Krystal Ying, LMFT, LPCC
Somatic Tools to Soothe Trauma & PTSD Symptoms
Updated: Mar 3
Help soothe your nervous system with these somatic techniques
Your nervous systems is special. It is impacted by a variety of factors, including history, childhood trauma, early attachment experiences, biology and genetics, any medical issues, and, of course, traumatic events. By learning and practicing the self-soothing somatic techniques described below, you can help your nervous system regulate, stabilize, and reduce the impact that trauma has.
Each body, or nervous system, is unique; therefore, there is no one-size-fits-all technique. I invite you to try these somatic exercises with a curious mindset - remember that each person's body will respond differently to each exercise. Like an experiment, you will not know how helpful (or unhelpful) it is until you try it. If it doesn't feel good, you may stop and make a mental note that it wasn't helpful. If you feel better (even a tiny shift), this is also good information and an encouraging indicator to keep practicing it!
This can be soothing and relieving, reducing activation of the fight-flight-freeze responses. Helps reduce hyperarousal symptoms like anxiety, panic, hypervigilance, fear, rapid thoughts
Try to get as comfortable as you can either by sitting, laying down, or standing up with minimal external distractions
Take a few moments to get a sense of your breath, the experience of inhaling and exhaling. If able to, try to breathe deeply and slowly.
Apply self-soothing touch by trying out various hand placements while breathing:
Place both hands on your chest
Place one hand on your chest, and one on your belly; alternate positions
Place both hands on your belly
Place hand(s) on part of your body that feels tense, uncomfortable, or in pain
Try to get a sense of which hand placement feels neutral, better, or even good. How does your body tell you it feels better? Our bodies communicate- you can tune into its messages by observing your physical sensations. For example, do you feel warmth in your heart, are you able to take a deeper breath, do thoughts slow down, is there a sense of relief or comfort, are you more connected to your body, do pleasant images pop up, is there a general feeling of settling? These are just some inquiries to reflect on as you learn to listen to the wisdom of your body.
This can be energizing and uplifting, reducing hypoarousal symptoms of the nervous system - including lethargy, feeling slowed down, depressive states, dissociation
Begin by sitting down in a comfortable position
Slowly align your spine by lifting your head slightly, straightening the spine, and gently opening the chest
As you do so, you can also imagine a ribbon (of any color, texture) above your head gently, softly pulling each vertebrae into alignment
Notice what happens with your breath quality - does alignment allow for deeper breath? Pay attention to what happens with your body sensations - do you experience a lighter feeling with less heaviness? Observe what occurs with energy - do you feel more energized and motivated and less fatigued?
This can increase your connection to the present moment experience and of being in your body, especially when feeling untethered, triggered, overwhelmed, activated, or disconnected
Get in a comfortable position (or as comfortable as possible) sitting or laying down
Begin by connecting to your breath, following the natural rise and fall of each breath
Feel your body being physically supported by the surface (chair, floor, bed) below you. You can start with your feet, then your buttocks, and finally your shoulders
Engage all your senses as you tune in to the physical sensations and experience of your body making contact with the surface supporting you. Notice how the touch-points feel against your feet, then your buttocks, and your shoulders. Observe if you can connect with certain areas of your body more, and how you can tell.
Lean into the sensation of being held, fully supported by, and connected to the earth beneath you
Can create a sense of ease, relaxation, and calm in moments of distress. The science behind this simple technique is so fascinating! When we smile, our brains release feel-good neurotransmitters of serotonin, dopamine, endorphins. Even half-smiling will trigger (in a good way) this state of greater calm and ease.
Relax and soften your face
Begin to half-smile by lifting the corner of your lips upward slowly
Mindfully notice any good-feeling sensations in your body as you slowly half-smile
If you enjoyed any of these somatic self-soothing techniques, I am so glad! These are just a few techniques - there are many more. Thank you for reading this far and giving yourself, including the hurt parts of you, a chance to heal, recover, and feel at ease - even if for a few moments.