How to deal: Bringing yourself back when you’ve been triggered
We all go through difficult, painful experiences but there are some that stay with us, quite literally in our brains. These ones stay beyond the usual couple of months and can cause great distress. Perhaps you have dreams about them, flashing images unexpectedly or perhaps you avoid anything that reminds you of that experience. We call these traumas and i'd always recommend seeing someone if you are experiencing these symptoms. Especially if they are impacting on your life.
But in the meantime, how do we deal with the difficult lasting effects of something we want to forget…..
One of the most important skills I have taught is to ground yourself. This is a term that gets used quite a lot now but the true meaning of it is to bring yourself back to the present. The thing about trauma or distressing memories is that they can pop up right at the forefront of your mind when you are not expecting it. They cause us to separate from our reality, sometimes for a few moments and sometimes we can feel ‘zoned out’ or distant for hours. The aim of grounding is to pull yourself out of the memory so that you can reduce the difficult emotions that pop up at the time you may be having the memory of the experience again.
If you find yourself having any distant moments this is a good way to manage them but before we go through that, here is a list of common ways to tell if you are re-experiencing or remembering something distressing:
Physical symptoms such as nausea, heart racing, shortness of breath, not typically on its own it normally comes with one or more of the other symptoms on this list.
Sudden memories in the form of sounds/images/ thoughts of the event that occurred, often these can replay as if there is a film in front of you or you can feel you are actually back there in that time.
A feeling of fear/ panic.
Feeling as if your surroundings aren’t real/ sense of being distant from your current experience- hearing those around you but not feeling close to it.
For more detailed diagnostic symptoms of trauma check out: www.nhs.uk or www.mind.org
If the above starts to happen try your best not to panic, you are ok, you will be ok.
For now it's about bringing yourself back and keeping yourself safe emotionally and physically:
Check your surroundings.. are you somewhere safe, can you get to a place where you feel safe to focus on your breathing ( this could be going to the bathroom, moving away from a crowd, somewhere quieter).
If you are with friends try to let them know where you are going or take your phone so you can contact someone.
Focus on the physical around you -take in the visual- that you are somewhere different from your memory, you are in the current, the NOW. Now bring your mind to that physical sensation- you are safe, you are ok – say these things to yourself in this moment.
If you can hold on to something, your chair, a handrail, the sink- ideally something that is solid and can make you bring your attention to it.
Take 3 long, slow breaths- this is important, focus on the OUT breath, breath in a little or a lot but make sure you breathe out for longer than you breathe in… So breathe in 1.2.3, out 220.127.116.11.5.6 - this way you are ensuring you don’t go lightheaded and slow down your nervous system. Do this until you feel your heart rate slow, and can really hear and feel that your breathing has slowed.
When you start to slow down, MOVE. Move your body, this can mean standing still and lifting up your arms, moving your feet on the spot, focusing on the sensation of moving. You could walk around the space you are in or you could go outside and go for a short walk.
You need to bring your mind and emotions back to the NOW and the best way to do that is to imagine yourself as having floated away, outside your body and that its time to come back… Imagine you are coming back to earth that you are re-entering your calm body and that you are routing yourself to the earth through your feet.
Now once you have physically and mentally brought yourself back to this
moment remind yourself you are safe, you are no longer in that memory or that experience. Then do something that is KIND, go get a hot drink, take a
break, read a magazine, call a friend, have some chocolate.
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