The term “trauma” has started showing up in everyday conversation over the past couple of years. Between the global pandemic and myriad other disasters, both natural and manmade, it’s no wonder the concept of trauma is becoming commonplace. Strategies and resources for healing trauma, such as Somatic Experiencing (SE™️), is now a growing field of study and practice. But what about interrupting trauma? What interventions can we use during crisis to reduce trauma’s long-term impacts on our minds and bodies? As it turns out, there are some simple but powerful exercises that are transforming how first responders help those in crisis. These are available in a tool from the SE Crisis Stabilization and Safety (CSS) program and are being made available free for all by Somatic Experiencing International.
Adapted from Somatic Experiencing trauma healing fundamentals, the CSS tool is an acronym (SCOPE) designed for grounding yourself during high-stress situations, disrupting your body’s trauma response:
(S) Slow Down: If you are able, take 10 steps very slowly, noticing any sensations on the bottom of your feet. Concentrate on feeling every part of your foot with each step. Pay attention to the sensations–what is hard, soft, bumpy, spongy, tight, loose, or otherwise? If walking is not an option for you, turn your focus inward and look for those sensations in other parts of your body.
(C) Connect to the Body: If you are able, cross your arms and ankles, tuck your hands under your armpits, lower your head, and breathe. You may notice that signals from your nervous system are causing shallow breathing, muscle tension, and other stress responses. Holding yourself in this posture helps you to reconnect with your body if you are feeling dissociation. Breathing and reconnecting with your body are the most important elements of this step, so if this posture will not work for you, look internally for a safe place in your body to focus your attention on while you breathe.
(O) Orient: If you are able, slowly look around, noticing colors and shapes. Let your gaze rest on something pleasant or comforting, like a brief visual vacation. You can also orient yourself through your other senses, such as sound or touch, if that works better for you. Identify something external to your body that is calming and centering.
Notice a place of ease in the body and a place of tension. Slowly shift your attention between ease and tension, ease and tension. This builds your resilience to get through crisis.
Engage socially. Connect with someone or a group of people who can support you as you navigate through this moment and beyond. Your nervous system may encourage social avoidance or isolation, and it will be important that you maintain connections that can support your well-being.
SCOPE is designed to help stabilize the body’s stress response and create a sense of safety to build resilience for anyone in times of acute distress. It provides an increased sense of ease and relief in the mind and body, which helps us stay regulated during crisis and reduces the long-term impacts of a traumatic experience as a result.
Whether you are a first responder, frontline worker, teacher, bodyworker, faith leader, or anyone who may find themselves in high-stress situations or working with other people in high-stress situations, SCOPE is a useful tool that you can implement anywhere, anytime, in less than five minutes. It is not medical advice, and you should consult your doctor if you are concerned about your mental health. These exercises may be helpful if you are in a state of overwhelm, but every body is different.