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What Digestion Can Teach Us About Emotional Regulation

This week, 'Therapy Begins with T(ea)' steeps on what our bodies can teach us about emotional 'digestion' and offers a full body check-in to practice mind-body connection using the stomach.

mind body connection

Therapy Begins with T(ea) is a weekly newsletter based on the themes that come up in my sessions as a therapist who specializes in conflict & attachment in romantic relationships, shame & imposter syndrome, and our psychological relationships with money. Each week consists of a 'steep' in thought reflection, an accompanying body based check-in, and tea card intentions for the week to come. Its intended use is for educational purposes only and is not a replacement for individualized medical or mental health treatment.

'Steep' in Thought (3-5 min)

Our Body's Second brain

We associate learning with the brain in our head, but our bodies have a lot to teach us if we let them. So, today, let’s talk about the gut, our body’s second brain.

Take the stomach, for example. Its biological function (along with the intestines) is to break down food and begin digestion -- keeping what nourishes us and letting go of what doesn’t. And isn’t that the way emotional digestion works too? How often have we swallowed something as true without first processing it? Shame works like that. Or dismissed uncomfortable feedback entirely without taking the time to see what we could learn from it?

We don’t let ourselves digest.

Digestion & the Nervous System

When we’re activated (anxious, stressed, fearful, angry) or shutdown (numb, detached, fatigued, depressed), our biological ability to digest is drastically reduced -- and so is our ability to digest emotionally because our body is exclusively focused on survival and conservation. We have to be in the right ‘state of mind’ -- or, more accurately, the right nervous system state -- to be able to do both. It’s yet another way our mind and bodies are so connected and yet another reason to work on nervous system regulation. So next time you’re dealing with a conflict or have a heavy emotion to process, start first by getting your body to a place of safety, groundedness, and presence. And if GI issues flare up, use it as a sign that you might be holding onto something emotionally that you need to let go of.

Try out this week’s full body check-in to deepen the connection between your mind and body through your stomach & nourish your nervous system.

Full Body Check-In (2-4 min)

We start with the breath. Feel the air flow in from your nostrils as you inhale and notice what happens to your body. What parts expand? What parts feel lighter? Heavier? And when you let go of the breath as a deep sigh, notice what happens to your body. What parts soften? What parts feel lighter? Heavier? Repeat that breath cycle for as long as you’d like to.

When you’re ready, tune your attention to your stomach/lower torso. Are there any sensations that you feel? Any emotions or thoughts that come up? Acknowledge them and let them be. Stay there, observing and connecting.

The way we physically consume and digest when we sit down for a meal is often a good indicator of how we digest emotionally -- do you describe yourself as someone who ‘inhales’ food? Are you mindful and unpressured by time? Do you pick at food, unappetized, and then jump into the next task of your busy life with a half-eaten plate? Take a moment to reflect on your tempo of digestion; breathing in, breathing out.

How does that translate emotionally for you? Do you ‘inhale’ your emotions, anxieties, and negative thoughts as objective truths? Do you push them away, distracting yourself with something else while emotional processing is left unfinished? Reflect.

On your next exhale, connect back to your stomach. Just as our stomach keeps what nourishes us and lets go of what is no longer needed, we also must digest in life. As you continue breathing deeply, try sending gratitude towards your stomach for this lesson.

Allow your stomach to be this reminder as you go throughout your week. Check in with it, especially when you notice discomfort. Listen to what it’s telling you.

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