Mindful Parenting · Trauma Therapy

Returning to the Present Moment in 5-4-3-2-1

The strategy I’d like to share with you here is helpful for shifting out of strong emotion. It is considered a “grounding strategy”. Being ‘grounded’ simply refers to the notion of being emotionally and mentally present in the here and now.

Known as 5-4-3-2-1, the underlying technique here originates from trauma therapy. It is used to help individuals be present in the moment: it can slow racing thoughts, stop flashbacks, minimize addictive cravings, ease ruminating, and lessen anxiety. And, it is incredibly easy to learn and apply. If you catch yourself and your child/teen arguing and the situation seems to only be escalating, excuse yourself for a few minutes (just say you need a few minutes to calm down), and use this technique to ground yourself so that you can return to the present situation. In your mind (or out loud if you are alone), focus on the following things in great detail:

  • 5 things you can see (such as different colours, or items in the room you are in)
  • 4 things you can touch (such as things you can physically feel with your hands, or feet, or the temperature),
  • 3 things you can hear (listen carefully!),
  • 2 things you can smell, and
  • 1 thing you can taste

This grounding strategy can help you to shift your focus away from internal, emotional experiencing, to external distraction (the trick is to get out of your head and into the present moment!). Focus on external details as you talk through the sequence. Notice your breathing will slow from when you first begin the strategy to the time you complete it. Allow the the full cycle (from 5 down to 1) to take a few minutes; take your time and truly allow yourself to be distracted from your inner chatter.

Try this strategy if you find that you are feeling over-whelmed, emotionally flooded, or even just very spacey and not able to focus. Once you complete the cycle, check in with your inner processing and try again to resolve the situation with your child/teen.

This article was originally posted on October 20, 2010, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge

Mindfulness · The Process of Therapy · Trauma Therapy · Uncategorized

Living Life: Even on the Tough Days

On the darkest of nights, when there seem to be no options – no solutions to the despair you feel, how will you find your way? When it seems like there is no hope left, will you hold out hope for your own fire?

I’d like to write about suicide, and the option that takes just the tiniest spark of hope: living.

Ask 10 people for their thoughts on suicide, and chances are you will receive 10 completely different responses. Suicide is a word packed with 100 times more emotion than syllables. And even in sitting down to write about it today, I had to wait for the whirl of emotions to slow before I could hear the one constant resounding  thought: I value life. 

I value life.

I didn’t always though. I was once an impulsive and shy kid with few friends, the target of ridicule by classmates – once or twice even by teachers. I knew rejection. I knew loneliness. I even knew the pain of grief when cancer claimed my mother . I knew feeling directionless. Feeling unsure of myself. Of having no one to turn to who would truly have my back.

One day, during my Masters degree training, I took a class on suicide risk and intervention. After learning crisis intervention and theory, we were required to demonstrate our suicide intervention abilities by role playing client and clinician. When it was my turn to play the role of the ‘client’, I  harnessed those many years past from my youth, when living another day felt unbearable. And while I could still acknowledge the pain of those days, I could barely get the words out in order to “act” suicidal in the moment. And that was when it dawned on me: I value life. I could not even pretend for one moment that I didn’t want to be alive.

I have bad days and sad days. I have lonely days and grumpy days. But I also have good days and joy-filled days. I have peacefully quiet days and blissfully calm days. I have days when I feel invisible but I have so many more days when I love and value myself. The thoughts and emotions that awaken thoughts of suicide are a signal that you are in pain. That you are hurting and feel powerless to create change yet that you desperately need to create that change in order to be ok. Sometimes it might feel as though that change is impossible. Sometimes it might feel as though the energy required to act on creating that change is just too much. So what can you do?

We need to get out of our own heads. The view one takes of the world when feeling depressed or anxiety-ridden can become a habit and can breed more thoughts that are characteristic of depression or anxiety. We need to really look at the people in our life and ask the tough questions. We need to turn towards the people who care and we need to let them care. We need to be kind – even to ourselves. We need to listen. We need to be present. And in doing so, we can ignite the tiniest spark of hope to keep going, to find your fire – because this life really can be good.

If you are feeling suicidal, please reach out for help. Call, text, email, talk. You have more worth than you know.

If there isn’t someone you can talk to, or a Crisis Line in your area, check out The LifeLine App in the App Store.

SG blog

 

Trauma Therapy

Healing Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress

The experience of trauma can come from any event which stresses the nervous system or drains our emotional (psychological) resources. Being “traumatized” often refers to the symptoms a person might experience after the event. These can include:

  • anxiety and dysphoria (uneasiness, depression, restlessness)
  • emotionally-based problems (such as irritability and detachment from relationships)
  • intrusive re-experiencing (unwanted memories and reminders, “flashbacks”)
  • avoidance of the unwanted memories and reminders
  • hyperarousal (jumpiness, easy to startle)

Individuals experiencing a life-threatening (or perceived to be life-threatening) event sometimes experience post traumatic stress. Symptoms of post-traumatic stress include:

  • hypervigilance
  • flashbacks (reliving)
  • dissociation

Falling into the anxiety disorder category, post-traumatic stress is considered to be a psychological reaction to experiencing a life-threatening event. The traumatic event usually involves actual death or a sense of impending death/serious injury to one’s self or others.

Traumatic events leave the mind and body in shock. In the aftermath of the experience, we start to make sense of what happened and we begin to process our emotions and reactions. Individuals with post-traumatic stress remain in psychological shock. In order to move on from the experience, we need to look at the experience, and face those memories and emotions. As the famous poet Robert Frost said, “The only way out, is through it”. However, the way in which we look at it needs to be gentle and moderated. Contemplating the entirety of an upsetting situation will only leave us raw and emotionally flooded. We need to look at it in bits are pieces, while taking care to resource ourselves.

Click here to read more about post-traumatic stress and complex post-traumatic stress on my website.

I choose to believe that post-traumatic stress is not a life sentence. I believe that by working with the thwarted energy in the nervous system and creating regulation, we can process the traumatic material and start creating healing. The therapeutic approach I am speaking of is Mind-Body Attunement Therapy (MBAT). Developed by psychologist Kevin Miller, MBAT is based on the self-regulation therapy of research and therapist Peter Levine.

Some great books by Peter Levine include:

Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, The innate Capacity to Transform Over-whelming Expereinces (1997), by Peter Levine and Ann Frederick

In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness (2010), by Peter Levine and Gabor Mate

Trauma-Proofing your Kids: A Parent’s Guide for Instilling Confidence, Joy, and Resilience (2008), by Peter Levine and Maggie Kline

Trauma Therapy

About Mind-Body Attunement Therapy

Mind-body attunement therapy (MBAT) is rooted in the science of neurobiology. This fundamental underpinning sets MBAT apart from other therapies, which tend to be rooted in theory. It is an attachment and trauma focused therapy. Mind-body attunement therapy addresses the essential role played by the body, and the experience of emotions in the body. Peter Levine, a pioneer in the field of trauma theory and self-regulation therapies, explains that an incredible imprint is left in the nervous system when a person experiences a traumatic event. When faced with life-threatening danger, our human tendency is to fight, flee, or freeze. Our bodies generate an amazing amount of life-preserving energy. If our physiological response to that danger is somehow thwarted, such as when the danger is over-whelming and we freeze, this energy remains “stuck” in the nervous system. 

Mind-body attunement therapy thus is a body therapy, which works with the experience of emotion in the body (the “stuck” energy in the nervous system). There are basically two “jobs” that we want to accomplish in therapy to create a healthy nervous system. The first is to resolve unprocessed emotional memories that remain locked in the nervous system. These tend to get activated frequently (you likely know they are activated because you react with a high level of emotion which doesn’t seem to fit the situation you are currently in). So these unprocessed emotional memories tend to negatively impact our emotions, behaviours, and thoughts. The second “job” we want to accomplish is to teach your nervous system to return to calm quickly once it has been activated. Research shows that when we are exposed to ordinary everyday stressors, it takes approximately 2 to 3 minutes to return to a sense of calm. Some individuals take significantly longer than that, with activated responses lasting from several hours to several days. Using mind-body attunement therapy, the focus is on resolving unprocessed emotions and teaching the nervous system to calm quickly. Thus, MBAT assists individuals to work through over-whelming experiences without causing them to be re-traumatized.

“Trauma is a fact of life. It does not, however, have to be a life sentence. Not only can trauma be healed, but with appropriate guidance and support, it can be transformative. Trauma has the potential to be one of the most significant forces for psychological, social, and spiritual awakening and evolution. How we handle trauma greatly influences the quality of our lives.”  — Peter Levine

Resources:
Levine, P. (1997). Waking the tiger: Healing trauma: The innate capacities to transform over-whelming experiences.

Miller, K. (2012). Mind-body attunement therapy: Clinical Strategies. Mind Body Attunement Training Centre.