If I could teach everyone in the world one thing it would be self-regulation. This is a key ability for all people, one often disrupted by trauma, especially in those with earliest onset. These simple practices can help an anxious person down-regulate to a more positive and prosocial activation level. They are most beneficial when practiced in advance of anxiety so they are familiar as a go-to for relief.
The process below is a combination of calming techniques in one brief exercise. I learned these through my intensive personal study of the neurobiology of trauma and its resolution. These actions initiate physiological changes that tell the body it is safe. When practiced at least 5 times per day this can break the cycle of distress and help rewire the nervous system for calmness and presence. Through frequent small changes we create and reinforce new and healthier neural pathways.
- If standing, notice the support of the floor or ground under your feet. If sitting, notice the support beneath your sit bones. Take a moment to notice that support under you. Also, a moment to notice the support of the environment around you.
- “Havening”: Cross your arms if you can and gently rub each upper arm with the other hand at whatever speed feels right. Often, slower speeds or deceleration especially help calm the nervous system. Do this for at least 20 seconds to savor the positive feeling. Alternatively, try the Soothing Self-Hold: right hand under left arm near the heart, left hand on the top of right arm near the shoulder. Notice the feeling of holding yourself. Keep the hold as you move to the next step.
- Perform the Smiling Flower/Candle Breath: inhale through your nose like you would when you smell one of your favorite flowers. Imagine taking in the scent, smile, and savor it a moment. Exhale through your mouth like you would blow out a candle, a long breath out. Repeat the Flower/Candle breath at least twice more.
- Keep the hold for another few moments if it feels right.
Use whatever aspects of this or other mindfulness practices help you feel calm. Practice through the day until it becomes a habit so it will be familiar and handy when you need it. In the meantime, you will build healthier neural connections.