Last week we talked about radical acceptance. Ouch! Some things really hurt don't they!? Today's blog is hopefully going to practically help us move forward in the process of acknowledging our pain and moving through it. (Instead of stowing it somewhere and letting it fester and grow).
There are three main times we can allow ourselves to 'go there.' The first is in the midst of the triggering moment. The second is before the triggering moment and the third is, of course, after it.
(By the way, when I talk about a triggering moment here, I'm NOT talking about an incident where our actual safety is in jeopardy. Safety Always comes first! On the other hand, if it is an unsafe situation, you could still use some of these techniques to keep calm and take action!)
Let's start with Before...
Setting ourselves up well is quite possibly the most important gift we can give ourselves. Getting into the habit of caring for ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually means that when triggering events happen, we have the resilience built up to handle things well. Eating well, sleeping well, turning our phones off, being in community and relationships, exercising - all these things are important for our mental health.
Take a moment and look at your life, your routines and your general health. Are there any areas that you can see that are out of balance? What small steps could you take today to help move you towards better health?
Another huge factor in the 'before' stage is practicing being in the moment; and practicing being in our bodies. As humans, we have the ability to observe our thoughts. We can think about what we're thinking about! The more we can slow down and silence the constant busyness of our brains and listen to this part; the more we are able to make a good decision in the moment; and the more we are able to be at peace - despite the circumstances. Mindfulness, grounding, learning correct breathing, pilates, yoga, meditation, contemplative prayer; all these practices are brilliant at helping us still our minds and release tension from our bodies.
In the Moment:
In the moment refers to when we are triggered - or our buttons have been pushed. Something has happened; or someone has said something; and we are reacting! We might be experiencing strong emotions - anger, fear, shock, outrage, sadness. Often our adrenaline response is triggered so we are having strong physical reactions: heart racing, breathing shallowly and quickly, can't think straight, energised, shaky, sweaty etc. This is the Fight, Flight, Freeze response. We might want to run away, get angry and fight; or we might be frozen - unable to say or do anything.
Emergency 111 care is simple but profoundly effective: STOP, PAUSE, BREATHE!
When we stop what we're doing or saying; pause and take a deep breath; we are able to slow down the adrenaline response and prevent ourselves lapsing into protective behaviour. (This means doing the same thing we've always done - and getting the same result: anger, verbal retorts, avoidance etc.). The pause allows us to engage the 'observer' part of our brain. "Wow, what's going on here? I'm feeling really _______!"
Often, in the moment, we don't have time to spend a while pondering what's going on. However, noticing that something is happening, pausing and breathing gives us the opportunity to step back from reacting - even if it's just for a second. From that place of noticing, we can then choose an alternative action. "I see something's happening for me now; I know there's probably more going on that just this situation. I don't want to act in a way that will hurt myself or someone else - so I'm going to do something different." Ask for a time-out and then organise a time to meet and talk it out calmly. Agree to disagree. Change the tone of your voice. Step back from an argument. Say no, calmly. Say yes, calmly. Put in a boundary. Use any tools you have learned to help you in this situation. Separate the present from the past.
It's important to realize that, while our emotions can often feel overwhelming in the moment, we're actually ok - and they won't last forever. When we push our negative thoughts and feelings away; we're actually making them stronger. However, when we allow ourselves to sit in them, breathe through them, and feel them in our bodies - something incredible happens: they fade! They don't last forever - they'll slowly subside. As we allow them to be - we are able to slowly let ourselves heal. This takes incredible courage - but it's worth it!
Stop Pause, Breathe means you get to be powerful in your action, not powerless in your reaction!
after the moment
So something has happened. Maybe we noticed it in the moment and reacted well - maybe we didn't. Whatever happened - it happened. Radical Acceptance. The most important thing here is not to get stuck in shame or blame. Take the time to process what has happened - so next time we're more prepared.
Here's some tips for doing that:
Find some ways to express what you're thinking and feeling: Journal it, draw it, talk it out with someone safe, do some physical exercise. It's important to keep the focus on yourself here. Try not to get stuck in blame or frustration at an event or person. Instead, look at your own reaction. What did this do to you? How did you interpret the situation? Ask yourself - what was driving this reaction? Often we'll find things like hurt or fear. Often we'll find our own shame: "I felt unloved, disrespected, taken advantage of, weak, stupid." It's important to reframe things here. Our shame comes from our past - we all hold it. However, it is not the truth about ourselves. If we keep acting defensively because of our shame or pain, we just keep reinforcing it as truth. When we are able to take a positive action instead - we are creating a new, positive way of being.
Feel it in your body: Regardless of whether we acknowledge it or not, our thoughts do not exist in isolation. They tangibly affect our body, our emotions and our behaviour.
Pause, Breathe deeply and slowly. Scan your body. Where are you feeling what is happening in your mind? Where are you holding your tension or anxiety or anger or hurt? Notice it. Give it permission. Breathe into that area. Notice that, as you sit with it and allow it, it will slowly fade.
Self Care: This process takes energy - emotional and physical! It's important that we take care of ourselves here. Schedule things into your day that will lift your mood. Be kind to your body. Notice that negative self-talk and let it go - say kind things to yourself instead. Ask for a hug. Do some Mindfulness. Pat a cat. Let yourself feel wonder and awe at something beautiful.
Important: If you are becoming triggered often, or if you have significant pain or trauma in your past; it is essential you find a person or group of people to walk through this with you.
I'm aware that this is a very brief look at processing. Of course there's loads more to it. If you have any questions, you can either leave a message in the comments, or email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.