We chronically underestimate the impact that seemingly physically inactive things can have on our bodies. I just completed the Intermediate I module of Somatic Experiencing training. I spent four eight-hour days sitting and listening to lectures, sitting and watching demos, sitting and listening to case presentations, and sitting and doing somatic experiencing practicum. Did you catch that? I did a lot of sitting.
And even though my muscles were not tired - they were stiff and longed to do some moving and stretching - my body was exhausted. My brain, my body’s central driver, was a pile of mush. I needed to rest after four days of sitting.
Because, as my instructor pointed out, when we do Somatic Experiencing (SE) we do a lot of metabolic work. What? But when I sit for 8 hours my fitness tracker has a meltdown because I’m not moving!
Metabolic work does not mean high intensity training or bootcamp or running. It doesn’t mean working out. All my instructor meant was that there were a lot of biochemical reactions happening inside of us. As with everything that happens in our body, these biochemical reactions are triggered by the central nervous system. In the case of SE, the reactions were part of processing nervous system responses to the stories we tell ourselves and others, the feelings that arise in us physically and emotionally, and the way we make meaning of these experiences.
When we do SE we drive adaptations in our nervous system and how it responds to stimulus. Do you know what we do when we train with weights? We drive nervous system adaptation.
No, there was not some high caloric burn - my big meaty, calorie-greedy muscles were doing a lot of hanging out - but my nervous system was still working just as hard as if I had been maxing out on big lifts. Afterwards it required rest.
I am sharing this with you because I think that many times we underestimate how physically fatiguing stress can be for our nervous systems. Eustress (good stress) like body based therapies, and distress in our lives, will affect our ability to perform the way we usually do, whether the stress is physical, mental, or emotional. And the problem with chronically underestimating the impact of stressors have on our system is that it often leads to us thinking:
“What’s wrong with me?”
In thinking that something is “wrong,” we pathologize our experience when in reality nothing is wrong. In fact our systems are doing exactly what they are supposed to do. And now we just need to show ourselves some kindness and get some rest.