Tame Big Feelings Through Body Scans

We make ourselves more vulnerable to being overwhelmed by big emotions when we seek to ignore or suppress our feelings. By bringing attention to our bodies, we can become aware of our feelings and thus gain control over those feelings.

Body awareness puts us in touch with our inner world, the landscape of our organism. Simply noticing our annoyance, nervousness, or anxiety immediately helps us to shift our perspective and opens up new options other than our automatic, habitual reactions.

Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score

One method to bring attention to our bodies is through the use of body scans. A body scan allows the individual to bring attention to different portions of their bodies by tightening on the inhale and relaxing those muscles on the exhale. The purpose of the body scan is to simply check-in with your body with a sense of curiosity, not judgment.

A few weeks ago, I asked my intern to conduct a body scan with a student who was struggling to manage his emotions after an incident online in which he had felt unsafe. My intern walked the student through the body scan procedure, starting by asking him to tense his feet and then relax, and then she had him work his way through to the top of his head. I spoke with his mother a few days later, and she expressed gratitude for this technique because her child told her that, “You can’t see it right now, mom, but I’m tensing my toes and then relaxing. I can do my whole body, and then I feel better.”

Giving individuals a new way of managing big emotions is essential.

For young children, this is an excellent body scan video:

Adults might prefer a longer and more thorough body scan, as in the video below:

You may offer to allow others to close their eyes, but it is important to remember that not everyone will feel comfortable closing their eyes; therefore, it should always be a choice.

If you would prefer to lead the individual through the body scan, you can find a 3-minute script at Mindful.