The effects of trauma can feel overwhelming and never ending and navigating through can seem impossible. There are some coping strategies that can help reduce the distress and help you move through the process. These include:
- Diaphragmatic breathing
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation
- Safe Place Imagery
- Mindfulness Practice
- 5 senses
1.Diaphragmatic Breathing: Note: If you live with a medical condition, consult with your doctor prior to beginning any type of relaxation training exercise.
When people are anxious, they tend to take rapid, short and shallow breaths that come from the chest rather than from the abdomen. This type of breathing upsets the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the body which results in an increased heart rate, dizziness, muscle tension and sweating. This signals a stress response to the brain which turns on our sympathetic nervous system – in essence kick starting the fight/flight/freeze response which can contribute to anxiety and panic attacks.
Deep breathing helps you either avoid the fight/flight/freeze response or helps you ‘switch it off’. By consciously becoming aware of your breathing and regulating its depth and rate, you can decrease the likelihood of experiencing heightened anxiety or a panic attack.
- Find a quiet place where you feel safe/comfortable. Lie on the floor or sit up straight in a chair with your feet squarely on the floor. Rest your hands in your lap or on the arms of the chair.
- Place one hand on your upper chest and the other hand on your stomach. Take a slow, deep breath in from your abdomen as you mentally count to four. As you inhale the hand on your stomach should rise up. The hand on your chest should not move.
- Hold your breath for two seconds and then slowly exhale through your mouth for six seconds. The hand on your stomach should fall back down slowly.
- Continue this 4-2-6 pattern of breathing for five to ten minutes until you feel relaxed. The more you practice this, the quicker you will feel relaxed with use.
2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Muscle tension is commonly associated with trauma, stress, anxiety and fear as part of a process that helps our bodies prepare for potentially dangerous situations via activation of the sympathetic nervous system. We may experience neck/shoulder pain, headaches, jaw pain or abdominal cramping. One method of reducing muscle tension is through a technique called Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR). In progressive muscle relaxation, you purposefully tense up particular muscle groups for a few seconds and then slowly relax them, paying particular attention to the differences in feelings between being tensed and relaxed. Once practiced for a few minutes, the parasympathetic nervous system comes online and induces a calming sensation throughout the body.
3. Safe Place Imagery
This can be based on a real place you have been to or an imaginary place in your mind where you feel safe and peaceful.
4. Practice Mindfulness
After a trauma it is normal to experience flashbacks and heightened anxiety. Grounding techniques help control these symptoms by turning attention away from intrusive memories and symptoms etc and refocusing on the present moment. Grounding techniques can include using your 5 senses to help you purposely take in the details of your surroundings, picking a particular colour and trying to pick out as many things in your surrounding area as possible with that colour, or choosing a category and naming as many items as you can in each one. Examples of categories may include movies, countries, cities etc. All of these techniques encourage your mind to stay in the present moment, therefore reducing re-experiencing symptoms.