How can we tend to ourselves when our brainstem is having a meltdown? When we seem to be constantly in fight, flight, freeze, appease or dissociate? When shame has us in its headlights? Here are some tips based on the work of Beacon House Trauma and Attachment Clinic, Somatic Self-Compassion training and Mindful Self-Compassion training.
- Surround yourself with people who are sensitive to your needs and willing to support you.
- Find stability wherever you can – at home, the gym, a friend’s place, your favorite coffee shop – wherever you feel a sense of predictability and safety.
- Remove yourself from relationships that trigger you, even if just for a while as you find your feet under you again.
- Keep your distance from friends and relatives who you feel unclear boundaries around, who drain your energy, who you lose your sense of autonomous self around (even if just for a while).
- Acknowledge that much of your brain activity is in your brainstem while you are in survival mode, which makes it difficult to feel emotions. Give yourself a break if you’re feeling numb or if you feel unable to respond helpfully to the emotions of others.
- Your brain may also having be having difficulty processing intellectual material because you are in survival mode. Give your brain a rest from processing complicated intellectual material.
- Don’t rely on your friends and family for therapeutic support – they are not trained for this and it’s unfair to expect this of them. Seek out professional support from a counsellor, therapist, bodyworker, shaman or teacher.
- Seek out patterned and repetitive tasks and stimulation as a way to help downregulate your amygdala. Music, drumming, yoga, running, walking, cycling, washing dishes, raking leaves, sweeping, and meditation are all types of patterned and repetitive practices that will help us get in touch with our body.
- Get plenty of rest, water, and nourishing food.
- Move your body in ways that exercise your cardiovascular system and your muscles (anything from walking and stretching to lifting weights and doing an aerobics class) to help cycle the cortisol and adrenaline through your system and to replace them with endorphins.
- Give yourself a break if you find your inner critic telling you that you are too sensitive or that you should just “snap out of it.” Being in survival mode is not your fault, and a pragmatic and compassionate response means tending to yourself where you are. You’ll need some self-compassion practices to help you keep yourself company in your high alert state, so turn to these rather than resisting your experience.
- Acknowledge your response as a survival response and respect it. The more we can acknowledge that we are in shame, fight, flight, freeze, appease or dissociate, the better able we are to get into relationship with our body in times of need.
- Love yourself up with basic physical, mental, emotional, relational, or spiritual self-compassion practices.
Self-compassion is a radical act of resistance against society’s norms, so it takes some daring and some courage. Allow yourself to feel that you’re worthy of your own love and attention. How would you attend to a child or an animal who was suffering? Adopt that response for yourself – we all have parts of us that are young and hurt, and they need our adult parts to make good decisions for us so that we can live as healthfully as possible.
You are just as worthy of your attention, affection, courage and connection as anyone else. Dare to tend to yourself.
If you want to explore awareness, affection, courage and connection further, we’d love to see you at Somatic Self-Compassion Online.
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- Somatic Self-Compassion Online (SSCON) content, structure and community explained - March 14, 2019