Sensing Emotions In Your Body

A Somatic Response To Our Feelings

In South Platte Counseling’s ongoing blog series, “Mental Health and Me,” we invite one of our clients to write openly and anonymously about their mental health journey on a topic they’ve personally experienced.  

We are showcasing this series to help de-stigmatize the conversation around mental health.  We want to let people know mental health is an individual journey and a ubiquitous life experience.  

With that being said, let’s read about one person’s experience with this week’s topic:  sensing emotions in your body.

I was never one to care about therapy or mental health.  Perhaps it was in the time I was growing up and the people around me.  I was in a small town, and there were some small-minded people who would never buck the system.  (Gasp! What would the neighbors say?!)  No one was talking about mental health, and anyone who was actually seeing a therapist must really have it bad.  Therapy was something that was whispered (read: gossiped) about behind closed doors.

So it wasn’t until quite some years later (decades), and growing into my own as a person, I decided to (hesitantly and trepidatiously) talk to a therapist after a traumatic life event.  It was a few sessions before I felt comfortable opening up (I had a lot of childhood therapy un-programming to do).

But as our sessions progressed and we built a trusted rapport, our sessions became much easier for me to talk about why I was there.  I mean, our sessions themselves were not always easy (hello, welcome to therapy!), but I knew I was in a safe space to work out why I was there in the first place.

One day, my therapist asked me a question.  It was a simple enough question, but it never occurred to me to even think about it.  He asked me, “where do you feel your depression in your body?”

Uh, I’m sorry, what?

I experience my feelings in my brain, right? So what’re all these “feelings inside of your body” talk?  Is my depression not a lack of proper serotonin levels kinda problem?  I was here to work stuff out, not to close my eyes and sit in the stillness of taking awareness of my body (I had soooo much to learn about mental health and therapy).

He was on to something, though.

I had a sense that something was amiss inside of me, but I just thought that was why I was in therapy.  Once my therapist brought that question to the forefront of my mind, it was pretty easy to answer.

I feel my depression in my chest.  More specifically, I feel it to the right of my heart a few inches, and it snakes its way up to my neck and even around it.  It feels suffocating at times.

I’d felt this way for quite some time but didn’t know how to name it or that it even had a name.  Apparently, this is a somatic response to our emotions.  I personally prefer to keep the scientific names out of it, but checking in with myself and asking, “where am I feeling this?” has been so incredibly helpful in my path towards healing.

As I develop into a more emotionally healed person, I’m more comfortable sitting with these feelings and the discomfort that sometimes come along with them.  Being more attuned to this connection allows me to connect to myself and my friends more as we talk about our own individual mental health journies.  For example, when I asked them the same question my therapist so simply asked me, I learned one of my friends feels her anxiety in the back of her knees, and another experiences her OCD in her hips.  Now that we have language for how we feel, it’s easier to identify it and work towards managing those feelings better.

We’re all so different, but the feeling of our emotions being inside of our bodies is not.

I still have so far to go in my mental health journey, but un-learning generational prejudice about therapy was a great start.  The more I go to counseling, I’m much more open to learning about different modalities and techniques that can help me better understand and process my trauma – and it all started with one simple question.

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