When you have experienced trauma, especially trauma from childhood, you can find yourself triggered into feeling overwhelmed and into innate fight, flight and freeze responses.
When a person is overwhelmed they can become either hyper-aroused, (agitated, shaking, sweating or raise their voice) or hypo-aroused, which is experienced as emotional numbing, zoning out or “shut down”. Both are trauma responses and people with trauma histories can move between being hyper-aroused and hypo-aroused. The following tips may help support you if you become agitated, anxious or are feeling overwhelmed. Not all of them will suit everyone; some may not be helpful.
Therese Borchard, describes herself as a highly sensitive person: “I’m easily overwhelmed or over-aroused. As such, I am always looking for ways to calm down. Here are some tips and tricks I’ve learned to take the edge off.” Many survivors are easily overwhelmed too. That’s why some of these tips might be useful.
Borchard has compiled these techniques referring to the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program Lauren Brukner’s book “The Kids’ Guide to Staying Awesome and in Control” (but they work for adults, too) and Elaine Aron’s book “The Highly Sensitive Person”.
Ways to be Calmer - Article Breaking Free June 2018
1. Using your thumb to massage your palm can be soothing
What’s great about this activity is that you can do it quietly sitting at your desk or in a café with other people. No-one will notice. Simply use the thumb of one hand and press around the palm of the other hand. Doing this can be very soothing for some.
2. Pushing your palms together can help reduce stress
By pushing your palms together and holding for 5 to 10 seconds, you give your body “proprioceptive input,” according to Brukner, which “lets your body know where it is in space.” While this can be helpful if you are stressed, sometimes if you are emotionally numb and zoned out it can be hard to get in touch with your body. You might need to use movement or other techniques to become aware of your surroundings and to ground yourself in them.
3. Closing your eyes can provide a much-needed break
80 percent of sensory stimulation comes in through the eyes, so shutting them every now and then gives your brain a much-needed break. Some people who are stressed or sensitive can feel calmer if they can stay in bed with their eyes closed. You don’t have to be sleeping. Just lying in bed with eyes closed allows for some chill time.
4. Sighing can help you be present
Breathe in to a count of five through your mouth, and then let out a very loud sigh. Small sighs can help to adjust your energy level and focus. Just to note that many survivors can struggle to be fully present in the moment, so this might be difficult or not helpful for you at this time.
5. Doing this monkey stretch can help release tension
In this exercise, you bring your hands (arms extended) in front of you, then bring your arms down. Then you bring your arms (still extended) to your side, and then down. Finally you bring your arms all the way past your head and then swoop down, with your head dangling between your knees, and you hang out there for a second. This exercise can help release the tension we hold in different parts of our body.
6. Giving yourself a quick hug can help lift mood for some people
Did you know that a 10-second hug a day can help change biochemical and physiological forces in your body and for some people, can lower the risk of heart disease, combat stress, fight fatigue, boost your immune system, and ease depression? You can begin by giving yourself a hug. By squeezing your belly and back at the same time, you are again giving yourself proprioceptive input (letting your body know where you are in space), says Brukner, which can help stabilize you. Sometimes if you are zoned out it can be hard to get in touch with your body like this. You might need to use movement or other techniques to become aware of your surroundings and to ground yourself in them.
7. Pushing up against a wall can help calm some people
If pushing up against the wall with flat palms and feet planted on the floor for 5 to 10 seconds can be very calming — placing the weight of our body against a solid, immobile surface and feeling the pull of gravity can be stabilizing, even on a subconscious level.
Ways to be calmer when you are overwhelmed
8. Some people find taking a superman pose calming and strengthening
You lie on your belly on the floor and extend your arms in front of you. At the same time, you extend your legs behind you and hold them straight out. Hold that pose for 10 seconds. This may help if you are feeling foggy, overexcited, distracted, or antsy.
9. Trying to shake it off can help reduce fear for some
Did you know that animals relieve their stress by shaking? Lots of animals like antelopes shake off their fear after being frozen in panic to escape a predator. You might try a shaking action to see if it helps.
10. Inhale deeply for a relaxing bubble breath
A bubble breath is simple and can be calming. Here’s how to do it:
Breathe in for five seconds, out for five seconds.
Imagine you have a wand with a bubble on it. When you breathe out, be careful not to pop the bubble.
Place one flat palm on your heart, one flat palm on your belly.
Breathe in through your nose and hold your breath for five seconds.
Breathe out a large “bubble” through pursed lips, blow out for five seconds. Again, this can help some people but is not for everyone.
11. Use a few drops of lavender essential oil
There are different theories as how and why lavender oil can help to calm some people down. Some scientists believe that lavender stimulates the activity of brain cells in the amygdala (fear center) in a similar way to some sedatives. Others think molecules from essential oils interact in the blood with enzymes and hormones. Research backs its soothing results. A study published in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine measured the responses of 17 cancer hospice patients to humidified essential lavender oil aromatherapy. Results reflected a positive change in blood pressure and pulse, pain, anxiety, depression, and sense of well-being. Lavender oil is also used by some people to help them sleep.
12. Use Water
“Water helps in many ways,” writes Aron. “When over aroused, keep drinking it — a big glass once an hour. Walk beside some water, look at it, and listen to it. Get into water if you can, for a bath, shower or a swim. Hot tubs and hot springs are popular for good reasons.”
13. Music can help heal the body, mind, and soul
From the earliest days of civilization, music has been used to heal the body and soul, and to express what is difficult to articulate in words. Victor Hugo once said, “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” Therapists have tapped into the healing power of creative lyrics and the composition of notes to design music therapy programs for people struggling with depression.
14. Try the four-square breathing exercise for anxiety
A final breathing exercise to try is the “Four Square,” which many use to help reduce anxiety:
Breathe in slowly to a count of four.
Hold the breath for a count of four.
Exhale slowly through pursed lips to a count of four.
Rest for a count of four (without taking any breaths).
Take two normal breaths.
Start over again with number one.
If you have some tips on how you calm down that you would like to share with our readers please write to [email protected]
This is an abridged version of the article that was originally published here:
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program
- Lauren Brukner’s book “The Kids’ Guide to Staying Awesome and in Control” (but they work for adults, too)
- Elaine Aron’s book “The Highly Sensitive Person”.