What to do when all you want to do is shut down.
I don’t have to tell you that life is a very “interesting” adventure. By interesting I mean everything from weird to painful to are-you-kidding-me to downright cruel. And sometimes all we want to do is make it all stop – to cut ourselves off from all of this “interesting”, stick our head in the sand, eat lots of chocolate and watch Netflix for the rest of our days. The general feeling is along the lines of “please stop this train I would like to get off now” and then the terrifying reality that actually, you can’t.
For years, shutting down was my main coping strategy. Can you relate? And it worked like a hot damn. Someone would say something mean, off I’d go into my dissociative fantasy land in the sky. Get a bad mark? Off switch activated. Death? Checking out now. Anything uncomfortable at all? Yep, gone. Well, you get the picture. It seemed like a great idea at the time and it was only when I started working with horses as an Equine Sport Therapist that I realized that it was actually a really dangerous coping mechanism.
Picture this. I head out to work with a bunch of horses after learning to massage their necks. None of the horses let me anywhere near them. And the more upset I get about it, the more shut down I become which makes them want to get away from me even more. Yep, disaster. And very few necks massaged.
My teacher and mentor Dave listened to my story and got right to the point. Alexa, he said, it’s time to teach you how to ground. And then he taught me how to “be a tree”. Yes, you heard it right. I started visualizing roots coming out of my feet wherever I went. In the car driving. While I was going to bed. When I got up in the morning. Ten or more times a day I became a tree. And what happened next was nothing short of miraculous.
First things first, I could actually get near the horses I was trying to work with. And they were loving it! But more importantly, I started to feel. For the first time in my life, I was actually in my body, feeling stuff. The good stuff, the uncomfortable stuff, the intuitive stuff. The whole meal deal. And it was really really uncomfortable in there. I had been storing away 23 years of junk after all, emotions I hadn’t dealt with, deeply engrained patterns I’d conveniently decided not to ever look at, trauma that was never processed. And up it came.
That was over ten years ago. The layers came off slowly at first. It didn’t help that I was hugely resistant and of course, prone to shut down and dissociation. 23 years is a long time. My head would take over and leave my heart and body to their own devices over and over again, all in an attempt not to feel the discomfort of what was being experienced. But, slowly and very surely, things began to shift. The horses helped, the animals helped, my friends and mentors helped. Practicing energy medicine helped. A gradual melting of the shut-down. A blossoming of the heart. A trust in my own capability to ride the waves of discomfort. The ability to feel deeply, experience deeply. And most importantly, I started to feel safe in my own skin.
What I realized through the journey is that shutting down is harmful, leaving our brain at the steering wheel of our life, which is really not a great place for this particular body part, contrary to popular belief. Optimally, the heart would be captain or at least co-captain for this particular adventure. When we shut-down we make the decision not to feel and our decisions, well, let’s just say they tend to be less than stellar. Oh, and did I mention the anxiety I almost didn’t realize I had? Except for the fact that it was often so overpowering that it couldn’t be ignored. Turns out it was because I didn’t feel safe. At all. But it was impossible to understand that without actually feeling. Yep, a bit of an issue.
So, to get to the point of this whole post, what do you do when all you want to do is shut-down? Here’s four simple things…
1) Breathe. I know I say this all the time, but that’s because it’s important! The breath is your ticket to being in your body, feeling stuff and being able to let-it-go. Yep, the secret is in the let-it go. Because the breath let’s us process our emotions and experience – that’s what it’s for. So take a yoga class, get some BodyTalk, do whatever it takes to be able to breath deeply. And just a hint, most of us have a range of motion in our breath that is pretty crap. It might be time to open that up.
2) Do a conscious micro-shut-down. Meaning that you get that you just need a breather from life, a little moment or five to catch up, relax and figure a few things out. The trick is to do it consciously – awareness is key. My fave micro-shut-downs? I watch an episode or two on Netflix, ride Diva, get a fave girlfriend on the phone, or have a delicious bath. That way I can still feel stuff, relax and have a breather all at once – sometimes we just need a little space for a few things to work themselves out.
3) Hang out with some horses. Seriously, if you need help knowing when you’re shut down or shutting down you may never find a better barometer. And yes, they kind of dislike it when you’re shut down because dissociated, ungrounded people make them nervous. Probably because we are completely cut off from our instincts and inner wisdom and are actively working towards feeling nothing and that is scary indeed. Any horse that acted like that would probably be kicked out of the herd. Why? Because they are a liability.
4) Have an energy work session. Ok, it’s a bit of a personal thing. I love energy work. And the stuff works. But, really, I am not invested in what you do as long as it works. Because your shutting down has a whole lot to do with the fact that your brain, rightly so, is terrified of opening up your veritable pandora’s box of emotions and craziness. Support around this process is not just a good thing, it’s vital. But it is so very worth it.
Alright, it’s really late and I need to get my butt to bed. But before I do, here’s my last little slice of wisdom. Life is so much better when you’re actually experiencing it, fully, deeply. Not just robot-style. And it might be a bit of a journey to get there, but it is so very worth it. You got this.
To your fabulousness and your fully alive-ness,