Welcome back to Restorative Grief with Mandy Capehart. You are listening to episode 82 titled “What It’s Like to Feel Joyful Again.”
This week on the podcast we are going to fly through the basics of a quick somatic exercise. If you’re unfamiliar with the idea of a somatic practice or exercise it just means we’re going to engage the body instead of relying on the mind as our primary way of moving through grief. Somatic embodiment is powerful and if you listened to last week’s episode with Greg Weiting, you will understand why. If you haven’t, go back to listen to his work – it’s a great primer on the concept. We are going to practice creating an emotional anchor in our lives with the help of our physical body. That way, when disruptive emotions occur, we can disrupt them right back.
Just a reminder before we get too far into this, this as all things all things we learn on the podcast, is a practice. It will never be something perfect and it may not be something that works well for you. However unless you give it a shot, you will never know. The reason we create an emotional anchor is because in grief work, our body is going to respond in a way that can be really activating to our sympathetic nervous system. Those big emotions send us into fight, flight, flee, or freeze responses that can keep us safe if there is a real threat or can keep us feeling trapped or stuck when the threat is perceived or remembered in our body from a past experience.
In order to benefit from this work, you have to be willing to become curious about the big emotional responses that you have to situations in your life. I’m not just talking about tantrums. I mean that feeling where your throat closes up because you’re so angry you can’t think of the words to say or in the other hand, when you’re so angry that every angry word floods from your mouth before you can think, causing even more damage in the situation.
Creating an emotional anchor allows us to take responsibility, but more than that, to become present with the truth of what we’ve have experienced and how it has affected our present day selves. This is a place where we can create compassion for who we have been and who we are becoming without shaming or shoulding all over ourselves.
One more note before we get started. This is not about trying to relive our trauma. I am a firm believer that you can work through traumatic experiences and even PTSD without activating the cognitive experience of traumatic event. So for these purposes, I want you to recognize that recalling an intense emotion does not mean I want you to relive your trauma for the sake of a podcast. If you want to do this work with a therapist, they can properly guide and create safety for you, but this is going to be a practice today where we keep the chill factor midrange, okay? Okay. Good.
The first thing we are going to do is recall a vivid memory or a time when we had a vivid emotional state. If you are thinking that this is a good practice for your meditation time, it’s really not. While calmness as an emotion although it can feel intense, it is not going to create the anchor that we want for support in trying times.
For this to work well, always choose a positive emotion. Our negative emotions are always going to feel intense, and this practice is about securing a more hopeful response to the story we’re living. I’m going to recall a vivid experience of joy. It doesn’t need to be recent; it just needs to be vibrant and meaningful. So think of a time that you experienced joy, and as you’re thinking about this emotional state of joy, pay attention to what’s happening in your body. There’s a chance you’re feeling some tingling or maybe some restlessness. Maybe you feel a lightness because you want to go and do the thing. It may also be tempting to start noticing other emotions that come along with joy like regret or lament.
You have total permission to ignore those secondary emotions as they rise. Right now, we want our experience of joy to be as heightened as it has ever been.
And once that emotional state feels like you are at a peak, I want you to create an anchor through physical touch on your body by creating a movement or a touch that is not common for you but can be easily repeated. You don’t want something to be very blatant like clapping in front of your face or tapping your hands on the top of your head because that type of behavior will take us out of our intention and into wondering what everyone thinks we’re doing when we start tapping our head in public.
I’m choosing to touch my thumb to the pad of every finger on my left hand back and forth. It’s not something I typically do, but the action is subtle enough that I can do it without causing too much disruption to the conversation at hand or distracting people around me.
You can also tug on your ear, tap on your knees, reach to your toes. Whatever physical touch is something unique to you and can be repeated when you want to experience this elation and joy again.
Now I want you to break out of this emotional state of joy. Stop doing the repeated motion and do something completely different. If you want to take your emotional state somewhere different you can think about I stressful event or something of what was just mildly annoying.
Really disrupt the behavior though by clapping your hands or getting up and walking for a moment Maybe hit pause and go to the bathroom and wash your hands or splash cold water on your face. Whatever you do, really pull yourself out of this focused joyful expression and physical repetition.
And now, I want you to test the anchor. I’m going to change the subject, and while I’m talking, I want you to randomly engage the unique action you chose to see if you can activate that joyful emotion while I’m talking. Are you ready? Here’s the subject change:
There is an infinite number of people about to play a game. Each one will receive a black or a white hat on their heads at the same time. Each will be able to see everyone else’s hat, but not their own. They cannot communicate in any shape or form once the hats are placed on their heads – no winks, nudges, or smiles. And then, at the sound of the gong, everyone needs to simultaneously announce the color of their own hat at the exact same time and they must all get it correct. Their challenge is now to devise a strategy before the game begins that will guarantee success once all of the hats are placed.
Sorry about the math problem; I find most of the time, math is a great way to move our brains away from the emotional state we’re in although there are the rare exceptions! I do seem to know a lot of math teachers. But I digress!
Whether or not you were able to experience a sense of joy rising with this first attempt is irrelevant, because repetition and practice are what create the strongest anchor.
So using this strategy, start practicing the anchor during tv shows, movies, sports events, or another person telling a story. Maybe you’re alone and your own thoughts are leaning toward a sense of melancholy or regret. This is a moment to introduce your anchor and see if you can recall that sense of joy a little more easily than before. You can test yourself even by introducing the anchor when you’re already feeling positively and see if more joy arises.
This isn’t mean to be a magical switch. This is a physical anchor – a partnership with your body – to remind your emotional and cognitive parts that they are not laboring for your wellness on their own.
Thank you for listening to episode 82 of Restorative Grief. If you listened to this whole thing and you hated it, no problem. All techniques are not going to work for all people and simply listening or trying something new is a huge deal for some of us who have felt very stuck in our grief work. But the act of giving yourself permission to try something out of the ordinary means you are not as stuck as you might think.
I also want to say it’s perfectly normal to experience tension with a practice like this. You may be internally battling the idea of practicing joy when you’ve been grieving for so long and with such intention. But two things can be true – you can be joyful and still carry your grief story. You can be grieving and experience joy without dishonoring your path. Give yourself a chance.
If this is your first time joining us on the show, thank you so much for making space. it is my great joy and passion to provide grief literacy and create space for other humans to find what means the most to them and find a pathway toward it. You can learn more about my work at MandyCapehart.com, where you’ll find links to join our Patreon, become a premium podcast subscriber, or even learn about one-on-one coaching if you’re interested in going deeper.
Links to the site, my book, and the free private coaching group are all in the show notes so take a moment to check those out and leave a review, too! I love hearing how this work shows up for you all.
And as always, one last thing before we go. Please remember, the only solution for grief is to do the work of grieving. Thank you for listening – I’ll see you next week.
Links + Resources for this episode:
- Work with Mandy – Visit MandyCapehart.com/coaching
- Become a Patron of the show! on Spotify Podcasts
- Join the Restorative Grief Project on Facebook
- Purchase my book, Restorative Grief, on Amazon
- Follow & chat with me on Twitter or Instagram @MandyCapehart
Steps to create an emotional anchor to restructure BIG emotional responses.
1 – Recall a vivid memory/create a vivid positive emotional state.
2 – At it’s peak, anchor it in a unique spot through physical touch. Something uncommon and repetitive, but not disruptive to the environment.
3 – Break state! Get yourself out of that anchor state of positive emotion and do something completely different.
4 – Test the anchor. While talking/listening, randomly engage the unique spot to see if the emotion is activated.
5 – Repeat it to strengthen the anchor as often as possible.
Use intense positive emotions – this can work during meditation but calmness isn’t an intense experience for most people, so it’s not necessarily going to be as effective.
Get specific with a memory of an experience and relive it a bit in order to engage that emotion somatically. We’re anchoring positive emotional states, so this isn’t about trying to move through trauma.