Today’s Topic: Finding rest for your heart and mind through your body
Read Time: 6 Minutes
At the end of my master’s capstone presentation, the panel of professors who had just deemed I was worthy to graduate offered me a few words of advice as I set out on my own journey now.
They told me, “Ben, being a therapist requires a lot from your mind and heart. But, in order for you to have a long and satisfying career, it may do you good to listen more to your body.”
At the time I thought I knew what they meant by this: make sure to exercise, sleep well, be mindful of my nutrition. And while this is important (and something I still struggle with day to day) I’m learning how much deeper this goes and how important listening and living through my body is to being restored from the toll of this work.
Let’s talk about 3 particular ways we can listen and rest through our body.
Use your body’s signals as a starting point
I’ve found that sometimes I have a difficult time resting because I don’t know what I need to do to rest. It’s easy to turn on Netflix or scroll through Twitter but often this is me avoiding the work of figuring out what I really need to rest.
A simple place to start is to check in with what your body is telling you.
- Is your neck or back tight from sitting all day?
- Can you feel anxiousness in your gut or disappointment about the day in your shoulders?
- Is your brain feeling cloudy? Is it difficult to concentrate?
If you’re having a tough time connecting with or directing your attention to your body, I’ve found it helpful to do a quick Body Scan meditation. Here’s a quick 5 minute one you can try.
I also find it helpful to do this right after my last client of the day. This gives me a little buffer before I go home and helps me identify what I might need to recover that evening.
Create and place yourself in restful environments
One of my favorite places to be is the North Shore of Lake Superior. The fresh pine air, the quaint lakeside towns, and of course, the expansive lake itself all quiet my thoughts and calm my senses. It’s incredibly difficult to not relax when I’m up north.
Environments have a way of moving us like this. It’s easy to forget how much we are affected by our environment when the modern world is set on distracting us from it, but despite this, we are still changed and altered by the environment around us – for better or worse.
As much as I wish I could be up north every weekend, that’s unfortunately not possible. But I can still identify what is restful about being up north and purposely create environments here at home that have a similar effect.
The first thing that comes to mind about being up north is how calming it is for my senses. Being away from the noisy city, away from constant technology is a balm for my over-sensitized mind. So, on Saturday mornings I look forward to brewing a cup of coffee, flipping to the fireplace video on Netflix, and soaking in the quiet morning light.
I notice that creating this calm environment and limiting my sensory input allows my mind to fall in line and slows the racing thoughts. I then begin taking note of all that had happened through the week and how it affected me. This can be difficult at first because it brings up all the difficult feelings I experienced too, but as I note them and move on to the next, a mental weight drops away and I feel my body ease a little more.
Find a hobby that uses your hands
I recently listened to an episode of the On Being podcast with Nick Offerman. It was a wonderful conversation that explored our relationship to the earth, caring for those we love, and decidedly going the opposite direction of mainstream society. But what stood out most to me was Nick’s lifelong passion for woodworking.
Although Nick has enjoyed a career as an actor (you may know him as Ron Swanson from Parks & Rec), he has been creating with wood longer than he’s been in Hollywood. He observes that our society influences us to ignore our body’s natural ability to create and find meaning in those creations, and instead pushes us to buy products to try to make us happy.
He goes on to describe that for him, the process of creating with his hands has been both a way of finding joy in his life as well as connecting with his body in a meaningful way.
This struck a deep chord within me. Our work as therapists is centered so heavily on emotional and mental work. Finding something I can do that uses my hands and my body instead resonates with a longing I think I’ve had for some time now.
It also has the opportunity to expand my own identity. One of the most difficult parts of becoming a therapist is having so much of your identity wrapped up in helping people. It raises the stakes and makes it easy for imposter syndrome to creep in.
But to have another craft that isn’t dependent on my mental and emotional abilities would take the pressure off me to “perform” day in and day out with my clients.
There can be other facets of our identity that we lean into and feel proud of and find meaning in.
That being said, I have no experience working with wood. So, for now I’m starting simple:
- Reconnecting with my love for Legos
- Mindfully doing chores I use to do mindlessly
- Working on a puzzle instead of bingeing a show
My hope, though, is to find a creative hobby that uses my hands. Something over time I can find immense joy in mastering and creating. Something I can release the stressors of being a therapist through my body.
📨 Send me your feedback
Anything strike a chord with you in today’s newsletter? Anything you’d like me to cover in the future? What have you found to be restful for yourself? Reply to this email and let me know! I read all your responses and do my best to reply to as many as I can 😊
📋 To summarize…
- Finding ways to lean into our body more can help restore the mental and emotional wear and tear of being a therapist.
- If you don’t know where to start, try checking in with what your body is telling you.
- Creating and placing yourself in restful environments allows your body to help calm your mind.
- Finding a hobby that uses your hands is a way to create your own joy and meaning separate from your therapeutic abilities.
💭 Reflection Questions
- How is it for you to connect with your body? If it is difficult, why might that be the case?
- What’s one thing your body is communicating to you about how you are doing? What might it be saying you need right now?
- What elements would create a restful and calming environment for you? How can you incorporate those into your home more often?
- What’s something you enjoyed doing as a child that involved using your hands or body? How might you revisit that now as an adult?
🎧 What I’m listening to today
You can find that conversation from On Being with Nick Offerman here.