Coping techniques including our interoceptors and exteroceptors
Have you ever felt like you needed to just stop, to numb out, to pause, to not feel anything anymore, or turn to coping strategies that were unhealthy? It's understandable to want to stop whatever is around us quickly; not seeing another way out of this feeling, and those negative thoughts.
But, instead of choosing something that's unhealthy and a quick fix to numb, dissociate and disconnect, there are a few ways you can have this option back; have a way to make things stop for a minute, five minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes, etc.
It's also important to remember that one thing that may help someone else may not help us the same way. Finding our own healthy coping strategies is the first step to truly feeling healthier and better and implementing them into our daily lives.
Firstly, I wanted to talk about exteroceptors and interoceptors, and how they are in charge of different automatic responses and jobs to keep us safe. When we are heightened in our survival state (fight, flight or freeze) and this has been triggered, we are alerting our amygdala which focuses on the body and internal processes (and associates with our past experiences).
This triggers our fight, flight or freeze response, potentially leading to panic and anxiety attacks - putting our frontal cortex (thinking brain) offline. Also connecting to our brain and working in partnership with the amygdala is the hippocampus, which focuses on our present, external environment and reacts to the trigger and chooses how we should respond and act in that very moment.
Allowing our mind and body to self-regulate, gain some control, and give our nervous system a break, we can start to use our exteroceptors to focus on our present moment. This can be done by using our five senses:
- Taste: what is in that cup, what is on that plate, if nothing then whatever taste comes to mind.
- Smell: smell what’s around you, the smell of cut grass, a candle, a smelly soap or incense maybe or even your hair.
- Touch: touch your scarf, a necklace, any jewellery or clothing
- Sound: listen to the sound of a clock, a bird in that tree, silence, drilling outside, and children playing.
- Sight: name a few things sporadically that are around without overthinking. This sends a message and alerts our brain and body that we are presently safe, there is no danger of life or death at this moment, understanding that what we are feeling is a memory and from the past.
If you suffer from anxiety, panic attacks, overthinking, flashbacks, triggers around trauma or just need to pause and be, using these can start to reassure you that you are safe in the present moment. This allows you to feel more in control over your emotions and feelings and can start to improve your mental health.
Taking steps to validate our feelings and thoughts (but also to stop, pause, and say 'Not now, I am OK at this moment') can give us an empowered feeling of gaining confidence and self-belief at the same time, knowing we can stop and pause when we need to.
Another strategy to help with this is by using balance. Yoga and other balancing skills with the body can be helpful.
But, maybe you don’t feel like doing yoga poses (or can't perform them in a certain environment or situation). If this is the case, we can start to think about how else can we regain this focus, bringing our frontal cortex back online and coping at that moment - still regaining that control and sense of choice.
I would describe this as balancing an object, whether that be a pen, a ruler or something that was sturdy enough to balance by using our fingers. For example, using four fingers down to one finger and balancing that object and bringing that focus back. Check if there was a shift on what you were feeling before and do you feel like you regained that self-regulation enough? This can be done as many times as needed.
Being able to allow ourselves to cope healthier and connect to all parts of ourselves can help bring a better sense of well-being, therefore enabling our sense of self and wholeness and choosing what path we want going forward.
To conclude, when we get engulfed by what has been triggered, it can be very challenging and difficult to stop and start thinking rationally or logically in the moment. I wanted to bring some coping strategies and reassurance that may benefit people who suffer with self-regulation and being able to re-ground themselves in various situations and start to connect to themselves by pausing for a moment, switching on that frontal cortex (thinking brain) and focusing on what choices are available in that moment.