By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff
My Facebook memories have been showing me that October is often a very hard month for me with many anniversaries of stressful events. I want to share a blog post I wrote two years ago as it came up in my Facebook memories as well and sparked a lot of discussion on my wall.
So here it is–how I was doing two years ago, and what AT got me through (and I’m still using these tools and techniques):
I have PTSD and have been triggered a lot lately. I can sense it happening. Something reminds me of a traumatic event and I start reliving it in my head. I started seeing a new therapist for EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) after my old therapist left her practice and no longer takes my insurance. I dreaded having to start over—and having to share with her what has happened to me. Talking about past traumas re-traumatizes people and exacerbates PTSD. Luckily, my new therapist knew this and didn’t want to dig in—just wanted some generalizations, but as we were getting started, she could tell that I was going back to the experiences—and she had some great new techniques that helped me self-soothe enough so that I could interact with her. I’m now adding the Butterfly Technique and a large egg-shaped rock to my Calming Techniques and Items Toolbox in addition to the bracelet and weighted blanket that were already in there.
The Butterfly Hug Technique involves crossing your arms over your chest and linking
your thumbs at your sternum. Your fingers are pointed up towards your collarbones, not towards your arms, and the finger tips rest just below or on your collarbones, palms facing down against your chest. You then pat yourself in this position for 1-3 minutes. This bilateral stimulation provides a sense of calm. It helps ground you and keep you in the present moment. It was originally used in Mexico helping survivors of a hurricane and has been used with inmates, many of whom have a trauma history, and others with PTSD. I put an image of a butterfly on my phone to remind me that I can do this technique any time. There is a great youtube video on the butterfly hug technique created by Debbie Augenthaler.
The other technique she taught me uses a super low-tech piece of AT (assistive technology), a 3-4 inch egg shaped rock that fills the palm of your hand. She instructed me to take this rock (hers was polished marble) and pass it back and forth between my hands. I felt stupid at first, but then realized it was helping and did it for my entire appointment. I asked her what the technique was called and if the size of the rock/weight were important. She said it was a type of Brain Gym technique that also promotes bilateral brain stimulation. The size and weight are somewhat important—the rock needs to be big and heavy enough to register in your hands. I found a large enough egg at a local store that carries crystals and meditation supplies. I find it helpful to use this technique to reconnect and calm—it allows me to return to mindfulness, being in the present moment and noticing my thoughts without judging them. Mindfulness is universally beneficial and helps with chronic pain, depression, anxiety, and stress and promotes well-being. There is now a free online course for Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (other courses in person and online are $350-$450). I’m going to give it a try.
While I wrote about my weighted blanket before, I haven’t shared about my loving kindness bracelet. I originally learned about loving kindness meditation as a mindfulness practice—a way to become present, decrease stress, and increase positive emotions and well-being. There are dozens of studies on the benefits of a loving kindness practice. I had been practicing it irregularly, especially when I was experiencing insomnia, and then more regularly after attending a workshop by Kristin Neff, an expert in self compassion. The loving-kindness meditation is a way to tap into the calming practice of sending love to yourself and to others and the world. I had trouble remembering to stop and do the loving kindness meditation and make it a part of my daily routine until I added my loving kindness/metta bracelet I got from Jan Lundy, an author, speaker, and spiritual director. Jan co-designed a bracelet with four different kinds of stones to represent each of the phrases you repeat in a loving kindness meditation. I can sit and meditate and use the stones as keys to remember:
May I be safe
May I be strong
May I be happy
May I live with peace and ease
I work my way around the bracelet first a couple times for myself, then for others. Jan has full instructions on her website. When I am anxious and overwhelmed, I need a visual cue to help me reset. Having a reminder on my wrist does just that, and then guides me in my practice. Jan’s bracelet is beautiful, but if cost is a barrier, you could go to a craft store or raid your closets and jewelry boxes and pick out beads with meanings for you and string your own.
What AT, techniques, and resources do you tap into for stress, anxiety, depression, and self-soothing?