Trauma, Triggers, and Emotional Dysregulation: 10 Ways to Regulate Your Nervous System w/ Anna Runkle

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By the time you’re reading this post I’ve got a new baby, but Anna Runkle, also known as Crappy Childhood Fairy, was kind enough to help me out. She has an incredible story of overcoming childhood trauma and PTSD, and she has decades of experience helping other people find their path through it in their own lives as well. 

Childhood trauma physically changes your brain. It makes your alarm system set off super easily. And people often call this getting triggered. But what’s really happening is that when the brain perceives a threat, the emotional part of the brain gets launched into high alert, and it basically shuts down rational thinking to a degree. 

You might feel super emotional or scared. You might feel angry, upset, or numb. You might feel detached or feel a desperate urge to flee a situation or placate everyone around you. This is all part of the protective fight/flight/freeze response. And for people with childhood trauma it might last for days or hours or be chronic.

Now, emotional dysregulation can make it seem impossible to function at work, at home. It makes it feel impossible to maintain relationships. But the good news is that you can learn to self-regulate. You can learn to snap out of the triggered response and back into the calm, thinking part of your brain. 

Now, by the time you’re watching this video I’ve got a new baby, but Anna Runkle, also known as Crappy Childhood Fairy, was kind enough to help me out. She has an incredible story of overcoming childhood trauma and PTSD, and she has decades of experience helping other people find their path through it in their own lives as well. 

Anna isn’t a mental health professional, but I really value her personal experience, both in her own life and helping others. And because she’s been there she can understand things and explain things in a way that relates to others with CPTSD. So I’m grateful that she took the time to help me out. 

So here’s Anna. She’s going to teach you 10 ways to self-regulate, to calm down when you’re triggered and get back to yourself. 

What Is Dysregulation?

Now, I used to feel so much confusion and so much shame about my CPTSD symptoms. I didn’t have control over them yet. I didn’t even know there was a word for what happens to me when I’m stressed. I thought it was just me. Something would trigger me, and even though I knew it wasn’t worth getting upset about, it happened anyway. 

And it’s like I could feel it spreading through my body. Do you ever get that? The feeling of adrenaline and discombobulation, feeling numb — maybe in your hands or your face — or having trouble expressing your thoughts? Or you’re feeling flooded with emotions like panic or rage. Have you ever had that? 

I used to get this all the time. I didn’t even know what it was. But now there’s a word for this sudden kind of stress inside, and it’s called dysregulation. It’s really common for people who had trauma in childhood, and it literally involves your brain waves and some of your body systems getting irregular and out of sync when certain triggers happen. 

Now, some triggers you couldn’t control if you really had to, but others are harder to control — or not until you’ve practiced it a lot. 

So if you get dysregulated you’ve probably figured out how to survive okay while you’re dysregulated, but as I’m sure you’ve noticed it can make it really hard to think and focus and set boundaries and navigate your life, because when you’re dysregulated, only part of your brain is working. 

And doesn’t this explain so much about why it can be hard to make a change that sticks, and why we sometimes make the same mistakes over and over? It is not our fault we’re like this. It’s an injury that comes from traumatic experiences. And the good news is there are things we can do to heal and calm those triggers. 

So what are your triggers? For a lot of people it could be a loud noise or a sudden shock or an experience of being vulnerable or nervous or, most commonly, emotional hurt, like being criticized or overlooked or rejected. 

And even when you know intellectually that the thing triggering you is no big deal, when you have PTSD from childhood it doesn’t matter. Once it starts it’s like it’s too late. You can feel this altered state almost creeping through you. Do you get this? 

Or you’re thinking, “Oh no. Here it comes again, that feeling where I just say things that ruin everything or where I blank out at crucial moments or where I lose my ability to focus for three days or where I make a total idiot of myself.” And the feeling, once it starts, can feel impossible to stop. So the good news is you can learn to make it stop. And I can teach you that. 

Everybody gets dysregulated sometimes. Babies get dysregulated. Athletes get dysregulated. Brilliant scientists get dysregulated. I get dysregulated. And most of us will eventually re-regulate again. But for those of us with CPTSD, it can happen more often, with more intensity, and it can be harder to return to a regulated state. 

It can make it hard to focus, hard to get things done, hard to speak and listen and connect. And sometimes it makes it hard to control emotions. 

It’s a big reason why we struggle in relationships, and it also plays a role in why people who went through abuse and neglect in childhood have higher rates of chronic illness. 

Dysregulation has long-term effects on your central nervous system, including your hormones and your immune system and your heart and lungs and circulation. 

So learning to calm your triggers could have a very important ripple effect not just on your mood in your mind but on your overall health. 

And I’m just going to remind you again: It’s not your fault you have this. You didn’t do this to yourself; it’s an injury, and it comes from trauma. And now that you’re an adult, it’s possible to make it worse and it’s possible to make it better. And we want to get better, right?

How Can I Re-Regulate?

So in this video I want to teach you the 10 tricks to get calm right away. I had to learn these because I used to have really bad dysregulation from childhood trauma. If you want to get a feel for your own capacity to calm your triggers, just kind of open up to what I’m going to teach you right now. 

1. Notice That You’re Triggered

So the first thing is to notice that you’re triggered. 

This is sometimes easier said than done, but as you start to study what sets off your dysregulation, you’ll start to notice sooner than you used to that it’s happening again. 

And when you know you’re triggered and dysregulated, it’s time to pause. Try not to jump in. Don’t confront anyone or try to solve big problems or make decisions until you have your whole brain back online. 

2. Say “I’m Feeling Triggered”

Second, say to yourself, “I’m having an emotional reaction.” Or you can say, “I’m feeling triggered.” You say it to yourself. You don’t have to tell other people necessarily. Just saying this to yourself helps you separate out the part of you that’s getting overwhelmed from the part of you that knows what to do about it. 

3. Make Sure You’re Safe

Three: Make sure you’re safe. If you’re driving, pull over. If you’re in the middle of an argument, put that discussion on hold in the nicest, most gentle, and caring way that you can, because you’re buying yourself a little time to get re-regulated. 

So you can say something like, “I want to continue this conversation, but I need to take a breather to calm down.” Or if you don’t want to tell the other person that you’re triggered, tell them you need to go to the bathroom. If you’re on the phone you can say you have a call on the other line. 

Don’t get into a big discussion about it; just find a way to put the conversation on pause, and then actually take some time. 

And if it feels urgent that you do something or say something or solve this thing, it’s probably the CPTSD talking. And if that’s the case, take even longer before you try to come back and resolve anything.

4. Stamp Your Feet

All right. Four is stamp your feet on the floor. It really works. You’re just trying to help your body remember where you are, to locate itself in space, and to remember the left side of you and the right side of you. And your dysregulated brain loves to feel the ground and feel where you are in space. That is a big way that it comes back into regulation.

5. Take Deep Breaths

Okay. Five: You probably thought I’d say this first, but breathing. Take ten slow, deep breaths. Deep breaths are genuinely powerful at activating your relaxation response. And I know you know that, but sometimes we need our friends to remind us. 

And while you’re breathing, just to get more sensation of your body and where to locate your consciousness, you can push your tongue right there on the back of your teeth. Your mouth is part of that central part of the body where we locate our sense of self, kind of from head to chest. So mouth sensations can kind of bring you back into the center, back into your body.

6. Sit Down

Six is another way to get back in your body: Sit down. Feel the weight of your butt in the chair. Feel the surfaces of the chair and where it’s touching you.

7. Eat Protein

All right. Seven: Eat something. Food helps you feel your body too. When you’re stressed you’ll probably crave carbs and sugar, but it’s protein foods that will help you get grounded again.

8. Wash Your Hands

Eight is something my brother taught me: You can wash your hands. And while you’re washing, pay attention and feel the water and the soap on your hands. If the water can be warm, that’s even nicer. I love washing my hands with warm water.

9. Take a Cold Shower

Nine — and this is where your dysregulation is really going wild — you can get a reset for your nervous system by taking a cold shower. It doesn’t have to be ice cold, but it needs to give you a little bit of a shock, you know, just like that kind of cold. 

And I love this one. It’s good for increasing your energy as well. It’s cheap, it’s easy, it’s powerful, there’s no hangover, and it helps you re-regulate.

10. Get a Hug

Finally, number 10 is get a good squeezing hug. And if no one is around, you can press your back into the corner, you know, where the walls meet. Press your back in. Wrap your arms around yourself so that you feel a squeezing pressure around your torso. We’re all wired to calm down when we’re hugged, and that’s pretty intuitive.

Conclusion

Now, you can use these techniques whether it’s a big emotional trigger that set you off or just a little thing — you got a parking ticket or someone was rude to you or you have to get on zoom and teach people something and you’re nervous. It doesn’t take much to set off that dysregulation response. 

But the sooner you can notice it and turn it around, the sooner you can forget the thing that set it off, and then you can get back to being you. You can use your mind and your focus the way you want to use them and feel more alert and open to the day. 

And when you’re good at that you can be a little freer and a little bolder in your life, because even if you get triggered you know how to come back from that quickly. 

So I have a question for you. If you were good at re-regulating and calming your triggers, would it make a difference in your life? Hands down yes. So try these quick techniques I just shared. 

If you want to learn an additional technique, and this one takes a little practice to learn, I call it my Daily Practice. And it’s the number one tool that I’ve used to heal my own CPTSD symptoms. It’s a free course. You can learn and try it in less than an hour, and Emma has kindly put a link to that down in the description section below. 

Thank you, Emma, for having me on your channel. You’re awesome. 

Don’t forget, everyone, healing is possible. You can do this. 

 

Thanks again to Anna for helping me out, and please do check out her YouTube channel and her Daily Practice, her free course where she teaches her process of working through emotional dysregulation. 

 Check out my free printable for 6 steps to process emotions. click the link here or down below. 

Thank you for watching, and take care.

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