise our blood pressure and cause our rational thinking brain to go offline as our reptilian brain kicks in to protect us.
When I talk to schools, and to parents, it’s clear that a lot of the negative behaviours our children might display can be linked to those past experiences that the body remembers. It’s hard to see the triggers sometimes as they appear completely unconnected. You may remember the last time you were really affected by something that happened to you, it can take a long time to ‘come down’ again or feel regulated. Then if that happens again it just compounds that feeling in our bodies and we then react quicker, or it can have long-term impacts.
Trauma isn’t what happens to you it’s what happens inside you – Gabor Mate.
I have had a difficult year for many reasons, and my body has felt the impact of those experiences. I learnt through COVID that my body keeps the score too. I may not have many childhood traumas but we all experience difficulties and, over time they can lead to a break down in our body’s resilience, as well as our emotional resilience. Of course, age doesn’t help this process either!
So, there are a few strategies and tips that I remember from the book that have helped me over the years.
One is using mindfulness, meditation, and systems like this to connect our bodies and minds. Often when we’re struggling emotionally, we don’t want to think about it so we might do things to run away or distract ourselves. However, we need to feel what is happening in our bodies to go through a healing process.
One thing I came across during COVID that really helped was Somatics. It’s a form of yoga that concentrates on bodywork and movement studies which emphasises internal physical perception and experience. The term is used in movement therapy to signify approaches based on the soma, or “the body as perceived from within”. (Wikipedia).
A friend of mine delivers this practice online and in classes – here’s a link so you can see the type of therapy this is – https://www.francescamelluzzi.com/method. This is what she says about her way of working:-
I blend yoga, breathwork, mindfulness meditation, philosophy, and progressive neuroscience-based somatic education in a unique approach to regulate the nervous system. This in turn releases emotional and physical stress in the body. Together, we’ll develop a personal self-led movement practice to manage anxiety, build strength and flexibility, and create a more accepting and nurturing relationship with the body. This leads to better self-regulation of emotional stress and anxiety. Deep rest and meditation are a key part of the practice for to aid sleep and relaxation.
She does this practice for teens and special needs as well as adults. Something like this can really help to relax the body and in turn reduce stress and the impact of trauma on our bodies and minds.
The other thing that can really help is a strong support network around us of people who understand and can be with us throughout the healing process. I have had such people in many different areas of my life; through adoption (and they remain there for me), in recent work and life situations people have been there and we have supported each other. There can be trauma bonds that are created through shared experiences, and this can stay with us for a long time. We are relational beings, even those who would say they don’t like people, can acknowledge during difficult times that we need each other.
So, what about the children you may live or work with whose bodies have kept the score – how can you help them? You can cultivate practices that help like mindfulness, somatics, being out in nature, music – lots of things that can help them to connect mind and body. Also, you can be there for them and create those safe places they need to recover. Build strong communities of support for them wherever you can so that they know they are not alone and can lean on others when they need to.
And for us – we need to prioritise looking after ourselves – in mind and body! Note to self – book some somatic classes this week.