Maybe you’re a manager preparing a presentation or you’re about to have an uncomfortable conversation with a colleague or supervisor. Maybe you need to negotiate with someone whose standpoint is very different from yours. Whatever the circumstance, you’re anticipating something coming up that matters a lot to you, where the stakes are high. Typically, the body is also preparing—instinctively, automatically. The neck gets tight or the stomach might be a bit queasy just thinking about it. Traditionally we are taught to prepare and rehearse and trust it will be enough to overcome these innate reactions. We often just hope that the body doesn’t take over when it’s our moment to deliver.
How much better would it be if you also had physical techniques to deal with this physical stuff?
Here’s where somatic (body-focused) workplace training or coaching comes in handy. And, where learning more about how to work with our own natural instincts is a big workplace asset. In this post, we’ll first backtrack and look at what’s happening in our brain as the body starts to jitter or tighten the stomach or neck. While we—humans—usually like to raise ourselves above the animal kingdom, we are indeed part of that kingdom and wired with instinctive animal protective mechanisms. Our nervous system is wired with connections for fast action, and the chemicals that course through us are primed to keep us from harm.
Our bodies respond in various ways: For some of us our stomach clenches, for others our neck or jaw might tighten.
This discussion is not about workplace harassment or bullying—unfortunately not as uncommon as we’d like to think. That is a more complex topic, and I will discuss it as it pertains to somatic coaching and education strategies in another post.
Humans are social creatures. In fact, we are herd animals and when we’re separated from the group, with all eyes on us or standing up in a challenging situation, we can feel vulnerable—well, our bodies can feel exposed. And so the jitters, the buzz or increased heart rate is our system preparing to move, to get us out of there. That instinct is orchestrated by the lower brain or brainstem, the part of the brain that drives our automatic action patterns or impulses.
Our thinking, planning, intellectual brain may know there’s no real threat, but unfortunately when this higher brain tells the body all is well and to “just relax,” the body doesn’t listen. The heart still races while muscles tighten, preparing to move. That’s because there is no communication from this higher brain area to the lower brain that drives the automatic ‘get-out-of-here’ reflex impulses. With the lower brain in charge, the language area in the brain (Broca’s area) can shut down, leading us to be at a loss for words.
There is, however, another brain centre that we can activate to quieten and settle these automatic unhelpful reactions, and so we don’t get thrown off by outbursts of emotion.