The First Part of Trauma Therapy
One of the first tasks of trauma-focused therapy is to begin gaining greater emotional awareness. This is necessary for trauma healing. One way to increase awareness is to listen to your body and to think of the input being received from your thoughts, bodily sensations, and emotions as all contributing to your emotional thermometer.
At any given moment, we are somewhere on that emotional thermometer. At 0, we are cool, calm, and collected and at 100, we are feeling the most distress we’ve ever felt – perhaps the feeling felt during the trauma.
Consider this scale below taken from STAIR (Skills Training in Affective and Interpersonal Regulation) an evidence-based treatment for trauma.
0 – Total peace and serenity
10 – Relaxed and not distressed
20 – A little upset but not a big deal
30 – Slightly upset / annoyed / bothered / worried
40 – Mild distress, including apprehension, fear, or anxiety
50 – Mild to moderate distress
60 – Moderate distress
70 – Moderately high distress that makes concentrating difficult
80 – High distress and/or bodily tension
90 – High to extreme distress; Bodily distress is substantial
100 – Extreme distress, panic- and/or terror-stricken, extreme bodily sensation
Find an example from your own life that would fit into each of these categories. What do you notice when you’re at each of these benchmarks?
Why is it Important to Know Our Emotional Thermometer?
We can’t fix what we don’t acknowledge. Knowing our number helps us connect to our body and our mind. Connecting with ourselves is an essential aspect of trauma healing.
Consider 0-50 our green light. We’re doing relatively OK. Perhaps we’re experiencing some fluctuations in our mood, but all relatively mild and we can handle it on our own or with minimal support or our usual support systems.
Consider 50-70 our yellow light. Things are starting to escalate; the stress is building and perhaps becoming a bit unmanageable. We might need a bit more support than usual – perhaps reaching out to our support system a bit more, talking to our therapist, etc. This is a time to take stock of what we need to help bring us back down before things become unmanageable.
Consider 80-100 our red light. At this point, our stress and our body are nearly maxed out. We’re almost completely in emotion mind, our mind is racing, and it feels like our world is tunneling in and we can’t always fix it.
When we’re at 80-100, nothing productive often happens. We can be reactive and ineffective in our response. Our trauma reactions are most prevalent at this stage. We may respond based on our trauma to even objectively safe situations that remind us of the trauma but are not traumatic in and of themselves.
Our main task at the 80-100 stage is to 1) be aware of our current state and 2) find ways of effectively bringing our emotions back down to a level that is more manageable. We may not always make it down to 0 but even if we can get down to 50 or 60, we can become slightly more rationally minded and be more effective in our response.
One Skill to Help Come Down From 80 to 60?
Try the STOP skill from Dialectical Behavior Therapy – a third wave therapy built on the foundation of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
STOP stands for Stop. Take a step back. Observe, Proceed.
Sometimes all we need to do is to hit the pause button and be patient with our emotions long enough for them to diminish in intensity.
To learn more about how to build awareness of our emotions and skills to regulate them, particularly as it relates to trauma healing, contact us below.