PTSD Recovery Tip:Design Your Stress Response

Do you feel in control of your stress response? Recently, I spoke with a survivor who complained that she couldn’t manage, cope with or change her response to stress. She could feel herself changing her behavior and dissociating when stress approached, but she couldn’t figure out how to stop that from happening.

What this survivor experiences is an absolutely normal process of feeling stress and not knowing how to handle it so that you feel safe, empowered and in control. When this happens the most logical response is to move away. It’s a little like seeing a small fire start in your house and running out and abandoning your home. Instead, you could have prepared yourself by having a fire extinguisher on hand and knowing how to successfully use it to put out the flames.

The key to making change is to design your own personal process that puts you back in control. The more you resonate with your stress response the more likely it is to be successful and reduce the stress you feel.  My plan for my survivor friend was to change her stress response to something uniquely designed for her so that she would be in control and proactive. To achieve that goal, I walked her through a simple process that involves assessment, recognition, construction and substitution, a four-phase approach to a more desired stress response. You can use the same following four steps to evaluate and change your stress response:

1 – Identify what you wish your stress response to be. Clearly and specifically map out in your mind or on a piece of paper how you wish to respond and behave.

2 – Notice what about your current response needs to change. Make a list of behaviors that you would like to eliminate.

3 – Develop substitute behaviors. For each response you wish to change, choose what you would rather do in that instant.

4 – Implement specific actions to achieve your goal. Clearly design what you will do  and how you will do it to substitute the new behaviors in future situations.

The stress response you have today is impermanent; it can evolve any time you wish. Becoming clear about what you want and then designing a strategy for achieving it gives you a roadmap for change that can shift you from the powerlessness of an inappropriate stress response to the powerfulness of being in charge of your thoughts, feelings and behaviors.


All through the month of March we’ll be discussing hope for post-truama recovery. Click here to see my upcoming guests on YOUR LIFE AFTER TRAUMA.

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