Just received shocking news? Had a near-miss—or worse—on the road, or a very tough personal interaction? Here are some simple things you can do that will help right away. Fuller explanations and more detail are available in my blog article Emotional First Aid. I suggest you read that first, if you haven’t already, and then copy and print this shorter list, to remind you to practice these steps until they are fully yours.
Priority One: Physical recovery.
1. Breathe. Deliberately breathe slowly and deeply, five times.
2. Add the Relaxation Response. Breathe out forcefully, blowing the air out like a deep sigh. At the same time, let your shoulders drop down and your chest cave in.
3. Rehydrate. Drink some water.
Priority Two: Emotional recovery.
1. Spray Rescue Remedy under the tongue.
2. Use the Mind Cuddle for panic. Imagine your panicked mind is a small, terrified animal. Imagine holding it in your hands and stroking it gently, saying, “I’m here. I’m here with you.” Don’t fight the fears, don’t argue with them, but don’t listen to them either. Just keep stroking that scared little puppy or kitten or other baby animal.
3. Acknowledge and name the emotion(s). Use this formula: “Right now I’m feeling (scared, angry, stunned, whatever).”
4. Make a promise. Tell that feeling: “As soon as I can in the next two days, I’ll take the time to feel you fully.”
5. Use the Comfortable Container. Put the feelings in a safe, comfortable inner container. Remind them you’ll be taking them back out and honoring them in no more than 48 hours.
6. Keep your promise! Within 24 hours, re-open the Comfortable Container and acknowledge and fully feel the feelings you put on hold.
Priority Three: Executive brain recovery.
1. Orient yourself in space. Do this Orientation Exercise:
Look at the wall straight ahead of you.Now close your eyes for a couple of seconds.Re-open them, look again and see some detail you didn’t see before: a speck on the wall, a color you didn’t notice, anything.
Now look to your left and do the same things:look, close your eyes, then look again and find a new detail.
Come back to center, then look right and repeat the exercise.
Come back to center, then look behind you and repeat.
Back to center, then look up at the ceiling and repeat.
Back to center one more time.Now close your eyes one more time, and feel yourself here, in your body.As you open your eyes, say (out loud works best):”I am here, now.”
2. Refuel. If it’s been more than two hours since you last ate, drink a Boost, Ensure or protein drink, or eat a cup of sweetened yogurt, pudding or custard. Even when you don’t feel like eating, liquids or soft foods will go down.
3. Breathe again. Do the long, slow breaths a couple more times, then add in the Relaxation Response.
4. Ask two questions: “Is action required right now?” If the answer is “Yes,” ask, “What’s my first step?”
5. Remember to keep your promise to your emotional self! Sometime in the 48 hours after the crisis hit, go to that Comfortable Container and open it up. Let the feelings come. If you need more help in feeling an emotion fully and healthily, check out my CD Making Friends With Feelings.
PRIORITY A: PREPARE AND PRACTICE AHEAD OF TIME. Make these healthy, stress-reducing responses habitual via practice, practice, practice. Purely intellectual knowledge won’t be accessible in an emergency.
Post reminders of the Top Three. On your laptop cover. On the bathroom mirror. On the refrigerator. On the front or back door. On your car’s dashboard. Try posting: 1. Breathe. 2. Relax Response. 3. Water. Then actually DO those three steps. (Yes, the water too.)
Carry water with you. Stress and shock dehydrate. Dehydrated brains don’t function well.
Carry Rescue Remedy. For practice, try 2-3 drops or sprays under the tongue when you feel frazzled, helpless, at a loss.
Stock up on brain fuel. Be sure one or more of the following is available: can of Ensure or Boost; protein powder and some almond or soy milk (something that won’t sour if stored); yogurt; custard or other pudding.
Practice, practice, practice the three inner tools. When your mind starts telling panicky stories, do the Mind Cuddle. When your emotions start spiraling out of control and this just isn’t the time or place to work with them, use the Comfortable Container, then bring them out and feel them healthily within the “48-hour hold” limit. And when you’re feeling foggy, woozy or distracted, or have to change gears quickly, practice the Orientation Exercise. Make them habitual.
Again, the “why” of all these steps can be found in the accompanying Emotional First Aid blog article. May they serve you well when you really need them!