Calming Maggie...Is That Really Possible
Truth be told, I’ve been procrastinating on writing this blog.
As a coach I know what I need to do when I’m triggered yet here I am struggling with my own pain and chaos at the moment. I’m hurting and wanting things in my life to turn out differently than they are and while I know that I am ruminating on what could have been, it just isn’t.
Today and in the past few days I am grieving. I’m grieving the many losses that have come as a result of the actions of others. All things that are out of my control. All things that I know are pointing me to the One who actually does have control in my life, yet here I am arguing with God that, once again, I have faithfully prayed and things don’t seem to turn out well. At least not to my satisfaction.
Can anyone relate?? Anyone? Anyone?
So I guess this post is more needful for me, or I should say, still needful. I thought I’d be further along by now, because truly, Maggie has a mind of her own and seems to have all the say…at least until I stop her.
And it can be done.
But do I want to stop it or do I want to stay in my pain?
Really the question is, am I willing to do what is needed to to face my pain and change the way I respond to it?
So here I am in my mess. I hope you know that the purpose of this blog is not to show you that I have it all together, but to let you know that you aren’t alone. I feel you. I’m with you. I’ve been there. And at times, I still am.
This week has been one of those times.
Maggie’s a mess. And so am I any time she gets hijacked, like right now. It’s a real thing, as you may have read my last post titled, Will It Ever Stop. If not, read it here.
Today we are going to look at how to calm our amygdala, or Maggie as we named her, in order to get our brain back online and back to functioning well. I will be quoting Peter Levine often because he is the expert and quite frankly, much smarter than me. If you want to know more about him and his qualifications, feel free to look him up. Just know he has a PhD in medical and biological physics and holds a doctorate in psychology. He studied stress and trauma and the impact it has on our bodies. Suffice it to say, he is a good source to turn to for further information.
The goal is to learn how to calm your amygdala when you are in a triggered state.
Remember that Maggie is the one who watches out for our safety. Under normal circumstances, when we are confronted with something that causes stress, anxiety or trauma, we will go into a fight, flight, freeze or fawn response. It’s natural and it happens without us consciously thinking about it or putting our body into motion. When the situation has ended, Maggie realizes that it’s safe for us to return to normal. She no longer has to be on the lookout in this situation and she lets our brain know that we’re good. Life can go on as normal.
However, as partners, we have been barraged by lies and secrets, often worse. These things cause us to never know when we’re actually safe and so our brain continues to manufacture the hormones cortisol and adrenaline that flood our nervous system to the degree that Maggie is constantly on the lookout for danger, which keeps us in our fight, flight, freeze or fawn response. Because her job is to keep us safe, she remains on high alert. She never rests, even when we are actually safe.
Trauma happens to everyone and everyone responds differently. For those with repeated trauma or something that either felt, or was life-threatening, we will most likely acquire PTSD, or as some with lifelong trauma, C-PTSD. It used to be thought that only war veterans could be diagnosed with PTSD but through years of research, they learned that those who never went to war had the same responses as if they had. This is when they realized that it’s the trauma of the situation that causes PTSD, not war alone.
Sidenote….I am not here to diagnose nor am I qualified. If you suspect that you are suffering with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) or C-PTSD, which is a complex form, please see a qualified professional who is well versed in trauma. I will also add a disclaimer that some of us do not like the word ‘disorder’ simply because of the implication that it’s either something we have caused or is something we can’t heal from.
So, how do we calm Maggie?
Dr. Levine states in his book, Healing Trauma, that “trauma disconnects people from their bodies”. This is the reason why we will say that we need to get ‘grounded’. It’s a way to reconnect with our body. The goal is to begin to heal and not allow our emotions or thoughts “knock us off balance”….like I have been allowing them to do this week.
The following exercise comes from page 43 of Healing Trauma (quoted and paraphrased for clarification):
To begin, stand and simply feel your feet on the ground. Notice the springiness and stiffness in your legs. Feel the way your feet contact the ground, almost like suctions cups. With your feet firmly planted, sway slowly from the ankles, first from side to side, and then forward and backward. This will help you locate your center of gravity, in the upper pelvic area. Place your hands on your lower belly and sense your center of gravity. It may be helpful to continue swaying gently while doing this.
Now sit in a chair with your feet on the ground or the floor. Place your hands on your lower belly and sense the ‘energy’ coming up from the ground and into that area through your feet and legs.
Another way to help ground yourself is to work with an animal. They are very instinctual and can often sense when you are feeling stressed or emotional. Often times horses are used in trauma therapy for this reason.
Place your hands on the pets body or your head upon its chest. Notice the calmness in the animal. Listen to its heartbeat and feel its breathing. Feel yourself settle in to the animal’s own natural rhythms. You may try this or as long as it feels comfortable for both you and the animal. As little as a few minutes may have a noticeable effect.
People will often have pets for their calming affect.
As I mentioned in my last post, I use systematic breathing to help calm me down. There is research to prove that it takes approximately twenty minutes to calm Maggie. Breathing in through your nose for a count of five and letting it out of your mouth for a count of five can bring you back into balance. There are other methods of breathing to bring Maggie back to a calm state.
Some other grounding techniques by The Depression Project is as follows:
Breathe slowly and deeply and then bring awareness to
Five things that you can see
Four things that you can touch
Three things that you can hear
Two things that you can smell
One emotion that you can feel
The TRAILS Wellness suggests something similar but also a few others.
Cross your arms and rub from your shoulders to your elbows
Massage your own neck or shoulders
Hold your head-forehead and back of head
Engage Your Mind:
Name all of the states in alphabetical order
Count backwards from 100 by 7
Say the alphabet backwards
Look around and try to pick out which color there is the most of in the room
Healing comes in many forms, not just one. Talk therapy is a great form of healing, but is not complete. Somatic, or your body/nervous system, needs to be healed as well. EMDR can be an effective treatment.
Helping to tame Maggie is a great start to your overall mind and body healing.
The idea with each of these exercises is to focus your mind on something other than what is currently stressing you or causing Maggie to go offline. Remember, you can’t control when she goes offline but you can actively train yourself to get her back under control.
That is our goal while you continue to work through your own healing.
For me, I needed this reminder to be able to stay present, not ruminate on what isn’t and all that’s out of my control, and to calm Maggie down and back to her safe zone.
How quickly do you recognize when you’re triggered?
What works best for you to get back online and to be present?
Please share in the comments to help others know what seems to work best.