Recognize that your survival alarm bells are ringing and that the discomfort you’re feeling is your biology just trying to protect you. Then find ways to calm down and regulate your nervous system, to return to a feeling of safety and groundedness.
This can be done with another person who helps regulate you via touch (hugs, cuddles, sex) or emotional support (listening, acknowledging, validating, therapy), or by yourself using movement (challenging balance and fine motor skills, burning off excess energy) or other tactics (meditation, flow state activities, journaling, resting, napping, masturbating, etc).
Note: IMO, everyone should build up a diverse set of skills and tools for re-regulating your nervous system when your alarm bells get triggered, especially if you struggle with body image issues. This takes time, education, patience, and practice, but it’s sooo worth it so that you know exactly how to handle it to “come back to yourself” when you get triggered!
3. You don’t recognize yourself.
You’re feeling the discomfort of newness and foreignness in your own body. It can be weird and uncomfortable to get used to anything new, whether that something is new shoes, a new apartment, or a new town, but it’s especially confusing and alarming when it’s your own body.
It’s normal to experience discomfort when your body changes, and you haven’t had the time to get to know and connect with your new body.
Get to know your new body. Spend time gazing at it, tuning into the sensations of living in it, touching it, feeling it, and exploring it from a place of kindness and curiosity (instead of judgment). Seek to know and understand this new body you live in!
4. You’re fighting against negative somatic coding.
Due to the way we’re wired, we learn to associate specific physical sensations with specific meanings, a sort of shortcut key for living life that gets coded deep in our unconscious in its most basic form: safe/unsafe or good/bad.
As an example, if you cut bangs as a kid and everyone made fun of you for it because it looked terrible, you would likely have coded the physical sensation of having bangs on your forehead as bad, and feel self-conscious and uncomfortable whenever you feel hair falling across your face.
However, if you cut bangs as a kid and everyone went gaga for how cute you were, you would likely have coded the physical sensation of having bangs on your forehead as good, and feel confident and pretty whenever you feel hair fall across your face.
The same is true of different physical sensations associated with body shape and size. For example, you might have learned that the feeling of too-tight clothing is Very Bad, and now whenever you feel your pants a bit tight you feel shame and guilt.
Or maybe you learned that the feeling of a flat stomach in the morning is Very Good, and now whenever you wake up with flat abs, you feel successful, proud, confident, and worthy.
Identify the exact specific physical sensation(s) you’re responding to when you feel good/bad or comfortable/uncomfortable in your body, and if possible, where the somatic coding of it came from.
Then get curious about the beliefs or associations it’s connected with, and explore both the somatic sensation(s) and the beliefs/associations until what you need to heal comes into clarity, emotional energy is released, and/or the feeling becomes more tolerable.
5. You’re dealing with death work.
Breaking old patterns, or breaking the “rules” you learned to follow can feel like dying, especially the first time you do it. For example, the first time I ever went braless in public I had fifteen years of negative somatic coding (aka fear, shame, and tons of alarm systems screaming “DANGER!”) attached to the sensations of being braless in public.
I walked around that day in an absolute panic, desperately wanting to run away, disappear, or be swallowed up by the earth.
I felt like I was dying, or wanted to die, or that the whole world might suddenly explode because I had broken this one important rule. It was a level of discomfort I could never explain to someone who didn’t have my specific history of boobs, beliefs, fear, shame, and trauma. Going out braless got easier with each time I practiced, however, and now going braless in public is no big deal at all.
Learn to recognize when you’re dealing with death work; notice when your discomfort comes in the form of heart racing, sweaty palms, tunnel vision, lightheadedness, a major rush of adrenaline, hyperfocus, and a feeling of pending doom, a feeling like you might die, or a feeling of wanting to die or disappear.
Validate for yourself that this is normal and doesn’t make you crazy or weird, but that it’s just a natural side effect of breaking an old deep pattern or “rule” tied somehow to your survival.