Fear. An immediate or imaginary threat, perceived or actual, feels terrible.
Fear takes over our brains and bodies. We panic. We freeze. We shake. We may start sobbing.
Fear impacts us all. But sometimes it impacts us disproportionately.
It’s not uncommon for those who come from relational trauma histories to have disproportionately higher and more severe fear reactions. Perceived fear feels like actual fear to our minds and bodies. Time collapses and our past traumatic experiences show up, warping our perception of the present.
If this has happened to you, if this ever does happen to you, here are four helpful tools you can use when fear triggers your own trauma.
And please note: you don’t have to come from a relational trauma background to benefit from these tools. Anyone can benefit because fear is universal.
1. Open up to someone close to you who is grounded and able to support you.
Talk to someone who loves you and knows you well. Someone whose own nervous system is grounded and regulated enough to be able to help you. This could be your therapist, your spouse, a close friend, your pastor, your yoga teacher, or anyone who you feel safe opening up to.
Soothing our nervous systems by relying on others isn’t weak. It’s smart. It gives you perspective, and possibly, a more accurate and realistic view of what’s really going on.
Do what you need to do to access others’ in your life who can support you and help you regulate.
2. Use movement, energy discharge, and heat to soothe your body.
Practice taking deep, shallow breaths. Let yourself release the energy through tears, screaming, pacing. Movement and expulsion like this can help discharge the pent up fear energy in our body.
And then, soothe and warm your body.
Turn up the heat in your house and putting on another sweater. Put on your slippers, put on your hat, hold your hands near the heater.
Soothe your body with heat to help yourself regulate again.
3. Think about the worst-case scenario. List all the action steps that would have to happen for that to come true.
For example, your boss calls you into your office for what you imagine will be a disciplinary conversation. You worry that you will be fired and that you will end up on the street so you panic.
Is it true that every social support in your life would abandon you and you wouldn’t be able to crash on someone’s couch? What are all of the steps that would have to happen for your worst-case scenario to come to pass? And now ask yourself: is it really likely that each and every one of those things will happen?
For most of us, the answer is no. And so this tool can be a very helpful cognitive exercise to play with ourselves when we are flooded with fear and our trauma is triggered.
4. Seek action.
For many of us, getting actionable is a great way to soothe our anxiety and fear.
Anxiety and fear can dissipate in the face of strategic action to remedy the situation we fear the most.
Scared about your child’s lab work prognosis? Get a second opinion and ask for more tests to be run. Worried your boss is upset with you? Check out that assumption with them. Ask for a performance improvement plan and regular meetings to track your progress.
There are few examples where we truly can’t take supportive action in some form to support our fear.
As we wrap up this article today, here’s a simple reminder: even though it feels like the world is collapsing like the world is ending, you have made it through hard times before. You have survived your most terrible, no-good days before, and it’s likely you will survive again.
If you believe you need some support around this, we would love to support you. Please feel free to reach out to us to set up a complimentary consult call so we can match you with the best therapist for your situation.