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Anyone who has ever dealt with trauma can tell you that the worst moments are when triggers hijack our brain causing anxiety that makes it nearly impossible to function. When you get stuck in fight, flight, or freeze mode it can be really hard to get back into your rational brain. And the best part is that anything can trigger these episodes! Here are five techniques to help you deal with your out of control brain when you are dealing with trauma and/or anxiety.
1- Identify Your Trigger
It’s hard to know what to do if you don’t know what you are dealing with. Often we can feel anxious or triggered without really understanding exactly why. Sometimes we don’t even realize that a triggering moment is building up until it overwhelms us. Learning to recognize what a trigger feels like for you then follow it down to identify what caused it is crucial to being able to master your brain and control it. For me I notice that my shoulders and neck get tense, and my heart starts beating faster. I will start to breathe faster and shallower. If I am in a conversation my speaking will pick up speed and frequently raise in volume as well. In extreme cases my hands will shake and my right arm and hand will get numb and tingly. I also often experience brain fog, where I can’t seem to string two words together into a coherent thought. When I start to notice any of these symptoms I try to take an immediate self assessment and identify what exactly is triggering me. One simple technique to identify triggers is to take a deep breath then say, think, or write the first word(s) that come to your mind.
2- Get Out
Once you have identified your trigger the first step is to get away from it if at all possible. That may mean turning off a show or movie, walking away from a conversation, or even just putting on some noise cancelling headphones. In some cases it may mean limiting your contact with certain people or places that you know will be a problem for you. It is much easier to deal with your triggers if you can get to a calm quiet space far away from outside influences and distractions. Sometimes I hide in my bedroom or the shower. When my husband is the main source of my triggers I have to take a break from being with or speaking to him.
3- Ground Yourself
Once trauma brain takes over the challenge is to get yourself back into your logical brain. One of the best ways to do this is by grounding all of your senses in the real world. Sit or stand straight, plant your feet, take a deep breath then do the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 senses check-in. Name 5 things you see, 4 things you feel, 4 things you hear, 2 things you smell, and 1 thing you taste. If you can’t identify that number then just move on to the next thing. The key is to get all five of your senses involved to place you securely in the real world. Many women choose to have a trauma box they can use for their grounding. For example they may have a soft piece of fur or silk, a couple of pieces of chocolate, a favorite essential oil, an mp3 player of favorite music, or any other pleasant thing with which to engage their senses. One friend of mine has a large soft microfiber blanket that she can literally cocoon herself in as she runs through her grounding exercises.
4- Breathing Exercises
Once you are grounded in reality then it’s time to calm the body. Breathing exercises are the quickest way to take control of your mind and force your body to slow down. Place one hand on your heart and the other on your belly or forehead. Breathe in deeply for five seconds then exhale forcefully with a sigh. Do this a few times then switch to lions breath. Put your hands on your knees or down to your sides. Clench your fists and as you inhale raise your shoulders tensing your body. When you exhale stick out your tongue, roll your eyes up to the top of your head, splay your fingers wide and huff out forcefully. I dare you to do this without giggling!
5- Do Something You Love
Hopefully by this time you are feeling more grounded. Now it’s time to do some self-care to solidify your foundation. This can be any thing you love. Art journaling, writing, listening to music, do yoga, go for a walk, take a bath or shower, eat a healthy meal, talk to a friend; he options are endless. Anything that fills your bucket and makes you feel safe and secure.
Thank you! This is some amazing advice. I especially love the different essential oils blends to use.