My least favourite time of the day is when I wake up in the morning. I always set my alarm the night before to ensure that I wake up with enough time to prepare for the day ahead. Inevitably, I convince my self that I can ‘crib' another half hour in bed before I finally crawl out and go to the kitchen. I make my breakfast (always tea and 2 pieces of toast), turn the morning news on T.V. and sit in my arm-chair to eat my breakfast and attend to my social media status updates. Next task is to shower and dress, feed the animals, make my lunch, hop in my car, go through a drive-through coffee for my daily take-away, park the car and walk a block to my office in the CBD.
This ‘typical morning in the life of Colleen Morris' is most often enacted automatically and unconsciously, just as your own typical morning is likely to be. Our brain is a highly efficient organ that is capable of performing many familiar tasks repeatedly without having to rely on a conscious reminder. The brain then has the space to take in new information even as we are enacting familiar tasks, so that we can be focused and adaptive.
Recently, with the death of my father, I noticed that my usual normal routine was interrupted. Instead of moving through the motions of my routine quickly and efficiently, I went first to my arm-chair, switched on the T.V. and sat…not thinking anything, not doing anything, just sitting. With the stress that the experience of bereavement brings, my ‘poly-vagal nervous system' was interrupted so that I was having a ‘freeze' response. Neural pathways were triggered in my unconscious mind, giving expression to real thoughts and feelings that live in my body and brain that I don't have words for. The freeze response is a reflexive, adaptive response to feelings of sadness and loss that served to put me into a dissociative state, raising my pain threshold.
Experiences of trauma and heightened stress events can literally ‘derail' your brain in such a way that it becomes stuck and unable to do the task of emotional regulation. When this happens, a person may find themselves reacting to environmental and relational stimuli, often unconsciously, with the same heightened response, that creates ongoing emotional distress. A person will automatically look for a strategy that they believe, will calm them. Often the strategies that a person applies appear to work in the short-term but have long-term risks: alcohol and drugs, gambling, cutting and pornography are just a few of the ways a person tries to de-stress. These behaviours are also addictive and produce other negative impacts.
If you identify with this, here are 5 D's to De-stress:
1. Drink water.
This is the quickest way to calm down your poly-vagal nervous system that has been activated by the trigger event.
2. Deep Breathing.
Deep breathing slows down your heart rate which will have a calming effect. If you associate your trauma with the mouth or you have asthma, try humming as an alternative.
Saying to yourself, “I am going to (addictive behaviour) in an hour” may delay long enough for your symptoms to settle, so that you do not need it.
Dancing to some happy music, jogging on the spot, ringing a friend, or cooking are all examples of the distract tactic.
5. Do something Different
Focusing on doing something different immediately turns your mind to focus on this new task or experience.
If you are experiencing trauma or heightened stress and would like further support you can contact Colleen on 0434337245 or go to her online diary at www.watersedgecounselling.com