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Coping with body memories
by TeenHelp October 4th 2016, 11:57 AM

Coping with body memories
By Cassie (Cassado)

It is thought that the body and its cells can unconsciously store memories of a traumatic experience in addition to the brain storing memories. A body memory occurs when your body remembers an event you have experienced. For instance, if you were sexually assaulted, you may be able to physically feel your abuse reoccurring; if you were in a car accident, your body might relive the pain and shock you felt. Body memories vary; some are painful, while others are not.

Body memories are very real, however there is often nothing physical causing the pain or uncomfortable sensations. It is not a physical injury, but rather an emotional response manifesting in a physical manner. You may benefit from visiting your doctor to make sure that you are experiencing body memories and not an illness, injury, or other health problem.

The anxiety and the intensity of the pain that can sometimes accompany body memories are often distressing to experience and difficult to cope with. The severity and type of body memories vary from person to person, but there are a few coping techniques that can improve the discomfort and quality of life for people who are struggling.

Think of what could be causing this memory.
Many body memories occur before and after a flashback, or they happen during one. Did you have a flashback, or do you feel one coming on? Did something relating to your experience trigger you? Maybe you smelled a certain perfume or you saw a car accident on the highway. If you know what is causing it, or what could be causing it, take note of it so you can process it later.

Find what helps you ease the pain. As stated above, body memories vary depending on the person and their experiences, so it is only natural for different remedies to help different people with pain. Some people prefer heat, others like cooler remedies, and some like a combination of both. If you like using heat, consider soaking in a warm bath, taking a hot shower, using disposable or microwaveable heat pads, or dressing in layers to keep warm. If you find that cooler temperatures ease your pain, try an ice pack for numbing, or menthol for a hot-cold sensation to mask the pain.

Stay up on your feet if you can. If the memory is tolerable enough for you to move around, keep moving. Take a walk, complete some household chores, or even pace back and forth if you'd like to. Consider exercising to release endorphins and work your body in a way that distracts you from how you're feeling. The memory can feel worse if you sit with it. If you cannot move, do what you can to make yourself comfortable. Sit on your bed, on the couch, or on the floor with your knees to your chest if you have to. Try to level your breathing as well.

Talk to yourself and to your body.
Sometimes it helps to think of your body as another person you are trying to comfort. Bear in mind that your body is remembering something intense, and is struggling. Tell your body that it is okay, it is safe now, and you are going to do what you can to comfort it.

Make a mind body connection. It is thought that the mind is very connected to the body. This means that if you calm your mind, your body can follow suit. Often times, people are not connected to themselves during a flashback or body memory. To make a mind body connection, try gently stroking a part of your body while staying present. You can do this while talking to your body. For instance, while talking, gently stroke your arm, or leg. Being nice to your body can help enforce a connection.

Try to keep yourself grounded. It is very common to dissociate during a body memory, and it is sometimes preferred when you are struggling. Dissociating is your mind's way of protecting you. While it can be a preferred or safe state for some, it is important to learn how to cope with what you're experiencing while keeping present. To do this, try to stimulate your five senses. For example, listen to your favorite music, suck on a hard piece of candy, or play with silly putty. Talking to yourself takes effort and can help you stay present.

Remember to tend to your emotions. It can be easy to push your emotions to the side when you're coping with the memory. Note how you are feeling, and think of ways you'd like to cope with that. Are you anxious and struggling with panic attacks, are you depressed, or are you angry?

Do some extra self-care activities. You and your body are experiencing a lot, and it is important to go out of your way to do things for yourself if you are able to. For instance, you could color, watch a movie, read a book, take a walk, or talk to a friend. Bear in mind that everyone is different, so do what feels right for you.

Reach out for help. For some, body memories can last several hours, days, or even weeks without letting up. Regardless of how long or intense they are, you don't deserve to experience this pain alone. Talk to your therapist, doctor, family, friends, or anyone you trust. Let someone know how they can help you, whether that is making you some soup or just being present with you.
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