Updated: Dec 22, 2020
When you suffer CPTSD or PTSD long enough, you become wired for trauma, making even the slightest upset a potential trigger. Sending you into a tailspin. A downward spiral. A fight-or-flight response.
And when you experience intergenerational trauma, trauma from your ancestors that rides on the strands of your DNA, you live in a fight-or-flight response. Every day. Day after day. And it takes everything you have to get out.
Living In a Fight-or-Flight Response
Having a fight-or-flight response means your nervous system is on edge. You're jumpy. Jittery. Unable to think clearly. To follow through with a thought or an action.
Everything becomes a threat. A trigger. Sometimes making you act out of character. Yell. Swear. Be aggressive.
Causing you to be constantly tired. Drained. Making you appear lazy. Unproductive. Unable to complete tasks. Unable to keep up with family and friends.
Leaving your body tense. Tight. Rigid. In pain.
Blocking you from knowing your body’s needs. Or what is called your interoceptive sense. You can’t tell when you’re tired. Or when you’re rested. You can’t tell when you’re hungry. Or when you’re full. You are unable to identify how you feel. Every feeling becomes blurred together into anger. Panic. Fear.
Once your body is programmed to fight or to flee, you can quickly go back into a state of chaos. Scrambling. Like your life depends on it. Even if it’s not your trauma that it’s stemming from. For triggers know no difference between you and someone else. And like lightning, they can strike in the same place twice.
Sometimes, you can sense a trigger coming. Feel it before it happens. Like a distant storm. So you remain vigilant. Heightened. Aware. Like a deer in the woods. Waiting. Antlers alert. Ready to fight or to flee.
Or you freeze. Unable to move. Terrified. Scared for your life. And we all know what happens to deer frozen in the headlights. Their fate is no longer in their hands.
But there are ways I’m finding to get through the storm. And to end up safely on the other side. Sometimes without a scratch on me. And from the times that leave scars, I’m learning. Trying something new. Fighting in a different way. Fighting for the peace I know now exists. The peace I know I can have. The stillness. The quiet. The safety within myself.
9 Steps to Getting Out of a Fight-or-flight Response*
Step #1: Meditate
I meditate every day. To learn to hear the voice inside me. To learn how to set intentions. To prepare myself for when I enter into a fight-or-flight response. The more I meditate, the quicker I hear myself when I’ve been triggered. And the quicker I'm able to get back to myself by following my steps.
Step #2: Practice Observing
If you can learn to be in the present — in the moment you are in — you can learn to bring yourself back to the present when a trigger throws you into the past. Or when anxiety places you into the future. It’s like Mr. Miyagi says, Wax on, wax off. Wash the dish. Notice the bird. Observe. Be present.
Step #3: Follow a Routine
Every day, I do the same things in the same order. At least first thing in the morning. When I’m the most susceptible to being triggered. When I’m the most angry. On days I don’t follow a routine, I am scattered. Lost. Easily confused and overwhelmed. Quickly triggered.
Step #4: Do Yoga
Born from an ability and a desire to connect to one’s higher self (or Higher Self, depending on your beliefs), the poses are designed to create movement within — an energy flowing through you. For my practice, I do Sun Salutations, twists, inversions and Yin Yoga throughout the day. Trying new moves like Crow Pose when I feel strong. The movement gets my body to unlock from the tight grasp it resides in. Once I’ve created space inside my body, I lie in Corpse Pose, or Shavasana, and release all the pain hiding in my crevices. Flushing out. Letting go. From root to crown. One chakra at a time.
Step #5: Take an Epsom Salt Bath
I use Epsom salts to relax my muscles and to restore my magnesium levels. Baking soda and peppermint to help detoxify my body. Young Living’s Dragon Time — when it’s the time of the Dragon. And add other essential oils when I feel drawn to them. The goal of the bath is to let go of bad energy. To cleanse your aura. To release.
Step #6: Go with Your Body’s Needs
Move if you need to move. Rest when you need to rest. Learn to listen to what your body is saying. How it reacts to certain situations. To certain people. And to food. For example, I've learned I need to eat a gluten-free, plant-based diet. So my body can properly digest my food. Break down the protein. Our ability to connect to ourselves is connected to our digestion. And when I’ve eaten poorly and I enter into a fight-or-flight state, it’s more difficult to calm the fires and reconnect to myself. To my center. Listening to our bodies also means not pushing ourselves too hard. Relaxing. Resetting. And practicing good self-care.
Step #7: Engage Your Senses
This can be easy to avoid when you have sensory processing disorder (SPD) like me, but especially for my fellow sensory warriors, it is so important we stimulate our senses. While it can feel unsafe, we can do it one thing at a time. For example, most days, strong smells make me feel nauseous. Disoriented. Sick. But if I don’t smell anything throughout the day, and then I smell something the next, it’s trickier for my brain to process the sensation. So each day, I have to practice smelling things. And while I’ll probably never be able to tolerate the smell of fish, I’ve learned to love the smell of lavender. Which I can apply under my nose to filter out other smells while still engaging my olfactory sense.
Step #8: Make Your Steps Visible
I record my steps for getting out of my fight-or-flight response so I can go back at a later time. When I need them again. Write them down and put them in the same place so you know where to find them; like in a journal or typed into your phone. Heck, post them on your fridge. I’ve drawn pictures before too so, in a heightened state, I can just look and know what to do. Make them accessible. Especially for when you're triggered.
Step #9: Keep a Journal and Reflect
I’ve kept a journal most of my life and being able to go back and identify times I’ve been triggered has helped me understand my fight-or-flight response. See what situation I was in when I was triggered. What the surrounding factors were to feeling unsafe. What I did as a result. Journaling has aided my progress in ways nothing else has. My journals are my records. My relics. My documents of ancient wisdom.
Reflect on your past journal entries often. Notice what works and what doesn’t. Use them to determine what your plan is for being triggered while in public. Or when with a friend. Or when at work. Give yourself multiple ways to self-soothe. To get back to the moment you are in. To learn how to heal yourself. So you no longer only survive, but thrive.
*These are the steps I take to get out of my fight-or-flight response. Yours may be different. Always trust your intuition and (if applicable) team of experts regarding your own health.
This story originally ran on Psych Central on July 10, 2020. Since Psych Central has been sold, the link to the original is no longer available:
Cover image by santiagotorrescl95 from Pixabay