Posts Tagged Hyper arousal
Last week I really tested out what I learned about Hypervigilance with a great group of people. Each time my mind started to wonder things like “What did they really mean by that?”, “Maybe they don’t like me,” and etc., I stopped and responded to myself with things like, “Let’s table that for later in case I still feel that way about it”, or “Do you really think that’s true?” Before I knew it, the hyper arousal turned itself off and I had a great time. People even commented on how much more involved I was with the group than last year. I got to know two amazing people on the trip a lot better now too and am looking forward to hanging out with them more over the next year.
When I got home though, something devastating happened. Instead of internalizing everything and isolating myself, I reached out to someone and I am really glad I did. Reaching out to one person triggered a chain reaction of reaching out to more people throughout the week. I made plans and spent time with people who I enjoy spending time with who gave me great support and who I wanted to get to know more. I even stopped someone in the hallway to talk about one of my most favorite hobbies, running, and made lunch plans for next week. It was a big difference from the rut I kind of got myself in since starting my life over a year ago. Every once in a while I make the effort to get myself out of it, but this time I felt like I had a major click go off in my head and I hope that this will be a permanent change. By Friday, I responded to a post about needing allies for coping with major life changes to not be so isolated.
Over the past year and a half I’ve dealt with major life changes and so are a few of my friends. A few of us have now gone through divorces, new relationships, moves and one of us have lost someone who was extremely close to them who they used to be a caregiver for. All of us have been dealing with these changes by asking friends for help, setting days and times aside to regularly spend time with friends and continually making plans with each other to do things, even if it’s a couple months in advance like running marathons together or going to a wine tasting or camping or renting a cabin for a weekend together to hang out and go skiing. These things and asking each other for help make us grow stronger and closer together. The key thing is anytime someone invites you to something try to arrange things so you can accept the invitation and open up to people and listen. Also don’t be afraid to call, email, text people to make plans for anything like coffee, a walk or just to say I saw this article you’d think was cool or etc. it’s funny! I’m just learning this stuff and am getting the hang of it. Once you start doing this more and more you get hooked on it. If you don’t already have people in your life, you can get some by making time to do activities you love or talking to someone in the grocery store or on your bus or who you work with who you think is neat.
I couldn’t believe I found myself giving this advice. I’ve know all along how to do this from watching other people, but what made it so hard? Why do people isolate themselves?
Looking into myself and my past, I realize I had been “shut down” or “numb”. I also had a large amount of social anxiety from past experiences. But, this devastating event pushed me to completely open up and need to reach out. I would like to really encourage others who are going through something similar to not be afraid and reach out to people. You might be told no or be ignored from time to time, but do not let that discourage you, and keep trying it. I think back to the day I left my abuser. I made one phone call to a domestic violence hotline and having that one person support me and help me through it made the world of a difference. Why wouldn’t I keep reaching out? The world is full of amazing people and some of them are really going to care, as you will for them too.
In my last post on Hypervigilance, I talked about some tools to help you break it down, to question yourself, give yourself pep talks, witness your experience, and live in the now. I hope to do that this weekend to continue working on my current Epic Win to Bust Hypervigilance.
Some more of the SuperBetter Quests from the “Mind Master” Power Pack were quite fun to do in working to bust hypervigilance. A really good one was to write your “Side Kick”, which is that part of your brain doing that ultra-fast reactivity or working over time to over analyze everything, a Thank You note to tell it 10 reasons how it helps you both survive and enjoy life. Here’s my Thank You note to my Side Kick:
Dear Side Kick,
Thank you for helping me survive and enjoy life. There are a zillion things you do for me, but I want to thank you for the following 10 things today. Thank you for helping me:
1. Keep safe, by recognizing strange behavior and possible predators on the street
2. Do well at work
3. To understand what’s important to people
4. From saying things that I shouldn’t say
5. Make decisions about what I want
6. Identify my goals
7. Set boundaries that keep me comfortable
8. Identify what is normal and what’s not
9. Cope with things like nightmares or high stress
10. Be a great problem solver
Another thing I liked learning about this week from another SuperBetter Hero was to make a list of everything you like without any influence or thought of what someone else thinks of it. I think this is a good quest for Hypervigilance and Avoidance. One of the things I’ve been dealing with this past year is continually hearing when my abuser said things like “You shouldn’t like this. It sucks.” And then I felt like, I couldn’t like those things. Now I have no one to judge me for what I like and don’t like. I can like whatever I like and do whatever I please, whenever I want. So I’m going to give that a whirl.
I promised myself I’d at least check in on the Negative Self-Talk tracking I did over the past couple of weeks even if I have no real answers to work on it so that it goes down over time.
I am very sure I missed a lot of negative self-talk in this tracking, but what I did track does give me a clear picture of:
- My biggest offenders: I’m sorry and “should have”
- Times of day I say these the most: Not a big surprise here, but when I get up and commute to work in the morning and after work
It did help to track it or be consciously aware because I noticed when I was saying I’m sorry or “I should have” thinking “I could have prevented that from happening to you” versus when I’m saying sorry to just empathize with someone, such as “Oh that really sucks.”
My next steps to working on Negative Self-Talk is to pay more attention to the context of it and then to notice the consequences of it. What situations trigger the negative self-talk?
I finished the 7 Day Tiny Risk Taking Challenge! Each day I did something that scared me every day. Granted some of these things might seem small to others, but they helped me tackle some of the things I am dealing with like anxiety, hypervigilance, anticipation of being judged, not being my own self-advocate, and umm what seemed to be becoming an unhealthy smart phone addiction. So here are the results.
Day 1: Take 5 min to relax
How did I feel after I took that risk? Amazing. Why don’t I take the time to do this more often?
Day 2: Tell another person with PTSD my story and exchange ideas
How did I feel after I took that risk? I felt like I am not alone.
Day 3: Ask for something I will never get
How did I feel after I took that risk? I actually got what I asked for! When the heck does that ever happen? Maybe I should try asking for things more often and not let it get me down when someone says no. People won’t always say no.
Day 4: Share my win and progress with my friends
How did I feel after I took that risk? I was excited, but felt like no one cared except the person who was closest to me.
Day 5: Say no and stand up for something I needed
How did I feel after I took that risk? I felt horrible. Like a complete jerk.
Day 6: Turn off my phone for 4 hours
How did I feel after I took that risk? Strong. 🙂 And really, I didn’t miss anything.
Day 7: Write down 3 good things that happened the past 3 days and the reason why you think that event happened the way it did
How did I feel after I took that risk? Like I want to do more things that rock and usually those things happen when I make an effort to spend time with people or do something I enjoy.
Is my life better today that it was seven days ago?
One of the reasons I also picked up the workbook Healing the Trauma of Domestic Violence was I noticed they had a whole section on controlling muscle tension. My entire life I have had muscle tension in my neck, shoulders, and shoulder blades. I also have lately noticed the tension in my triceps and jaw. I always thought that this was normal until I finally brought it up to someone and they just looked at me in horror and said, “That is not normal.” Tension and stress is definitely something I want to work on.
The workbook discusses several reasons why it’s important to keep your tension level low including:
1. In order to decrease your tension you need to be able to detect what your tension is
2. It’s easier to relax and bring your tension down if it is already low
3. High levels of tension impair your ability to think clearly
4. Bad habits are more likely to be activated when your tension is high
5. Chronic tension and hyper arousal can weaken you physically, including higher resting heart rates and blood pressure
6. Higher muscle tension levels make you more vulnerable to losing control, including panicking, losing your temper or breaking down
Walking through the exercises really helps to bring the tension down in my body.
The tension exercises in the workbook has you score your level of tension from 0-100. My favorite exercise from the workbook is to do a body scan and walk through each of the major muscle groups where you experience the most tension and tense them then let go of the tension until you can bring your tension levels down to 30 or lower. You can do this at any time of the day or anywhere really.
Go ahead and try the body scan:
1. What’s your tension score (0 being the calmest and 100 being the worst you’ve ever been)?
2. Where do you feel the most tension?
3. Take a deep breath for 5-10 seconds, then breath out and breath normally for 5-10 seconds.
4. Over tense the muscles with the most tension and then let it go. For example…
“Close your eyes real tight. Feel the tension in, around and behind your eyes and then relax your eyes, keeping your eyes gently closed.”
- “Straighten your arms in front of you, reaching across the room, and tense your triceps … and then relax your arms.”
- “Clench your jaws and study the tension throughout your jaws… and relax your jaws and let your lips part slightly.”
“Shrug your shoulders up. Now bring your shoulders back so you feel the tension in your shoulders and back … and relax.”
5. What’s your tension score now?
Repeat until your tension score is lower than 30.
Now to try to remember to do this and breath more often. I also find rolling out on a foam roller helps big time! But, that’s probably because I over do it exercising as I talked about in my previous post on Battles Against the Bad Guys. 😉
The past couple of weeks I thought I did pretty well on my last quest to be my own self-advocate that I decided it was time to move onto a new quest, to work on hypervigilance or what I call “my broken babel fish” to channel Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
That’s a pretty tall order, so I decided to use one of SuperBetter‘s Power Packs, the Mind Master, to help me. First let’s explain what hypervigilance is, as I didn’t even know what it was before the workbook, Healing the Trauma of Domestic Violence, the Internet, and therapy brought it to my attention.
Hypervigilance is an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviors whose purpose is to detect threats. Hypervigilance is also accompanied by a state of increased anxiety which can cause exhaustion. – Wikipedia.org
One of the Power Pack’s Quests did a pretty amazing job of demonstrating my hypervigilance or hyper arousal. It was to Track Internal Dialogue for 24 Hours! From just going to bed to commuting to work, I already saw how much negative internal dialogue I have and it’s mostly around how I think people are judging me. Here’s some examples:
10 PM Monday, March 19, 2012 through 7 PM Tuesday, March 20, 2012 Log:
- “coworkers perceive me negatively because of X”
- “I’m taking too long to do those things”
- “I feel like everything is just magically expected to happen”
- “I think they think I’m lying and that I’m the bad guy. I’d like people to acknowledge for just once that I didn’t do anything wrong. Why do I have to feel guilty?”
- “Afraid someone is upset at me for something I did”
- “Why are they being so backstabbing about needing more time to do this work?”
- “They think I’m ridiculous for playing this game and spending so much time on this”
- “No one is really supporting me so why am I bothering?”
That’s a whole lot of negative thought! So now how do I change my negative dialogue?
There seems to be a bunch of good tools to help you do this. Here’s a few I learned so far:
- Question yourself: In the workbook, they talk about in the chapter “The Power of Negative Thinking” to stop to think to ask yourself questions like, “Am I responsible?” “Am I obligated?” “Is that a feeling?” “Is that really how I feel?” Or what one of my allies asks me a lot, “Do you think that’s really true?”
- Give yourself a pep talk: And to stop to give yourself a pep talk “to help you sufficiently increase your commitment and determination to break your negative self-talk habits.” For example, say something like “I did it again! Darn. How frustrating. I’m going to break these habits if it’s the last thing I do. I know it’s not good for me!”
- Witness your experience: In SuperBetter, in the “Mindfulness” Power Pack, they offer quite a few ideas for being mindful, including: “Witnessing your experience means you watch yourself with the same detached, neutral attention you’d use to glance out the window. Notice the thoughts or physical sensations in your body without labeling them as “good” or “bad.” Stay present to your experience without trying to stop it.”
- Live in the now: I read this article on the Tiny Buddha blog that just reminds me how I don’t take the time to really live in the now. My mind is running full steam often thinking all those negative thoughts I demonstrated above. I also don’t ever really take a few minutes to just relax. The SuperBetter “Mindfulness” Power Pack also has quests to take 5 minutes to just breathe.
And that brings me to a Quest I decided to pick up I learned from the Tiny Buddha blog “The Tiny Risk-Taking Challenge.” The author suggests you ask yourself the question, “What would my life be like if I did something that scared me every day?” And then to live that question for 7 days. So I decided to incorporate some of the quests I’ve given myself to tackle hypervigilance, anticipation, avoidance, and other symptoms of PTSD with this challenge. The first one starting with taking 5 minutes to relax and meditate. We’ll see how it goes by the end of the 7 days!