There are many reasons someone can grow to feel unsafe in their physical bodies. For example, they may have been body shamed from a young age. Maybe they were in a traumatic accident, such as an automobile crash. Some may even feel unsafe due to emotional states or social triggers like rejection or feeling emotionally and physically out of control. The same can also be the case when your body is physically violated in a situation of sexual harm. You may experience fears for your physical safety in the aftermath. You may experience intrusive thoughts inhibiting your daily life. You may feel disconnected or shut off from parts of your body you were once attuned to, causing distress or panic. Everyone processes situations and their emotions differently, but accumulating experiences of unsafe feelings without countering them with experiences of safety in our bodies leaves many anxious and isolated from a physical state that once felt strong.
At Our Wave, it is our mission to not only share survivor stories but also provide tools that empower our readers to reclaim the relationship they have with themselves. Here are some ways to explore feeling safe and grounded in your body again. While some may be more helpful to you than others, trying different strategies can help cultivate a safety plan to support yourself when experiencing future challenges.
1. Box Breathing
Box Breathing is a tactical breathing technique initially utilized by the U.S. Army to declutter the mind and to manage thoughts and emotions during stressful situations. This technique lets you be in tune with your breath and body by exercising slower, controlled breathing. You will likely feel calmer due to the activation of your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest system).
How to Box Breathe
Start by finding a comfortable seated position, begin by gently closing your eyes, and take a few moments to breathe in your natural rhythm. Then inhale with four counts (counting 1, 2, 3, 4), hold your breath at the top for another four counts, then exhale with four counts, and hold for another four counts. Repeat the inhaling step as many times as your body needs.
2. Practice Movements That Bring You Joy
Our bodies are constantly working to protect us from harm, whether that’s our immune system fighting away germs and viruses or our brains scanning for detections of threats. Our body’s goal is to keep us safe, but being in a constant state of fight or flight can also be detrimental to our health. Play with exploring what activities bring your body joy. Maybe it’s cooking in the kitchen, dancing in a dimly lit room, mindfully walking on the beach to wiggle your toes in the sand, or practicing yoga. Your body deserves to feel good again, so try to begin to teach it how.
3. R.A.I.N. Meditation
R.A.I.N is a four-step meditation process that psychologists have adapted and expanded over the years. In Radical Compassion by Tara Brach, Ph.D., the acronym R.A.I.N. stands for Recognize, Allow, Investigate, and Nurture. One impactful quote in this meditation is, “Be the holder and the held.” This narrative empowers the listener in their journey of healing. R.A.I.N. People use meditation for several therapeutic tools, such as battling negative self-talk or calming anxious thoughts. Ultimately, most iterations of this practice are based on mindfulness — to pause and pay attention to certain thoughts or emotions.
Preparing for the R.A.I.N. Meditation
Start by finding or making a cozy space in your environment. Be generous with yourself by placing pillows and plants and bringing a light blanket and some essential oils into the space. Set aside a glass of water to drink at the end of the meditation. Carve out quiet time in your day just for yourself, even if it’s for a few minutes). You can even bring a small towel to fold over your eyes if you lie on your back. Remember to thank the space for holding you before and after your practice. In this video, Tara Brach leads a guided practice to introduce viewers to the R.A.I.N. meditation.
4. Somatic Therapy
Somatic Therapy is based on the foundation and perception that the mind and body are deeply intertwined. Techniques such as meditation, dance, breathing exercises, and various types of body movement are utilized to release tension that accumulates in the body, which can strain one’s emotional and physical well-being. If you find yourself interested in trying the forms of healing discussed in this article but would prefer having professional guidance present during your exploration, look for somatic therapists in your local area.
5. Forest Bathing
Forest bathing is a term coined in Japan in 1982, a translation from the Japanese term shinrin-yoku (森林浴). Forest bathing is about lengthening the time spent in nature instead of having a goal of hiking from point A to point B through the forest terrains. It focuses on slowing down to interact with what you see moving, what you hear whispering, what you smell, and what you can feel through touch. It trains your brain to emphasize the information being downloaded through your senses, allowing you to strengthen the connection between your body and your mind. Studies have shown the correlation between nature and well-being, which might serve as an alternative practice for survivors reclaiming their relationship with their bodies.