Somatic tools help ease the tension
As COVID wears on, how are your teeth? Has your jaw been sore? Maybe your dentist or hygienist asked if you’re grinding your teeth. If so, you’re not alone. Actually, you’re in good company. Most people have no idea they’re clenching their jaw or grinding their teeth. Recent news cites rising numbers of cracked teeth due to the pressures of COVID.
Feeling the grind just from reading this? Jump ahead to a tool that can help!
Even if COVID hasn’t touched us or anyone in our bubble directly, it has brought new levels of unpredictability, uncertainty and precariousness into all our lives. COVID has unearthed the inequalities that continue to plague our societies. This pandemic has divided us between those who have the luxury of choice to work at home, those who must show up to a workplace to earn their income, some at significant risk, and those who have lost work. Grocery workers became essential while earning comparatively paltry wages.
Many people’s finances and jobs are not secure. With schools restarted, worries move further afield as exposures broaden. Positive tests are mounting and rules keep evolving: we can’t walk down the same corridor; a neighbour walking towards us now evokes thoughts of danger; the lunchroom is off limits… Just reading this paragraph might make your jaw clench!
Trying a somatic tool
Check it out: Are your teeth touching right now? If so, pause.
Simply notice your teeth touching. What if you try thinking to yourself: “Hmm, they are touching. Interesting.” What effect does that have on the tension?
Now see what happens if you cross your hands to the opposite shoulder and tap the left, then the right shoulder.
so·ma·tic: of, relating to, or affecting the body
Tap gently alternating left and right and notice what happens around your jaw and teeth.
Are they touching more tightly, or are they loosening?
Maybe something has let go.
Maybe you took a breath.
Maybe you didn’t notice anything this time, which is also common.
Now, of course, a written blog post only goes so far. I’m not there with you online, modifying my suggestions depending on what happens.
But this gives you a simple example of what I mean by a somatic tool, which is just one of the ways I would support you during a video coaching session.
We are using the body to help the body. We’re not using the mind to instruct the body: “Let go. Stop clenching.”
In the course of our days, most of us aren’t paying attention to where our tongue sits in our mouth! But this is a small example of shifting from using the part of our brain that makes decisions, directs and organizes our lives to another part that simply notices and observes. Just like we did a moment ago: “Hmm, my teeth are touching. Interesting.”
This second area of the brain that tracks what is going on inside us without analyzing it as good or bad is the medial prefrontal cortex, also called our mindful brain. The importance of being able to light up this brain area is that when this region is active, we are able to calm the knee-jerk, self-protective “fight, flight, freeze” brain centre that instinctively tightened our jaw in the first place.
So, if you were able to notice your teeth touching, you are activating that brain area. Not easy to do just by reading a blog post! But, see what happens next time you notice you’re clenching your teeth.
I’d welcome hearing from you about what you noticed, what comments or questions you have for me.
In the next blog post, we’ll follow this dental theme to explore some ways to ease that tension right while you’re in the dentist’s chair!