The autonomic nervous system responds to the challenges of daily life by telling us not what we are or who we are but how we are in our bodies. Regulating trauma through the body is necessary to integrate the experience. Cognitive work around the narrative and meaning of the trauma experience will come in a later stage in therapy.
⚠️The autonomic nervous system manages risk and creates patterns of connection by changing our physiological state. These shifts are slight for many people, and, in the moments when large state changes happen, their system is resilient enough to help them return to a regulated state.
🚫Trauma interrupts the process of building the autonomic circuitry of safe connection and
sidetracks the development of regulation and resilience. Trauma compromises our ability to engage with others by replacing patterns of connection with patterns of protection.
🧐If unresolved, these early adaptive survival responses become habitual autonomic patterns.
💮Therapy supports clients in repatterning the ways their autonomic nervous systems operate when the drive to survive competes with the longing to connect with others.
🤷No matter how incongruous an action may look from the outside, from an autonomic perspective it is always an adaptive survival response. The autonomic nervous system doesn’t make a judgment about good and bad; it simply acts to manage risk and seek safety.
Ways to regulate through the senses:
Find a posture that brings a sense of being anchored in ventral vagal regulation. Then, begin to slowly move inward by lowering the head, bending forward, and pulling in the arms and legs, while closely, tracking the autonomic state. Moving from center inward, there are nuances of quiet, deep relaxation, and peaceful stillness shaped by an active vagal brake. Try to track the subtle shifts and describe the experience with each change.
Touch is one of the basic ways we communicate. Looking at touch from an evolutionary perspective, people who worked closely together survived and were successful, and it may be that physical contact promoted that closeness. Touch is the first sense to emerge in utero and the most developed at birth. Skin is the largest human organ, and touch is integral to our growth and development. Early touch experiences shape adult experiences. Receiving moderate pressure massage experienced a shift from fight- fight state to social engagement/ connected state, while light massage brought and increased activation response. Touch stimulates the autonomic nervous system, and supports reducing depression, pain, and stress and increased immune function.
One way to use movement to shape the autonomic nervous system is to use a yoga ball. Sitting on a yoga ball requires constant micro-movements. For people who tend toward collapse/ freeze, making the small, ongoing body adjustments necessary to avoid falling off the yoga ball keeps enough energy moving in their system to stay out of shutdown, and consequently, they are more able to stay present. Even before birth, when we are still safe inside the womb, movement is essential to life.
📚Deb Dana -Polyvagal Theory in Therapy
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🌸 3 emotional regulation systems from the Compassion Focus Therapy (CFT) model by Paul Gilbert 🌸
↪️There are three particularly important emotional regulating systems that work with each other to help us to manage the ups and downs of life’s challenges by helping us to calm our emotional experiences. Each system is designed to do different things and also to work with the other systems so they remain in balance with each other.
💫Supposing something has upset us, what are the things we might do to help ourselves feel better? We could use the drive system to do something we want to achieve, such working, a pleasurable activity or going for a walk/run and this could help in the short term. On the other hand, activating the soothing system could help long term. Often, we find talking to other people can make us feel better because we feel supported, understood, and validated and this really does help us to feel better when we are upset. This is because the soothing system is calming down our threat-based emotions. Same as when we were babies and our caregivers soothe us.
🏁The drive system
▪️The purpose is to motivate us towards resources. It stimulates and directs our desires so we achieve things. It helps pursue our goals. It is known as the incentive & resource-seeking system.
▪️The feelings associated are achieving, pursuing, progressing, wanting. It is activating. It makes us feel driven, excited, vitality.
▪️The hormone released when the system gets activated is dopamine. It plays an important role in how we feel pleasure. It helps us strive, focus & find things interesting.
⚠️The threat system
▪️The purpose is to pick up on threats quickly. It activates us to flight or fight. This is the "fall back system", the easiest of all to feel & trigger as it has evolved as a protection system.
▪️The feelings associated are anxiety, anger, disgust, fear. These feelings alert our bodies urging us to take action against the threat. It produces a sympathetic response in our bodies (racing heart, shallow breathing, raise blood pressure, etc.)
▪️The hormones released when the system gets activated are cortisol & adrenaline.
🥰The soothing system
▪️The purpose is to help us regulate the other two systems, and experience states of contentedness. It helps to restore our balance. It helps soothing feelings of distress.
▪️The feeling associated is contentment. This is a form of being happy with the way things are, feeling safe, not striving or wanting; an inner peacefulness. This system is linked to affection, connection, kindness & compassion.
▪The hormones released when the system gets activated are oxytocin & endorphins.
It is important to balance activities from each system in order to improve our well-being and prevent feelings of anxiety and low mood.
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🧐Have you heard of the inner child?
🌸This is an unconscious part of ourselves that represents childhood experiences, some of which are the product of unresolved relational trauma.
💫By working our parts we can help heal the wounds that we carry. The younger version of the self is the "inner child" part that, is usually protected by some other parts that we have developed over time.
🌻Human beings are not as simple as we would like to think. We are complex systems of interacting "parts" with a variety of emotions & motivations.
↪️Each inner part gets activated at certain times. Some of our parts are in pain, and others want to protect us from feeling that pain. Some try to manage how we interact with people, some are locked in battles with each other. And all this is going on largely outside our conscious awareness. All we know is that sometimes we feel anxious, content, scared, frustrated, happy, etc.
🌸Unpicking these different parts of the Self can help us integrate and learn how to make these parts work together with each other as a harmonious "inner family" that supports your interaction with the world.
🌸Inner parts are natural divisions in the psyche. Sometimes they can be in conflict & sometimes in synchronicity.
This is why you may hear different voices in your mind telling you "apparent" conflicting information.
💫However, part of the therapeutic work is to be able to feel safe enough to listen to the different parts, in order to welcome them, and integrate them with compassion & understanding.
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🙋🏼♀️To overcome perfectionism we have to learn to accept reality as it is at any given moment.
🙅🏾A perfectionist rejects the present as not being good enough and gets stuck in a state of perfectionistic dissatisfaction.
🙍🏼♂️To a perfectionist, the presence is absence of what could be.
💫It is time to shift this view and think about the present as presence of all that can be, and an opportunity to be mindfully present with what is 🙏
🌸Make a better tomorrow learning to enjoy and accepting the present of now🌸
💮There is no alternate reality at any given point in time other than the one that we experience. We can think of things being different from how they are, but this ideal reality exists only in our minds.
🌻There is a common narrow understanding of perfection itself. We see it as an ideal state: flawless, error-free, so complete that nothing can be added to make it better. Perfection is seen as a state that is beyond improvement.
↪️Well, here is the paradox, if perfection is a state beyond improvement, then is not every moment, by definition perfect?
💁🏽Yes, the present is already perfect. After all, any given moment of reality is what it is in the sense that it cannot be anything other than what it is "right now".
While we could take the lessons of this moment and try to make the next moment better, this very moment is beyond improvement.
🌻Try to begin to notice the ordinary perfection of the present🌻
🌸Present is Perfect🌸
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🌬️Introducing a few breathing exercises to your day can help you to:
🔸Reduce stress - increase calm
🔸Improve your focus
🔸Lower your blood pressure
🔸Lower your heart rate
🔸Improve core muscle stability
🔸Support correct posture
🔸Stimulate the lymphatic system - detoxify the body
🔎There has been a lot of research around the benefits of deep, controlled breathing, which involves filling the lungs to the max and goes by various names like belly or diaphragmatic breathing. Research shows that aiming for six to 10 deep breaths per minute has vast and complex physiological effects.
❇️Breathing just happens on an automatic basis and it is dictated by the autonomic nervous system, centered in the brain stem. Nerve cells there signal the diaphragm and other muscles to inspire and expire. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the inhale and the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for the exhale. The parasympathetic nervous system decreases heart rate, blood pressure, and skeletal muscle tone, preparing the body for rest, sleep, or digestion. During exhalation, the vagus nerve (check my previous post to know more) secretes a transmitter substance (ACh) which causes deceleration within beat-to-beat intervals via the parasympathetic nervous system, producing a sense of calm.
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🌸Breathe in. Breathe out🌸
We do this all day, every day without a thought. Ask yourself "when was the last time you took a deep breath?" Probably not as frequently as you think. Did you know that deep breathing is one of our easiest, most convenient, and natural tools to manage stress and anxiety, reduce pain, high blood pressure, and even support digestion? In my next post I will show you how to breathe diaphragmatically.
1. Get comfortable with your back straight
2. Place one hand on your belly
3. Count "one, two, three" seconds on the inhale
4. Breathe in through your nose . Let your belly full with air , then your chest and collar bones
5. Count "one, two" on the pause
6. Count "one, two, three, four" seconds on the exhale
7. Exhale using your stomach muscles to push out the last of the air
8. Count "one, two" on the pause
9. Repeat three more times
⚠️Warning: some people with experiences of trauma can feel deep breathing unsafe and get more anxious when doing it. Please check in with your therapist and listen to your body while trying a new strategy.
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❇️ Did you know that Dissociation is a protective reaction and occurs on a spectrum?
👉 There are various areas to the dissociative spectrum between what is normal and what is quite extreme levels. Some people may mostly have one of these but some have a mixture of many depending on the severity of the event.
🧠 Our brain uses different levels of dissociation to protect us from feeling pain when feelings and sensations are too overwhelming that take all the resources of the person to cope.
🔹Experiencing dissociation is part of the parasympathetic nervous system 'freeze - collapse' response.
⚡The spectrum of Dissociation from Low to Extreme
- autopilot mode in routine tasks
- zoning out
- PTSD- trauma
- amnesia & memory problems
- depersonalization & derealization
- identity alteration
- dissociative identity disorder (DID)
🛸Sometimes it is described as the experience of being a “passenger” in one’s body, rather than the driver.
🤔What to do if you experience dissociation?
🔹Keep a journal
Write down thoughts, emotions & situations that have triggered you during the day. Try a gratitude journal.
Use your 5 senses. Use movement & body posture to feel grounded. Use positive affirmations. Use imagery & visualization. Create a soothing box.
Focus on the present moment through breathwork. Pay attention to your surroundings. Use meditation & relaxation techniques.
🔹Sleep & diet & exercise
Have a routine. Wake up and go to sleep at the same time. Eat healthy foods, avoid caffeine & alcohol. Exercise regularly
❇️ exercises for dissociative symptoms ❇️
👉The 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding technique
5: Acknowledge FIVE things you see around you.
4: Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch around you. I recommend that one of the things you touch is yourself. Apply a bit of pressure if you can.
3: Acknowledge THREE things you hear.
2: Acknowledge TWO things you can smell.
1: Acknowledge ONE thing you can taste.
👉Another helpful thing to do is to create a SOOTHING BOX with different materials and items that enhance your senses. You can put in the box different things such as scents, oils, fabrics, stress balls, nature items, objects with different textures, smooth stones, a blanket, etc. Focus on the sensations you are feeling when you interact with the elements in the box.
🤗Tell me in comments if these are useful
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According to Dr. Kristin Neff, Self-Compassion has 3 main elements.
Being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or criticize ourselves.
Suffering and feelings of personal inadequacy are part of the shared human experience. It is something we all go through rather than something that happens to “me” alone.
Taking a balanced approach to negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. Mindfulness requires that we not “over-identify” with thoughts and feelings, and we listen to what is happening in the present.
❇️ Practice ❇️ by Kristin Neff
One easy way to care for and comfort yourself when you’re feeling badly is to give yourself supportive touch. Touch activates the care system and the parasympathetic nervous system to help us calm down and feel safe.
You might like to try putting your hand on your body during difficult periods.
· When you notice you’re under stress, take 2-3 deep, satisfying breaths.
· Gently place your hand over your heart, feeling the gentle pressure and warmth of your hand. If you wish, place both hands on your chest, noticing the difference between one and two hands.
· Feel the touch of you hand on your chest. If you wish, you could make small circles with your hand on your chest.
· Feel the natural rising and falling of your chest as you breathe in and as you breathe out.
· Linger with the feeling for as long as you like.
Some other possibilities are:
One hand on your cheek, Cradling your face in your hands, Gently stroking your arms, Crossing your arms and giving a gentle squeeze, Gently rubbing your chest, or using circular movements, Hand on your abdomen.
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🧘🏽♀️Close your eyes for one minute and simply notice what your mind does.Stay on the lookout for any thoughts or images, as if you were a wildlife photographer waiting for an exotic animal to emerge from the undergrowth.
If no thoughts or images appear, keep watching; sooner or later they will show themselves. Notice where those thoughts or images seem to be located: in front of you, above you, behind you, to one side of you, or within you? Once you’ve done this for a minute, open your eyes again.
❇️ What you experienced were two distinct processes going on. First there was the process of thinking —in other words, some thoughts or images appeared. Then there was the process of observing; that is, you were able to notice or observe those thoughts and images. It’s important to experience the distinction between thinking and observing.
🧘🏽♀️Whatever the urge, the first step is to notice it. (It often helps to acknowledge silently, ‘I’m having the urge to do X.’) The second step is to check in with your values: ‘Will acting on this urge help me be the person I want to be? Will it help me take my life in the direction I want?’ If the answer is yes, then go ahead and act, using that urge to guide you and give you momentum. But if the answer is no, then instead take some action that’s more in line with your values.
🌸Mindfulness is connection🌸
🔹Connection is the process of making full contact with your experience in this moment.
🔹Connection means being fully aware of your here & now experience, being interested, open & receptive to that experience.
🔹Connection is about waking up, noticing what’s happening, engaging with the world & appreciating the fullness of every moment.
🔹Connection happens through the observing self.
👉the observing self is by nature non-judgemental.
Difference between the observing self and the thinking self:
❇️the thinking self ❇️
It is the part that thinks, plans, judges, compares, creates, imagines, visualizes, analyzes, remembers, day dreams and fantasies.
🔆the observing self🔆
It is the part responsible for focus, attention and awareness. It can pay attention to your thoughts but it does not think. It registers the experience directly.
You’re watching a magnificent sunset. There are moments when all you are doing is looking at it. Your mind is quiet; there are no thoughts running through your head, you’re just registering the sensory information such as the colours of the scene. This is your observing self doing its job: observing, not thinking
When you start thinking: ‘Wow, look at all those colours! This reminds me of that sunset we saw on holiday last year. I wish I had my camera. It’s so beautiful and I am going to miss it!
🌸The more attention your observing self pays to the commentary of the thinking self, the more you lose direct contact with that sunset. The observing self is key part of Mindfulness
Based on the ACT book, the Happiness Trap)
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Setting boundaries doesn’t come easily or naturally to a lot of people, but we can learn to set healthy boundaries.
Setting boundaries is making clear what’s okay and what’s not okay, and why.
We often feel like we need to apologize or justify when setting a boundary, but We don’t.
We need to find a way of staying true to ourselves and grounded while also feeling compassion towards others
👉This is the Brené Brown method of boundaries setting. it stands for
Boundaries, Integrity, Generosity
Living BIG is saying:
"Yes, I’m going to be generous in my assumptions and intentions while standing solidly in my integrity and being very clear about what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable"
🤔How to start setting boundaries?
▪️identify what you want
▪️identify the motivation for setting the boundary
▪️start small by choosing just one boundary to set
▪️stay calm & use assertive communication
▪️do not apologize or justify yourself
▪️be ready for a ¨no¨as an answer
▪️be ready to maybe disappoint others
▪️use your support system
▪️trust your intuition
❇️Establishing limits and boundaries is one of the ultimate acts of self-care and self-respect❇️
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❇️"vulnerability is weakness"❇️
🔹vulnerability is neither good nor bad
🔹it is not a "dark" emotion
🔹it is not always comfortable
🔹it is the core of all emotions & feelings; "to feel is to be vulnerable"
🔹it is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy & creativity
🔹is the path for clarity & purpose
🔆vulnerability is uncertainty, risk & emotional exposure🔆
🧘🏽♀️We are humans beings with limits, fears and wounds. You can only accept yourself fully and truly when you are able to see that side of yours that suffer and has difficulties
🔆"I don't do vulnerability"🔆
EXPERIENCING VULNERABILITY IS NOT A CHOICE. OUR RESPONSE TO IT IS. BEING ALIVE MEANS BEING VULNERABLE.
🌸Examples of vulnerability:
▪️starting you own business
▪️saying "I love you"
▪️facing your fears
▪️being "all in"
▪️letting go of control
▪️saying no - not taking it anymore
▪️panic, anxiety, fear & hysteria followed by freedom, pride & amazement.
▪️showing up and letting yourself be seen
🌻letting ourselves sink into the ephemeral joyful moments of life is vulnerability 🌻