We’re aware that confronting this subject matter may cause you to relive distressing memories. Our hope is that the resources below can help you cope with whatever it is that is coming up for you.
What to Expect When Confronting Distressing Material
Recalling a traumatic event can bring up a lot of unexpected sensations and emotions. Sometimes it can feel like living the experience all over again. The following are the kinds of sensations and emotions that can arise when recalling traumatic experiences. It’s also normal to experience these symptoms as a reaction to distressing material.
❤️ Elevated heart rate
💨 Tightness in your chest, or having a hard time breathing
🐝 Feeling shaky or buzzy
😖 Physical pain, body aches, headaches, digestion issues, and nausea
🤢 Lack of appetite
🥱 Difficulty sleeping
🙀 Feeling fear or a rush of adrenaline
🙈 Feeling shame, guilt, or embarrassment
🤬 Feeling anger or rage
😳 Feeling powerless
⚡️ Racing thoughts
💡 Trouble focusing
💭 Unpleasant memories or images surfacing
😱 Nightmares or bad dreams
Techniques for Coping with Distress
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms or reactions, here are a few exercises that can help you calm your nervous system and regain a sense of safety.
💨 Breathing Exercise: If engaging with this subject is creating tension, distress, anxiety, or worry for you, you might try signaling to your body that you are safe in this moment by making your exhalation significantly longer than your inhalation. Spend a few minutes doing that and notice how you feel. Some people find “box breathing” helpful. In this variation, you inhale slowly while counting to four, hold your breath for a count of four, and exhale slowly over a count of four.
🪑 Grounding Exercise: Another way to feel safe is to sit down and bring all your awareness to the neutral experience of the surfaces that your body is in contact with. Let yourself notice the sensation of pressure between your body and a chair, and your feet and the floor. Notice the temperature of the air around you and any sounds in your environment. Some people find the “Five Things Countdown” helps them feel more grounded in moments of stress or anxiety. Sit quietly, look around you and notice five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This exercise helps you shift your focus to your surroundings in the present moment and can help interrupt unhelpful thought patterns
🎧 Sensory Exercise: You can also trying finding something to engage one or more of your senses. It could be as simple as looking at a tree and letting yourself notice as much as you can about it, or listening to music as deeply as you can. Lending your attention in a sustained and focused way to anything that is neutral or pleasant will signal to your nervous system that you are safe. Five minutes is long enough for most people to shift into a more peaceful state of mind.
🌡 Temperature Modulation: You can also bring yourself back into your body by taking a hot shower or bath. Or you could try holding ice cubes or taking a cold shower.
📖 Journaling: Journaling can be an effective way to let things out, bring order to racing thoughts, or help ground you in the moment.
🍿 Distraction: If you are overwhelmed by distressing thoughts or feelings, you might want to try simply distracting yourself. For example, you could put on a familiar movie, read a book, call a friend, dance to a favorite song, or go for a walk around the block.
Resources for Finding a therapist
You may find that you need ongoing therapeutic support to process what you experienced. This is one reason we’re asking Sonoma Academy to pay restitution to victims: so that they can access the mental health care they need.
We know that finding a therapist can be challenging, so we've put together a guide to finding a therapist.