One of the most helpful stepping-stones in recovery is breath- work. Learning to breathe effectively forms a foundation for all future work we may choose to engage in. Breathing through our anxiety, for instance, can help reduce our symptoms, quickly and dramatically.
Breath-work also forms a foundation for developing meditation practices should we choose to pursue adding meditation to our recovery toolbox. Mindfulness (learning to live in the present moment) is a practice that is revolutionizing recovery in mental health.
Breath-work is a first step in learning mindfulness concepts.
A second key concept is Grounding.
In my own recovery practice, Grounding translates to simply using techniques that help me to restore my direct connection with reality. I still find myself in states of self-protective dissociation, from time to time. Dissociation protects us emotionally. The state allows for detachment from our surroundings when the senses start taking in too much of the action.
Numbing out for a time acts to silence things inside, for those days when our mind is dealing already with far too much in terms of trauma memories.
Dissociation only really becomes a problem for us when the activation of the process creates enough of a loop in memory that activation of dissociation quickens and makes more reactive the dissociative response.
The response is quite normal for us otherwise.
When a feedback loop occurs in the filing system in our brain: This creates a problematic issue as the process causing the action of checking out of reality for a time, and with this looping in play, dissociation comes at us more often than is helpful.
For some of us with PTSD, this dissociation then shows up for us when we'd rather it didn't.
What does dissociation feel like?
Do you recall, for instance, losing touch with reality for a time while driving? Feeling as though you've missed, mile upon mile of highway? Then, seemingly suddenly, you sort-or 'wake-up' to realize where you actually are on the road your travelling?
This is what the dissociative response feels like in action to me.
The symptom can become quite problematic for us in the long-term, should we end up with this state looping in the brain leading us deeply into a more debilitating situation of absolute withdrawal from life.
Grounding techniques can help significantly in regaining our connection with reality. Or, grounding can assist us through a process we can us as a means for coming back into the real world following a dissociative episode:
One that perhaps kicked in to calm the input of the environment for us to physiologically protect us from adding insult to the injury of an already far too busy, hyper-vigilant mind.
Trauma, with anxiety active, gets us thinking incessantly sometimes. Focusing too much about the past or transporting our imagination too far into the unknown future. This can leave us in a state of inner-flux and can leave us highly symptomatic.
Remaining grounded and functional in these situations can be quite difficult for us to do. Keeping our focus about living only into the reality of the present moment takes practice following traumatic experiences.
When living with PTSD, it's best for us in terms of recovery to schedule a consistent practice regime for breath-work, mindfulness, and grounding techniques. For us all, every ounce of prevention we can muster can be definitely worth it's weight in gold.
Managing our symptoms: This for many of us will be a need long-term. It's therefore better for us, in all situations that can be troublesome for us along the way, to be ahead of game and educationally prepared.
Practice, does make perfect. It keeps us on our toes and in touch with the sweet-spot of near perfection over time. Daily practice prepares us for those unexpected triggering events that are inevitable in our lives.
During our breath-work, for example, when we allow just TEN MINUTES periodically throughout the day of selfish 'me' time to work with our breathing, I personally found myself by doing so making incredible strides in my own recovery.
With breath-work alone added at intervals (like a pill we might swallow) every day, we can use those ten minutes of silence by focusing on only our breath, which will prepare us, should we so choose to explore the concepts, towards learning the deeper practices, like mindfulness, which will over time bubble up inside of us to accept the validity of this singular truth:
The Present Moments in Life are truly the only real moments we have to experience in our unique, personal surroundings, and it is within our uniquely personal inner-space that we can appreciate some near-silent, quiet moments, simply observing our thoughts, rather than allowing these thoughts to steal away our sense of peace.
Looking back at the past or fretting about what lies ahead in an unknowable future?
This activity is really, in the present moment, only about us recalling memories and imaginings we're reflecting upon. There is no reality left in either one of these states of mind.
Daily breath-work and daily grounding practice will improve our connection to reality in a preventative way, reducing the brain and body's need for dissociative self-protection, over time.
Traumatic memories can be so intrusive, this is true. They seem to constantly override our experience of the present. It is important to learn to reflect upon the trauma experiences by choice. As we might do in the safety of a counseling relationship.
To learn breath-work practices and grounding techniques we sometimes do best with a human teacher. This is the gift of therapy, actually. Finally accepting the courage we need to allow ourselves a little vulnerability can lead us into the world with a human being who just might know a thing or two about exactly where we've been.
Let's face it. We aren't supermen. To learn these techniques takes training. Help is waiting. We only need the courage to risk being vulnerable enough to ask for it sometimes.
Thus my own consistent insistence that any who might visit here consider entering into a relationship with trauma-and-violence informed, clinical care:
I hope you can use the two videos included in this blog as an introduction to developing your recovery practices. The video is courtesy of Dr. Anna Baranowsky with the Traumatology Institute.
One of the best products they offer, the Breath Trainer App, is a very inexpensive smart-phone application and is an ideal tool to get started practicing and training our bodies to respond to anxiety.
I've included here a video as well that grants 10 minutes of doing nothing else at all, which helps to train the mind in focusing solely for awhile on the breath when anxiety might take hold, or we find ourselves dissociating from reality for whatever reasons.
Learning to reduce our symptoms consciously, using our own breath and the act of our own breathing to get us there: This is what starting out in recovery was first actually all about for me.
It's a very wise decision to make, agreeing to learn these tools. In terms of adding to our lives a little prevention, follow the links below as well to find a 12-Step grounding tutorial.
Many thanks to Dr. Anna Baranowsky and The Traumatology Institute for explaining in the video for us both of these very powerful techniques.
Be Well. . . . .
Darren Michael Gregory: The Trauma Recovery Blog
Further Reading and Links
Breath Work: TI Breath Trainer App
Relax & Breathe: Do Nothing for 10 Minutes: YouTube
Disclaimer: These materials and resources are presented for educational purposes only. They are not a substitute for informed medical advice or training. Do not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem without consulting a qualified health or mental health care provider. If you have concerns, contact your health care provider, mental health professional, or your community health centre.
Darren Gregory © 2014: All Rights Reserved
Certified: Community & Workplace Trauma Educator Traumatology Institute.
Associate Member American Academy Of Experts In Traumatic Stress.