As many people around the world have surely experienced by now, life in quarantine is difficult. Life in quarantine means not being able to go outside for a run or to see a movie, or basically most of the activities people use to cope, but you still have to find a way through. Laura Reagan, LCSW-C is an integrative trauma therapist and the owner of the Baltimore Annapolis Center for Integrative Healing. She sits down with Amber Hawley to talk about the best ways of coping with life in quarantine. Remember, you are not alone in this experience of crisis. Let Laura and Amber guide you through this world-changing event.
How To Manage Life In Quarantine With Laura Reagan
I’m sharing another great conversation that I had about coping during COVID. In this episode, I talked to licensed clinical social worker, Laura Reagan. We had this great chat about trauma, the trauma effect, how it’s impacting us, and some things that we can do to help ourselves. I also wanted to let you know, I have a special program. It’s a six-week program for adjusting life during troubling times. Have you been feeling overwhelmed lately? No matter what you do isn’t enough. If you’re feeling stressed or anxious or maybe you aren’t making the progress you feel like you should or could be making, this group is for you. I have a six-week group starting one on Wednesday, the 20th of May and Thursday evening, one starting on the 21st of May. You will join seven other women business owners who are looking to reduce their stress, have more balance, and have confidence in the choices that you’re making right now. For more information, head on over to MyBizBestie.com and click on work with me. Now the episode.
I have an awesome guest with me, another ginger, a fellow ginger. I have Laura Reagan who is an LCSW and trauma therapist. I’m excited about having our talk because as these weeks have gone on, we keep talking about trauma. I thought I need to get the most amazing trauma therapist in here to talk about how do we handle all this. Welcome, Laura.
Thank you. I’m so happy to be part of this.
Why don’t you share a little bit more about yourself and what you do?
I’m a trauma therapist in Maryland. I’m an LCSW-C, we have a little extra letter on there for fun. My practice is near Baltimore. In my practice, I work with people who have complex trauma. Mainly adults who have childhood trauma and using more of the bottom-up approaches and not the more cognitive stuff. Sensorimotor Psychotherapy is one of the things I use in our work in our group. I own a group practice. We use expressive arts, movement, and mindfulness. I’m also the host of a podcast called Therapy Chat.
It’s a very popular podcast too. She’s being modest. Definitely check it out. I like that you’re addressing therapy in many more ways than just the cognitive. It’s tapping into all the physical stuff. I know you also do an equine therapy.
I have co-led some equine retreats, but I’m not trained in equine therapy. The other facilitator at the time when we did those retreats, she was. That was Charlotte Hiler Easley. She’s super expert in that.
I remember seeing you advertising that. I was like, “She does it all.”
You did a good job with your marketing when everyone’s like, “You do those equine retreats?” I’m like, “You heard about that.”
We’ve been talking a lot about what’s going on is impacting everybody. It’s been coming up a lot about people questioning why I’m feeling this way or one day I’ve got it and then the next day I feel like I can’t function. I keep mentioning that a lot of this is trauma-related. I wanted to get your perspective on what’s going on and what you’re seeing.
It’s weird because we’re all going through this collective experience. We’re not all having the same experience, but it’s a huge change from our normal lives. If the way that it’s impacted someone is that they have to stay in their house and they can’t come and go freely the way they used to, that can feel very traumatizing. A lot of what we’ve heard about the pandemic as we start to understand it and I don’t mean news coverage. When you hear that everyone needs to stay inside, on one hand it’s like, “We’re staying inside because we don’t want to spread this.” Our nervous systems get this message of like, “Something’s wrong and everyone needs to stay inside. There’s a big threat out there and we’re not safe.”
That’s what got activated for people as this was first happening. There’s this diffused unknown thing out there that you don’t know how you can catch it. It’s like, “Where’s safety? Danger is everywhere.” You try to get the information. How do we contract this? How do we prevent it? Is there a vaccine? Can we develop immunity? It’s all these things because we want to understand so that we can help ourselves feel safe. The basic experience of this is that there’s this sense of danger. You don’t understand what’s happening. You don’t know what you can do to keep yourself safe. Staying inside is what we can do and that’s good, but sometimes we still have to go out.
You feel the ground has been removed and you’re floating through the air, trying to figure out which way is up. That is traumatic. That’s what people feel when they go through traumas, especially childhood traumas. For children, if the family is moving because let’s say the parent lost a job. All of a sudden, everything the child knew what was normal has changed. They don’t understand why and they don’t know what’s going to happen next. For anyone who’s had past traumas, which is most of us. Many of us especially have experienced childhood traumas because when you’re a child, you have less understanding of what’s going on. Whatever is happening can feel very overwhelming and you don’t understand. You don’t know if you’ll be safe.
There’s the collective trauma that we’re all experiencing right now. There’s the way that this collective traumatic experience that we’re all in is affecting people who have past trauma. It activates that same feeling of how do I get to safety? What do I need? What do I do? Who’s going to help me? Who’s going to take care of me? How can I take care of myself? What do I need to do? There are multiple layers there where there’s something happening now that is traumatic. For many people, it’s activating past trauma too.
It’s important what you said that sometimes this old stuff is getting activated. It’s diffused. We’re not even aware, “Why am I feeling this way?” On a conscious level, you might say, “I’m being told to stay inside.” You’re saying on the physical level or even with all the subconscious stuff coming up, it can feel much more intense than that. It’s hard when we can’t name it and we can’t put our finger on it like, “Why now? Why am I feeling like this and what’s going on?” That’s what so many people are feeling. The sad part is when I’m seeing a lot of judgment around like, “Your response is being disproportionate. You’re so upset or you’re so anxious,” or however it’s manifesting. I’m seeing people feeling even judgment towards themselves. Not just others but to themselves like, “Why? This is ridiculous. Why am I not sleeping?” That’s stuff I’m hearing from clients. I don’t know if you want to expand on that. Are you seeing that?
It’s a perfect illustration of what I was saying about working with the cognition, the thoughts or the body. Your nervous system response is mostly in your body even though it comes from your brain. It’s not like your brain has a feeling. It’s your body that feels it. Your logical prefrontal cortex, your cognitive brain, the most developed part of your brain says, “I’m safe. My house is safe. My family’s safe. We’re all here. We’re not going anywhere. As long as we hunker down, we can get through this and we’ll be okay so why am I freaking out like this?” Your nervous system, which is when you think about how you sweat or your heart is racing or your stomach gets upset or you have a feeling like you need to run. Those responses are trauma responses in the body that relate back to usually the past traumas.
If you were that rare human, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen one, who had never experienced any trauma in childhood, and so everything was very safe and secure for you, then you probably do feel like, “It’s okay. I got this. I know what I need to do. Let me get the facts. I’m going to carry it out.” You probably aren’t going to be having that like, “This is weird. I don’t know what’s going to happen.” You have this innate sense of already feeling safe because you haven’t had those traumatic experiences in the past. For most of us, it brings back any time where you ever felt overwhelmed with fear, didn’t know how you were going to be safe.
Even when I keep using that word safe, logically you might think, “I am safe. That’s stupid. Why am I having this reaction? I’m safe.” When your nervous system is telling you there’s danger, there’s a threat. It’s a survival threat, which this is a survival threat. People are dying. It is real that it’s a threat. It’s not that we all will die. It’s that if we contract it, it depends on what our body will do, how well we can fight it off. If we’ll live through it or if we won’t. It’s not the same survival threat that if a tiger is chasing you, if they catch you, they’re going to eat you or bite you. You’re going to be severely injured. You could still survive, but it would be a life-threatening experience. Your body and your primitive brain perceive this as a life threat and that is real. It makes sense that you have a trauma response.
How much you’re able to stay regulated usually goes back to generally how regulated is your nervous system. For trauma survivors, it’s usually less regulated. What you see is a lot of self-criticism about, “Why am I feeling like this? I should be fine. This is ridiculous.” In general, when we’re in a traumatic experience, we tend to react with one of two ways, either hyperarousal, which is the anxiety panic or an angry response. That’s your fight or flight where your body tells you run. That’s anxiety. When you’re short of breath and you start having a panic attack. That’s a hyperarousal response. Hypoarousal is the other possibility. That’s where all you want to do is sleep or you can’t do anything and you don’t know why. You’re like, “I should be doing this and this,” which is where we beat ourselves up again. “Why can’t I get anything done? What’s wrong with me?” The answer is you have to follow what your body’s trying to tell you and do what you can to help yourself be regulated.
They say they feel bipolar. They don’t mean actual bipolar. They’re using it in those terms. It’s that same thing. One day you’re in hyperarousal and the next day it’s hypo. Some of it is managing how you’re taking care of yourself on that day where you’re hyperaroused. Some of it is part of this natural cycle. The hard thing is it’s hard when it goes between the two because people are like, “What’s wrong with me?” I’m hearing again a lot of self-criticism and beating themselves up when they’re going through that. I don’t know that it’s better if you’re stuck in one. I’m not trying to say that. When they’re going back and forth, it feels very confusing to people. You would probably agree that it’s pretty normal.
You said like one day they’re hyperaroused and one day they’re hypoaroused. The other thing can be one minute, one hour, one or the other. Let’s say you start off your day and you’re already feeling anxious. What do you want to do? Get information, consume news. You click on the TV and you say, “I’ll leave this on for background noise while I’m doing other things.” In that, you’re hearing this very anxious, frantic energy coming from that and then your energy starts to go up. If you’re aware of what’s your feeling, you might say, “This news is getting me more anxious. Let me see what I need to do to help myself feel calmer.” If you’re not aware, it continues to ratchet up and suddenly you’re like, “Do I feel I have a fever? Is my heart racing? Am I short of breath?” It doesn’t help to beat ourselves up to say, “This is so stupid. I shouldn’t be feeling like this. The most helpful thing is to be compassionate with yourself when that happens and say, “I’m getting anxious here. Something needs tending here. What do I need to do so that I could feel calm?” Let these anxious feelings be there but greet them with kindness instead of trying to push them away or shame yourself out of it because it doesn’t work.
Sometimes it’s the naming of it and acknowledging it. It still might be there, but I find it takes away some of the intensity of that whether you sit with it or you do something that you know helps you when you’re in an anxious place. I love the scenario you gave because that’s happening a lot. People are waking up. Information is a way of feeling like we’re in control of something. If I know the right thing, I can protect myself and my family. They do that. Despite the fact that probably every expert in talking about psychological health or well-being is saying limit what you’re taking in and being mindful of it. Yet going to the grocery store in some ways, we do need to seek information. It’s about figuring out when do you have to stop and being aware of that.
It’s being intentional about what you’re taking in. What I do is I read the news in the morning. I don’t watch it on TV because with TV, it just comes and I don’t know what’s going to come next. If I’m reading online, I could choose what I click on so that regulates it a little bit.
I never thought of that. I don’t watch the news either, but I didn’t think about that as being part of the dynamic.
You could be going along fine and then suddenly some horrifying story comes. All of a sudden, you’re spiraling. I try to not check it again until the end of the day. I do subscribe to my state’s alerts too on my phone. If there are any big news about the governor says we need to do this, it will come through on my phone. I know it will be from them so it will be factual. That’s another thing is considering where you take your news from. We all hear that. You know because this is how I know you. We both spend a lot of time in the therapists’ Facebook groups. There’s a lot of anecdotal like “I heard,” or “It can be spread through.” It’s not that they’re trying to spread misinformation, but it’s not facts. It’s not articles. It’s talking.
Even limiting how much we take that in. There’s only so much information about this. How many times do you need to read and explore? If you were personally sick, you’re going to need to get some more information of someone you love. That’s another thing I want to acknowledge that the collective trauma of all of us having to limit our comings and goings is very challenging. We’re not all experiencing it the same way. There are many people who are having a loved one get sick or they are sick or losing someone. That’s extremely traumatic too.
It’s happening so suddenly. It seems there’s some of an element for some people that they start to get better and then they get sicker. That’s very traumatic too. When you think everything’s going to be okay and then it’s not. Acknowledging that there are a lot of ways that this can be traumatic. For people who have less access to resources, it’s going to be impacting them even more. I might be upset because I can’t eat the foods I normally eat or I can’t get toilet paper when I go to the grocery store, but I still have plenty of food to eat. I’m not going to go hungry. There are many people that their resources are much more precarious than that. That’s very real.
It’s going to exacerbate everything that they’re going through. It’s these additional layers that people are experiencing depending on what your past history is and what your current situation is. I’m intrigued that you said you also read stuff at night as well at the end of the day. I always say you have to know yourself and do what’s best for you. I’ll do it in the morning because then I have all day to process and deal with stuff. I don’t do it at night because I’m already somebody who struggles with sleep. Even scrolling through Facebook, I am trying to limit that because an article can pop up and there’s that part of the brain the rubber knacker thing where it’s like, “Now I need to see a little bit more information to know whether I can disregard that article or not.”
When I said in the evening or night, I try to do it at the end of my workday. What I’m doing is in the morning, “What do I need to know for today?” I don’t look at it all day while I work. To me, it’s somewhat of a discipline. If I feel anxious, I might want to check during the day. I have five minutes in between clients and I feel like, “Let me look at the news. No, that’s not a good idea.” I give myself that at the end of the day if I want, I’ll check 5:00 or 6:00 to see if there’s anything new.
For example, I’m here in Baltimore area. I read the Washington Post. That’s what I read in the morning, but we have a small local paper. It’s not for Baltimore. It’s more local to being closer to Annapolis. It’s an evening paper because it’s a small-town paper. It comes out at 5:00. I check there because it’s going to have more what’s going on in my neighborhoods around where I live. That’s probably the reason why I do it that way because that source won’t have new information in the morning. I still could check it in the morning and not in the evening.
We’ve seen this when you’re having a lot of anxiety, you know you shouldn’t do something but you’re going to do it anyway. Try to do it in the way that’s healthy as possible. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said that to clients like, “You need to take a few days off from checking the news, but I know you’re not going to, so can you do it in the morning or figure it out or don’t do it after 7:00 or something like that?” It definitely is the harm reduction model for sure. Figuring out because I get that impulse. I have ADHD. I absolutely get the impulse of like, “I need to do this now. I feel it in me and I need that release.” We can learn other ways to deal with that, but sometimes we have to do it.
That’s one of the hard things about this. I don’t know if any of your other guests have talked about this so far, but the fact that what we normally do to cope is less accessible to us. There are some people who stay busy going around running all kinds of errands, taking kids to all kinds of activities and they don’t feel so much during the day because they’re doing all that.
It definitely has come up. I’m finding that people who are go, go, go like to distract themselves. Not only can they not do a lot of what normally distracts them, but they’re also so extra tired. They’re not able to sustain it and that’s causing them anxiety as well. That’s why there are lots of dynamics that play into that. That’s why you have to assess like, “Where’s my energy at? What am I needing and what can I do?” Even if it’s not the normal thing, how can I do it in a way that’s been adjusted for my circumstances?
Where I’m seeing trauma responses come up is for people who usually are so busy. That’s a very anxious energy. There’s this feeling of being trapped inside. They can’t get away and saying, “I feel like I’m in prison.” That might be the person who when they were younger, the way they escaped their unhappy home was to be doing activities. Many people always say, “When I was in high school, I was in every sport. I did every activity. I was never home.” That’s the way they got away from saying dad being an alcoholic or domestic violence that was at home. When you have that urge to flee and you can’t, that feels traumatic. That does feel like being trapped to your body. Your body’s saying, “Get out of here, escape,” but then the message is, “It’s not safe out there.” It’s no joke. It’s impacting people.
It’s that internal war that drains you in a very different way. It’s not like, “I had this very full day and I’m tired,” like the good kind of tired. “I had this great full day and now I feel good.” It’s more like, “I cannot function right now. I’m done.” The irony is a lot of people are struggling with their sleep. They’re exhausted and laying there not able to sleep, that’s very frustrating.
It’s terrifying for some people because it’s like, “I have so much I have to do tomorrow. I have to homeschool these kids. I’m supposed to work eight hours. We have to have meals.” It’s like that, “How am I going to get through tomorrow if I can’t sleep tonight?” That’s what your anxiety does to you too. There are a lot of things that people can do. There are a lot of things that anyone can do that are free. There are also a lot of things you can do with things you already have or resources you already have access to. I always think about the trauma.
People have different ways of describing this, but this is what the Sensorimotor Psychotherapy training teaches, and the way I traditionally learned before people started talking about trauma as much as they do now, which is great. There are a lot of different perspectives out there. In sensory motor, they say that there are five trauma responses, fight, flight, freeze, submit, which is what some people are calling fawn. The other one is attached cry. I’ll tell you what they all are. If you’re like, “I’m not going to alter my lifestyle. I’m going to go about as normal,” that might be fight. If you feel angry, “This isn’t right. We shouldn’t have to stay in the house,” that’s fight.
When you’re seeing people losing their stuff when they’re in the grocery store because somebody coughed or sneezed or something, it’s that fight part of that response.
I’m demonstrative with my body language, but that’s what our bodies are saying. It’s like, “Get away.” When you feel that urge for fight, then you can do things that will relieve that sense so that you feel you are fighting. You might want to yell. You might want to punch a pillow. One thing that is an exercise that they offer with Sensorimotor Psychotherapy is you take a pillow in both hands. You stand up and using all of your body with both hands, you swing the pillow at something and hit it. You might hit a sofa or your bed. Something that’s not going to hurt, but your body gets the feeling like it’s fighting. It relieves that urge because your body wants to do something.
This came up where somebody was talking about that and the suggestion was made to punch a punching bag. They said, “No, I want to break things. The punching bag isn’t going to do it.” Although I would have encouraged them to still try it. It’s lessening it a little bit, but they’re at that point. It’s like you’re saying there’s a physical release that needs to happen.
If you want to break things, you can break things. You can get things that you might have around your yard. You could take a stick and break it into little pieces or if you have the dishes that you don’t use or stuff that’s in a box that you were going to donate to the thrift store or something. If you can safely take it somewhere, maybe in your backyard, if there’s a safe area where you’ll be able to clean up whatever breaks and something to cover your eyes so it doesn’t go in your eyes. Smash those plates or take a hammer and bust up a brick or something like that. Pummel a big rock and smash it into pieces. That could feel very satisfying.
The sound too, there’s something about all of that. When we don’t have to quarantine, you can go to a wreck room. Back when I worked with kids, I had this little boy who I would freeze trays of ice like a shallow pan. I would give him the ice and he would break the ice. It’s the sound and it’s that feeling.
Expressing what you’re feeling is a big energy of power that you want to get out. You can be creative with it, but what you don’t want to do is if you do it, you don’t have to beat yourself up about it. You don’t want to be taking it out on your family. You want to find a safe way to do it that doesn’t cause disconnection. Part of what is very regulating for all of us is if you have a safe attachment relationship with whoever you’re quarantined with. Assuming that you don’t have to distance from each other because of illness. That can be a good resource too, so you don’t want to cut that out.
It’s doing it in the most productive way possible. It’s not causing more trauma to others around you. That’s if you’re having the fight. What’s the flight response?
Let me tell you one more thing for fight. This one’s going to sound weird, but when you want to break things, it’s not the same. Throwing a ball that a dog goes and fetches, it’s like you’re throwing something. You’re also connecting with your dog. You’re getting the resorts to it at the same time. Throwing that out there. Another one is you can do pushups. I don’t know why. It’s a full body tension and you’re pushing down. It’s like you’re pushing away but you’re getting it out.
A lot of the times if we talk about taking a walk or a run, you’re engaging the lower half more. There’s nothing with the hands or the arms. Sometimes that’s the thing though, “I want to punch something. I want to hit something.” That’s a great suggestion.
For flight, that’s easy because flight means you need to escape. You want to get away. Things like jumping, running in place, doing jumping jacks, all of those can help with that. Taking a walk too. If you don’t have, for whatever reason, the ability to jump or run, but you can walk, that helps too. If your energy is high, you want to walk fast, but even if you can’t walk fast. There have been a couple of times during this where I’m like, “I want to run, but I’m not in cardiovascular shape for running.” I started walking. I was so anxious that I started running. I did a little sprint and didn’t last that long. That adrenaline makes you go and then I felt so much better.
Don’t worry what it looks like to others or what people are seeing. It does feel good. I know for me that feeling of being cooped up. I’m trying to switch up where I am when I’m working and moving around. I found taking a drive by myself with the window down. There’s probably not a lot of traffic. I’m in a place where I can drive and not have to be stop and go and frustrated or whatnot. That helps, but any creative way to give the body that response of like, “Yes, I did it. I did get to leave. I’ve got to escape or I’ve got to get that energy out.” One of the questions that’s being asked or posed is, what can we do for sleep? People who have never had sleep issues are feeling that and they’re unsure.
For sleep, there are many things you can do. I’ll list off a few, but one thing that is helpful is essential oils, lavender. Not everyone likes lavender, but I’m a big fan of diffusing lavender if you have some at home or putting it in a bath to help you calm down before you go to sleep. I’m also a huge baths fan. Not everyone likes baths, but I love taking hot bath with Epsom salt. I do that pretty much every night before I go to bed. I don’t know what it is about that hot bath. It relaxes the body plus the Epsom salt has magnesium that also is good for your mood. It relaxes your muscles. I get in there for 5 or 10 minutes and by the time I stand up to get out, I can barely stay awake. I trudge into my room and flop into bed. Other things you can do is definitely limiting being online or even on your phone before bed. They say at least an hour before bed, not having that light from the phone is very helpful. If you do go on your phone, put it on night mode or whatever.
That helps. I’m a lifelong sufferer of insomnia and I help a lot of people with insomnia. I know the recommendation is two hours, but realistically we’re not going to do that. There are those apps now that take out the blue light because the blue light disrupts our circadian rhythm so that’s the point. Sometimes people either keeps them up or they fall asleep and wake up at 3:00 AM. It’s disrupted the way of the production of melatonin. It’s one of those things where I say to people, “I know you’re not going to do it two hours before bed, but even if you can do it 30 minutes. The more the time, the better it helps.”
I do say an hour at minimum.
That’s realistic. I don’t advocate two hours. I tell people, but then I’m like, “I know you’re not going to do that.”
You have to come up with what will work for you. It’s not about telling yourself to do something that you can’t do. You may not have lavender. You may not have Epsom salts and you may not be able to get them. That’s annoying that those are some of my suggestions. Another thing you might have or you might not have is melatonin at home. A lot of people take that before bed. Magnesium is another thing. It’s in the Epsom salts too, but that is supposed to be good for helping with sleep. I’m a big fan of weighted blankets. They say that if you do one that’s 5% of your body weight that it can help you sleep. The one I have is 10% of my body weight. I still have used it when I was having a hard time sleeping and it was amazing. It was like a drug. The drawback of the 10% is that I basically laid in one position the whole night. I felt when I woke up, I was very stiff.
I don’t think my back could handle that. That’s so heavy. Roxanne’s saying she’s having the problem of waking up at 1:00 AM and staying asleep for hours. That’s absolutely even happening to me. I do have good sleep hygiene habits. Lately, everything’s a little bit off. One of the things that you can do and that’s where the blue light stuff being mindful of how much blue light you’re exposing yourself to, the TV, the phone, tablet, computer. Limiting that and taking the melatonin or magnesium every single night and taking it regularly because it doesn’t hurt you. It helps you build it up in your system. When you wake up in the middle of the night, I like doing progressive muscle relaxation or some meditation app or something where your brain can attach to it. I know for me I start thinking about all my to-dos for the next day or maybe something I read about or whatever. I try to resist getting on the phone although sometimes I do because I’m human so I’m not perfect. One of my favorite podcasts I listen to is called Sleep With Me. I put that on.
There’s a reason that that’s one of the most popular podcasts in the world.
There is because a lot of people struggle with sleep. That would be my suggestion is trying to get your brain to engage in something else to help you relax and go back to sleep if you’re having those thoughts. Given everything that’s going on, we’re probably going to have some nights like that. You have to go back to that self-compassion piece and say, “Can I adjust what I have to do now? Is there a way for me to take a nap?” I’ve even gotten up before and had breakfast, and then gone back to sleep. Sometimes it’s like, “I’m clearly not going back to sleep.”
I would say one of the things not to do, I know this is a temptation that many of us have, is don’t start doing work. Check your work email or start going, “I might as well work on that webinar I needed to start preparing for something,” because then you’re waking your brain up. It’s going to be probably impossible to go back to sleep. Another thing that I like to use is on YouTube and they’re also on Insight Timer app, the theta waves audio things. Have you seen those?
I’ve not tried that.
It works best if you use earbuds, but you don’t always want to sleep with the earbuds. I put it next to my bed. There’s one on Insight Timer that’s about twenty minutes. You look up sleep music and then it says something like theta waves or something like that. It sounds like electronic music that’s subtle and has a lot of white noise in it. You don’t know what you’re hearing. It lulls your brain into that more relaxed state. I find it helpful.
I’m remembering I had this client who that was so helpful for them and I have never tried it especially lately. A lot of our normal rhythms and routines are out of whack a little bit. You keep trying things until something works for you. If something worked for a week, it might not next week because of the level of collective anxiety in everything that’s going on. That’s helpful. We did the fight and flight and then the next one was freeze. If somebody wants to address that feeling.
What freeze feels like is you’re very still and you may be needing to do something like say you were in the middle of working, but then you’re like, “I can’t do anything.” You can still think and you can tell how you feel inside your body, but you can’t get yourself to move. That’s a feeling of being frozen. People say that it feels like a very tingly energy in their body. Their body feels like it wants to move but it can’t. That’s kind of you’re getting down into the hypoarousal when you’re in that freeze state.
One little thing you could do that can help you get back into a more regulated state is to stand up, plant your feet about hip width apart and move your hips in a sideways figure eight. A small motion of moving your hips and it stimulates your vagus nerve. It gets your parasympathetic calming response activated in your body. If that is too hard to figure out how to do, another thing you can do is the same idea. You stand up, feet about hip width apart and then you gently turn your hips and swing your arms. People often want to do it fast, but it’s better to do it slow in a natural rhythm of twisting at the waist and letting your arms lead it and keeping your feet planted. It does the same thing to activate your vagus nerve.
Another thing that can help when you’re in that free state is EFT tapping, which I am not some huge expert in. If you start tapping on the top of your head, above your eyebrow, next to your eyebrow, under your eye, under your nose, under your chin, on your sternum, and then under your armpit, below your armpit where your ribs are. You can also use what they call the karate chop point. I was showing that to someone when we were doing a video session. You can also use this if you’re feeling activated. It could be anxiety or it could be that hypoarousal. There is a little thing that you can say out loud, but they didn’t want to say that. As they were doing it, what happened for them was that inside, they got a message from their self from somewhere inside. While tapping, they were like, “I’m going to be okay.” Every time they tap, they said that and they felt their energy get calmer.
Tapping is good. I mentioned it in one of my videos and didn’t go into it. I was touching on it. I’m not an expert either, but I have used it and I have used it with clients. It is effective. There are YouTube videos on it. There are all kinds of free stuff out there where people can find out how to do it. Changing up the message or working it for them. I’m glad you mentioned that one. That one is important.
What it does is through the acupressure points, it activates the meridians. That part I’m not totally up on. What I know is that it brings you back into your body. If you’re feeling frozen and you feel like you can’t move, even though you can move because you’re tapping, but it brings you back into your body. You might then feel anxious because that’s what your body is feeling. That doesn’t mean you did it wrong. It means then, “Now what do I need to do? Do I want fight? Do I want flight and how am I going to do that?
Paul mentioned it’s similar to Qigong. That’s where I initially learned about it from somebody when I was doing acupuncture. She was giving me like Qigong moves and different kinds of things. It all goes in alignment. I initially started because of a serious back injury. I said, “I have no idea how any of this actually works, but it works.” That’s all I know. It’s one of those things where you give it a shot. Even if it sounds like, “How could that do anything?” I couldn’t stand up straight and then all of a sudden, I could. Nothing about my back changed. There was no structural change. I’m inviting people to try something even if it seems outside their comfort zone. This is something you can do by yourself. No one else has to watch you.
If it doesn’t work for you, it’s okay. If it does, then use it. The other two are submit and attach cry. Those are more attachment strategies versus trauma responses. The first three are trauma responses. Submit is like, “I’m going along with it. I don’t like this, but I have no choice.” That’s not something that you would do to get out of that. The same way, attached cry is like reach for someone who you feel connected to. Someone who makes you feel safer to be around. If you have a secure, safe partner that you’re already home with or a very trusted friend. What I need right now is connection with them and even being near each other can be regulating.
My heart goes out to people who are having to be all alone in this in their house physically. Even though I’m glad you said like even being close by because you can still connect with people via video or whatever. Ideally though it’s in person. When I was talking to someone else, it felt like things were going pretty good. We had a movie night. We watched the movie. We were all excited to watch. We were hoping to see it in the theaters back in the day. We watched onward. I could see my son had been crying. He came up to me. He thought it was so sad. We hugged and cried for a long while.
I’m like, “Clearly this is more than just the movie.” I was crying too because I felt it as well. Even if we’re feeling okay, we’re feeling good. All of a sudden, I get overwhelmed with crying. There’s something about being with somebody who you love and trust. You can release that. It felt so good. That came out of nowhere. The next day, my daughter had it. The alleged reason was different, but I think it’s that thing, we’re all kind of feeling that. That’s ideal if we can have that person and allow ourselves to release.
When we have someone else with us, we can co-regulate together. Think of the difference for the child, for your son of him crying and you hold him and crying too, saying, “This is sad but it’s okay, we’re together and we’re letting it out,” versus what we used to do, which is, “Don’t cry.” It’s like, “Why am I feeling so much? Everyone else is letting me know that this is not a big deal, but I feel so much. What’s wrong with me?” That’s how childhood trauma develops.
There’s the, “Don’t cry, suck it up.” There’s also like, “Don’t cry. It’s going to be fine.” It’s that shutting it down and it’s hard. It’s a very vulnerable place. It’s very healing and we need it.
Crying is such a good tension reliever. When we’re anxious, oftentimes it’s because we’re trying not to feel what we feel. If we can allow ourselves to just feel it and let it out, that helps immensely.
I love movies and stuff so I will sometimes purposely choose something. I need a release so I’m going to choose something. I could give a list of recommendations I’m telling you of which movies to choose lately. It is helpful too. It’s like letting it out instead of holding it all in. I’m so grateful that you came on because everything that you shared will be helpful for people. I’m hoping it gave them some creative ideas of how to take care of themselves or maybe why they’re feeling what they’re feeling. Sometimes we think it’s like one way. We hear it’s a fight or flight. That’s it. There’s no other way. Even then I don’t think we’re always as in tune with that. I appreciate you coming on. If people wanted to find out more information about you, where would they go?
My practice website would be the best. It’s BAHealing.com. It stands for Baltimore Annapolis Healing. Thank you for having me, Amber. This was cool and I’m grateful that you’re doing it.
If you’re not in the area for that but go to the Therapy Chat podcast as well because it’s an excellent podcast. You’ve been doing it for years.
My episodes have been focused on what’s going on right now. There was one about helping kids regulate and there’s one about helping ourselves regulate. If anybody needs that, you can find them also on my website. You’ll see it says podcast or you could go to TherapyChatPodcast.com.
Thank you again, Laura.
ABOUT LAURA REAGAN
Laura Reagan, LCSW-C is an integrative trauma therapist and owner of the Baltimore Annapolis Center for Integrative Healing in Severna Park, Maryland. She uses mindfulness, expressive arts and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy in her work with adults who have experienced childhood trauma.
She offers clinical supervision in Maryland and clinical consultation online and in person.
Her practice website is: https://bahealing.com. Laura is also the host of Therapy Chat podcast, which focuses on trauma, attachment, relationships, self compassion, perfectionism, mindfulness and complementary and alternative approaches to psychotherapy. Therapy Chat can be heard anywhere podcasts are found and at https://therapychatpodcast.com.