Building an Internal Sense of Safety for PTSD, Trauma or Anxiety – 23/30 Break the Anxiety Cycle

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In this video you’ll learn to stop the anxiety cycle by exploring an internal sense of safety. 

OK, so let’s take a look at the anxiety cycle, right here, after stimulus, is the perception of danger, the interpretation that we are in danger. And this interpretation, the belief that we are in danger, that the danger is a significant and real threat, causes the anxiety response in our bodies. 

Building An Internal Sense Of Safety

And the problem isn’t that we can’t handle real dangers, our body is built to perceive a threat, act on it, and resolve it and then resolve that threat response. The problem is that when we worry, when we catastrophize, when automatic negative thoughts or mental filtering or memories of trauma come up, we have perceived danger when we are actually safe. 

So, you may spend hours each day in perceived danger. Which leads to an anxiety state that lasts for the majority of the day. This can leave us feeling anxious, exhausted, and overwhelmed. 

In the last chapter (section 2) we learned to challenge thoughts that lead to the perception of danger. In the beginning of this section, we learned about how anxiety shows up in our bodies, and how we can strengthen our nervous system so that the parasympathetic response can become stronger. 

In this video you’ll learn how to strengthen that felt-sense of safety by bringing to mind the perception of safety. This breaks the anxiety cycle and essentially retrains our brains to be less anxious. 

As you do these exercises, I want you to pay attention to what you feel in your bodies, what it feels like to remember that you are safe enough, right here, right now. 

I’m going to teach you a handful of exercises in this video. In the full course I walk you through them in more depth, but it would be great to get a notebook or make a folder on your phone or computer that has a collection of these visualizations- because it’s best if you write them down, rehearse them, and practice them until your brain gets very good at recalling them. 

Let’s start with some lists- I like lists, because I like to feel like I’m doing something by writing things down haha. 

Safe places– make a list of safe places, real and imagined. Is it your bed, your grandma’s house, your favorite trail, the beach, the temple. Pause the video and write down the places where you feel safe. 

Safe people– Who are your protectors-real and remembered, divine? Who do you feel safe around? Who do you feel loved by?

Safe music– what songs make you feel safe? Is it Metallica or a church hymn? 

Memories- of times you were safe, powerful, happy, free. Me climbing the grand teton with Ali. Skiing at night in the middle or winter with my dad, up at the cabin, the stars brighter than I’d ever seen them, the milky way actually looking more bright than dark. 

Safe sensations– smells, touch, taste, a hot bath, the smell of rich vanilla, the taste of chocolate ice cream, a warm blanket and a good book by a fire.  

As we work through these lists, pause and notice what you feel in your body. We are bringing to mind a sense of safety, and that creates a real physical reaction. 

Exercises To Build An Internal Sense Of Safety For PTSD, Trauma, Or Anxiety

Let’s do our first exercise- Drawing Safety:

-visualize a safe place, real or imagined. 

-a desert canyon, cool crisp morning, bright blue skies, bright stone canyon walls, the smell of ponderosa pine, quiet,   (I am neither a poet nor an artist, but as I remember this, I feel a sense of ease wash over me) 

Safe person– 

-the parasympathetic response is all about safety and connection- being truly connected with people who will love you and help you. 

“I have many people who will help me”

Mr. Rogers said “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”-Who are your safe people? How does it feel to be around them? 

-Who are your people? Who protects you, helps you and keeps you safe? It can be someone real, or imagined, it could be a divine being, an angel or God. For me this includes my father, my babies, my dogs, and prayer. 

-Cuddling with my husband

Heck, it could just as easily be your pet as a human. 

So now we’re going to go and write in detail about at least one of these in the workbook. 

Here’s another exercise: Light Stream Exercise: Imagine a beam of healing light entering the top of your head and traveling down through their body, filling them with warmth, strength, and comfort. The full, guided exercise is in the paid course and workbook. 

Another page in your journal could be your Strengths and Accomplishments Review:

Write about what you are skilled at, gifted at, the hard things you’ve accomplished, everything you have survived, what are you competent at? What are you confident at? Make a list, or make a little altoids tin with a reminder of these things. 

Another page in the journal is about your Best Memories: What are some of your best memories? Write them down in detail. 

Notice how it feels to remember them. Notice how your body feels. 

Placing worries in a container. 

If you start to feel overwhelmed by a memory or emotion, visualize placing it in a container, locking it up, and setting it aside for later processing. For example: Visualize a filing cabinet, or use an actual one. Write down the title to that memory or dream, place it in a file, put it in the cabinet and say “I’ll come back to that later”.

Restoring a felt-sense of safety through self- regulation-right here, in the present moment. You are safe. Grounding skills (course) 

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You can also build a mantra- “I am safe enough right now” 

“I can get through this” 

Gratitude practice literally shifts attention, and the nervous system. 

How to use these: you can choose your favorite resource, you can practice this once a day to strengthen your vagal tone, and start using it during mildly anxiety provoking situations. Then, with practice, you’ll be able to bring this skill to mind as you face bigger challenges. 

For example, when a client who has experienced trauma, was getting ready to share part of her story in therapy, she brought her most comfortable blanket, then before she began, we did her favorite breathing exercise- paced breathing, then she told her story, then she brought to mind the memory of her beloved mother who had passed away, and thought of her mother hugging her, telling her she loved her and was proud of her. We did some more deep breathing, ate a piece of chocolate, and with her permission I gave her a hug. Some tears were shed, but she left the office feeling lighter, more resilient. 

These are exercises, not necessarily coping skills. You can use them when you are stressed, but it’s best to practice them over and over for a week or so when you aren’t stressed, that way they are easy for you to recall during moments of anxiety. The goal here is that you have a bunch of resources that you can draw from when you are having a hard time.

Click below to learn more about the course, Break The Anxiety Cycle in 30 Days. 

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