Your breath is both a complicated and conveniently simple process that weaves together the communication between your body and mind. Linked to your nervous system, your breath has the capabilities of keeping you alive, soothing your body and mind and increasing energy. Your breath holds a wealth of resources for you. All you have to do is attend to it. Here’s some ways to access its usefulness.
Your body feels jittery and like you want to crawl out of your skin. Your heart races, your mind goes a million miles a second and you can't sleep. Sometimes, you just wish you could find a little peace - a little reprieve from this constant state of feeling charged up. Anxiety, social anxiety and panic are such difficult things to have to deal with. The good news is that there's hope and some sure fire things you can do to help calm your nervous system.
What grounds you?
Getting grounded, as in, feeling your feet on the earth rather than in your head - starts with your intention at the beginning of each day. The things that help people feel grounded can be different for everyone, so you need to find things that work for you. The first place to start is to think about what you can do each morning, upon awakening that will help you get centered and begin your day with a peaceful intent. Some mindfulness meditation could be helpful, reading from a daily book of inspirational readings, praying, doing some deep breathing, singing, chanting, walking or exercising in a mindful way - these are a few ideas you can begin with.
As far as inspirational reading goes, I personally like these two:
Whatever you choose to do to help you get grounded in the morning, make it into a ritual.
Our bodies find comfort in repeating the same actions on a regular basis. You will be teaching your body that every morning, you find peace through grounding and it will set you up to stay grounded and calm through the rest of your day.
Here is an example of a morning ritual:
- go to comfortable spot in home designated to meditation
- light a candle or incense
- drink warm lemon water
- read from daily inspirational book
- say a few simple prayers for help with staying calm through the day
- set timer for 5 minutes
- practice deep belly breathing for 5 minutes while focusing on flame of candle
- After breathing, spend 5 minutes making a gratitude list
- blow out candle and go for a 15-minute walk
Something as simple as this can really get your day off to a great start.
As you go about your day, when you notice your anxiety rising, come back to the breath you started with at the beginning of your day.
Feel your feet
This is a tip I learned a while back that always seems to help. As yourself "where are my feet right now?" and then look down at them and see them there on the earth. Wiggle your toes a bit and feel them moving around in your sock. Acknowledge that right now, in this moment, your feet are right there and they are safe, therefore you are safe. When you start to feel panic and your thoughts race, remember to ask "where are your feet?"
Reduce or eliminate caffeine
caffeine is addictive and it's very activating. If you are trying to eliminate anxiety, you might want to consider eliminating caffeine. Many people will say that they use caffeine to help them find energy throughout the day and keep them going. Well, it's a catch 22 because when we use caffeine, our bodies use cortisol to help regulate our adrenal glands. When we over tax this part of our systems, it leaves us depleted and more tired than we started. Therefore, if we eliminate caffeine, we may be a tired for a few days while detoxing, but after your body adjusts, you will find that you have more energy and that you sleep better.
Speaking of sleep
A large part of mental health when dealing with anxiety is getting a good amount of sleep. When we sleep, our bodies do a lot of healing. Our organs do their cleansing, our hormones rebalance and we are able to function more effectively during waking time. Also, dreaming is very important for our psyches to process material from our conscious and integrate it with our subconscious.
Here are a few tips on sleep hygiene:
- target bedtime for the same time every night
- eliminate all electronics from the bedroom
- reserve your bed for sleeping and sexual activity only - don't do work in bed
- if you are having trouble falling asleep, get up after 15 minutes and do something non-electronic for 15 minutes, then go back to bed and try to sleep again
- create a wind-down routine for the last hour before bed
For more information on sleep hygiene contact me at TiffanySpilove@yahoo.com
Anxiety reducing techniques
Here are some proven techniques to help your body and mind relax:
Tense and release
Tighten every muscle in your body. Start with your head. Tense up your face, your jaw, your eyes, your neck. Tense up your shoulders, your chest muscles, your stomach, your biceps, make fists as tight as you can. Tense up your butt muscles, your thighs, your calves, your ankles, your feet and your toes. Keep all these parts of your body as tense as possible and keep them tensed up for a full 60 seconds. Then release. This tense and release will help your body reduce anxiety symptoms.
Put one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Take a deep breath in and try to push your belly hand all the way out with the breath into your diaphragm. Inhale slowly to 4 counts, then hold for 4 counts, then release slowly for 4 counts and repeat. When you practice breathing slowly, it will help to slow down your heart rate, thus reduce anxiety.
Any kind of bi-lateral stimulation can help reduce anxiety. Here are some examples: walking, biking, shifting weight back and forth from one foot to the other, tapping your thighs alternately. Some others: drumming, swimming, scanning your eyes from one side of the horizon to the other, back and forth. The butterfly hug is an EMDR technique where you hook your thumbs together so that your hands form a figure that looks like a butterfly. Put your hands on your chest and tap alternatively around your collar bone area. This is a great way to self-soothe or find relaxation in times of stress. Here's a video on how to do a different version of a butterfly hug.
I hope you've found some of these tips useful. As always, if you have any questions or for more information, please contact me at TiffanySpilove@yahoo.com
What is PTSD?
According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders (DSM V), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is a cluster of symptoms stemming from exposure to an event that was traumatic. In an attempt to heal, our bodies tend to re-play upsetting memories until the memory can be resolved. PTSD can seem difficult to manage. PTSD symptoms include things like intrusive thoughts and flashbacks. While the key to healing PTSD requires more involved therapeutic interventions such as EMDR, there are ways to manage some of the symptoms to make life in between therapy sessions a bit easier.
What is a Flashback?
Jane, a 28 year old abuse survivor, was out to dinner with her friends. Suddenly, a waiter drops a tray of food and the sound carries through the restaurant. Jane hears the clattering of dishes and silverware hitting the floor. Her body believes she is back in the kitchen from her childhood when her parents fought and kitchenware broke. Jane crawled under the table, and ducked her head under her arms. When one of her friends reached out to her under the table, she flinched and apologized to her mother, reliving the childhood scene with her parents. This is one example of what a PTSD flashback can look like.
A flashback is when a person who has experienced a traumatic event, re-experiences that event in their body. Flashbacks can be so powerful, that the body believes that the event is happening to them in real time.
Anticipating a Flashback
While there’s no way to be able to fully anticipate when a flashback might occur, there are some preventative measures you can take.
Learn what your triggers are -
Scan your history with flashbacks and traumatic situations to see if you can find some themes. In the example with Jane, she experienced trauma in the kitchen with sounds of breaking plates and glass. You might notice that there are certain situations like restaurants, the beach, or the grocery store – that can be triggering. There might also be objects, sounds, smells or people that can set off a flashback.
Be Prepared -
Once you have a good idea of what your triggers are, see if there’s a way to prepare for them. In Jane’s example – she might decide to avoid restaurants or just loud, busy ones for a while until some of her symptoms decrease. She might sit with her back to the wall so that she can see what is happening around her in real time.
Practice Mindfulness –
You can practice mindful awareness by checking in with yourself regularly to see what you are experiencing in your body. Notice if any anxiety or dissociative sensations are heightened. Some people describe their PTSD symptoms as sensations of feeling floaty, spacey, leaving their body, spacing-out, zoning out, feeling overwhelmed, high anxiety or easily startled. If you experience any of these sensations, pay attention on a regular basis. These sensations are warning signals that you could be easily triggered when you are in this state. If you catch the trigger early enough, you can avoid a flashback.
What to do when you’re triggered –
Once you notice that you are in a heightened state of anxiety or dissociation, use some tools to stay in the present; in your body.
Tools for PTSD Symptoms:
(note: don’t use any techniques or tools you find triggering)
Use the senses – taste, touch, smell, sound and sight
Drink some water slowly. Notice the cool sensation of the glass on your lips, the water in your mouth and the sensation as it goes down your throat.
Hold an ice cube. The cold can help you stay in your body by bringing your awareness to your hand.
Light some incense – watch the smoke rise and coil, inhale the aroma.
Listen to music you find grounding. Pay attention to the words, tap your feet to the rhythm.
Play with Silly Putty or clay – notice the texture. Pay attention to the sensation of the clay in your hands.
Distract yourself and enlist friends to help you distract –
Try to think of as many baseball teams as possible. Take turns with friends in thinking of the names of all the teams.
Count backwards or say the alphabet backwards
Try to think of other categories such as names of movies, bands, TV shows, etc.
Ask someone else about how they’re doing
Get involved in a project like building model airplanes or re-arranging your closet. Something tactile that also involves thought is helpful.
Read an engaging book – this uses your sight, engages the sense of touch and distracts your mind.
When you’re thinking about where to put your shoes, your brain is less likely to slip back into a trauma memory.
To learn more about PTSD treatment, contact me at TiffanySpilove@yahoo.com