We’re in a time of collective trauma. The pandemic is a collective trauma and the racial injustices are an ongoing collective trauma that have been impacting people of colour for hundreds of years.
Given everything that’s happening at this time you’re at risk of either developing PTSD or deepening existing PTSD.
So I wanted to share what you can do to limit the impact of these ongoing traumas and how to begin to heal.
If you prefer auditory learning – I’ve recently recorded two podcast episodes on the topic – #30 Fight/Flight/Freeze and #31 Getting Triggered that you can check out here.
One of the main symptoms or impacts of PTSD is having your nervous system disregulated more often than is healthy. Dysregulation can look either like going into fight/flight or going into freeze.
The term “window of tolerance” was coined by Dr. Dan Siegal, you can read more of his theory or check out his books here.
The window of tolerance is the sweet spot and where you want to keep your nervous system most of the time. If you’re actually confronted by a lion or a human with a knife, then going into fight/flight/freeze is helpful. But all other times it isn’t.
When you’re disregulated, you’re not able to digest properly because all the blood and energy is going to your limbs to be able to run or fight. You’re not able to heal cuts or bruises as well, your immune system isn’t as strong and staying in fight or flight can lead to adrenal fatigue and many other health issues.
So it’s important to start to notice when you’re in fight/flight or freeze and learn how to bring yourself back.
I experienced childhood trauma and have lived for many years with a nervous system that easily flips into fight or flight. But I had no idea this was happening and thought that I was just “stressed.”
For years I lived like this but couldn’t resolve it because I wasn’t even aware that it was happening.
One way to check if you’re disregulated is to try to take a deep breath. When you’re in the zone of tolerance you should be able to easily breathe in all the way into your belly. If you can’t, you’re likely in either fight/flight or freeze.
Other indicators include all those listed on the image above, being irritated, being depressed or hopeless, feeling overwhelmed.
Awareness is the most important step because the more you become aware of it, the more you can change this.
And I don’t want you to beat yourself up when you notice that your nervous system is disregulated. This was caused by some sort of traumatic event in your past and so it doesn’t mean you’re bad or stupid or worthless. Something happened to you that resulted in your nervous system being this way and even if you don’t know exactly what it was that happened to you, you can work to heal this.
Each person is a bit different and so when you notice that you’re disregulated, you need to find and develop your own set of techniques that will help you to come back fully into the present moment.
Things that can help when you’re in Fight/Flight or Freeze include:
Another technique that’s well known and helpful is the 5-4-3-2-1 method. Look around the room and find:
And I wish I could tell you that it’s a quick and easy fix but that hasn’t been my experience. In my experience, it’s like building a muscle. The more you practice and find techniques that work for you, the easier it becomes back to bring yourself back into the present moment and into the window of tolerance where you can feel safe and fully enjoy your life.
So I really encourage you to keep working on it and keep trying. Even though it is hard work and I personally still have to work on it almost every day, I can say it’s totally worth the effort. The more time I feel safe in my body, the happier and more creative I can feel, the more I can be silly and playful and the more I’m making grounded thoughtful decisions about where I want my life to go.
I really want to support you to do this important healing work so if you have any questions about this please feel free to hit reply.
Also if this is something that you’re struggling with, make sure you check out the FREE Anxiety Mini-Training here.
Looking forward to getting you the best support possible so you can continue to regulate your nervous system.
Take good care,