Anchor out of Flashbacks

If you have experienced a trauma and are struggling to cope with flashbacks and intrusive imagery/thoughts, please consider working with a Counsellor. In the meantime, try this to help reduce the intensity of the imagery and return to the present moment.

Note: this whole 5 step process can be done in a few minutes. Take some time to practice it in a moment of calm, so that you will have practice anchoring back to the present moment should a flashback intrude upon your day.

Acknowledge

The images, thoughts, memories, and physiological sensations that accompany a flashback can make you feel as though the trauma is happening right now. Acknowledge you are experiencing a flashback with kindness (i.e. “There I go again, this is a flashback”). Although this sounds simple, the natural tendency is often to push intrusive images out of awareness. However, suppression and denial just cause the imagery to come back stronger and more frequently. Acknowledge the flashback, and notice the emotions, thoughts, and physiological sensations that go along with it.

Even though I’ve listed using a mantra farther down in this article, often it can be helpful to use it when you acknowledge the flashback, because it helps establish that the trauma has passed – “It’s over”. And, the mantra can be repeated during the next step: slowing and following the breath.

Breathe

Take a deep, full breath in through your nose – one that you feel right into your abdomen – and exhale through your mouth.

When we feel out of control, our breathing also tends to be out of control. The experience of a flashback can cause emotional flooding, and can immediately trigger a change in our breathing: this might look like extremely rapid, shallow breathing, or breath holding. Both of these can lead to a shortness of breath feeling and can cause light-headedness, numbness or tingling in the hands or feet, dizziness, chest pain, and difficulty putting thoughts into words. These symptoms will exacerbate fear and anxiety, and can escalate a person into distress and panic. The breathing pattern itself can even come to trigger anxiety (for those who experience anxiety). In essence, they become caught in a cycle where anxiety brings on shallow breathing, and shallow breathing brings on anxiety. That is why slowing and deepening the breath is the very crucial second step here.

Rapid breathing and breath holding can amp the body up into a state of activation – but this capacity also means that we can harness the breath to shift the body into a settled place of calm. It is by slowing and deepening the breath that we learn to help our body out of activation. In fact, it’s one of the fastest ways to shift out of nervous system activation.

Try one of these tips if you are new to focusing on your breath:

  1. Focus on one deep full breath in through your nose, and exhale out of your mouth.
  2. Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your abdomen, to follow the in and out breath.
  3. Count to 4 as you inhale, pause for 1, count to 4 as you exhale, pause for 1, repeat

Anchor with your Senses

Your senses are an excellent way to ground you back into the present moment. Some examples include:

  1. Shuffle your feet, noticing your connection to the ground
  2. Move around the room,
  3. Get a glass of water,
  4. Wash your hands
  5. Choose a colour and count how many times you can spot it as you look around
  6. Listen to a favourite song

There are also more formal grounding strategies, such as 5-4-3-2-1. Some people have found a few exercises to be helpful, or even an invigorating yoga pose.

Use a Mantra

Mantras are statements we repeat to ourselves and which can have quite the potential to impact our attention, outlook, and mood. The sound or words of a mantra are simple and don’t demand a lot of effort. A mantra can be said aloud or silently, and is often most powerful when the words have meaning to you. It’s kind of like a tool for attuning your body and mind. A mantra can be used to increase our level of awareness and provide us with strength and focus, and even give us a sense of mental stability.

What mantra would you like to try? Above we looked at “It’s over, in this moment I am safe”. Some additional ideas include:

  • Safe and present
  • Right here, Right now
  • Just this one moment

Practice Letting it Go

In counselling, a safe space is created and emotion regulation skills are developed to assist you in healing from traumatic experiences. When you are alone, having the tools to move through a flashback and return to the present moment is essential. The final step in this coping process is to visualize letting it go. It won’t serve you to think further about the flashback, and may be even more distressing. You have acknowledged it, and by doing so you have recognized that a memory is still distressing. Work through it with a mental health professional. In this moment, practice visualizing letting it go.

To do so, as you exhale, imagine exhaling the whole flashback into a balloon. As you exhale, the balloon inflates. Then you imagine tying it off, keeping the memory safely inside the balloon. Picture extending your arm and releasing the balloon, to be taken away on the wind to be kept safe until you are supported in working through the trauma.

Every time the flashback comes back, use this strategy. Inhale deeply, exhale the traumatic memory into the balloon, tie it off, lease it for safe keeping.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you find this strategy useful. Focusing awareness using this 5 step anchor can shift thoughts away from flashbacks, racing thoughts, and obsessive thinking, and can bring awareness back into the present moment.

For more tips on shifting out of a flashback, check out Calm in the Storm: A Collection of Simple Strategies You Can Use Right Now to Shift Out of Anxiety

Lovers to Strangers

What’s cooler than seeing your book for sale on a bookstore shelf? Seeing it appear in a movie! Check out this short film by the very talented Director Chris Di Staulo: Lovers to Strangers, on Vimeo

Chris’ latest short film brings attention to the concept of love bombing.

New relationships can feel intoxicating at the beginning. You want to spend all your time with the person, getting to know them and enjoying their company. You still live your life as you normally would, while nurturing the new relationship and getting a sense of how this new love interest fits into your world. Healthy romantic relationships have a solid foundation of friendship (respect, trust, and kindness). 

Love bombing from a new dating partner can be hard to spot at first. It’s a manipulation tactic disguised as intense affection, charm, and desire. It’s used to gain your trust and love and leave you feeling as though you owe them something. Here are some tactics of love bombing to look out for:

  • Constant and intense compliments and praise and charm
  • Being showered with lavish gifts
  • Saying “I love you” very soon after meeting
  • Stating you are soul mates, that you are the only person who has ever understood them
  • Wanting commitment after only a few days or weeks of meeting
  • Constant phone calls and texts, to the point that you have little time to yourself
  • Demands a lot of your time, where you find yourself constantly changing your plans to meet their requests
  • Wants your full attention, and get angry or passive aggressive if you spend time on activities that doesn’t include them
  • Reacts with anger or passive aggressive behaviour when you implement healthy boundaries

A healthy relationship is built on trust, and that takes time to develop. There is kindness and patience, and your needs are respected similarly as you respect theirs. Listen to your intuition and go slowly in new relationships. Don’t lose sight of you, your interests, and your support network. If a new relationship feels as though it is moving too fast, and you are being made to feel guilty or are met with anger for wanting to slow down, there may be a manipulation tactic like love bombing going on. Turn to your support network, or reach out for help from a mental health professional. 

And in the meantime, please enjoy Chris Di Staulo’s short film, Lovers to Strangers – with a special cameo appearance from my book, Calm in the Storm, A Collection of Simple Strategies You Can Use Right Now to Shift Out of Anxiety.

Learn more about Calm in the Storm, A Collection of Simple Strategies You Can Use Right Now to Shift Out of Anxiety, at the following retailers:

Four Steps to Anchor out of Stuck Thinking and Deepen Self-Compassion

How often does the strong pull of anxious thinking lure you into its’ loop of incessant worry, what-ifs, and not-good-enoughs? Spending time on the thoughts that worry and anxiety drive you to think about isn’t the best the way out of it. In fact, thinking the thoughts that accompany anxiety often breeds more anxiety. We need a way out of those thoughts. One that calms our body and our mind, so that we can more accurately and compassionately deal with the experience. The RAIN meditation by Tara Brach offers just that. 

The RAIN meditation is an excellent way to steer out of anxious thinking cycles, deepen compassion and connection to self, and anchor back into the present moment. Take a moment and play with these 4 steps, to build self-compassion and step out of stuck thinking.

Recognize: Recognize the thoughts you are thinking, and name the emotion you are feeling.

Allow: Allow and accept the moment, just as it is. This emotion and experience doesn’t define you, and it will pass.

Investigate: Investigate with gentle curiousity, the felt sense of emotion. Scan your body, and notice what sensations in your body go with those emotions. Is there a negative belief linked with those sensations? Notice those thoughts and sensations with compassion for self. 

Nurture: Let your hand rest over your heart, allowing the experience to pass the way clouds pass after a storm. Notice what you need, soften your heart, and give yourself the kind words you’d offer a trusted friend.

Notice what happens when you allow emotion to be there, without suppression and without denial. When you let emotion be there, with gentle curiousity and the knowledge that it will pass, notice what starts to shift. Using this technique works because it interrupts our habitual way of responding to strong emotion and negative cognitions. With practice, the RAIN meditation can help you develop a new way to be with emotion, one that offers an exit strategy from stuck thinking and an anchor back to the present moment. 

Check out the full meditation by Tara Brach at: https://www.tarabrach.com/rain/

Shift out of Shame

Shame creates a lack of worth within us. It seeps into our body and our emotions, creating a psychological barrier through fear and disapproval and rejection – so why on earth are we using it against ourselves?

If you have been shaming yourself as a means to push towards a change you want, I hereby challenge you to try a different approach. Shame creates a shutting down response in the brain – and I want to keep your brain on-line, and help you achieve your desired change with compassion and energy and determination. There will be no shutting down here friends!

Where ever your inner voice of shame originated from, when you hear it rear its ugly head, acknowledge it for what it is (“Oh, hello there Shame”), and anchor into the present moment with a deep breath. What could you say to yourself instead, to start cultivating an attitude of acceptance and compassion? 

Not sure how to cultivate an attitude of acceptance? Check out the following list and do one item from it every single day. Or, if you have a strategy that works for you, share it in the comments so that we can all learn from and encourage each other!

  • Smile at yourself
  • Laugh at your mistakes
  • Acknowledge the efforts you make, no matter how small
  • Practice not taking things personally (Need help with this one? Check out The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz
  • Acknowledge that you aren’t, won’t, and don’t ever need to be perfect. Go on, exhale perfectionism and inhale “I am enough
  • Practice interrupting negative self-talk (try “There I go again…” and then anchor back into the present moment)
  • Move your body if you start to feel stuck in negative thoughts

You can not shame yourself into change – shame will serve only to deflate your energy and dampen your self-esteem. So what is the smallest thing you can do today to be more self-accepting? 

Protective Figure Imagery

The Courage, by Lora Zombie

The image feature in this article is titled The Courage. When you look at it, what qualities do you see? Power, strength, fearlessness, confidence, protectiveness, loyalty? For years I have had artist Lora Zombie’s work in my counselling office. Everyone asks about the art, and for many, the artwork is equally as powerful for them as it is for me. But when The Courage came out (the image featured in this article), I felt the need to share why I find some of Lora’s art so powerful.

When working with trauma in counselling, it is important for individuals to feel emotionally prepared. In EMDR therapy, preparation is done with information sharing and psycho-education, collaboration and transparency, and emotion regulation strategies such as distancing, containment, and resourcing. It is resourcing that I am going to be specifically talking about in this article. 

Resourcing, (also referred to as Resource Development, and Ego Strengthening), is about cultivating strategies that will enable clients to shift out of overwhelming emotions and also to connect with positive resources within themselves. It is the “secret sauce” in trauma work because in order to do the work, clients must be sufficiently stabilized and they must have some ability to regulate emotion

There are many strategies used to assist individuals in developing these abilities. One such strategy is about connecting, through visualization, with a protective figure. A protective figure can be real or imagined, and it is unique to each individual. When we connect with an image of our protective figure being ferociously protective of us, we take the time to notice all the qualities our protective figure possesses. We connect with the sensations in our body that shift as we connect with the image, the emotions, and the positive cognition that goes along with it. As we focus on the protective figure image, emotion begins to settle. What is really happening, is that we activating all those powerful qualities within ourselves. Not only does the image strengthen our ability to settle strong emotion, but it also fosters a sense of empowerment, and cultivates love and compassion

When we lack actual internal resources for processing trauma, the stored negative experience of the trauma can overwhelm our capacity for positive experiences, self-esteem development, and resiliency. Regulating emotion becomes very difficult. Once we have developed the protective figure imagery in counselling, we can later bring up the image in our imagination (in our mind’s eye), perhaps when feeling vulnerable, threatened, or fearful – even during trauma processing. The image becomes an anchor and a source of strength to be drawn upon during healing. (Please note: the resources used during the preparation phase of EMDR are unique to each client).

Lora’s latest artwork The Courage is such a beautiful depiction of the protective figure. I highly recommend it for any counselling space. Check out more of Lora’s work here: https://lorazombie.com

References:

Parnell, L. (2007). A therapist’s guide to EMDR: Tools and techniques for successful treatment. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Parnell, L. (2008). Tapping in: A step-by-step guide to activating your healing resources through bilateral stimulation. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, Inc.

Teal, A. (2018). Super resourcing: An integrative protocol for healing early attachment wounds. (EMDRIA Approved training)

Progressive Muscle Relaxation for Children

(Free PDF Printable Script Included!)

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Scroll down for free pdf

Having difficulty falling asleep at night is one of the most common symptoms folks I work with present with. Whether it is part of the anxiety they are coping with, the fallout from a stressful day, or a trauma symptom – not being able to fall asleep at night can be an incredible source of additional stress.

One technique that can help with settling down at bedtime is a type of meditation called Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR, for short). Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a relaxation technique that guides and directs focus on one body area at a time, first tensing the muscle and then relaxing it, to promote full-body relaxation (Anxiety Canada; Schwartz & Knipe, 2017).

This type of meditation has benefits that reach even beyond the bedtime routine. Helping children develop a habit of using PMR to settle can help with:

  • learning to relax chronic tense muscles
  • release patterns of holding the breath and taking shallow breaths
  • notice the difference between tense and relaxed muscles, in order to cue a relaxed state when the first sign of stress rises (a super helpful skill for kids who experience anxiety and need strategies to ease out of the anxiety state)

Remember Compassion for Distracted Minds
When learning something new, remember to encourage your children to go easy on themselves. It is normal to lose focus during PMR, and any meditation, for that matter. When this happens, remind your little one to gently return his or her attention to the muscle group, with kindness toward self, and continue on.

When Self-Doubt Rears it’s Head
Trying something new can be a little daunting for many people. It can even crack open the door for self-doubt to creep in. You know self-doubt, it’s that low voice that incessantly asks, “Am I doing this right?” or shuts you down with the louder “I can’t do it!”. Honour that little voice of self-doubt by using a guided PMR script. Check out the one attached, and stay tuned for an audio version.

PMR Script (printable pdf): 

 

Simple Skills for Big Emotions

Get ready to learn more about Live Calm Kids – the Online Version!livecalmkidsad

The year 2020 has certainly thrown us some unexpected twists! It sure has been challenging to stay on-top of all the latest news and rules. And balance in life – what is that?? I can’t remember the last time life felt balanced! Many of us have had to learn new ways of working, relating with partners and extended family, parenting, and yes – learning to spend time alone. It has been a tricky few months!

There are many ways we humans react to situations that feel out of control. Perhaps you have found yourself sleeping more, or indulging in vices more. Some folks jumped at their new-found free-time for home projects, health & fitness, academic supports for their kids, or their own educational/work-related pursuits. Change can stir up anxiety within us, even when the change is good. I have a formula for that:

Change = uncertainty = perceived inability to prepare = anxiety

Did you find yourself leaning into a new project or endeavour? To quote my favourite witty little snowman, “We’re calling this ‘controlling what you can when things feel out of control’.” (Olaf, Frozen 2). Whatever it is that you took on most likely helped anchor you. It gave your attention a focus and your mind a goal, which is a powerful way to settle anxiety during times of uncertainty.

So just like all of you – when things became uncertain and my work hours came to an abrupt halt, I funnelled my energy into a new project. Okay, there was an ulterior motive: my heart ached for all the people who were struggling with the pandemic, who were fearful, or anxious, or feeling isolated and alone. And I wanted to play a small role in brightening someone’s day. So, I took the content from my children’s group (Live Calm Kids) and turned it into a free YouTube series for kids on emotion regulation.

We are 6 episodes in, and I have been having so much fun sharing this content with everyone. Check out the links below, and feel free to share them with anyone you think might benefit from it. New videos will be posted each week!

Subscribe to the channel on YouTube, and get updates whenever a new video is posted.  Find it at: Live Happy Counselling with Susan Guttridge

Here are links to each episode:

Download the free summary sheet of here: SummaryofSkills

SummaryofSkills

I hope the videos helpful to the children in your life, and I would love to hear their questions or comments. If your children have any questions while watching, please feel free comment here (the videos are marked “for children” and therefore YouTube disables commenting).

All the best to you! 🙂

The Coronavirus and Me: The New Book by Ana Gomez

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Ana Gomez is a child therapist and an EMDR practitioner extraordinaire. With all the changes and stress we have all been trying to come to terms with, Ana wrote a book that can help us explain the virus to children.

Ana is offering pdf version of the book for free, because she is an amazing human! If you need help explaining what is going on in the world right now to the children in your life, please use this free resource. Ana invites you to share it with anyone you might know that would benefit for it.

Thank you Ana!

Click this link to access the pdf: AnaGomez_OysterandtheButterflyMar312020

Click this link to access the Spanish Version: AnaGomez_OysterandtheButterfly_Spanish

Click this link for a narrated Version on YouTube

Calm in the Storm – The New Book on Settling Strong Emotion!

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Before we can heal from trauma, we need to develop the ability to be with the strong emotions associated with trauma memories. These skills are taught in counselling, but what about all the folks that haven’t yet started up counselling? I have been working on that resource, and I am so pleased to tell you that it is now available!

Calm in the Storm is collection of simple emotion regulation strategies that can be used by anyone who experiences anxiety, panic, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress – to shift them out of intense emotion and back into a place of internal safety. The book is written in a way that can help folks develop a new relationship with emotion, one that lets them off that roller-coaster ride of emotional ups-and-downs, that enables them to feel more in control.  

When it comes to symptoms of anxiety and post-traumatic stress, we need to know how to regulate emotion – those are all those grounding and containment skills designed to bring us back to the present moment and enabling us to shift out of high motion. Healing the trauma or underlying reasons that spike us into anxiety is important, but folks need a starting point. This book is that starting point. It will ignite hope and spark a renewed belief in one’s inner potential. It isn’t meant to replace counselling, but the book is a great starting point for folks who need to develop some basic regulation skills before delving into trauma work with a therapist.

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“Once we discover the ability to settle strong emotion, the emotion itself becomes less frightening” – Susan Guttridge

Pick up your copy of Calm in the Storm today, and please check back and let me know which strategies worked best for you.

For sale now at the following locations:

 

 

Emergency Plan for Panic

The sensations of panic can either rise-up suddenly and out of the blue, or amp up slowly until they are in full swing and derail your day. When the full force of panic hits, it can feel so incredibly frightening, that every subsequent panic attack can often be triggered by thoughts of that very first one. This article will briefly outline the nature of panic, then move into emergency strategies to settle panic when it rises up.

This article is not an alternative to counselling. If you experience panic, please seek out a mental health professional to walk alongside you as heal and build the skills you need to live panic-free. And, while these ideas are shared as strategies anyone can use to settle panic, there are times when what we need most is a person to wait out the storm with us. If you are struggling to settle the strong sensations of panic, please reach out to a support person.

The sensations we so often associate with actually panic serve an important purpose. Panic is the intense side of a response that is actually very adaptive. Low levels of anxiety mobilize us to take action, to get safe from harm, and to be adequately prepared.

Perhaps you are familiar with the sudden flash of activation that sparks up in your body when a car suddenly swerves into your lane. That sudden activation that sparks up is exactly what enables you to pull your car to safety. It may take some time, but once we are safe that activation starts to settle. When it doesn’t settle, or when no event tends to trigger it, that is when we need to seek help. Click here to learn more about anxiety and panic.

Panic is about a Faulty Switch. When the sensation of panic hits us out of nowhere, or when we awaken in a panic, we are bombarded with highly activated body sensations and emotions, and our mind is often flooded with confusion.

The sensations of panic can include:

  • racing heart,
  • sweating,
  • shaking or trembling,
  • shortness of breath,
  • chest pain,
  • chills or hot flashes,
  • upset stomach and/or nausea,
  • dizziness or lightheadedness,
  • numbness or tingling sensations.

The sensations can feel incredibly confusing, and thoughts tend to spiral around “Why is this happening to me? There is no danger, I must be going crazy. Maybe I’m dying”.

When the full force of panic hits we need to switch gears, so to speak. Check out the strategies outlined below, and give each one a practice now. Then, should you find your self in panic, please turn to one of these strategies to shift gears back into emotional safety.

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Experiencing panic doesn’t have to be a life sentence. Please use the ideas here to interrupt the escalation of panic, in order to return to the present moment. Check out the resources in your community, or access a mental health professional for help stepping out of the pattern of worry, anxiety, and panic.

Let’s all keep sharing what works. Please use the comments below to share what works for you to navigate out of panic.

Resources: