Much of your resilience comes from the way you are able to manage when your brain and body react to stress and throw you into a fight/flight/freeze/fawn response.
The stress response has little conscious control, most of it is below your level of awareness. But there are things you can do once you learn to identify the signs your stress response has activated.
It is worthwhile learning to pay attention to your body.
What are you noticing about it?
How do your hands feel? Are they hot or cold? Are you clenching your hands, moving your fingers or anything else you notice?
What about your feet? Are they hot or cold? Are you tapping them, or clenching them or do they tingle? Anything else you notice?
What about your legs? Your arms? Are you aware of them being hot or cold? Are you aware of any movement in them? Do you feel any tingling or pain or any other sensation?
Observe your trunk. Are there any feelings in your tummy, or back, or public region? What about your breathing? Does your heart feel like it is pounding? Is there tension anywhere?
Pay attention to your neck. Is it tight? Do you feel you are drawing your shoulders up towards your ears? Do your shoulders feel stiff? Do you feel like you have something on your back?
What about your face? Your head? Is there any tension there? Particularly notice your jaw, that is a favourite area to carry tension. Does your forehead feel tight or hot?
It is really helpful to form a picture of what your body does when you are under stress or feeling panicky.
Observe any thoughts you are aware of. Maybe you can identify some words or statements running through your thoughts. Maybe you have a sense of something scary, or something bad. Maybe you have a sense of being incompetent or a failure. The list is endless.
Over time, you can learn to watch out for these sensations and thoughts and spot the signs of a fight/flight/freeze/fawn response when it is about to start, or in its early stages before it starts.
Here are three things you can do when you become aware of this response:
That may sound patronising. How many times have you been told glibly to “just breathe” but the right type of breathing is helpful.
When you are in a fight/flight/freeze/fawn response your breathing becomes shallow and you breathe in the top of your chest. This sends messages to your brain that keep you in this stress response.
What you need to do is to focus on slowing and deepening your breath.
This may not be easy, but the more you do it the easier it will get.
Consciously breathe in so that you feel your stomach rise. Try to breath to the slow count of 4 to ensure you take in a slow enough breath.
You will notice the sensation of breathing more in one part of your body. It may be in your nose, your throat, your chest or belly. Pay attention to that part of your body as you breathe.
Focus on a deep breath in to the count of 4, holding for 4 and then breathing out for 4. It can be helpful to breathe out through your mouth and in through your nose. This allows you to focus better on the breathing and increases its effectiveness. Notice all the time the sensation of the breath entering and leaving your body, and notice the sensation of it sitting in your body.
Focus on these sensations and say thank you to your breathe for keeping you alive.
- Sigh Deeply.
Sighing releases tension and helps reset your nervous system. Research has shown a deep sigh helps to calm the stress response in your body.
To do the sigh, breathe in fully to the count of 4, hold for the count of 7, then sigh out the breath to the count of 8. This helps calm your nervous system down.
Sighing is a great tension reliever and worth using when you need to.
When your nervous system puts you in a fight/flight/freeze/fawn state it puts you into a state of fear. You lose the sense of being safe, of being able to trust your own ability to be safe. Touch that is safe helps to release oxytocin. This is an antidote to Cortisol, the hormone we release in response to stress.
Touch is often referred to as our Mammalian Defence System because it is present in Mammals and is our first go to response when we feel threatened.
All mammals automatically reach out to others for comfort. It is only when you can’t get that comfort that the fight/flight/freeze/fawn response is activated.
You can use touch to bring yourself out of your stress response.
Touch, being close to others, and making eye contact with others gives you the message that you are safe and everything is okay.
Touch can involve a hug, a touch on the arm or hand.
If there is no-one there to touch you, you can touch yourself. Wrapping your arms around yourself, touching your cheek, putting your hand over your heart, holding your arm are ways people frequently use to get that touch. You can do that too.
So next time you find yourself falling into a flight/fight/freeze/fawn response pay attention to what is happening in your body so that you can be more aware in future of the signs this is about to happen.
Breathe, Sigh and Touch as well.
The better you get at noticing when you are falling into the stress response the better you will get at calming it down or preventing it.
The better you get at practising Breathe, Sigh and Touch the quicker you will be able to calm down and the more control you will have over your reaction to stress.
You will find you can increase your resilience in the face of stressful events.
You may find counselling helpful to process trauma that is triggering your stress response. You may also find counselling helpful to learn how to put Breathe, Sigh and Touch into practice.
If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with this, please contact me on 0409396608 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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