Got Big Stress?
Learn how to help yourself turn off your stress response
First things first: Take a deep breath.
When you are experiencing extreme stress or trauma, it is likely that your stress response, also referred to as your “fight-flight-freeze” response will be activated. When this happens, you may lose access to your brain’s “logic center” which impacts your ability to focus, concentrate and problem-solve effectively. You may also have trouble accessing your coping skills. The very first thing that helps is to calm yourself and help yourself return to a more relaxed state, so that your prefrontal cortex can come back online.
Here are some suggestions for helping you calm your physical and emotional experience.
Deep breathing: Inhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, exhale for 8 counts. Repeat several times. You can also breathe in deeply and release the breath with a big sigh. Repeat this process several times.
3-breath rest: Take a first breath and bring all your attention to how the air is coming into your body. Exhale and keep your attention on the breath. On your second breath in, bring your awareness to the tension in your body and on the exhale, release the tension. On the third breath in, think of something or someone you are grateful for and when you release your breath, send this gratitude into the space around you.
Move your body: Take brisk walks for at least 5-10 minutes. Get your heartrate up several times each day.
Make steady choices: Eat regularly (even if you don’t feel like it). Avoid excessive caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. Get adequate sleep. If you can’t sleep, allow yourself to have “awake mental rest.” Listen to music, or try a guided imagery or a simple meditation. There are many apps you can download to your phone to help you with this.
Take a self-compassion break: Notice when you are criticizing yourself, judging yourself for having a hard time, or comparing your functioning to someone else. Self-compassion researcher, Dr. Kristin Neffoffers this self-care mantra for you to help re-center yourself: “This is a moment of suffering. Other people feel this way too. May I be kind to myself.”
Find a self-soothing gesture: According to Dr. Neff another way to help yourself calm down is to use a self-soothing gesture. This can be as simple as putting your hands on your heart, rubbing your arms, or rocking back and forth. While doing this gesture, see if you can let yourself relax just a little. Talk to yourself in a calm and gentle manner.
Talk it out: Spend time with people who understand your deep upset and concern. As Dr. Brené Brown suggests, “Share your story with someone who has earned the right to hear it.” When able, listen to better understand others who have differing points of view. Witness yourself as you have these conversations and if your stress response becomes activated take a break. It doesn’t help to be talking with people when your logic center is off-line.
Make space for your emotions: Life is hard and includes a full range of emotions. It is important to see that every emotion has a purpose and often a message. Make space for your emotions. Witness, name, and acknowledge what they are. By noticing, naming, and acknowledging your feelings, you can honor them without getting swept up in them and acting out of them.
Find community: Limit time with people who need to debate, deny, or who are threatened by your experience. Build a connection network – people you can have authentic conversations with and get support from. Be intentional about spending time with this network. Make a plan and honor that plan.