Today, we had professional development at my school and engaged in restorative justice work as faculty. The tension in the room was palpable as my colleagues shared some truly heartfelt accounts of their obstacles with our learning community. As I listened, I noticed my shoulders slowly creeping up towards my ears, my jaw slightly clench, and my heart start pick up speed.
Our bodies react, often without us realizing it, to environments that they perceive as threatening. Because our nervous system is tasked with keeping us safe, it is often scanning one’s surroundings, triggering a sympathetic “fight, flight, or freeze” response when it believes we are in danger. This can happen even when there is no physical threat, but an emotional one. Combine that with the presence of mirror neurons in our brain, that allow us to actually experience the emotions of others, and we can see how difficult meetings or classrooms can create ripples of anxiety throughout a group of people.
While sitting in this meeting, whenever I noticed my body start to tense, I consciously relaxed the areas that were straining. I gently lowered my shoulders, relaxed my jaw, and took a few deep breaths to signal to my body that I was okay. There was nothing to be afraid of. I could relax.
I invite you to notice when you have physiological reactions your colleagues or students and consciously scan through the body, inviting each part that is holding to release. Especially focus on the areas where you know you hold tension, whether it be the belly, fists, or forehead, and relax them down. Perhaps deepen the breath cue a parasympathetic response. Use the body to assure the mind.