Use The Calming Phrase to Cope Through AnxietyFeb 11, 2022
“I’m too wired to sleep,” is a phrase I hear from many of patients, and almost all of them with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) make similar statements. Humans, like all other animals, are surviving machines. So if we perceive a threat, we have several intricate systems within our bodies that activate to ensure our survival. We are also learning machines, which increases our chances for survival. So when we have faced an event or string of events that activate our “survival system” strongly enough — and “enough” is subjective to each individual — we kick into fight-or-flight mode.
Fight-or-flight is the natural, instinctive state our bodies and minds get into when we detect a threat that our brain perceives as life-threatening. Hormones are released, the heart may start pounding, awareness of all surroundings gets heightened, and the sense to react becomes overwhelming. This is super helpful if we find ourselves in a situation where we need to fight or flee. It is not so helpful, however, when our brain over-perceives a threat.
Picture this: you’re walking down the street, peering into store windows, when you turn the corner and all-of-a-sudden, you find yourself surrounded by a large crowd of people making their way to some sort of nearby street event. Logically, you may know that people walking around has a very low likelihood of being life-threatening, but your brain disagrees. Your brain decides that all these people in one place is a huge threat. So your palms start sweating, your heart is racing, and all you can think is “I gotta get out of here!”
That is your body’s fight-or-flight response. And it is very likely that your body reacted that way due to a traumatic event or events in the past that you have faced. To break it down simply, you went through something, your brain decided it was life-threatening, your brain logged away all the details (whether you can consciously recall them or not), and now your brain carefully measures each detail of your surrounding environment with each detail from the traumatic event(s). So any time your brain decides your current surroundings are close enough to the original trauma(s), it goes on high-alert and sends signals to your body to get prepared for battle.
The Trouble We Are Facing
If you have had a similar experience to the one I outlined above, you are likely aware of how inconvenient (at best) and how life-altering (at worst) having trauma responses can be. Most people report that their symptoms come out-of-the-blue, and many cannot even identify what triggered that response. What’s more, is the way our survival system responds to a perceived threat can actually be very subtle. The response can range from irritability, a sense of discomfort, or restlessness, to a full-blown panic attack, a flashback, or complete severance from reality.
No matter how severe your symptoms may be, there are a number of tools and strategies available to learn and practice. With time, and maybe a little help, you may find that your symptoms, ability to function, and quality of life, improve drastically. I have worked with a number of fine folks who suffer from anxiety of all kinds, including post-traumatic stress, who benefit from learning and practicing self-soothing skills.
One Helpful Therapeutic Tool
The idea of practicing these skills is that, much like going to the gym to build muscle, you can retrain your brain to respond, rather than react, to stimuli it perceives as a threat. There are tons of tools and strategies available, but one of my go-to’s is “The Calming Phrase”.
It walks you through a set of statements that help you:
- Put the triggering experience into perspective
- Understand the body’s reaction
- Remind yourself that you are safe and in control, and
- Continue the process of training the brain to respond to triggering stimuli in a healthier manner
*Use the active link below to access my PDF of The Calming Phrase. It outlines each statement and gives an explanation of the benefit of that particular statement.*
I have gotten great feedback from this tool, as people who master it report they can better navigate an anxiety episode. You can easily modify it to fit your own needs, but I’d love to walk you through it if you could use a little guidance.
I whole-heartedly support you printing this out, taking a screen-shot, and/or sharing it with anyone it may help!