People who have been traumatized or who are experiencing a great deal of stress can often be triggered into hyper (fight/flight) or hypo (freeze) arousal states even when there is no immediate threat of danger. Logic and reason exist in other parts of the brain, which we can cannot access when we are in danger. Safety becomes our priority.
Hyperarousal State (Fight/Flight)
- Increased Cognitive Function – Racing Thoughts
- Emotional – Anxiety, Anger, Impulsiveness
- Vigilant; Hard to Sleep
- Feeling Unsafe, Defensive
Window of Tolerance
- Being Present
- Regulated Mood
- Feeling Grounded/Connected
- Doing Things You Love
Hypoarousal State (Freeze)
- Reduced Cognitive Function – Can’t Think Straight
- Feeling Depressed, Numb, Disconnected
- No Energy – Sleeping a Lot, Staying in Bed
- Passive – Feeling “Dead” Inside
Ideally, you want to be in the Window of Tolerance. Working with a counsellor may help you identify your stress triggers. Something as simple as regulated breathing may`help you feel grounded in the present. It can lessen anxiety and increase energy, if in a depressive state.
Simple Grounding Exercise
- Place both feet flat on the floor.
- Find your breath in your body.
- Breathe in and focus on the words – I am calm and centered (or pick something calming to you).
- Breathe out and focus on the words – I am loved and at peace (or pick something calming to you).
- Repeat breathing in and out a few more times.
5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Exercise (for more intense anxiety)
- Name 5 things you see in the room.
- Name 4 things you can feel (“my feet on the floor” or “the air in my nose”)
- Name 3 things you hear right now (“traffic outside”)
- Name 2 things you can smell right now (or 2 smells you like)
- Say 1 affirmation (“I am calm” or “I am ok”
Repeat the 5 steps more than once if needed.
It can be difficult to quiet the mind. Meditation can be difficult in such a state. Guided meditation can be a way of focusing the mind. Listen to the voice of the speaker. When your mind wonders, acknowledge that it has wondered and bring your attention back to the words. Breath. As you practice, you will improve your ability to follow the guided meditation without being distracted. Be patient with yourself. Especially if this is a new skill.
I like Meditation Vacation on YouTube. But, look for a voice that feels calming for you!