Therapy in a nutshell anxiety skills #8

“The body keeps the score” – Bessel Van Der Kolk

Did you know that people with Dissociative Identity Disorder, that’s what used to be called multiple personality disorder, when they switch personalities, their different personality states can have completely different physical differences?  Studies have shown that alter personalities may have different allergies, different blood pressure and hormones, they can have different vision – one alter may need glasses while the core personality doesn’t.  They’ve been able to show through imaging that they have different blood flow, and activity in the brain. 

This idea of the mind body connection isn’t just some woo-woo hippie idea, our emotions directly impact our body, our physiology, our physical being, and can directly impact our brain and emotions. 

In this section, you’re going to learn about the mind body connection, the physical impact of emotions, and this is really important, because if we want to change how we feel, if we want to change how we think and how we live our lives, we need to learn how to resolve emotions that get trapped in the body.

Our body does other things to try to keep us safe. It sends extra blood to the big muscles (for punching or running) and decreases blood flow to our hands and feet (that’s why your hands get cold and sweaty). 

It turns on the adrenal glands to pump out adrenaline to give you a quick burst of energy (this also gives you the shakes afterwards). 

It turns off the digestive system because it’s more important to escape that tiger than it is to digest that hamburger. This leads to people having a decreased appetite, a tight feeling in their gut, dry mouth, and potentially getting the runs, or even wetting themselves. 

It tightens the muscles, heightens some senses (vision becomes more pinpointed, leading to a decrease in peripheral vision, aka tunnel vision), and makes breaths shorter and shallower. Your heart rate also becomes faster.  

The fight/flight/freeze response turns off the immune system for a short time, and the body sweats to keep cool in case of physical exertion — that’s where that nasty pit sweat comes from. 


When there’s not a tiger but your brain perceives modern threats, like a work evaluation, a deadline, debt, or too much stimuli: 

The fight response often looks like anger, shouting, big movements, or muscle clenching. It can feel like blame, defensiveness, being critical, or attacking others physically or just verbally or even just inside our heads. 

The flight response looks like running away, escaping, avoiding perceived threats, procrastination, distraction, or trying not to think about a problem.  

With the freeze response there are typically reactions such as numbing, shrinking, or hiding. This reaction can keep us safe when fighting or running would put us in danger or when there is no chance of escape. The freeze response can feel like feeling detached from your body or emotions or the sensation of feeling heavy, frozen, leaden, or unable to move your muscles. This can serve a function of making us harder to find, it can make a predator less interested, (Check out the video of the Duck in the course or here), or the numbness can make the attack hurt less. 

Within the freeze response is the fawn response. When we can’t fight off or escape an attacker, we sometimes have the instinct to comply, appease them, or do anything to make them less angry or to soothe the situation. 

I talk about the freeze/fawn response more in my YouTube video on the freeze response and sexual assault, but I tell the story of how, when a stranger groped me on the street, my immediate instinctual reaction was to say “I’m sorry,” as if it was my fault.  This was not logical or rational. I didn’t plan it; it was just my instinct kicking in to keep me safe. 

The brain prioritizes survival over thinking, and this is brilliant because it makes us quick to react. For example, there have been times when my kids have fallen off of things, more times than I can count, and in a split second I’ve shot my hand out and caught them. I’m grateful for the limbic system and its role in keeping myself and my kids alive. This ability has helped humans survive for thousands of years. However, the FFF response has some downsides. 

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Hey, everyone! I love to read and learn more about how to treat trauma and PTSD, so I thought I’d share my favorite books about recovering from trauma and PTSD. #1. Ok, here’s my favorite PTSD Self-Help book: -Healing Trauma by Peter Levine. Awesome book explaining how trauma gets trapped in the body and how you can process through it and heal. A short read with gentle examples and some easy exercises. It’s my number one book about overcoming PTSD and trauma because it’s very accessible, not very triggering, easy to understand and comes with exercises to start healing your relationship with your body. #2 The body keeps the score by Bessel Van Der Kolk. Dr. Van Der Kolk has done so much research on effective treatments for PTSD and childhood trauma, and in this dense book he outlines how trauma impacts the brain, mind and body. Bessel explains what effective treatments are available, and gives some clear insights into actions both individuals and society as a whole can do to prevent and treat trauma, including childhood trauma. Includes a lot of detailed stories that could be quite triggering. This book has spent 74 weeks on Amazon’s top 20 nonfiction books and with good reason, it’s just a really good, really comprehensive approach to trauma. #3. The Transformation by Dr. James Gordon Written by a compassionate doctor who understands the biological and medical aspect of trauma treatment, but also the importance of dancing, laughing and pets as part of healing, this book is an excellent holistic approach to treating the body, mind and the heart after trauma. #4. Moving Beyond Trauma by Ilene Smith #5. Getting past your past by Francine Shapiro #6. I know why the caged bird sings- Maya Angelou #7. Man’s search for meaning- Viktor Frankl #8. My Story- Elizabeth Smart #9. Pete Walker- CPTSD-From Surviving to Thriving #10. What happened to you- Oprah
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Therapy in a Nutshell and the information provided by Emma McAdam are solely intended for informational and entertainment purposes and are not a substitute for advice, diagnosis, or treatment regarding medical or mental health conditions. Although Emma McAdam is a licensed marriage and family therapist, the views expressed on this site or any related content should not be taken for medical or psychiatric advice. Always consult your physician before making any decisions related to your physical or mental health. In therapy I use a combination of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Systems Theory, positive psychology, and a bio-psycho-social approach to treating mental illness and other challenges we all face in life. The ideas from my videos are frequently adapted from multiple sources. Many of them come from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, especially the work of Steven Hayes, Jason Luoma, and Russ Harris. The sections on stress and the mind-body connection derive from the work of Stephen Porges (the Polyvagal theory), Peter Levine (Somatic Experiencing) Francine Shapiro (EMDR), and Bessel Van Der Kolk. I also rely heavily on the work of the Arbinger institute for my overall understanding of our ability to choose our life’s direction.
And deeper than all of that, the Gospel of Jesus Christ orients my personal worldview and sense of security, peace, hop

Have you ever regretted your response to a situation?

In the moment, our initial “knee-jerk” reaction seems like the most compelling option. We yell, run away, or say things that we don’t mean because that’s how we feel in the heat of the moment. While that response is valid, it’s not always the most effective choice. We sometimes react when we’re emotional, only to reflect on our decision later and realize it wasn’t the best way to respond.

What can you do to think things through before you react on powerful emotions? Try checking the facts. Check the Facts is a DBT skill that helps you change your emotional response and make healthier decisions as a result. Using check the facts, you can modify your response to a level that is appropriate for the situation, or respond with a more fitting emotion.
Let’s learn about how it works…

Check the Facts encourages you to think before you react on your emotions. It allows you to step back, assess the situation, and determine if what you’re feeling is appropriate given the context. Ask yourself, “Is the way that I am feeling and thinking about a situation factual?” Then, find the proof to figure out if your response is fitting or not. 

First use mindfulness skills to become aware of how you’re thinking and feeling. Mindfulness practices help you recognize how you’re feeling and help you find evidence as you check the facts. Observe how you’re feeling; then use words to describe your emotions and your experience. Sometimes it can be helpful to say this out loud to yourself. For example, you might say “I am observing that I feel angry. I am having a thought about yelling at my friend because she didn’t agree with me. I notice that my heart rate is speeding up and my hands are clenched in fists.” As you observe and describe, be careful not to attach any labels or judgments to what you are describing. Also be careful not to react to your feelings or engaging in your thoughts. Simply notice them, rather than holding onto them or pushing them away. Label facts as facts, feelings as feelings, and opinions as opinions.

Next ask yourself, “Do the facts warrant the intensity of the feeling response?”
You can figure this out and check the facts by going through the following series of questions. These questions help you step back, assess the situation, and decide if your response is fitting for the context.

  • What is the emotion I want to change?

  • What is the event prompting my emotion?

  • What are my interpretations and assumptions about the event? Do they fit the facts?

  • Am I assuming a threat? Will it actually occur?

  • What’s the disaster? How can I cope well with it?

  • Does my emotion and/or its intensity fit the facts?

Don’t let yourself get so caught up in the moment that your emotions get the best of you. You don’t have to get overwhelmed and overreact or shy away and not react strongly enough. In these moments, check the facts before you react. Take a minute or two to see if your emotions fit the facts of what is actually going on. Use check the facts to be mindful of your emotions and your surroundings, and then make sure that you’re responding with the proper intensity of emotion.

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