Recently, I read the following article about helping teenagers "settle their glitter." It stuck with me, both practically and metaphorically, as exceptional counsel for anyone: When you're activated, tend to your nervous system. When you're overwhelmed, regulate. When your glitter is swirly, give it a minute to settle.
Strong advice in how to self-manage, and in how to avoid flinging your glitter (harm) onto everyone else.
(side note: I'm a mom with 4 sons and believe glitter to be a weapon of war...)
As we process the 20-21 Tridemic there is value in seeking tools that can be deployed, quickly and real-time, to manage our own strong emotions AND to help mitigate the pain of emotional overwhelm when it occurs in people around us.
Stress & trauma-mitigation in the middle of ONGOING stress and trauma is a heavy lift. Trauma primes the nervous system to react, and many of us are experiencing very high levels of toxic stress or vicarious trauma, daily. The toll is cumulative.
There can be growth despite and through and beyond all this harm if we're willing to get aspirational about who we want to be, and to learn and practice the skills needed.
A few tips to help along the way:
Unless you're required by occupation or law to do so, disconnect from media. (yes, I recognize the irony of the fact that you're reading this on social media). Vicarious trauma is as real as primary trauma, and the effect is compounding. Reducing our exposure is critical to giving our nervous systems a rest.
Hydrate. Yes, I'm seriously saying that *again*. No, I'm not kidding any more than I was the last hundred times I said it.
Go outside and breathe the lovely (pollenated) spring air. Go for a walk. Stretch. Move your body in some kind of way.
I understand -- I mean I really, really understand -- the compulsion to doomscroll. How else am I going to stay informed? How else am I going to stay socially conscious?? How else am I going to ensure the world keeps spinning on its axis???
My task is actually pretty small: take care of me so I can take care of the circle around me so they can each take care of the circle around them. To do that well, I have to first settle my glitter.
When strong emotions “hijack” our nervous system (to be clear, it hijacks our entire being: brain and body are not separate entities) many things can show up in our bodies physically even before we consciously begin to process it. We may feel our hearts begin to pound, our breathing become shallow, numbness or tingling in our fingers/toes, a tightness in out throat, a flush in our neck or faces, and a sense of being unable to speak or even think clearly.
Moving out of emotional hijack requires, first and foremost, The 3R’s of Recognition, Regulation and Reconnection with our body.
The symptoms that accompany emotional hijack are autonomic and outside of our conscious control. However, by learning to Recognize our physiological cues (some listed above) we can begin to Regulate our physiology by Reconnecting with our bodies.
I use the following 5-Step Reconnection strategy - I like it because it doesn't make me think too hard and it is really unobtrusive. However, this is by no means the only way to down regulate (settle your glitter). Really, anything that brings attention to and helps regulate your breathing will work.
Plant both feet firmly on the ground (standing, sitting - doesn't matter). Notice the floor supporting you. Feel the stability moving from your soles on up.
Breathe deeply and slowly. In for 3, out for 6. Again. In for 4, out for 8. Again. And one more time. (This is also known as "Vagal Breathing" for those who care about such things -- there's a whole body of research on activation of the vagus nerve)
Notice your heart rate as you tend to your breathing. Let your shoulders drop, allow your breathing to slow and deepen further. Notice your pulse drop.
Unclench your hands. Turn your palms outward. Breathe again, deeply.
Drop your shoulders one more time. Breathe deeply. Notice the floor beneath your feet. Tune into your pulse and breathe deeply, again. Gently shake out your hands.
The beauty is this can be done quietly in any setting or situation, with no one even noticing.
This technique is one way to deliberately bring us “back into” our bodies. While the steps are simple, there is a learning curve to doing it automatically when a stress-reaction has already taken over. We have to practice to become proficient and, experientially, the hardest step is recognizing we need to do it in the moment!
A final, gentle reminder: none of us were born knowing how to do these things, and few of us were taught these basic skills at any point in our lives. Learning to manage our own acute stress reactions allows us to show up as the person we want to be in times of high stress, both for ourselves and for each other.
I am no use to anyone from a highly activated state - it only adds to the chaos and harm. Taking steps to settle my glitter allows me to step into choice about my response; it is a important step in reducing the compounding impact of these times on ourselves and mitigate harm to others.
If you know someone who appears to manage this effortlessly – believe me, they have practiced. There is as much muscle memory built into emotional regulation as there is to shooting a free throw (I'm told - I have no idea) or efficiently chopping vegetables (while preserving your fingers). Emotional regulation is effortful, practice matters, and becoming proficient pays enormous dividends over a lifetime.
As you practice, don't forget: Play. Laugh. Hydrate.
Our joy matters.
Take care of each other.