We're back from our latest program this week and as we reflect on our time in the bush with our female participants, we discuss themes that were apparent throughout the expedition. One such theme I noticed was a kind of disconnection between mind and body. That is, not noticing how we feel emotionally leading to a manifestation, into our physical senses, causing symptoms such as shortness of breath, a tight chest, and feeling queezy or exhausted.
Many mental health organizations have emphasized awareness of such symptoms and on our last program, psyhco-education, awareness, self-regulation and moving forward were ways in which we tackled this invisible barrier between the emotional and the physical. Of course, increased heart rate can be normal when experiencing anxiety, but not being aware of the anxiety may enable it to manifest, to breed. And of course constant anxiety and an increasing intensity of anxiety has huge negative effects on our physical health.
This can result in panic attacks or even digestive disorders. If we shrug off a traumatic incident which induced a fight or flight response - something physiological, something natural - and never allow our body to repair and find that maintenance level of safety - from a physiological perspective - we will forever be fatigued and stressed.
Day to day we may not experience any trauma, but if we are never aware of what's going on, our jar of emotional pebbles will start to spill over and create both mental and physical issues. For some of us, it has become our engrained defense mechanism to 'turn off' - and we don't even realize we're doing it. Instead we may only feel the physical symptoms which we often ignore or shrug off. Stopping to sit with what we feel - emotionally and physically can be uncomfortable - but hugely necessary, beneficial and therapeutic.
Within our group, awareness and regulation are about learning. Learning about how the mind and body intertwine. "You're feeling angry, where in your body can you feel that? What does it feel like in that spot?" Or "I noticed you have been experiencing shortness of breath each time we receive letters from home, can you tell me what you are feeling and where you are feeling it at these times?"
Basic Mindfulness is simply awareness. Once we realize the connection between our feelings and our physical being - we can practice our awareness and regulation. Perhaps daily - stop and focus on what's going on inside us. Take some deep breaths. Sit with it.
A logical tool we used in the bush and continue to use with some clients individually is a Feelings Chat, allowing clients to scale from 0-10 how they feel throughout the day. This helps us to stop and check in with ourselves. It forces us to pay attention to what's going on inside us, and it helps prevent our pebble jar of emotions from overflowing creating these physical symptoms of stress and anxiety.
True North Expeditions, Inc. provides adventure therapy programs and services for children and teenagers in Australia. Based in Adelaide, the TNE team writes about child and adolescent psychology, family dynamics and how adventure therapy programs can connect with struggling adolescents.