Tips to stop traumatic reactions in real time Sarah Woodhouse

Tips to stop traumatic reactions in real time

Many of us are facing difficult situations and challenges at the moment. Over the past month I’ve been contacted by people struggling with health issues, financial stresses, job insecurity, marriage breakdowns and unwell loved ones. These experiences are ‘part of life.’ They’re also potentially traumatic.

Life throws us major curveballs sometimes, and how we handle them makes all the difference to our wellbeing. Many of us are programmed to respond to life’s challenges in a traumatic way that locks us further into an old reaction. With practice we can learn to respond in a new way – in a way that gently moves us into more healing, more self-love and more wisdom. Easy if you know how, right?! Here are some insider tips to help you stop traumatic reactions from developing in real time…


1- Notice your reaction in the moment (Ok, I get it, I’m having a traumatic reaction to what’s going on). Maybe you notice your negative thoughts are racing, or you notice that overwhelming fear has taken hold. Or maybe you notice you’re leaning on an old, unhelpful way of coping (e.g. overeating). Any of these can be signs we’ve moved into the trauma loop. 

We want to create space between you and your reactions. This prevents us from identifying with the trauma, and getting stuck in the trauma reaction. Being able to witness our traumatic reaction is the first step to creating this space.


2- Notice how you’re feeling emotionally and where you feel the tension or energy in your body, notice if/how it changes, release it if you need to (cry, strong exhale, shake your arms, stamp your feet… let it out however it wants to come out).


3- Notice painful emotions AND notice all the good sensations or nice things (the sun on your skin, the smell of your shower gel, a cuddle). This is how we make sure our window of tolerance doesn’t get smaller and smaller (we keep shifting up out of fight/flight, even if only for a second).


4-Talk to people who can hold your feelings without needing to fix, and stop seeing people who trigger your fight/flight/freeze.


5- Meditate and/or find time to do nothing (close your eyes, breathe, listen to the birds).


6- Use affirmations (even just simply mentally repeating ‘everything’s going to be ok’ will help your nervous system regulate).


If we can dial down our fight/flight response we can help reduce the event’s traumatic charge. We don’t have to do this perfectly, trying is enough. And of course, get help from a professional if the situation, or your reaction, is too big to carry alone.

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Sarah Woodhouse is a trauma expert, research psychologist and writer who delivers people the knowledge and tools to recognise and overcome self-defeating cycles, to achieve personal freedom and success.

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