How to Calm CPTSD triggers...
When you have experienced childhood PTSD or have lived through ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences), there is nothing worse than feeling emotionally triggered when you are just trying to live your adult life. And even though you know it’s not worth getting upset about, it happens anyway. It’s like you can feel it spreading through your body — the feeling of adrenaline and discombobulation, feeling numb (perhaps) in your hands or your face, or having trouble expressing your thoughts. Or you might feel flooded with emotion like panic, rage or shame.
Have you ever had that? I used to get this all the time.I didn’t even know what it was.
There’s a word for this sudden kind of stress. It’s called dysregulation, and it’s really common for people who have experienced trauma in childhood. Emotional dysregulation refers to the inability of a person to control or regulate their emotional responses to provocative stimuli.
If you have felt triggered in the past - you've probably figured out how to feel ok-ish when you are dysregulated. However, I'm sure you can agree that it can be really challenging to think clearly, focus on tasks, set boundaries and navigate your life. It can make it hard to get things done, hard to speak and listen and connect, and often, hard to decipher what is true now and what belongs to the past.
Firstly, I'm writing this to reassure you that you are not alone. Secondly, I'm also here to remind to that this is not your fault. You didn’t do this to yourself. It ultimately stems from trauma. Now that you’re an adult, it’s possible to make it worse, and it’s possible to make it better.
Here are some techniques (some yogic, some life experience, some recommended by my wonderful therapist), that I have used (and continue to use) in my life to help me manage, process and move through my triggers. By no means is this an exhaustive list - and it also not the only tools I use - but these are things that have helped me immensely and I hope they will in some way help you too.
1) Notice you have been triggered
One of the most important ways to move through your triggers is by noticing that you feel triggered in the first place. This is sometimes easier said than done, but as you start to study what sets off your dysregulation, you’ll start to notice that it’s happening sooner.
Then - take some to pause! Hold off confronting anybody, making big decisions or solving big problems until you feel more calm. This can sometimes mean being on 'pause' for a whole day or a couple of days. That's ok. Try to be patient with yourself and don't judge yourself harshly for needing time and support to recover from PTSD.
2) Validate Your Experience
What you have experienced is real and hurtful. Having the name or context of traumatic stress/PTSD lets you know you that how you feel is not your fault. There is nothing “wrong” with you. What you’re going through is actually a normal response to abnormal experiences. It’s important to remind yourself of this as you go through challenging symptoms because self-validation is an important piece of healing.
Say to yourself: “I’m having an emotional reaction,” or “I’m feeling triggered". Just saying this to yourself helps to separate out the part of you that’s getting overwhelmed, from the part of you that knows what to do about it. This can also be helpful as it allows us to start being kinder to ourselves by identifying that we need to proceed with extra care.
3) Get To Know Your Triggers
You might find that certain experiences, situations or people seem to trigger flashbacks or other symptoms. These might include specific reminders of past trauma, such as:
particular types of books or films.
Some people find things especially difficult on significant dates, such as the anniversary of a traumatic experience. One of my triggers is being criticised or judged for my behaviour. It can help to plan ahead for these times and use these self-care tips to help you.
4) Move Your Body
Sometimes when we are stuck in freeze response - it can be helpful to move away from your trigger and get some space. Go for a walk. A swim or a run. A bike ride. Just something to burn off all that extra pent-up energy. I have a few examples of some yoga movement below if that is more of your jam.
5) Eat Something
Food can help you get back into your body and tune into your senses better. Often the last thing that you want to do when you are upset is eat - but your body needs to focus on the basics to survive when you are in this state. Tend to the organism - and feed yourself nourishing food.
6) Tap Your Meridian Points (EFT tapping)
Emotional freedom technique (EFT) is an alternative treatment for physical pain and emotional distress. It’s also referred to as tapping or psychological acupressure. People who use this technique believe tapping the body can create a balance in your energy system and treat pain. Though still being researched, EFT tapping has been used to treat people with anxiety and people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Based on Chinese medicine, meridian points are thought of as areas of the body energy flows through. These pathways help balance energy flow to maintain your health. Any imbalance can influence disease or sickness. Proponents say the tapping helps you access your body’s energy and send signals to the part of the brain that controls stress. They claim that stimulating the meridian points through EFT tapping can reduce the stress or negative emotion you feel from your issue, ultimately restoring balance to your disrupted energy.
Begin by tapping (with one or two fingers) the karate chop point while simultaneously reciting a reassuring phrase three times. This can be something like 'Even though I feel panic right now, I allow myself to be feel safe'. Then, tap each following point seven times, moving down the body in this ascending order:
side of the eye
under the eye
under the nose
beginning of the collarbone
under the arm
After tapping the underarm point, finish the sequence at the top of the head point.
If you would like to follow along to a video, I've attached one below:
7) Deep Breathing
Take ten slow, deep breaths. Deep breaths are genuinely powerful at activating your relaxation response. I know you know that, but sometimes we need our friends to remind us. And while you’re breathing, just to get a better sensation of your body and where to “locate” your consciousness, you can push your tongue to the back of your teeth. Your mouth is one part of the body where we locate our sense of self — usually somewhere between the head and the chest. So mouth sensations can kind bring you back to centre, and back in your body.
8) Seated Cat-Cow Yoga
Often when we feel stuck, some gentle movement can help us with feeling more balanced and grounded. Below is a short, seated yoga sequence to get you out of your head and into your body. When we feel emotionally triggered - our 'fight or flight' instinct kicks our nervous system into survival mode and this can keep us stuck and feeling small. This sequence is created to help you access calm and bring you back into your body using gentle movement and breath.
9) Standing Yoga
A short, standing Yoga sequence to get you out of your head and into your body. When we feel emotionally triggered - we can tend to live up in our heads. This sequence is designed to drop your awareness back into your lower body to remind you that you are in the present moment - where you are safe and supported.
10) Know You Are Not Alone
Sometimes it can feel like you are the only person that is experiencing the pain and frustration of recovering from childhood trauma. Please be assured that you are not - there are many people, myself included, that also have good days and bad days. It's important that when we face challenging situations and emotions that we treat ourselves with extra gentleness and compassion. Keep holding on and doing what you are doing - I believe in you :)