At the beginning of my journey to healing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – I first learned how to manage symptoms.
There are symptoms common in these trauma-induced disorders including: anxiety, hypervigilance, dissociation, emotional dysregulation, re-experiencing symptoms – flashbacks (visual, somatic, emotional), intrusive memories.
One of the first aims in therapy – is to learn how to manage these symptoms. I know not everyone has access to therapy, so I share what I’ve learned.
The following are skills I developed and still use today:
A tool and coping skills in learning to control breathing, helps reduce anxiety, hypervigilance and helps during times of stress and overwhelm.
Why do deep breathing? Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness. Deep breathing relieves stress and anxiety due to its physiological effect on the nervous system. And deep breathing activates specific neurons that detect blood pressure. These neurons signal to the vagus nerve that blood pressure is becoming too high, and the vagus nerve in turn responds by lowering your heart rate.
- Get into a comfortable position, sitting or lying down.
- Relax your body, arms and legs as much as possible.
- Big breathe through the nose, for a count of 4.
- Hold for a count of 3.
- Breathe out through the mouth, exhaling for a count of 3.
- When breathing out, try to exhale as much air out of the lungs as possible.
- Repeat and continue for a few minutes, or as long as you can.
- Try to this as many times a week as possible, and utilise this while in stressful, anxiety activating situations.
- Practise and integrate this into your daily life and it will become easier over time.
- The more you integrate this, the more you automatically start to control your breathing at times of anxiety, stress and overwhelm.
There are great resources to help with this on YouTube. Phone apps are useful and I personally recommend Smiling Mind.
Grounding is a coping tool and skill for staying present in the current moment, and helps with dissociation, flashbacks and emotion regulation.
Using the 5 senses, we can ‘ground’ ourselves to keep the attention on the here and now. The following list is excellent from Living.well.org.au
- Remind yourself of who you are now. Say your name. Say your age now. Say where you are now. Say what you have done today. Say what you will do next.
- Take ten breaths, focus your attention on each breath on the way in and on the way out. Say number of the breath to yourself as you exhale.
- Splash water on your face.
- Sip a cool drink of water.
- Hold a cold can or bottle of soft drink in your hands. Feel the coldness, and the wetness on the outside. Note the bubbles and taste as you drink.
- As you wake, during the night, remind yourself who you are, and where you are. Tell yourself who you are and where you are. What age are you now? Look around the room and notice familiar objects and name them. Feel the bed your are lying on, the warmth or coldness of the air, and notice any sounds you hear.
- Feel the clothes on your body, whether your arms and legs are covered or not, and the sensation of your clothes as you move in them.
- If you are with other people, and you feel comfortable with them, concentrate closely on what they are saying and doing, and remind yourself why you are with them.
- If you are sitting feel the chair under you and the weight of your body and legs pressing down onto it.
- If you are lying down, feel the contact between your head, your body and your legs, as they touch the surface you are lying on. Starting from your head, notice how each past feels, all the way down to your feet, on the soft or hard surface.
- Stop and listen. Notice and name what you can hear nearby and in the distance.
- Hold a mug of tea in both hands and feel its warmth. Don’t rush drinking it, take small sips and take your time tasting each mouthful.
- Look around you, notice what is front of you and to each side, name first large objects and then smaller ones.
- Get up, walk around, take your time to notice each step as you take one then another.
- Stamp your feet notice the sensation and sound as you connect with the ground.
- Clap and rub your hands together, hear the noise and feel the sensation in your hands and arms.
- Wear an elastic band on your wrist (not tight) and flick it gently, so that you feel it spring back on your wrist as it
- If you can, step outside, notice the temperature of the air and how much it is different or similar to where you have just come from.
- Notice five things you can see, five things you can hear, and five things you can feel, taste, or smell.
- If you have a pet, spend some time with them. Notice what is special and different about them.
- Run your hands over something with an interesting texture. Describe it in your mind, as if you have never felt anything like it before.
- Get a sultana, a nut, or some seeds. Focus on how it looks, feels and smells. Put it in your mouth and roll it around, noticing how it feels. Chew it slowly and mindfully, before noticing how it feels to swallow.
From Very Well Mind – Using mindfulness for PTSD may be a good way of coping. Mindfulness has been around for ages. However, mental health professionals are beginning to recognize that mindfulness can have many benefits for people suffering from difficulties such as anxiety and depression.
People with PTSD may sometimes feel as though they have a hard time getting any distance from unpleasant thoughts and memories. They may feel preoccupied with and distracted by these thoughts. As a result, many people with PTSD find that they have a hard time focusing their attention on what matters most in their life, such as relationships with family and friends or other activities that they used to enjoy.
Mindfulness may help people get back in touch with the present moment, as well as reduce the extent with which they feel controlled by unpleasant thoughts and memories.
- Find a comfortable position either lying on your back or sitting. If you are sitting down, make sure that you keep your back straight and release the tension in your shoulders. Let them drop.
- Close your eyes.
- Focus your attention on your breathing. Simply pay attention to what it feels like in your body to slowly breathe in and out.
- Now bring your attention to your belly. Feel your belly rise and expand every time you breathe in. Feel your belly fall every time you breathe out.
- Continue to focus your attention on the full experience of breathing. Immerse yourself completely in this experience. Imagine you are “riding the waves” of your own breathing.
- Anytime that you notice your mind has wandered away from your breath (it likely will and this is completely normal!), simply notice what it was that took your attention away and then gently bring your attention back to the present moment—your breathing.
- Continue as long as you would like.
Safe Place Visualisation
This a tool, skill that can help us when we are feeling unsafe, and is often used as preparation for EMDR therapy, but can be used at anytime and helps create an ’emotional sanctuary’, when experiencing times of stress and emotional overwhelm, anxiety and help recover stability.
How I learned to have a ‘safe place’ in my mind:
- First, I had a to pick a place that I would feel safe, this could be a real or imaginary place, somewhere I would feel safe.
- I picked an imaginary one, an island, where it is warm, where there are no people, just me sitting on a beach, watching the waves and feeling the sand, feeling the sun. It is peaceful, no-one can approach me, it is my ‘safe haven’.
- I know a friend of mine has her therapists office as her safe place, and different people will want to pick somewhere that really relates as ‘safety’ to them.
- Once a ‘safe place’ has been decided, then you sit, in a relaxed position and just focus on that safe place, focus on the feelings you would have – in my case – the sun, it’s warm, it’s peaceful, what can I hear, what can I see.
- I think about the waves lapping the beach, I think about the sand I can feel with my hands, I look in the blue sky to see the birds flying etc.
- Focussing on this safe place, is like a mindfulness exercise – it takes your mind away from the unsafe thoughts being experienced – to a safe place.
- If your mind starts to wander, just gently bring it back, to the safe place and start to think again about what you can see, what you can feel, what is around you etc.
This is also helpful Visualizing-a-Safe-Place.pdf
Advice I always give to survivors of trauma, is to have self compassion and patience and this applies to learning the above skills.
They take time and it’s not an ‘overnight’ tool box, as it takes a lot of practise and dedication to developing them, but it worth it.
Add these skills to your tool box and you will see an improvement in your quality of life and a reduction in severity of symptoms.
For more information on PTSD and Complex PTSD, please see my Website @
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~ Lilly Hope Lucario
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