As a trauma therapist, I’ve worked with plenty of survivors who are struggling to stay calm, grounded and present in between sessions.
This happens because a major impact of trauma is nervous system dysregulation.
Trauma survivors often find themselves trapped in a fight or flight response which leads them to feel chronically on edge, zoned out, or irritated. This can make recovery difficult and strain your relationships.
A foundation to my approach is finding ways to regulate the sympathetic nervous system (by switching on the parasympathetic nervous system response) as a way to help survivors feel more calm, grounded, and in control of their actions.
One of the most effective ways to achieve this is through somatic strategies. Somatic skills are techniques that leverage the physical body to help calm your system.
There are literally hundreds of options – here are five to get you started!
1. Get Cold!
Cold temperatures are a quick and easy way to calm the body, reduce anxiety, and regulate the nervous system.
My preferred method is to get a glass of ice water and drink it quickly – this takes almost no time at all!
You can also fill a bowl with water and ice and submerge your hands or even your face.
Play around with different techniques and find what works for you!
2. Listen to Binaural Music
Bilateral stimulation is the repeated rhythmic stimulation on the right and left sides of the body that helps to calm the body and increase access to positive feelings and imagination. It’s a major part of Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy [link] but it’s also an easy-to-use somatic strategy to calm anxiety and regulate the nervous system!
To use this technique, put in some headphones and find a playlist or a song that incorporates bilateral music.
Here’s one example! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQoxYF6C-eM
3. Dance to A High Energy Song
One of the best strategies to move through big emotions and regulate the nervous system is to move your body. This can be really hard to do when you’re zoned out or shut down so one of my favorite recommendations is to put on a high-energy song that you love and let your body do its thing.
Not only can the music act as a signal of safety for your brain, moving your body may also help you to move through the stress cycle and basically trick your brain into thinking that you’ve escaped or fought off the threat successfully.
4 .Chew Gum or Eat Spicy Candy
This is a classic grounding technique that I find particularly helpful if you are shut down or dissociated.
All you need to do is eat something spicy, minty, or with some sort of strong flavor that you can put your attention on. This does two things for your body.
First, by producing more saliva you will be activating your digestive system, which is a key part of the parasympathetic nervous system response. This basically tricks your body into moving you from fight and flight into rest and digest.
(PS – this is one of the reasons that so many trauma survivors struggle with binge eating – because it’s a super effective and pleasurable regulation strategy!)
Second, giving yourself something to focus on that isn’t whatever is triggering you. I sometimes refer to anchors – stimuli that help us redirect our attention to the present.
Taste is a fantastic anchor!
5. Shake It Out
If you only have a few minutes and you’re looking to get some bang for your buck, I highly recommend shaking as a nervous system regulation strategy.
One way to approach this is to completely relax your arms (get into noodle arms!) and then twist back and forth, shaking your body all over.
This is a helpful way to reduce stress and tension in the body so that you can re-regulate and get more grounded into the present.
Remember – there are literally hundreds (thousands?) of ways to regulate!
I encourage you to experiment with these options as a starting point.
You will continue to discover what strategies work best for you over time. 🙂
Let me know in the comments what regulation strategies have worked for you!
The eating of spicy foods, or eating too much makes so much sense to us now.
We do well with music and a video at the same time. 2 different types of input at the same time helps.
Being cold helps too.
Love that you are using some of these strategies already! 🙂