A trauma is a deeply disturbing or threatening experience that results in acute or chronic feelings of stress. Trauma can be an event that endangers our lives but it can also be any repeated exposure to behaviors or circumstances that make us feel unsafe. Examples of traumas include: Experiencing an accident, illness, abandonment, natural disasters, discrimination, loss, violence, or abuse.
When we experience a trauma, our minds try to help us react quickly by using our nervous system to heighten the body’s senses. This can look like primal sensations: increased heart rate, perspiration & respiration - that support the body’s ability to fight, flight / survive.
Sometimes our minds can’t distinguish a memory of a trauma from an active trauma, meaning these same physical responses can occur during recovery, becoming burdensome to the point of hypervigilance (a state of alertness that evokes feelings of panic, hopelessness, distrust & fear).
No one is immune to the ways trauma can affect our minds and bodies, however, there are ways we can help ourselves when being triggered by painful memories. SCOPE is a mental exercise developed by Somatic Experiencing International - that teaches people how to cope with nervous system responses & hypervigilance.
SCOPE stands for Slow Down, Connect To Body, Orient, Pendulate & Engage:
S - Slowing Down:
- Hypervigilance from trauma can cause us to lose sense of time & space. Taking 5-10 steps, really, really slowly, can remind our minds that the panic we are experiencing is temporary.
C - Connect to Body:
- Hypervigilance from trauma can cause us to lose feelings of groundedness within ourselves. Crossing our arms, ankles and tucking our hands underneath our armpits can remind our minds that we are still connected to our bodies.
O - Orient
- Hypervigilance from trauma can cause us to ignore parts of our environment that are beautiful, neutral & safe. Looking around and naming colors & shapes can remind our minds that we still exist in a world that isn’t always dangerous.
P - Pendulate
- Hypervigilance from trauma can cause us to feel that we no longer have choice. Alternating between noticing where we feel tension in the body, and shifting our focus to where we feel ease and comfort in the body, can remind our minds of choice.
E - Engage
- Hypervigilance from trauma can cause us to experience isolation & loneliness. Reaching out for support from trusting people can remind our minds that we still deserve to be heard & cared for.
Calming nervous system responses after a trauma allows for people to gain the space to tell their story without fear of being triggered by painful memories. Therapy can be an excellent space for learning tools to calm the body & mind, as a means to facilitate this healing process.