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5 Ways I Calm Down When I'm Feeling Triggered

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When my chest tightens, my frustration flares and my mind speeds off into the future, I know I’ve been bitten by the “stress bug.” Noticing when I feel stressed out and taking steps to calm down is part of my daily routine as someone living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Thankfully, it’s gotten easier with practice.

• What is PTSD?

When I’m feeling overwhelmed, it’s usually because I fear an undesirable outcome or some type of pressure — typically related to work, relationships or life logistics. These non-life threatening triggers can still trick my system into believing I’m actually under attack, sending me into a fight, flight or freeze threat response. When this happens, it helps me to remember that I am safe, I don’t need to solve the problem right now, and my only job is to help my body calm down.

Here are a few simple strategies that help me calm down when my stress levels spike:

1. Go somewhere quiet.

The quickest and easiest way for me to calm down is to escape any and all noise. Being in a quiet place helps me to hear what’s actually going on inside my head without any competing distractions. Bonus points for somewhere private, where I can let worries about what anyone else thinks fall by the wayside. I’ll find a single point to rest my eyes upon and take deep breaths for at least a minute, noticing any thoughts that come and letting them pass. This was my go-to strategy for calming down at the office.

2. Clear my schedule.

An overly packed schedule has been the culprit of my stress on many occasions, and I can often find relief simply by freeing up more space in my day, week or weekend. Sometimes just moving a brunch back by an hour or shifting a single meeting to the following day can do the trick. Other times, I need to take the day off of work or clear the whole weekend in order to feel like myself again. I’ve learned that there is always some wiggle room in my commitments.

3. Put my phone on airplane mode.

After a stressful day at work, I’ve been known to come home and immediately put my phone into airplane mode. (I also do this every night before going to bed.) Being unreachable helps me to leave the workday at the office and truly arrive to my evening at home. Without email or Instagram as a hand-held distraction, it’s easier for me to remember to just sit and be with myself and whatever I’m feeling.

4. Write in a journal.

When the trance of a threat response has my mind churning on a source of stress, I know it’s time to bust out a pen and paper. I free-write whatever thoughts are coming to mind, transforming them from an elusive enemy into words and sentences I can confront head on. Sometimes this exercise helps me gain clarity and other times it just helps me to let go. After a page or two of writing down what’s been swirling around in my head all day, I am ready to be done with it.

5. Do something with my hands.

For me, this is drawing, but for others it may be cooking, playing a game or doing another craft or hobby. In order to draw, I need to open a page, pick a color and hold my hand steady as I work. Each of these steps is intrinsically calming, focusing my mind and sending an internal signal that everything is alright. Drawing allows my attention to rest on an active focal point, separate from any stressful thoughts.

Learning to soothe myself during stressful times has taken plenty of practice. These simple strategies have the power to change the entire course of my day or evening. My body will alway tells me when I need to take a break — the hard part is learning to listen!

Follow this journey here.

Unsplash image via Zohre Nemati

Originally published: April 19, 2018
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