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? 

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! 🙂

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:

 

 

But What are We Going to Actually Do?

Trauma Therapy Explained

People tend to know they need counselling for a long time before they reach out to start it up. Making that initial phone call can stir up fear and uncertainty. And once an appointment is scheduled, actually attending it can stir up anxiety and doubt. I believe it does take a tremendous amount of courage to start up counselling: to entrust your story to a stranger invites vulnerability. Yet for each courageous soul that takes the first step, there is hope. Hope says “This will help”, and “I can get through this”.

So for all the folks out there wanting to take that first step but feeling weighed down by uncertainty, I’d like to demystify the counselling process.

When it comes to working with trauma, I use the Three Stage Trauma Recovery Model, which was developed by Judith Herman in the 1980’s. I use the model as a framework within which all therapeutic interventions launch from.

Please Note: Each client is unique, and therefore counselling is not a one-size-fits-all service. While you read the following information, please know that it might look a little different for each person. Also, rarely do we move through the model in a fully linear manner, (stage 3 often initiates during stage 2 work).

Stage 1 – Safety and Stabilization

Counselling often begins with history taking. I typically ask about what brings a person in for counselling, and gain an idea of their history in a “newspaper headline” manner. I use the newspaper headline approach because at this point, I am still a stranger to the client, and he or she may not yet feel comfortable sharing a detailed portrait of their life. Then, we collaboratively develop treatment goals.

Within the first stage, the focus is on safety and stabilization. That refers to external (living environment) and internal (emotional safety). Elements in this stage may include:

  • External safety: advocacy, growing a support network, information-sharing on topics relevant to the individual client
  • Internal safety: Resourcing to tap into and foster inner strengths to shift out of strong emotion. This involves learning to regulate emotion and manage symptoms that may be causing suffering or causing a person to feel unsafe
  • Information sharing to assist folks in understanding symptoms, their felt sense of emotion, and the effects of trauma
  • Exploring impacts to core beliefs
  • Developing and strengthening skills to manage painful and unwanted experiences, and minimizing unhelpful responses to them.

According to Judith Herman (1982) the goal of stage 1 trauma work is to create a safe and stable life-in-the-here-and-now, which can enable folks to safely remember the trauma, and not continue to re-live it.

I often have folks tell me they want to jump right into trauma processing. They feel a sense of urgency to “feel better” or to “heal this right now”. However, there is great importance of stage 1 work, and we can not skip over it. Think of it this way: If you had a car with shoty brakes, no seatbelts or airbags, no horn, bald tires, and a foggy windshield – you could still get from point A to point B. However, you would likely feel terrified the entire way. The resourcing and affect regulation strategies of stage 1 are like the safety features in a car: they enable you to get from point A to point B without full-blown panic and emotional overwhelm.

Stage 2 – Coming to Terms with Trauma

Once an individual has developed the ability to regulate emotion and achieve a level of internal emotional safety, trauma processing can begin. As we work through a trauma, I keep a keen eye on resourcing to ensure a client isn’t become too flooded with emotion. Techniques are used to modulate this process, and I employ several end-of-session strategies to assist folks in stabilizing emotion prior to leaving the office. Here are some elements stage 2 may include:

  • Trauma processing using EMDR
  • Art, play or sand tray-based approaches (for children and teens)
  • Exploring and re-working the inner trauma narrative
  • Working with negative cognitions resulting from trauma and movement towards installing positive adaptive beliefs and cognitions

Stage 3 – Integration and Moving on

As we work through trauma processing, elements of the third stage begin to show up. Some of these elements include:

  • Working to decrease shame
  • Developing a new narrative and life goals that reflect post-trauma meaning making
  • Working to foster a greater capacity for healthy attachment and decreasing alienation

As a result of doing the work of trauma therapy, the trauma starts to feel farther away, as something that happened but that is no longer a daily focus disrupting life.

If you are thinking of starting up therapy, and have some questions, please feel free to reach out and ask. The decision to move towards self-growth and healing can be empowering and freeing. I hope you give it a go!


If you’d like to learn more about the Three Stage Trauma Recovery Model by Judith Herman, check out these resources:

Dump the Distress

IMG-8488Let’s be honest: parenting just might be one of the hardest job you will ever have. It will also be the most rewarding, the most wonderful, the most awe-inspiring make-you-want-to-be-the-best-possible-you-ever job. Here is a strategy to help you through those moments when the worry and concern threaten to overtake the positive. This strategy can help enhance your self-awareness, personal growth, and provide an element of control over to shift emotion and build self-worth.

Here it is: Take all those thoughts swimming around in your head, and put them down on paper. Write them, type them, scribble them, paint them, blur them, or doodle them. The important step in the process is simply getting your thoughts out on paper. You might be doubting your parenting skills; you might be questioning your actions and reactions; you might be confused by your child’s behaviours; you might even be comparing yourself to others and feeling as though you don’t measure up. These thoughts can be over-whelming. When you put them down on paper, they suddenly seem concrete – tangible. You can make sense of them because they are words on paper and not thoughts triggering emotions and stirring up memories. You might find that you can think more clearly. You can even start problem-solving your way through them. “Writing about an experience can help you distance yourself from the feelings of inadequacy that get in the way of enjoying the just-as-real joys of parenting.”

“Writing about important personal experiences in an emotional way… brings about improvements in mental and physical health” – J.W. Pennebaker & J. D. Seagal

Not sure how to write in a journal? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Write about any situation that comes to your mind
  2. Or, try listening inwardly: ask yourself “what am I feeling right now?”
  3. Be honest with whatever you are feeling
  4. If you are venting, destroy the page when you have finished. This not only will ensure your privacy, but is also symbolic of purging the uncomfortable and unpleasant feelings
  5. Give yourself permission to write the worst journal entry ever – this will inherently give you permission to write the best journal entry ever. It will also free you of fear of failure, which might be preventing you from getting started! (Idea from Natalie Goldberg – see reference below)
  6. Try not to spend too much time thinking about what you want to write prior to writing – let your intuition and impulses guide your writing. The process of free writing or stream writing is believed to enable us to bypass our inner critic and tap in to our own wisdom, knowledge, and creativity
  7. Try ending on a positive note – What is your hope for tomorrow? What might you do differently tomorrow?
  8. Be consistent and try writing (or “dumping”) in your journal daily

Worth Checking Out:

The on-line store Knock Knock sells a very clever journal for parents titled “I’m a Parent?”. The journal itself starts out with an informative overview of parental guilt and the benefits of journaling. Then, every journal page starts with the caption “Why I’m a less-than-perfect parent today:” and ends with the affirmative statement “You’re doing better than you think”. Check it out at:
http://www.knockknockstuff.com/catalog/categories/books-other-words/journals/im-parent-guided-journal/

Resources:

Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg (2005)
Yoga for your Brain, by Sandy Steen Bartholomew (2011)
Forming a Story: the Health Benefits of Narrative, by J.W. Pennebaker & J. D. Seagal (1999) Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin, USA.

This article was originally posted on September 26, 2012, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge

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

5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique for Shifting out of Overwhelming Emotion

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

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: