[An excerpt from Parenting with PTSD]
These strategies have helped me to keep some control over my emotions and anxiety in high-stress situations at home
and in the world so I don't tend to dissociate or become impatient or irritable with my boys. They all work best
if I am able to recognize early warning signs of anxiety attacks and utilize the techniques before anxiety builds
into a full-blown attack. The earlier the better. But they even help to calm me down after I have lost control
and become cross with Bambino. But often, by then, he is already upset [rightly] and sometimes has gone to sleep
upset without me having the chance to apologize, so the real goal is to avoid it getting that bad.
The following techniques are NOT meant to replace seeking advice from a counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or trusted medical or psychiatric provider. If symptoms of anxiety or depression are interfering with your daily
life, please seek counseling and/or consider medication. PTSD, anxiety disorders and depressive disorders are
serious illnesses and shouldn't be shrugged off. These suggestions are meant to complement a support system and therapeutic approach or to assist with occasional episodes of stress or depression.
Smell your kiddo: Seriously...go in for a hug and take a deep breath. Smell their hair or neck.
Why this works: Triggers the release of oxytocin in the brain, Oxytocin is a natural stress relieving chemical
produced in the brain to promote good feelings of caregiving. Studies have shown that a child's scent
[specifically newborns] lights up the pleasure center in a woman's brain. Also, it won't hurt that, when you are
stressed or anxious, you decide to respond with affection rather than react on impulse.
Grounding Techniques: The most simple one is to just remind yourself that "You are safe". Remind yourself of
where you are and what is going on "I am home, I am with my children, I am safe".
Another of my favorites is 5,4,3,2,1 [this is also great for children if they're having a meltdown]:
Name 5 things you can see in the room with you.
Name 4 things you can feel (“chair on my back” or “feet on floor”)
Name 3 things you can hear right now (“fingers tapping on keyboard” or “tv”)
Name 2 things you can smell right now (or, 2 things you like the smell of)
Name 1 good thing about yourself
Why this Works: Grounding techniques refocus your brain's attention to the current reality. Anxiety relies on
[often irrational] fear of the future that is typically based on events of the past. Often, when focused on our
immediate surroundings, there is nothing to fear. Building a sense of safety and security in our present lives is a
large key to minimizing overwhelming anxiety into something manageable that we can cope with.
Trick your brain out of the amygdala: Find something that your brain can "reason" with. I like math, because it is
all fact; emotionless. I also like to use language. I find that just trying to reason with myself about the
situation that is causing me stress holds too much emotion and I stay stuck in the anxiety. But if I find another
"problem" for the reasoning areas of my brain to focus on, it tricks me out of the stress. If I am repeating a
word in my head, like "panic" i try to think of all the synonyms for it that I can, and then i try to remember the
word for panic in other languages I have learned. Or I will invent a math problem...you don't have to solve it,
once your brain is distracted and you calm down, you can redirect the focus of the reasoning to the problem at
hand. When that is too much, I count in my head.
Why this Works: You are literally getting a different part of your brain to take back control from the amygdala.
As long as you're "stuck" in the anxiety, it is impossible to make a reasoned decision. All of your actions will
be reactions to this stress and will only compound the issues.
Now this is a tough one...If your child sets off one of your triggers...try as many of these as you can remember until you have re-grounded yourself in the moment.
1. Pause. Take a few deep breaths. [Seriously, this is the best bit of advice to use every time. If you can learn to just pause in these moments, you can move from reacting to acting]
2. If you are extremely anxious or distressed, try to turn away from your kid or calmly put a hand over your face so the intense emotion on your face doesn't startle him or her. Take a few deep breaths and tell your little one, "Hold on [child's name], mama is a little dizzy" [or something similar, but use your child's name].
3. Tell yourself your child's full name. Tell yourself your child's birthdate. Then count out how many months old they are, slowly, and on the fingers of your right hand if you can. Touch each finger purposefully. Count them out, though. If your child is extremely young, do days. If your child is older, you can stop once you have calmed down a bit and your breathing is normal.
4. Count out five things about your child or your parent/child relationship that are happy/joyous/loving. Count them out on one hand. Gently squeeze each finger between the thumb and forefinger of your other hand as you say them. If your little one is still there, say them out loud, something like this, "I love your smile" [squeeze thumb], "You have the sweetest laughter" [squeeze index finger] etc. etc. Then remind yourself where you are, whom you are with, and that you are safe. 5. Touch your child. Hug them. Rub their hair. Do something to physically reconnect with them.
Once you are both calmed down completely, discuss what happened and how whatever action made you feel
uncomfortable [age appropriate conversation].
My son used to cover my eyes sometimes. He'll come up behind me and put his hands over my eyes. Inside I lose
it. But I calmly remove his hands. I pause. I do as much of the things above as I need to to re-orient myself
and I explain to him that I know he is just playing, but when he does that it really scares mama. I explain that
I'm not upset with him, but when he covers my eyes I can't see and that's scary for me. He understood after a
couple of times and doesn't do it anymore.
Why this Works: Pausing will keep you from having an immediate emotional reaction. Turning away or covering
your face a bit will minimize the impact that your uncomfortable emotions will have on your child. This can help
keep your child from becoming anxious as well or having a bad reaction to your anxiety [secondary traumatization].
Using your child's name will help re-orient you in the present moment. Counting out the months will get a
different part of your brain working and so will using your right hand. Positive affirmations help ground you in
the present and help re-connect you with your child and your loving relationship. The last three statements are to
re-orient yourself in the present moment as well.
Also check out Meridian Tapping techniques. You will have to practice them a bit to remember the sequencing, but
they really help if you are having a panic attack or a flashback.