Coping Method #4

Image by mariachily

This is so fundamental that I almost decided not to do a post about it.

Don’t forget to breathe.

Taking deep breaths and concentrating on regulating your breathing can go a long way toward helping you calm down, whether it’s from a flashback, panic attack, caffeine overdose, or the anxiety caused by recovering an awful memory.

There are lots of breathing exercises out there. It’s a good idea to learn one now so that you have it in your coping methods for when you need it.

The one I do I developed on my own, but I’m sure there are things like it out there.

I start by finding a place where I can sit with a nice, straight back. I hold my hands in front of me, bringing them toward my shoulders when I breathe in, and pushing them away from me and touching my fingers together as I breathe out. I also kind of blow the breath out, like I’m about to whistle. Something about the sighing sound it makes is calming. I don’t know why the hand motions help me, but they do. There are lots of good, scientific reasons that breathing like that can help you calm down. They’re easy to find, so I don’t think I need to talk about them here.

Sometimes it can be hard to find the time or the location to do breathing exercises like that. Fortunately, we’re always breathing and we can always work on regulating ourselves so that we can calm down.

Coping Method #3

Image by InsEyedout

This one is big for me, though I didn’t start doing it until recently. It’s not as much an immediate way of handling the feelings that come with a flashback or after being triggered, but it helps when a memory just won’t leave me alone.

Write it out.

For a long time, I was in denial that the memories coming back to me were real. It took having a bunch of them slot together into a disturbingly clear picture of what had gone on before I finally allowed myself to acknowledge that I’d been sexually abused.

After that, the specifics of it all were too painful to think about in an orderly way. Now, after several years of this, I can write/type about some of it, and I get a certain amount of relief from doing so. I think that relief comes from putting the memory into a more ordered, logical form which helps me process the emotions. I also think that it helps that I’m in control when I write it down. The memories and the way that I express them in words are totally under my power. Last, and most dubious, I feel like the memories lose an aspect of their reality when I write them down this way, like I’m telling someone else’s story,  as I often do in my other writing. I don’t know if that’s entirely good, but it helps, so I don’t mind it.

Alas, I’m not to the point that I can have a flashback or recover a memory and then immediately write about it. Usually the shame and self loathing are too strong for a while. I have to wrestle myself out of that state a bit before I can handle writing. It gets easier every time.

Just yesterday, I woke from a nightmare and there were a few lines of writing in my head. I got them down on paper, not thinking that anything else would come from it. I ended up pouring out the story of what caused the nightmare onto six sheets of paper. I felt so much better after that. Usually, those kinds of nightmares ruin my mornings as I feel sick and vulnerable after them. Yesterday wasn’t like that. Just writing it out made all the difference.

I do recommend that you be careful about where you keep or how you dispose of this writing. I’m not ready for my family or friends to know anything about this, so I make sure that they can never stumble across any of it when they’re around and learn my story before I’m ready to tell them. Some of you, who are in therapy (not an option for me just now), might find that what you write could be really useful for your therapist, and that you can relate certain things that happened to you more easily that way than by telling them out loud.

Coping Method #2

I don’t know why I’m typing this method up so early in this series, since I don’t use it as often as many of the others, but it was on my mind, so here it is.

Go for a run.

There are several benefits to this one. First, it gets you out of the house so that your brain has to process less familiar scenery, thus tying up neurons so that they aren’t engaged in the mental negativity that’s going on. Second, getting sunshine helps your body balance your serotonin and dopamine levels, which is good when you’re going through hard stuff. Third, the physical exercise is good for you. Fourth, running cause your body to release endorphins, natural pain killers that make you feel better, and can help stabilize your mood.

If you have an IPod/MP3 player/phone that will double as one, I recommend taking it with you when you run (and earbuds/headphones too). Put on happy, upbeat music. Even though the music will feel jarring because of the mood I’m in, it always helps me change my mood. Playing sad or angry music only reinforces those emotions and won’t help you get things straightened out any faster. I learned this one the hard way. Abandoning my Evanescence et al. was one of the best things I’ve done.

If you’ve done any running, then you know that your brain will start to sync with the rhythm of your stride, or to the music your listening to. Often, I find myself going over a phrase over and over again, like a chant while I run. When this happens, If it’s a bad thought, I make myself change it to something like, “I can do this,” or, “this too will pass,” or “I’m alright,” or, “I’m not alone.” Anything that is positive, true, and comforting will do. Part of how I pick my phrase is the rhythm that I’ve got going. Sometimes I need a sentence with a particular meter.

Only run as long as you are comfortable running. Don’t push yourself past your limits. The run is to clear your mind and help control your emotions, not to punish yourself in any way, and not to train for longer runs. You need to come out of it with energy left over to help you continue to stay in control of your emotions, and to be able to complete all the other things you have to take care of (job, school, kids, cats, what have you).

I suppose you could use a treadmill or an elliptical if you have one, but I think getting out of the house is good.

Be sure to drink plenty of water when you get back. Your mind might be going through the rough stuff, primarily, but your body is being affected too. Take care of both these parts of you.

I personally find running to be one of the most effective turn-your-day-around methods. I’d do it more, but it’s hard to find time between work and class. My right knee also protests running vehemently, despite the fact that the rest of me likes it. I have to be careful not to over do it when I run.

Hope this helps!