Life is stressful. For all of us, life can be overwhelming, chaotic, hectic. To that, imagine that you’re a person whose experienced trauma, either attachment or event trauma. Imagine how this might affect your experience of the world. As a result of the trauma, you won’t feel safe, your nervous system will be activated daily, your body will feel like there’s always a looming danger. While your brain realizes no such danger exists, your body doesn’t have the same experience. This is an extremely effective safety mechanism. The human body has evolved to think of sticks as snakes, rather than snakes as sticks. The difference has kept people alive for millennia. While confusing snakes and sticks was necessary at some point in history, it is less so now. Instead, we now have to worry about actual and/or perceived threats from our surroundings, things like people, places, and thoughts, these are our snakes. And when we feel stressed, activated, angry, and irritable, our body is attempting to protect us; protect us from that perceived or real threat. This is the time that we “turtle up.” That’s when we feel protected and shelled. This is done by the vagus nerve. This is the nerve in the body that runs from our brain stem to every organ in our body, including our stomach. Knowing this, that it touches literally every organ in our body, gives us real control. What it means is that there are things we can do to help us calm our bodies when we feel overwhelmed.
Social engagement: Reach out to a loved one, a safe person, or a safe animal. Remember safety is relative. The safety of the person or animal has to be safe for you. Make eye contact with someone. Touch someone. Hug someone. And for that matter, hug yourself.
Name it: Naming your stress, threat, fear, anxiety helps to understand and calm.
Safe space: Find a place that is calming, that is safe, that is known.
Voice: Sing, hum, speak softly, chant, lullabies. Activating your vocal cords activates the system to calm.
Aroma: Whatever is calming to you. Things like the smell of your child, essential oils, and spices.
Breath: The power of breathing has been known for millennia. The best breath work is 4-7-8: inhale for 4, hold it for 7, and exhale for 8. The exhale is the part that calms the vagus nerve.
Listening: Listen to others, put down your things, and listen to what they say. Also, listen to music, any type of music that helps make you feel calm.
Posture: Standing or sitting straight sends signals of well being. 80% of the messages in our body run from our body to our brain. Doing things to our body can make us feel safe and, as a result, calm.
It’s not personal: our body feels under threat and remembering that this isn’t personal, but an unconscious response to a perception of a threat that is long-standing.