Coping skills to the rescue: Compartmentalizing decreases stress, anxiety, trauma

I teach you ways to reduce anxiety, stress, or symptoms of trauma or PTSD before we start dealing directly with traumatic experiences using Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). We spend a significant amount of time laying a foundation of strength and resilience before we start to work through the trauma. I do this by helping you build coping skills first.
Relaxation is the first coping skill necessary for dealing with trauma. Please refer to my blog on relaxation, if you haven’t read it already. I help you imagine a place to think of when you need to de-stress or to reduce anxiety. Call it your relaxing place or your one second vacation, your haven or refuge. (I avoid the words “safe place” because for many people who have experienced trauma, no place is safe.) Imagine yourself in your relaxing place whenever you need a break from the stresses of life or trauma.
I also teach other relaxation exercises like Fred Luskin’s Belly BreathingTense to Relax, the Big Sur Channel and the One Minute Vacation. Imagine a TV screen that shows relaxing scenes of nature, the waves crashing on the shore at Big Sur, quiet streams, mountain meadows, a favorite lake, forest, waterfall… Flip the channel whenever you feel like it. For 60 seconds, imagine yourself on a relaxing vacation.
Compartmentalizing is another word for the EMDR concept of containment. It is crucial to be able to stop thinking about bad experiences. When you start to deal with bad experiences, you need to do it in manageable pieces. You need to be able to do a piece of work and then stop until next session. You need a break! In order to take a break, you imagine putting the issue(s) or experience(s) into a container. I like to imagine putting my “stuff” into a bank vault. You put thoughts in the container and leave them there until you are ready to open the container again and do some more work. You’ve heard about people who are good at compartmentalizing. They leave thoughts of work at work. They enjoy their free time and their families. Thoughts of work do not intrude on their personal time. This is similar to the coping skill of containment. With practice, you get very good at containing bothersome thoughts. They stop intruding. You will notice that over time that there is less and less to put in a container. When you’re ready to process the past with your counselor, you can take the thoughts out of their container. They are at your command.
Who or what can come in here now and help you with this? Nurturing, protective, and wise ones are the next resource / coping skill I like clients to have. I help people think of who they would like to help them and build the ability to feel protected, nurtured and supported when they think of these people or beings. These imaginary resources help people feel better, less anxious, less affected by negative experiences, stronger, more capable, more able to perform in day-to-day life, as well as under pressure or in difficult circumstances.
Often, I refer to a book or website in my blogs. These are places that people can go to for further information. I really like Laurel Parnell’s bookTapping In for a thorough description of the process of “installing resources.” You can order her book at Tapping In. I also recommend Fred Luskin’s books on stress management, relationships and forgiveness. Find them here: Fred Luskin’s site or on Amazon, of course.

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