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Retraumatization is a process we go through when we have been specifically triggered to be reminded of our trauma. Reliving and reexperiencing our trauma in our minds, we can quickly be overwhelmed by the dysfunctions of our nervous system. Trauma affects our nervous system by plummeting us into a hyper state of survival mode. Feeling the consequences of our stress hormones being kicked into production, we go through a series of stressful somatic sensations. As our body tenses, our breath quickens and our minds go racing through the past, losing a sense of safety.

Relaxation techniques help us come back into the present moment and start to reverse the rogue actions of our nervous system. Often including a focus on the breath, we start to slow down and calm our heart rate, which sends relaxing signals to the brain. Slowly, our bodies start to relax and we lose the sense of dangerous urgency or imminent threat. Creating a place of safety within our minds and our bodies we can navigate the restless waters of retraumatization.

Mindfulness Senses

The fight or flight mode we enter into is not connected to our senses in a way that we become so overloaded by our senses, we aren’t truly computing what is coming in through them. Practicing mindfulness in your senses reconnects you to your immediate environment and forces your mind to pay attention and notice sensations not connected to the trauma in your  mind. There are five senses: sight, touch, smell, taste, and hearing. Start with one sense for a count of five and work your way down while taking slow, deep breaths. Find five things you can see, four things you can smell, three things you can touch, two things you can hear and one thing you can touch.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is a mindfulness practice as well as a visualization practice. Find a quiet, safe spot where you can spend some time alone. Different mantras exist for talking to your body, guiding a visual meditation of relaxing your muscles. You pick groups of muscles starting from your feet and slowly work your way to the top of the crown. Try repeating a phrase like “My feet are relaxing” two or three times, visualizing your feet relaxing. Maintaining a slow and steady breathing rhythm, finally state “My feet are completely relaxed.” Then move on to the next body area.

Tension and Release

One of the problems we face when our stress hormones are pumping is an excess of energy we cannot use. Adrenaline is a the stress hormone produced to help us take action. The stimulation of our bodies and our minds, however, can be paralyzing rather than invigorating. Tension and release helps us act out the energy in our body while helping it relax. In the same manner as progressive muscle relaxation, use different groups of muscles. Starting from the feet and working up, tightly clench your muscles as tight as possible while sharply inhaling. Then, with a big exhale, release the muscles and notice the way the tension melts away leaving your muscles more relaxed.