The idea of bringing calm and peace to the mind and body is something therapists share across many therapeutic approaches.
Whether a therapist teaches you to manage your emotional trauma and pain through the practice of mindfulness meditation, somatic therapy, or Rapid Resolution Therapy, two important factors come into play: turning inward and utilizing the calming breath.
Let’s consider the value of both factors in subsequent blog posts.
In this first post, we will consider primarily the benefits of turning inward to meet your needs for healing from a traumatic experience that causes anxiety. The following post will explore calming breath as a way to support treatment for anxiety caused by emotional trauma.
Turning Inward: What It Is & How It Helps
There are two means for paying attention: turning inward and turning outward.
Turning inward has become a more integral part of mental health treatment for anxiety during the last two decades. It is a process of examining and increasing awareness of your thoughts and emotions. This is accomplished by tuning in to your body and observing your mental responses.
Basically, the goal is to train your senses to turn away from external stimulation. Various therapies can teach you to turn inward with techniques such as deep breathing and visualization to help you slow down and focus inside yourself.
Anxiety and trauma therapies that teach participants to turn inward may seem awkward or uncomfortable at first because they are less focused on externals or verbal sharing. However, as treatment progresses, the more safe, familiar, and healing your inner world becomes.
Unfortunately, this is not the way most of us live our adult lives. Instead, we focus outward for comfort, affirmation, and calm.
We’ve Forgotten How to Recognize and Resolve Our Own Unhappiness
Generally, most of us live in various states of distraction. We often multitask too much, exhaust ourselves, and miss the inner life that could actually bring us the most peace, pleasure, and happiness.
Of course, most of us do have the ability to turn inward, we’ve simply disconnected from the practice. Turning inward was natural and easy when we were children. We used to taste and delight in our favorite foods. We used to sink deeply into a sound and restful sleep at the end of the day. And we thoroughly enjoyed a familiar melody, a day in the sunshine, or pausing to think and daydream.
Back then, you were likely in tune with your own likes and dislikes, focused on what pleased you, and able to clearly pinpoint what hurt. You expressed your pain obviously and processed it before moving on.
Unfortunately, along the way, research suggests that we become trained to focus our attention away from our inner selves. Instead, we dive into everyday distractions, difficult relationships, traumatic memories, and ineffective coping behaviors, disrupting the deep connection we once had to our core feelings.
Fortunately, therapists and researchers are discovering how important it is to reconnect you to your internal life, even when treating emotional trauma causing anxiety.
What the Latest “Attention Research” Tells Us
More and more, science reveals how innovative therapies do us a huge favor by implementing inward focus and intentional breathwork. Even more intriguing, research has revealed that old ideas about how the brain helps us pay attention are no longer valid. In fact, studies have challenged and reframed conventions that compare brain activity as we focus inward and outwardly.
Exploration of attention in the brain leads this generation of researchers to believe that asking someone “to pay attention” activates the prefrontal cortex region of the brain only if the person is being asked to turn outward.
This is a big change from conventional thought.
For years, scientists believed that the prefrontal cortex was the brain region associated with all things related to attention. Interestingly, a collaborative study conducted by research teams at the University of Toronto suggested that this is not true. Inward attention is not a function of the prefrontal cortex.
Asking someone to direct attention inwardly requires therapy and guidance. That is because you are tapping into a lesser-used part of your brain.
What Does This Suggest?
To heal from the emotional trauma of sexual abuse, toxic relationships, and natural disasters successfully, interoceptive attention (turning inward) is vital.
When something terrible happens or an unhealthy relationship wears away at your self-esteem, your outward focus keeps your attention trained on the traumatic event and reexperiencing the negativity of it all. Thus, without therapy that helps you turn inward, your greatest avenue for resolving the stuck sensations, incorrect assumptions about yourself, and obstacles to your happiness might remain locked away inside.
Learning to turn inward is best accompanied by relaxation techniques and a calming breath as ways to access a safe place inside for healing and recovery from the anxiety trauma often causes.
In my next blog post, we’ll explore how calming breath aids recovery from traumatic experiences and anxiety. In the meantime, please consider reading more information on my approach to trauma therapy.