Even though we are often told to calm down, we don’t actually always want to, nor should we. In this episode, I talk about when you don’t want to calm down, what it looks like, and I give several exercises to help you metabolize the active energy in your body in a safe way.
Okay, so something that I was surprised to learn in this trauma healing journey is that sometimes we don’t want to calm down. And we are taught from a very young age, you know, don’t be angry, don’t be upset, calm down.
You know, those kinds of things, those kinds of messages that we get from our family, from society, that being calm is the preferred way to be at all times. But this is not true and that’s what we’re gonna talk about on today’s episode. It is true that long term we want to live mostly in a calm, creative, connected space.
It’s what we would call our window of tolerance. I believe I have an episode about that, so it’s not totally untrue, but it’s not true that we always want to be. Sometimes we are in a stress response and we want to be in a stress response. We need to be in a stress response. Stress is not always bad, right?
I know most of you have probably heard that before. And oftentimes it’s when we’re in this high activated state that people want to tell us to calm down. “Come on, just take some deep breaths.” You know, those kinds of messages that that’s when we don’t want to. And if we allow our bodies to do what our body naturally wants to do, it will show us.
It’s only when we believe the messaging, believe the sentences, the things that people are telling us through our logical mind that then we sort of fight against our normal and natural instinct. When we are in an activated state, we actually want to move. We want to move our bodies to metabolize that energy.
That’s how we get through the energy and when we try to calm down from that activated state, That’s kind of like what causes a freeze response. The freeze response is the core of trauma. Not always. It’s not completely that simple. I mean, you’ve probably seen on social media some ways to kind of calm your nervous system, right?
Some, for example, I see several people out there saying, when you’re in that activated state, take two deep in inhales and then one long exhale.
And it is true. It’s true that if you calmly breathe, you exhale longer than you inhale, it sends a signal from your body to your brain that you are safe and it will calm your nervous system down. And that’s a great tool to use at times. You just need to know when to use it and when to actually metabolize the energy.
And I would say, and I’m totally not an expert, I’m becoming an expert, but I’m still in the learning phase. I would say that normally the first option would be to metabolize the active energy through movement. Now, we can’t always do that, right? Sometimes we’re in a car, we’re stuck in a meeting or something like that. So that’s where you would go to some different exercises as secondary responses.
Okay, now I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself. I’m gonna come back to this. I’m gonna talk about more examples of what to do and things to look for. But first I want to talk about some very recent examples in myself and in a couple of my clients, because I can hear people out there thinking when do I know when to do this? So before we start talking about, the how-tos, I want you to have a little bit more context of what I’m talking about with this activated state. This state being when we don’t actually want to calm down.
I had a client earlier this week who gave a little backstory about something that happened with her kid who was nine years old, and she was really confused and very frustrated, but it was really interesting cuz as she was telling me the backstory, her demeanor, her tone of voice was telling me, it’s not really that big of a deal. I just don’t really know how to deal with this. And so I pointed that out and she said, “oh, but on the inside I’m shaking and I’m like, I can feel the frustration.” So that is something that I wanted to highlight because so many of us, especially women, we hide our active states, and so I want you to just notice that.
Notice when your body is actually really shaky and really alert and kind of on, and you don’t want anyone around you. That’s a first little side note. But then I asked her, “okay, tell me about that. Tell me about the shakiness, tell me about the frustration.” And she blurted out, “I just wanna march out there and yell at someone.” And I was like, “oh, okay. Yeah, we got some anger here. We’ve got some frustration here.”
So I asked her if it was available to her to march or to scream and she said, “well, I’m feeling a little embarrassed.” Cause this was in a group setting. “Would you like us all to turn off our videos?” And she said, “Actually, I think it would be better if I just turned off my video.” So I said, “Great. Go ahead and do that. You can mute yourself as well and I want you to just march in place or march around your room and if you have a pillow or something, like let yourself scream into the pillow.” Because that’s what her body said it wanted to do was to march out there and yell at someone.
Now we don’t have to yell at someone. We don’t always have to discharge our active energy toward another person. So I wanted her body to just go through this process of, I need to march and I need to yell. So She turned her video off and She muted herself for about 60 seconds, She marched and She yelled and She came back on and She said, “oh, actually that feels really relieving.”
We could all just tell how letting herself March and yell really brought her down out of that high frustration and angered state. Now that doesn’t mean that her body stayed that way the rest of the day. It might come back in waves, but the point here is to notice what our bodies really want to do and then give them the outlet to actually do those things.
That is what I would love for you to take from this podcast episode, is to notice when you’re in those activated states, honestly, it’s not just for the activated state. It’s for when you’re in shutdown. It’s for any state of your nervous system. It’s to kind of continually be checking in with yourself and noticing, “Where am I? How am I feeling? What do I need?” Especially with these activated states, the high anger, high energy. It could be fear, it could be nervous. Those types of feelings. Oftentimes what I’m noticing with my clients and with myself is that we try to sort of put it away and hide it. I think it’s a little bit true for the freeze response as well, and we just wanna shut down.
We have thoughts like, “oh, I can’t just lay here and do nothing.” So it is true we wanna hide those other states too, but I think it’s even more so for women in these sort of frustrated anger states because we’re socialized to believe that a good girl smiles and is calm and is kind in all of those things. So then we just end up ignoring our bodies when we’re in these high activation states.
Client example number two. I had a client talk about her daughter who’s needing to make a decision about college. She’s a high school senior, and she was trying to help her daughter by talking through some things, and the daughter said, “I don’t like talking to you guys because it’s no help.” And as we were just sort of slowing down the process, picking apart what the actual problem is here? My client actually mentioned, “Sometimes I wonder if she just wants me to tell her, yeah, you’re right. You made a mistake that was stupid of you. You didn’t do this or you didn’t do that and now you’re living with the consequences.”
So I kind of brought it back to that and I said, “Maybe she does wanna fight, maybe there’s some activation there and she’s picking a fight.” So then we started talking about this idea of when we pick fights. The next day my client messaged me and said, “yeah, I noticed last night I don’t think she had the awareness that she was the one picking the fight, but she was standing her ground.” She had another kid saying like, “Hey mom, I’m gonna stay out later than I expected and my client was like, “Nope, no you’re not.” She just stood her ground. She had her son who is supposed to practice piano for 10 minutes and he practiced for three minutes and she said, “That wasn’t 10 minutes,” and he threw a big fit.
So there’s some things happening where normally she would’ve just been like, “Okay, fine. You can stay out however long you want.” Or, “I’m not gonna say anything to him. That was three minutes, not 10 minutes on the piano,” She was used to being very passive and not kind of standing her ground or speaking up.
So I pointed out to her that, “I wonder from our coaching yesterday, if you’ve given yourself permission to fight a little bit.” It’s not necessarily wrong to fight. Obviously we’re not talking about landing punches or hitting each other, by physically fighting. We’re talking about like giving ourselves a place to let that energy out. A safe place to let that energy out. And she said, “oh, that’s a really good insight. I didn’t realize that I was the one kind of picking the fight by standing my ground.” So that’s another example of having some kind of rule or boundary that you’re not backing off of like you possibly would normally do.
The third example I’m going to take from my own life of which I was in my certification. We met weekly and I was getting coached in front of our coach.
This was a demonstration, a practice for the person who was coaching me and that’s how it goes. Everybody volunteers to to be the client so that other people can volunteer to be the coach and get feedback on their coaching. And at first I had said something like, “I don’t wanna go to shutdown. That’s sort of my normal response and I always do that and I just don’t want to.” But honestly, I was feeling tired, I this heaviness in my body I could really feel intensely.”
And so my coach had me hold my head in my hands for a minute and as that was happening, I noticed sort a sound, but it wasn’t like an out loud sound. It was sort of a mental sound of hissing or buzzing sound, like an electricity sound. And Looking back now, I think it was the beginning of my active response really coming online. Then all of a sudden I stood up or I sat up cuz I had my head in my hands and I was really hot. I felt this heat from like the top of my head, down my face, down my neck, down my chest, into my belly, down my back as well. I had a sweater on that day and I was like, oh my gosh, I feel so hot. I wanna like take my sweater off but I’m not gonna do that on camera.
But it was a few minutes of this intense heat and I think my coach (my colleague) got a little bit flustered. She kind of sat with me for a little bit, a couple more minutes and then she asked, “does this feel like a good place to stop?” And I was like, “no, no, it’s not a good place to stop. I don’t want to stop. I am like in the middle of this.” So then she said, “okay, well, what do you feel like you wanna do?” And I said “I think I need to stand up.” So I stood up and I was like, bouncing from foot to foot, sort of leaning back and forth and shaking a little bit. It wasn’t intense shaking, but just wiggling my fingers back and forth, letting my legs move a little bit. And after doing that for a couple of minutes, I was kind of like, “Ugh. Okay. I think I can sit back down now.”
Ways to cope with your active response
So those are three examples of when we don’t actually want to calm down. I didn’t want her to stop coaching me and then sit back in my chair and just be like, “okay, carry on to the next thing.”
Honestly, the next several minutes, even after we did stop, the heat was coming back and I was still kind of having to let my body go through the process it was going through. Those are just a few examples. It could look like anything, but sometimes it might just be, “oh, I just have the urge to…” and then fill in the blank. Such as run or fight in some way. It could be yell cuz yelling is a fight response. It could be, I wanna punch a wall. Sometimes we hear our kids saying that. Or it could be noticing yourself picking little fights being like, “no, I’m not gonna let you get away with that,” like client number two.
Just to give you some context. Those are some examples. That’s maybe what it could look like, but it could also look very different for you. What we’re really looking for here when we are in this activated state and we don’t want to calm down. In fact, I did want to mention what happens when you’re frustrated or angry and someone says, “just calm down.”
It almost makes us more frustrated or angry, right? That’s a clue. “I don’t wanna calm down.” Even if it’s ourselves telling us to calm down. If you feel some resistance or you’re like, “no, I don’t want to, I feel like I need to like go walk around, or I just wanna go out for a walk, or I need to go for a run,” or whatever it is for you, start noticing when your body is like, “no, we wanna move.”
What we’re really looking for here is a discharge. For example when you’ve lifted weights or when you’ve gone for a run, and then at the end of your run you’re just like, “Ugh.” So just notice that that’s what we’re really going for. We want to move our bodies until we get to that sort of shift inside of ourselves.
I think the easiest thing to do is walking. Walk until you don’t feel like walking anymore. I am a walker and I’m not so much of a runner, but the last couple weeks I’ve been out on my walks and I felt like running a little bit. I might talk about this in a future episode, but I’m noticing more and more that I’m coming out of a freeze response, out of a chronic freeze where my body wants to live in the shutdown and the slowdown.
I’m noticing I have an urge to lift weights. I have an urge to run, like taking my movement up a level. So you might be a runner, you might really enjoy running. That’s always my first thing – Walking or running. Sometimes on my client calls, I ask if it’s available to them, and what I mean by, “is this available to you?” is, “do you want to do this?” and “how do you feel about actually doing this on our call?”
So I just have them pace around as we coach. If there’s a lot of active energy, that’s my ideal. Now, sometimes they say, “no, I don’t wanna do that.” And I’m like, “okay, that’s fine.” I’m not gonna force anyone to do anything they don’t wanna do. But that would be a more of an ideal where I work over Zoom, so that I can see your facial expression and your body language. But I can do phone calls as well. I just have to rely more on asking you questions of “what’s happening now, what is your body doing?” But walking and running are always my first thing. Just get up and move. Move around your environment. This is such a great idea. If you work in an office or you work from home, move about every hour, to encourage yourself to just take a lap or two around the kitchen, living room, around the office, whatever it is, to just move your bodies. Studies show that we really are supposed to be moving our bodies about every 16 minutes, and I don’t think most of us do.
That’s the first place I normally start, but it doesn’t have to be . Sometimes what will come up, and this has come up for me, is a trembling or a shaking sensation. We could just like let ourselves tremble or shake. I like to have my clients shake their hands or like just like shake out their arms and their hands.That’s another great thing to do if you don’t have a lot of space to move around. Even if you’re on a call or in a meeting, you can wheel your fingers or shake your hands under the desk.
The other thing that I recommend, I just recommended this to a group of my clients. We were talking about, when they couldn’t sleep. Somebody had mentioned, she struggles with insomnia, and she asked “what do I do? My brain says, just keep laying down and try to go to sleep.” So I asked, “What do you want to do?” And she’s like, “I feel like I should just like get up and do something.” And so I said, “well, why don’t you?” And that’s where we have all the messaging. “Well, it’s midnight and I really should just be trying to sleep and I don’t wanna wake anybody else up.”
So I said, “I understand not wanting to wake other people up, do you think you could get up and press against a wall as if you had to move that.” So this is something that requires core body strength. It requires us to engage our muscles. It doesn’t take very much space or time or noise to go press against the wall.
That’s another exercise you can do and I always recommend to like keep the connection with your body. Notice and really feel your muscles engaging until you feel that shift. Until you feel that like, “ugh, okay, I think I’m okay now. I don’t need to press against the wall and then keep going with whatever it is you’re doing.”It usually only takes one or two minutes, maybe less.
I mentioned this one before as well, screaming. We have lots of thoughts about screaming out loud for no reason. If you can allow yourself to do that, I say, by all means, do it. If you’re alone in your house and you are not worried about neighbors hearing you scream or anything like that, then just scream.
Now, I myself, that’s not available for me. I either can’t or I don’t want to. Some clients feel more comfortable getting a pillow and screaming into the pillow so that they just have that sort of added security of, “okay, nobody’s really gonna hear this.”
If that even isn’t available. You can imagine yourself screaming, or you can just do a little, “ha!” not letting the full scream out, but sort of going through the motions as much as you can.
Keeping the connection to your body
We’ve got walking or running, shaking, pressing into a wall, screaming out loud into a pillow, imagining it, whatever you can, whatever level you are comfortable with, really any form of exercise, lifting weights, yoga – Any kind of movement.
All of those things will help metabolize. Again, we want to keep the connection to your body, keep the connection to really feeling your muscles engage and looking for that internal sense of, “Ugh, okay, that feels better.” Those are a few exercises that you can use to help you discharge that active energy.
I wanna talk for a minute or two about that. That, “ooh, I feel better now,” which is what I would call the discharge. We’re discharging the energy. It’s sort of that let down, that relaxation and to notice that “just because they can doesn’t mean they are.” They can be representing a discharge of energy.
The first one is tears. When tears come up, when we cry, we’re actually discharging energy. Almost all of my clients feel embarrassment or some kind of insecurity around crying in front of me. It’s completely normal. I have also felt this in front of my family members or my coaches, but tears mean healing.That’s what I always think when I’m with my clients. Tears signify that something is shifting and changing.
The next thing is breath. If we sigh or yawn, those things can be significant of an active discharge. Back to my example of how I felt that heat. Heat can be a signal of active discharge. Vocalizing or screaming can be a signal of active discharge. But what we’re really looking for is that internal sense and It’s hard to describe sometimes with this somatic work. It’s kind of beyond words That sense of, “ugh.” And in fact, one somatic exercise I had my clients do in my group is the audible sigh.
When I did this in my group, many of the members said, “why does that feel so good?” And the reason why it feels so good is because, we’re holding back this active response so often without even realizing it. When we do that vocal sigh, it’s like letting something go. It’s coming back to calmness, getting back to that window of tolerance.
That’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for almost like, “oh, I like feel tired now.” It’s not necessarily tired, but just a surrender or a release of some kind. So it’s going to look different for everyone, but that internal sense of, “Ooh. Okay. I don’t, I don’t need to run anymore. I don’t need to walk anymore. I don’t need to cry anymore. I feel better.”
The book. Burnout by Authors, Emily and Amelia Naski. They are sisters. I just read it for the second time, I think the first time I didn’t finish it. It’s really great. Its a book about the stress response and how to metabolize stress on a daily basis.
They give lots of great hands-on tools to think about. They also kind of coach it in the context of our patriarchal society. The patriarchy. Ugh. But I do recommend that book. It’s a great book to read. I wish I could give you a link, but I’m not an affiliate of any kind but that book will give you lots of hands-on ideas of how to metabolize this act of energy.
So that was a lot. Today I spoke for much longer than I expected to. Yeah, just remember that we don’t always want to calm down and that there are healthy, appropriate ways to metabolize our active energy.