A post on Facebook led to a link to an article with 49 phrases to use to calm an anxious child. I am going to explain how these can be used to calm an anxious adult, especially yourself: (My inner child needed lots of calming, especially when I was in counseling and remembering my past.) I am using the phrases suggested by the article and how I might apply it to myself. You might find other ways to use these phrases. (All of them all at once is too big a post so I am splitting it over several days.)
31. “I’m taking a deep breath.” Without an explanation this one makes no sense. This is an example of mirroring. This works well with an understanding partner. In therapy, on more than one occasion I had complete melt downs. I could no longer function with any coherency. My counselor mirrored what he wanted me to do. He literally talked to me about breathing, telling me to look at him and copy what he was doing. In extreme situations this can work. I was on the receiving end. In other posts I talk about building a team of people that help strengthen you. This would be a technique to teach to others that are aware of your PTSD and how to help when a massive trigger hits. One of the important goals is to educate and show others ways to help those with PTSD. Teach others how they can help you when your life is turned upside down and inside out. Not knowing how to help sometimes creates an atmosphere of rejection. Sharing with others how they can help in a bad situation is a way to broaden where you can go and who you can interact with.
32. “How can I help?” This is another partner question, or so it seems. A bit of alteration is I can ask myself, “What do I need?” At the root of many anxiety episodes are unmet needs. A childhood of abuse I am not accustomed to meeting my own needs. My counselor trained me to identify, communicate, and work to meet my own needs. It is helpful with a helping partner to be able to answer that question. For friends and family: Do not be surprised if a person in the middle of extreme anxiety they can’t answer this simple question because they probably don’t know. Sometimes asking questions such as, “Can I give you a hug?” “Would you like to lay down?” “Is there someone I can call to help you?” Simple yes or no questions may be more effective in reaching someone in a melt down.
33. “This feeling will pass.” This too shall pass. If it is good, it will pass. If it is bad, it will pass. Another version of this is “I can do anything for 5 minutes.” What do you need to do to until it passes? Prepare in advance possible answers is helpful. I discovered by accident that crossword puzzles, number games and other things that are noncritical but need full attention can help me during the time until the feel will pass. Another reminder: “My track record for survival for bad things is 100%.” For friends and family: Be careful saying this mid crisis. Knowing that a bad thing will pass isn’t always helpful when the pain and confusion is so intense that moment seems unbearable. This would be a phrase I would only use occasionally.
34. “Let’s squeeze this stress ball together.” Have the ball ready. Having a person in distress do something simple and specific with you is a great way of helping them to ground themselves in the moment. What I do for myself is to do something specific and simple. Coloring together, listening to a song together, any number of simple activities together. This is especially helpful with an understanding partner. This is another activity that grounds a person to now.
35. “I see Widdle is worried again. Let’s teach Widdle not to worry.” You want what? Not as strange as it seems. Widdle the worrier becomes another person that is imaginary that you can teach coping skills. As you teach someone else, imaginary or real, you learn the techniques yourself. With adults, you might want to talk to them about a child being worried and what can they do to cope. It was interesting to learn that I could tell someone else what to do to calm down but I didn’t do it myself. My counselor would ask me to advise my children on how to handle the worry I described. Then follow my own good advice. In the process of telling someone else what they could do, I found my own solution. The movie Inside Out is a great example on how to do this.
36. “I know this is hard.” Remind myself that what I am doing is indeed difficult. My counselor spent many hours of reassuring me that what I was doing was hard. Validation and acknowledging that the struggle is real are powerful ways to reassure a person. Many times an abuse person is told ‘it is not that bad’ or ‘you are making a big deal about nothing.’ Minimizing is one of the abusers tools against their victim. The opposite of recognizing that the situation is hard is reassuring and helpful in deciding to ask help to tackle what ever is causing the anxiety.
37. “I have your smell buddy right here.” “A smell buddy, fragrance necklace or diffuser can calm anxiety, especially when you fill it with lavender, sage, chamomile, sandalwood or jasmine.” Scents are one of the most powerful triggers also one of the most powerful calming devices. My sister found an aroma therapy stuffed animal designed to have scent added. I went through a variety of essential oils until I found one that was calming to me. I’m glad this one is in the list because I forgotten to use this recently.
38. “Tell me about it.” A similar phrase was used by my counselor before every session, “What do you want to talk about?” An invitation to share your worries. Some people will groan, ‘that is great if you have someone willing to listen.” Talking to myself works. Works better if I am alone. (Yes, someone overheard me talking to myself and asked me who I was talking to.) If no one is immediately available, pick up your phone and dial no number. Simply talk into the phone as if someone were there. Another similar self activity is to write about my anxiety in an email I send to myself or a journal. Getting the worry out in the open often reduces the worry. I believe prayer works too.
39. “You are so brave!” Oh boy, this is a tricky one. Friends, family and therapists: DO NOT use this phrase if you don’t meant it. Outside recognition of bravery seems like a good idea but most PTSD survivors will spot or suspect insincerity. If you do believe the person is actually brave then say it. If you don’t, lying to an anxious person adds to their anxiety.
40. “Which calming strategy do you want to use right now?” Great question for yourself too. Have a list of things that are helpful to calm yourself. Talking to myself would not go well in a crowded store. Different situations need different coping skills. I also learned that I need to practice these when I am calm or I won’t think to use them when anxious. Friends and family: Talk over with your loved one with PTSD and ask when they are calm what things to do that help them when they are anxious or triggered. A variety of choices ups your chances of helping the person with PTSD.
To be continued…I’ll finish up the list tomorrow.
Have a beautiful day.