Benefits of slowing down in stress management and when working with traumatic stress

Published on 23 January 2024 at 18:58

In the world of therapy, it is important for both therapists and clients to understand why we should take things slow. This article is all about recognizing the need to pump the brakes a bit and focus on building up inner strength. Especially when dealing with stress from trauma, it's crucial to slow down and tackle those tough symptoms step by step. I'll also share some practical ways we can slow things down in therapy, help ourselves stay grounded, and support clients in doing the same. The goal? To boost their ability to handle and work through the tricky symptoms that led them to seek therapy in the first place.

Understanding the science
According to many of the experts of the field in trauma healing and mental health, when it comes to dealing with tough stress or traumatic experiences, it's important to take a careful approach. Jumping into the stories or physical sensations of trauma without first making sure you feel safe and grounded can do more harm than good for people seeking help (Selvam, 2022; Cozolino, 2015; Levine, 2015; Van Der-Kolk 2014).

We've been using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for a long time, but it's only recently that we're realizing how much psychological trauma affects us (Wong, 2020). Trauma messes with our minds, making it hard to think clearly, know ourselves, feel good about who we are, and regulate our emotions (basically, feel safe on the inside). Traditional talk therapy that focuses on thoughts and behaviours falls short from a scientific standpoint. Our brain's right hemisphere, the part that helps us connect with others in a safe way (a big deal in healing trauma), goes offline when we're overwhelmed. So, it's about more than just thinking and talking – it's about creating a safe space for healing. Our brains are pretty fascinating, and when it comes to stress, they have some interesting tricks.
You see, when we sense a threat, whether it's real or imagined, certain parts of our brains shut down (Cozolino, 2015). It's like our brain thinks, "Okay, we don't need to worry about complex stuff right now – let's just focus on surviving" (Porges, 2017).

Now, this would be all good if it happened only when there is a real danger, like facing a wild
animal. The problem arises when our bodies and nervous systems kick into survival mode – fight, flight, freeze, or collapse – even when there's no actual threat around. In everyday life, imagine you're at home, feeling relaxed, and suddenly a car backfires outside. Your heart jumps, and it takes a while for it to settle down, even after you realize there's no real danger. This is because our body reacts first, and our conscious mind takes a bit longer to catch up and understand that everything is okay. It's like our system gets stuck in alert mode, even when the threat has passed. If you know the ropes of emotional and physical regulation, you can steer yourself towards a place of rest. If these types of stress symptoms keep popping up and causing trouble, it might be a good move to reach out for some professional support.

So, here's the bottom line: imagine you're about to dive into some intense feelings, body
sensations, or tough stories. It is crucial to first find ways to ground yourself skilfully, tap into a sense of safety, and hit the brakes a bit. Trust me, taking that pause can make all the difference.

Slowing Down, or Titration
Let's break this down in a simpler way. Levine (2015) talks about something called "titration" to explain how to ease into dealing with tough stuff without getting overwhelmed. Think of it like a chemistry experiment where you add one solution to another very carefully to avoid any big explosions or surprises. It is about taking things step by step to make sure everything goes smoothly, and you do not end up in over your head.

With titration, we are figuring out the just-right amount of stimulation that we can handle without feeling overwhelmed by our inner sensations, thoughts and feelings. Sometimes, just showing up for a therapy session can be stimulating enough. The first thing we are advised to do is take a moment to settle and get comfortable before delving into what brought us there in the first place.

There are various ways to do this. For instance, you might pay attention to your breath, feel the weight of your body in the chair, or imagine a strong, supportive frame around you as you sense into your arms and legs. Creating a mental safe space or taking note of what's comforting in your surroundings also helps. The key is to connect with your inner sensations, recognizing how feelings of calm, relaxation, and relief are experienced in your body. This helps you learn self-regulation skills that are crucial for your well-being. Unfortunately, I won't be able to go into the specific techniques in detail in this article.

Let's break this down in simpler terms. Learning how to regulate our emotions and become more aware of our body helps us shield ourselves from stress. Think of it like getting better at reading the signals within. For instance, consider a tough conversation that's overwhelming. Titration in this context means recognizing when things get too intense, taking a break to cool down, and then returning when you're ready. It's like doing a little, letting your system handle it, taking a breather, and then going back when you can handle more. This process helps us face challenges more skillfully, boosting our resilience, confidence, and sense of control. It's kind of like putting a puzzle back together, one piece at a time.

Imagine living your life consistently in this way and feeling the confidence of increased capacity that comes from successes and “I can!” experiences over time. It's common to start feeling like "I can't..." when we try to take on too much all at once. Taking big steps can lead to feeling overwhelmed and defeated, instead of making progress toward something meaningful and important to us.


I hope you've taken a moment to think about what's written here and that it makes practical sense. The idea is to help you move toward the life you want to live, one manageable step at a time.



Cozolino, Louis, 2015, Why Therapy Works: Using Our Minds to Change Our Brains (Norton Series
on Interpersonal Neurobiology)
Porges, Stephen, (2017), The Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory: The Transformative Power of
Feeling Safe
Levine, Peter, 2015, Trauma and Memory: Brain and Body in a Search for the Living Past: A Practical
Guide for Understanding and Working with Traumatic Memory
Levine, Peter, (2015), In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores
Selvam, Raja, (2022), The Practice of Embodying Emotions: A Guide for Improving
Cognitive, Emotional, and Behavioral Outcomes
Van der Kolk, Bessel, (2014), The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain, and Body in the
Transformation of Trauma
Wong, Albert, 2020, The Body Knows the Way Home,


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