One of the challenges of living with a child who has experienced attachment trauma is the propensity to overload the nervous system.  It is so easy for them (and ourselves) to move out of what Dan Siegel calls the “window of tolerance.”  And when that happens, it is common to either shut down or deal with system overload in unhealthy ways, such as rage, hostility or addictions.

Here’s our top 12 tips from the experts:

  • Janina Fisher > Sigh. It’s deceptively simple, and so powerful. You may have heard that taking a deep breath can be helpful, but when anxious breathing can be difficult. If you sign, by default you take a deep breath, which will slowly encourage the parasympathetic nervous system to take over.  The parasympathetic system is the “rest and digest” system.  It’s the opposite of “fight or flight”.  And we can encourage it to turn on by simply deepening and lengthening the breath.
  • Diane Poole Heller > Find your feet. This technique can be used at any part of the day, while sitting or standing. Bringing your attention to your feet is an instant grounding technique.  Simply bring your awareness to them and feel them on the ground, supporting you.
  • Peter Levine > Be the container. When someone is anxious, they don’t feel safe. Levine encourages using a technique to self-soothe and regulate. Simply place on hand under the opposite armpit and cross the other hand on your opposite bicep. The body becomes the container for all of our sensations and feelings; reducing the feelings of overwhelm. Another way is to tap the hands all over the body, which creates sense of boundaries as well as “feeling” the container.
  • Donna Eden > Disrupt the flow of energy from the brain. Donna Eden is one of the most masterful and visionary energy work teachers of our time. She has an exercise that disrupts fight-flight-freeze by simply bring energy (and blood) back to the front lobe of your brain and calm to the nervous system. Simply place one hand on your forehead and breathe. You can move the other hand to the chest/heart if you wish. To prevent anxiety, try the “Wayne Cook” posture for releasing stress from the body.
  • Pat Ogden > Observe your body. Notice what happens in your body when you start to feel anxious. It may be tension in the arms (leading to clenching of fists) or tightening of the jaw (leading to lashing out verbally). By simply noticing the precursor, you can introduce resources to reduce the symptoms.
  • Carolyn Bright > Distract your survival brain. Use distraction in a critical moment through comparisons (for example, noticing the present vs. past) or activities that evoke opposite emotions (for example, expansion exercises that create feelings of exuberance or listening to music).
  • Jim Kwik > Imagine ‘automatic negative thoughts’ as ANTS. Once you visualize your negative thoughts as ANTS crawling out your nose or your ears, you will very quickly abandon the habit!
  • Florence Williams > Go outside. Connect to the grass, feel a tree bark beneath your hands, breathe the fresh air, look at patterns in the ocean or plants, gaze into the night sky and remind yourself of your place in the universe. 
  • Ben Greenfield > Drop and do ten. Intense exercise helps settle the nervous system, boosts the heart rate, and releases “feel good” chemicals. The practice of Tabata is a Japanese concept of exercising that requires short intense burst. You can do it anywhere at anytime for just a few minutes.
  • Robin Sharma > Practice journaling and gratitude. Taking five minutes to journal about the positive things, people, events, and sensory input helps to look for the good in things, foster hope, process and release emotions, and reflect on what you have learned.
  • Marisa Peer > Change your diet. What you eat affects how you respond to stressful stimuli. Cut out sugar and caffeine, eat lots of proteins and natural fats, and add spices like anise, dill, marjoram, peppermint, nutmeg, saffron, spearmint and turmeric. It’s important also to keep your magnesium levels high too so eat magnesium rich foods including apples, parsley, fish, dates, avocados, Brazil nuts and almonds. Also include spices that increase dopamine level such as basil, cayenne pepper, chilies, black pepper, garlic and ginger. Flax seeds, rosemary and sesame seeds also increase your dopamine levels. Foods that push up serotonin levels include coriander, eggs, poultry, bananas, avocados, pears, celery, dates and very dark 85% chocolate.
  • Ben Greenfield > Seek water. Drink it, soak in it, or shower with it. Studies link depression to dehydration because 85% of brain tissue is water. If it’s practical to be in or near the ocean (swimming, diving, sailing, and surfing) this can help reduce stress. If you are showering, make it a cold one as subjecting ourselves to temperature fluctuations is good for us. A cold flannel or cold pack may also help.

(c) Felicia Stewart, 2019