Techniques for Coping with Distress
If you are experiencing any of these 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.