A large portion of the world is in quarantine with covid-19 wreaking havoc on the human population. Quarantine can be difficult in a lot of ways. For people experiencing a depressive episode, being stuck at home can feel awful. There isn’t any distractions and sometimes the people you live with are your stressors. So what do you do in a crisis? What do you do when you’re having a panic attack?
It’s important to learn your personal signs that you’re in the warning zone. In one of my therapy groups, we talked about the “window of tolerance”, where we identified how we feel when we are in our comfort zone, how we feel when we are in the warning zone, or the “shutters”, and how we feel when we hit the wall. For me, personally, in my comfort zone I am calm, not tense or on edge, and my body is a normal temperature. When I get into my warning zone, which you also may have heard it as fight or flight, I feel hotter and I might sweat. My heart beats really fast and I’m easily startled. I might tremble and feel restless. When I hit the wall, I tend to shut down, dissociate, cry, ruminate, isolate. I feel cold. This is my own window of tolerance signs and everyone is different.
These different phases of a crisis that we go through are activated in different parts of the brain. The only was humans can control their nervous system is through breathing. When you get into that warning zone and you know you’re nearing the wall, that’s when you can most easily stop it. It’s important to know that the advice I’m going to give you isn’t going to take the pain away. The road to recovery requires you to feel your pain. There are ways to make it easier as I will describe, however they won’t completely take it away.
When you’re in the warning zone, this is when you should take action. You can use a weighted blanket or a weighted ball (cheaper than a weighted blanket, I got mine for 5 dollars at 5 below). The pressure gives your brain something to focus on and it can actually feel good. Weight can keep you grounded. Distracting is a great way to bring you back down to your comfort zone. Playing a game, watching TV, browsing the internet are all useful ways to bring you from your warning zone back to your comfort zone. Mindfulness is great! There are guided meditations everywhere online, including on YouTube. Doing a puzzle or coloring, or anything else you enjoy doing that you can stay present while doing it are good ways to distract.
When you’ve already hit the wall, there are still ways to bring you back. Something I was unaware of until I learned about it in group is that daydreaming and getting lost in your thoughts is dissociation. Dissociation is the brain’s way of protecting itself in dangerous situations and can happen when you hit the wall. If you’re someone whose experienced a lot of trauma, especially as a young child, the pathway between comfortable and hitting the wall will be well paved and much smaller. For as long as I can remember, daydreaming has been almost euphoric. It’s been my go-to in any uncomfortable situation. I didn’t even realize I was hitting the wall. I never felt fight or flight because that path was so well paved. So why do you want to stop daydreaming if it keeps you from your situation and it makes your body release endorphins? Because it keeps you from recovery. When you daydream, you fly high off the curve and when you come back from it, you drop steeply back down to comfort. Doing this, you don’t process at all what you’re going through.
Connecting with people is an incredibly powerful tool. If you have hit the wall, connecting is a very good way to bring you back. By connection, I mean genuine vulnerability. Don’t be embarrassed to be vulnerable with others. People respect you more. Everyone is vulnerable inside, and it’s easy to relate to someone who expresses vulnerability. Be honest about what you’re going through.
Intense exercise is another way to bring you back to your comfort zone, or at least the warning zone. Sometimes when you’re having a panic attack and can’t sit still, all you need to do is stand and do jumping jacks or run in place. Another way is temperature. Using ice or a cold pack on your hands, wrists, face, or back of your neck can calm you down.
There is no way to cure the pain. The only way to recover from a trauma is the hard way; feeling it. It’s so hard to feel the pain and accept it. I repressed the pain of my childhood traumas because I convinced myself it was normal. In my brain, I was somehow less than all my classmates. They were better than me and that’s why they didn’t have to experience those things. I know now that I was wrong and that no child in the world deserves what I went through. I was my beautiful daughter’s age when my mother started physically abusing me. I could never imagine hurting my baby girl. Sometimes I cry when she and I bond just because I feel robbed of a mother. I wish that my mother could have loved me the way I love my baby.
But I can’t change the past. That’s why I’m doing trauma work. I’m struggling to accept that it happened and I’m grieving for my child self. When you feel sad or angry or anything in regards to your trauma, just sit with it. Don’t question it or judge it. There are no bad feelings. All feelings are valid and don’t deserve to be pushed away. You feel those things for a reason. You don’t need to wonder why or how or when, or try to make it worse, or try to make it better. Just accept that it is. Focus on the feeling. You might be able to uncover some truth behind it and why it’s there.