Maybe not in the wilds of nature. But in the wild world of our feelings many unexpected things can go together. Look inside on any typical day and you may notice a swirling mix of emotions and body signals.
The limitations of language mean that we tend to talk about feelings as if they are linear—as if one feeling happens first and then another. But we know from our own experience that several emotions can happen at the same time—even seemingly opposite emotions. For example, we may be very sad when a relationship ends, and at the same time, we may be relieved. We may be really excited about an upcoming change, and scared too.
Along with a cocktail of emotions we can be experiencing a variety of body signals such as a tight tummy, dry throat, raised shoulders and clenched jaw. We may also experience a few involuntary gestures or movements such as blinking eyes, biting nails and jiggling leg.
This mix of emotions and body signals arises out of the interplay of body and mind. This is why using The Bears cards and Body Signals cards together can be so useful. The Bears, a set of 48 cards with expressive bear characters, is the go-to resource for talking about emotions. Body Signals consists for 40 cards featuring a mob of marvellous meerkats depicting body signals—the involuntary physiological responses of the body such as butterflies, trembling, blushing and goose bumps.
- Pick a card from The Bears that is you when you feel angry (or sad, or any other emotion you want to work with).
- How does the bear’s face indicate the emotion?
- Can you show me how your face looks when you feel that way?
- Now, can you pick a meerkat (from the Body Signals cards) that shows what else your body is doing when you feel angry? (It could be ‘clenched fists’ for, example.)
- Can you show me your ‘clenched fists’ now?
- Can you clench your fists even tighter?
- Can you slowly release your clenched fists now? Ask the person to clench and release a few times so they can practise choosing to unclench in the midst of anger. (Releasing the body signal helps release the emotion.)
- What other meerkats would you chose for what happens in your body when you have clenched fists and feel angry? These could be clenched jaw, staring eyes, tight lips—explore these body signals as well. (This strengthens ‘interoception’ or internal noticing and supports self-regulation.)
- Here is a fun ‘externalising’ technique to help people learn to regulate an emotion: Match up a bear (emotion) with a meerkat (body signal). Make up a name for the body signal. For example, an anxious tummy could be ‘Wormy Wiggles’. Then you can talk with WW and find out what would help. It can be very useful to work with the body signal rather than the emotion directly.
So yes, bears and meerkats can team up to support people in learning to identify and navigate emotions, as well as self-soothe unwanted body signals such as those triggered by anxiety.
By Karen Bedford