Hey, it’s me again, back talking about my ability to blow-up at the slightest little thing and why that may be the case- that maybe due to some trauma or event in my life I may constantly be on high alert, primed for danger and threat which causes me to over-react to situations that in reality are non-threatening. I’m hyperaroused basically, with my baseline danger setting set way too high. You can read more about it here- On High Alert: Hyperarousal and Losing it Over ‘Nothing’.
We looked at what you can do to help bring me back from one of these blowouts, but now I want to help you understand how you can lower my baseline arousal level so that these blowouts become less frequent, and hopefully disappear altogether.
The best approach will always depend on the extent of my hyperarousal. If I have been severely traumatised by an event and my behaviour is extremely erratic, I will need to receive some formal therapy from a specialist. If I meet with a specialist I will talk through what may be triggering my behaviour and then work with them to rework my physical and emotional response to the trigger. So rather than having to deal with the triggers and trauma entirely alone I can work through it with professional support.
It will likely involve gradually “exposing” myself to feelings and situations that remind me of the trauma, and replacing distorted and irrational thoughts about the trauma with a more balanced picture. This way I rework my memory of the trauma and my response to it. This is called Trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy.
I may also be offered Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR). EMDR incorporates elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy with eye movements or other forms of rhythmic, left-right stimulation, such as hand taps or sounds. These work by “unfreezing” the brain’s information processing system, which is interrupted in times of extreme stress.
It is also possible that I may be given some anti-anxiety and depression drugs to help me through any therapy.
Problem is that this therapy is dependent on me being willing to face the trauma head-on. The other problem is that as my trauma has happened in childhood, I may not even know what the trauma is- it may be so deeply buried within me. I may have a sense that something isn’t right, without knowing what it is. I may not want to admit something is wrong as I view this show of vulnerability as making me even more vulnerable.
And of course, remember I’m being a belligerent teen. If you want me to do something, of course there is a fairly large chance I won’t want to do it. There is also a large possibility that I will choose to bury my feelings in drink and drugs rather than face them. Who chooses to expose themselves to more pain and upset, even if the end goal is freedom from these feelings? It is easier for an adult with some life experience to see the end goal than it is for me, who is also dealing with all the complications of adolescence on top. Throw this all together and if you suggest I see a therapist it is entirely possible that I will tell you where to go- and loudly.
So then what do you do? What do you do with me, the uncooperative teen? Is there anything that you can do to help me without a therapist’s intervention? (While obviously continuing to try and persuade me to see one if necessary)?
If I have high baseline stress levels I have more cortisol in my system. One of the best natural ways to beat this is for me to get some exercise. When I exercise, my body releases endorphins which are natural cortisol busters. The chemicals that my body releases during and after exercise help my body to self-regulate and to remain in a ‘normal’ state. It helps my nervous system to reset and to not over-react to stressors when they come along.
A particularly good form of exercise for me is rhythmic repetitive exercise, like walking, running, swimming or dancing. It works well because it helps me to focus on how my body feels rather than on my thoughts.
Outdoor exercise is also very beneficial. I might get a good shot of sunshine (if I’m lucky) and even if there’s no sunshine, loads of research shows that getting out in nature helps to calm and relax our bodies. Just the feeling of the wind blowing through our hair or the cold nip on the end of our noses, or the warmth of the sun on our skin. Noticing these things helps our minds and our bodies to reconnect.
30 minutes a day is all that’s needed. You might need to help me get into the groove of it, but once I begin to feel the benefits I am more likely to stick with it. So instead of sitting with me on the sofa the whole time, take me out for a walk, or some other form of exercise.
Help me to learn self-calming methods
Even if I am resistant to the idea of therapy, I can still learn calming techniques that will help me to regulate my emotions. I don’t even have to know that this is what you are teaching me (because sometimes that means I definitely won’t pay attention!)
Spending time caring for animals
Animals are a source of unconditional, un-dangerous love and as a result can make me feel a whole load more chilled out. While all animals can help, work with horses can be particularly beneficial, and particularly those that have also been badly treated. The common experience of pain and hurt often results in teens like me and horses connecting on a deep unspoken level and untold unhealing can occur. This video clip shows you more about this.
Just as music can rile me up, it can also calm me. Help to explore what music winds me up and what calms me and encourage me to listen more to the latter. You may well find that I am actually going around the whole time listening to music that makes me feel worse and more hyped up, not calmer.
Drawing, making music, writing poetry, colouring, basically anything creative can help me to relax. Engaging in these activities with someone else can also cause unspoken bonds to be built. So next time you have a session with me, or want to have a chat with me at home, why not chat while colouring in or doodling?
Teach me how to take 60 breaths, focusing on each out breath. This can help me to not only calm myself when I’m getting wound up, but can be a useful habit to get into every day, no matter the circumstance.
While many parents are constantly complaining that all their teens are doing is sleeping, you might find that us hyperaroused, ‘on high alert’ teens aren’t actually getting enough. Enough quality sleep is really important for keeping our minds chemically balanced. I know this might seem like an impossible ask, but try and encourage me to sleep more, and explain why.
Again, this can be a hard habit to change, but try to get me eating less highly processed food and more fruit and veg. So instead of having Coke in the fridge, have Smoothies instead. I know it costs more but even if you make a few substitutions it can make a massive difference.
My brain (and the rest of my body) needs a full complement of vitamins and minerals to function right. If you can’t get me to change my eating habits, maybe encourage me to take a multivitamin ideally including all the essential minerals (iron, zinc, magnesium etc). It’s the minerals that are often linked with good mental function.
And sugar- try and encourage me to consume less. Chances are I may drink a sugar-stuffed can of something first thing in the morning and then continue this way all through the day. That would make the calmest person in the world a bit edgy, so think what it does to me?
We all know that caffeine can make us more ‘buzzy’. Well I’m quite buzzy enough, so try and encourage me to swap out my Coke, tea or coffee for caffeine free (or something else). Even if I only swap out half, it should make a difference.
So these are my ideas as to how you can help me to chill a bit more and have lower baseline arousal levels so that I can manage my emotions a bit better, particularly if I am not too keen on the whole ‘therapy’ route. I hope they help.