'Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.'
Have you ever felt like you are spinning out?
Maybe you’ve had times when your thoughts are racing through your head. You might have experienced what you call a panic attack, or an anxiety attack.
Or maybe you’ve had times when you're extremely irritated, angry, frustrated, even filled with rage. You're having trouble thinking clearly and gee that emotional storm can feel really scary. I'm sure we've all experienced this at some point in time where we feel some sort of extreme kind of emotion.
It's really difficult to make decisions during these times. People often use the word triggered to
describe these times. When something particular has ‘set us off’ into an emotional storm.
There’s a reason that it's difficult to make decisions when we are triggered. You see, during these times we're often in our survival mode. Our fight - flight response has taken over. So what this means is that our thinking brain, our prefrontal cortex is kind of not running the show anymore.
What's running the show is our emotion brain, or maybe what you’ve heard it called the reptilian brain.
And that's our survival centre.
So when we get into a state of hyper arousal, we’re either going to be really angry, or frustrated, irritated, we might want to shout, we might want to hit we might want to, yeah, raise our voice at someone else.
Or we might be angry with ourselves. And maybe we don't even know where this is coming from.
And the flight response is any time where you just feel like, 'Oh, my God, I want to get out of here.' I want to get out of, you know, maybe you even want to get out of your own body. Or leave a situation, leave a person. And that fear state, that high anxiety, which underneath anxiety generally is a fear. That's your body trying to protect yourself.
It's your body trying to keep you alive.
It's perceiving a threat, and it's triggering these instinctual behaviors.
What happens then our story (the thoughts) follows state. So the story our minds start telling us aligns with the state that our nervous system is in. There are times when our survival system is serving us really well – it’s there to keep us safe and so it is just doing its job. There are other times though that it is over active.
Today I’m going to share three strategies that bring you back to your senses, back to the present moment. These strategies help bring your pre-frontal cortex back online, out of your fight/flight response and back into your safe and social state. You’ll start feeling more grounded and from that place you can start making a values based decision and decide which ACTtion you need to take from an engaged prefrontal cortex, not out of a state of your survival, fight and flight response.
'The first thing, this is a really simple brain hack, if you do a nice, long exhalation, do;t worry about how long the inhalation is. But coming back to your breath, and allowing your breath to be nice and long and slow. And it might take you a little bit of practice,
One of the best ways to do it is just to start counting. And you might have it going for a count of four to come in, and then maybe make it six or seven, on your outbreath. So you';re going in 2, 3, 4 and out 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Another way you can do it is just allow yourself to sigh out the breath.
So just a nice long sigh, which tends to elongate the breath anyway,
This long outbreath signals to your Vegas nerve that you are safe. Which, when you think about it, really makes sense. Because our breathing becomes more shallow when we are in fight/flight response.
Now you might have to do that five or 10 times and keep remembering to come back to the breath. But I find after about five, I'm already starting to notice a shift in the body. Sometimes if I'm like if it's been quite extreme, maybe 10.
So coming back to the breath is a go to strategy. Becoming more mindful about the breath is so important. The breath is always with us. From the day we are born, hopefully, till the day we die, the breath is with us. And so it's one of the constants in our life and can be a powerful tool to help bring us back to a state where we can make more conscious choices about how we act.
So then the next tip that I want to talk about today is dropping anchor. So dropping anchor is
something that I learned through the work of Russ Harris, who is kind of like my guru, in all things to do with ACT and I have done lots of training with Russ, and I love the way he delivers ACT.
Again, dropping anchor is very accessible. You can learn to do this very quickly while you’re driving, in the supermarket, at work or anywhere really.
Just like a ship might drop anchor, it can hold us steady while a storm rages all around. If we are in an emotional storm, dropping anchor helps to steady us. It does not make the storm go away.
Here’s how to do it. First of all, focus on your breath. acknowledge what emotion state you're in, you might give it a name.
For example, “I’m noticing agitation, anger, frustration showing up.”
Allow it to be there. Make some room for that feeling that is present.
Then connect with your body, connect with where you have control, connect with self compassion. And then become engaged with the world. When we engage with the world, we're trying to make a conscious decision around what are my values here? What values can I bring into play here in this moment, and then ACTing on those values.
What action can I take in the direction of this value. It might be that you connect with the value of self-care, contribution, connection. In my work, I often support people to become more clear on what their values are. Sometimes we don’t know, we can be unsure. Becoming clear on what truly matters to you helps to guide you to do the next right thing.
So once you've dropped anchor, it's not as if it will magically make the emotions go away. We're not in the business here of pushing our emotions away here. But we are in the business of acknowledging that they are there. We can notice and name them, observe them.
So then connecting with our values and take committed action towards our values. In the face of difficult emotions, while we're holding space for those emotions, the action that we can take is where our power lies.
And the third tip is this grounding activity around your technique. I always think of grounding as bringing yourself back down to earth when your thoughts or emotions are spinning out of control.
For me, this one I use in my prACTice a fair bit with clients. It's starts off, take a nice long breath out.
So again, connecting with the breath. And you notice five things that you can see. Have a look
around the room, and name them, say them out loud. Now, what this is doing is connecting, bringing us back to that language centre of the brain.
So rather than being driven by the emotion centre of the brain, you're coming back to the language centre, which is more like the rational, thinking part of the brain. So you’re noticing five things you can see. And you're naming them out loud, ‘I can see a tree, I can see a sign, I can see grass, I can see the steering wheel of my car, I can see someone picking up things in the bush.’
And then you notice four things that you can touch.
Again, this is connecting with the senses, so it's connecting with the body. Four things that you can touch, you might feel your hands on the steering wheel, you might feel your toes in your shoes, you might feel the fabric of the arms of the chair that you're sitting on. You might feel your arms, you might rub one of your fingers on your arms, feel your skin and name these as you go.
Then we work through three things that you can hear. Imagine that your ears are reaching out
beyond the room that you're in, notice what you can hear beyond the room that you're in.
Or if you are outside, what else can you hear?
Maybe kids playing, dogs barking, cars or trains, you might hear the hum of a factory. Now two things that you can smell. Connecting back to your sense of smell, sometimes it's tricky with the smell. So you could just smell your own skin or you might have perfume on. But if you can, you might need to move around a little bit and find something to smell. If you're outside you might find something growing in a garden, maybe lavender or basil, or rosemary in the garden.
And then the last one is something that you can taste. Sometimes we've just got a residual little taste in our mouth. You can kind of do that. Now if you can't smell things or taste things you can just remember something and really get into remembering the smell.
Like I really love the smell of basil. And if you are grounding yourself while you are with someone, you might tell them the things that you smell. Finish off the grounding technique with a nice long out breath. If you are still feeling overwhelmed with strong emotions and not ready to take action, you can always run through the activity several times. Bringing yourself back to your senses and the present moment, over and over until you are ready to connect with your values and
Now if you'd like a copy of this grounding technique, please click here.
In this blog I have shared 3 ways to come back to your senses, which is helpful if you are feeling overwhelmed with strong feelings such as anxiety, stress, frustration, anger or rage. I hope you’ve found them useful.
Until next time, take care.
- Angela Mitten, The ACT Counsellor