Regression under stress - how do you cope?
February 24, 2017 6:22 AM   Subscribe

When I'm under certain kinds of stress, I regress to a more childlike state. It feels like my brain is melting and all I can do is cry uncontrollably (when I get alone). What are some other ways out?

Difficult social situations in which I can sense other people's negative intentions, office politics, or uncomfortable interactions with family members make me completely melt down. I've had enough therapy to know why this is the case (abusive parents), but I still have trouble coping.

The only thing that seems to work for me is to talk with my partner. He's great at talking me down, but I would love to have something I can do for myself, or with other people, so I don't feel so dependent on him.

I'm very familiar with complex PTSD, DBT, etc. and use many of the techniques I learned in therapy to self-soothe. But certain situations just make it impossible for me to function. My levels of anxiety and depression are uncontrollable. It doesn't happen that often, but when it does, there is really no other way out for me.

Do you have this problem? How do you get out of it by yourself or with non-SO's? How do you help others when they get like this?
posted by 3491again to Human Relations (6 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Jumping jacks in the single-stall washroom help me - it passes the adrenaline through. Other quick options are: running up and down in the stairwell, going outside and running around the block. After time, sometimes a snap bracelet can help me too, or there are a couple of things I eat only as last-ditch effort treats - mint chocolate flavour, something about the mint is soothing for me personally (I don't think it's mint, I think it's having a reserved 'you are not under attack when you eat this' item.)

IMO you're right that once you reach that state, your lizard-brain is in control and it's a flood of hormones coming at you. For me, the only real answer at that point is something really physical.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:30 AM on February 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

I started taking Zoloft. I actually started for a different, specific reason, and all of a sudden I just... Wasn't melting down all the time. It was amazing. It didn't change me, it just made me better able to cope.
posted by brainmouse at 7:23 AM on February 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

First, even totally normal, healthy people can have breakdowns under situations of extreme stress. It's a standard human reaction. Your self-soothing techniques (and you) are not failures because you are having such reactions occasionally.

Second, reiterating the recommendation for some kind of quick, vigorous physical activity. I don't say this as someone who enjoys vigorous physical activity and so finds it inherently a pleasant distraction, mind you! I mean that you need something to burn off all that energy jangling through you, and, ideally, take you out of your head altogether for a little while, to break up the spiral of rumination. Moving fast can do that.

Third, you don't mention what, if any, medications you take. If you are working with a doctor who is already prescribing for you, I would suggest bringing up these episodes with them and asking if there are any meds suitable for these kinds of emergency situations. Benzodiazepines can be helpful in tamping down this kind of reaction, but it's important to use them conservatively. For a number of people, just knowing that they can take something to end the emergency--that they're not trapped in it--can itself be soothing.
posted by praemunire at 8:45 AM on February 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

At my last therapy visit, my therapist recommended starting doing a creative activity that has a physical output - knitting, coloring, needlepoint, sewing, basket weaving, etc. - as a means to help manage my anxiety and bipolar. (I have 5 or 6 different anxiety disorders and 4 or 5 mood disorders.) I was skeptical, but have found to my great delight that it really does help. I'm currently working on several quilting projects, an old cross stitch project I started when I was 12 and never finished, and 7 or 8 different adult coloring book pages.

For the quilting, I'm doing English Paper Piecing, doing hexagons for all three projects. Once the fabric is cut out with the templates attached, I can just grab a stack, throw them in a ziploc bag with a pair of scissors, a spool of thread, and a couple needles, toss it in my purse, and go. Then when my anxiety starts winding up, I can sneak off to the bathroom and sew a few. Most of the time, I just start sewing them when I'm at the doctor's office, or waiting in line at the grocery store, or wherever, to keep the anxiety from even having a chance to start.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 9:40 AM on February 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Has it always been this way, or did it start suddenly? Or did it ramp up?

I've had the same thing, and it turned out that I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety. I tried every relaxation technique in the book, but the only thing that stopped them cold was medication - Buspar has been an absolute Godsend for me. If nothing else works, I'd talk to your doc, get a physical done to make sure there isn't something else going on, and then see what they say.
posted by spinifex23 at 12:34 PM on February 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

I also take Zoloft. I am super anxious, and have intense social anxiety. I find Zoloft to work pretty well, though I am needing to get in to see a doc about this pretty soon. Absolutely nthing working with your care professional. I can also recommend physical activity as a place to put stress. Walking is great for me. I had a wonderful combination of therapy and martial arts going on in my previous town which was really effective. We'd spend a little time doing talk therapy then get up and do stretching, practice movements, practice sparring or hitting the bag. It was wonderful to have a place where we could touch on trauma and then do something with that energy other than re-experiencing it.

Have you heard of the Spoon Theory? This is a concept that gets a lot of mileage in our household, as we have aging folks with stuff like anxiety, etc going on. I really recommend reading it. It gives a really accessible way to think about the stress factors in your life and to start budgeting your energy appropriately.

The Spoon Theory
posted by ottergrrl at 8:08 PM on February 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

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