NB. The information contained in this article is also useful for calming down from many other types of unpleasant or distressing incidents, like heated arguments, breakups, verbal abuse, breakups, road rage, being triggered, or panic and anxiety attacks.
So many of well meaning people each year have to go through distressing physical attacks or threats of some kind, in many cases completely unprovoked. These can leave us agitated, anxious and in more severe cases traumatized. What can we do in the immediate aftermath of these attacks and assaults to calm ourselves down and return as much as possible to normal?
There are actually some very powerful but simple things we can do to calm ourselves down after distressing physical incidents like assaults, fights and accidents. Three main ones we picked out are using bilateral stimulation to dissolve the fight-flight response; breathing exercises to calm ourselves down, and physical exercise to work off anger and stress from the incident.
Using these three options together can get a good number of us feeling relatively calm again. In more severe cases you may need to seek the help of a qualified therapist or counsellor, if your assault has been especially traumatic.
We also offer some other short and longer term options to calm oneself down after experiencing some kind of physical assault, but we will start with the most powerful and easy to implement options first.
Using Bilateral Stimulation To Calm The Fight-Flight Response
This may sound like an unusual tactic, but using a method called bilateral stimuation is actually a fantastic and proven way to very quickly calm down intense states of subjective physiological arousal and distress in a relatively short amount of time.
The idea is that giving the mind/brain something else to focus on as well as whatever is going on inside our body and thoughts essentially tricks the mind into blurring the intensity of these distressing memories and states, lessening their power over us and calming us down physiologically and psychologically.
Here is a very general process for self administering bilateral stimulation to calm ourselves down after experiencing something distressing like an assault or robbery:
- Move one of the videos embedded above to full screen and play.
- Simply focus on any internal state of fight-flight arousal, anxiety, agitation or whatever else, whilst also simultaneously focusing on the dot moving across the screen.
- It can also help to combine visual and audio bilateral stimulation together for a more powerful effect. Try also listening to an audio form of alternating BLS sounds such as this one or one on Youtube through a set of earphones as well as following the visual dot on screen.
- Focusing on both together at the same time creates a dual focus of attention, which when done properly can very powerfully and quickly help to calm down fight-flight response, anxiety and other states of extreme physiological arousal.
- Make sure you keep both an internal and external focus (the dot on screen plus your inner experience) for the treatment to be effective.
- Many people notice an effect almost immediately or within a few minutes. As well as calming down anxiety and other states, it can also very effectively break cycles of negative thinking and self talk about the incident.
- See our article on self administering EMDR for more information on this process and how it works.
When self adminstered correctly, bilateral stimulation can very powerfully reduce the intensity of anxiety and other states of physiological arousal, to the point where you return to calmness much more quickly than you may have otherwise. It is brilliant for dealing with the fight-flight response that arises in so many of us in reaction to some kind of external threat.
This kind of treatment is what actually forms the basis of an alternative form of psychotherapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing or EMDR. This is normally used to treat traumatic incidents from the past, but the same idea can also be applied to treat any state of distress or anxiety that results from something which has happened right now in the present moment or very recent past.
Because the feelings are still live inside us if we only just recently experienced some kind of distressing incident, we can use the bilateral stimulation to “catch” these states of internal physiological arousal and discomfort while they are still “live” and process them to resolution.
Because these states are still in our “live” working memory and haven’t been pushed to long term memory yet, since the incident only just happened, we don’t need to do any psychological rummaging as with EMDR to retrieve distressing memories. The internal state is already live inside us, we just need to work on it with the bilateral stimulation.
When done correctly, you can be largely or completely “over” mild to moderately distressing incidents (and perhaps some severe ones as well) and returned to a calmer state in relatively short order. More severe and traumatic incidents may need additional help from qualified professionals to deal with. Always seek professional help with really serious incidents like serious violent assaults, knife and gun crime, threats to one’s life and any sexual assaults.
Use Breathing Exercises To Calm Down
There are loads of free deep breathing exercise resources online now; we embedded a couple above. The idea is just to forcibly breathe more deeply and deliberately than you normally do, and if you stay with it these exercises can very quickly calm you down and get your heart rate and physiology back to normal.
However, it is also true that some people get so worked up after more distressing unexpected things like unprovoked assaults that they struggle to focus on anything, even breathing exercises, for a while. They are anxious and their mind wanders all over the place for a good few hours or more after the nasty incident.
If this is the case, then we suggest you skip to either the bilateral stimulation above or the exercise option below. The bilateral stimulation does require a little focus but very quickly and powerfully starts to work for a lot of people in dissolving intense states of fight-flight arousal.
Physical exercise is more a doing activity, which doesn’t require so much focusing on something and staying still, but gets you moving and active, which some people prefer to calm themselves down when they are really agitated and worked up about something that has happened.
Use Exercise To Work Off Anger and Stress
It can be that after an attack or assault, especially unprovoked, we are angry and raging inside at the pointlessness of it. So many people who are just walking down the street minding their own business are getting pestered and attacked by drug dealers and other troublemakers without any provocation at all, especially after dark.
Similarly, people caught up in robberies are usually completely innocent, and as well as being shaken and traumatized, are also angry at the fact they have been caught up in someone else’s nonsense they had nothing to do with.
This can leave us angry and raging at the fact we have had our space violated without even provoking or inciting anyone. A good way to work off this anger is to do some form of vigorous exercise, which can have give the angry energy that is often sat inside us somewhere to go; it channels it positively instead of it festering inside us.
Here are some high intensity workouts you can do to work off any anger you are feeling:
- Sit ups
Some of these can also be done at home if it is too late to go to the gym. Some kind of exercise can be a great way of calming down and working off anger, especially if you need to get to sleep soon. In a way, it can be seen as a way of exhausting ourselves into calming down! It still works for a lot of us though.
Other Things We Can Do
Here are some other measures we could think of to take once you have calmed down to a reasonable degree.
- As soon as possible, log all details of the incident in case you decide to report or just for a record in case something similar happens again. You may not be ready to report it the first time, but if it happens twice or more, it is good to have a documented record of events.
- Date, time and location the incident happened.
- Identity of attacker – gender, ethnicity, age, face, hair, clothing, voice/accent.
- Identity and description of anyone else who was present.
- As much detail as you can remember as to how incident unfolded, what was said, who did what, any physical damage to body or property.
- Whether you have seen this person before and know them, or other troublemakers, to frequent the area which you are attacked.
- In general, aim to give as much detail as possible to the police, so they can cross reference it to other incidents which may have happened and possibly identify the attacker.
- Even if you feel calm and back to normal fairly soon after, it is still wise to write down an account of the incident in case anything else happens and report it, because this person may have attacked people before and may do it again.
- You can either choose to keep your account for your own record, or also report it to the local police.
- In more serious cases of assault, like life threatening ones, ones involving weapons and sexual assaults, always report them to the police and seek professional help when dealing with them afterwards.
- Self defence alarms are very cheaply available on Amazon here.
- Many people consider taking self defence classes after unprovoked physical threats and assaults. Click the links for resources to help you find self defence training courses in your local area for each country – USA, UK, Canada and Australia