There are many ways of coping with anxiety. But there’s one we may not notice. Safety signals can be quite an effective tool for dealing with anxiety.
As a child, I had many safety signals. When trouble was coming, I ran to retrieve them and I held them tight. But until now, I never really understood their significance in treating anxiety. This is mainly due to the fact that I was a child. It was seen as normal for me to latch onto objects and become obsessed with them.
Discovering your safety signals
The human race goes through negative experiences all the time. You hear about it on the news and on the internet. Then you have those who experience trauma that causes damage later in life through conditions such as anxiety, PTSD and other mental health conditions.
So, there are “normal bumps in the road” or present trauma and then you have mental trauma scars from the past, which affect people differently. However, both can leave you with triggers.
There are differences in the ones who cope quickly and move on, and the ones who are gripped by fear that comes from unresolved triggers. But no one should ever be ashamed of this difference.
We have cognitive behavior treatments and medications, but this usually only helps about half of those who suffer from mental health-related fears. Now, we’re discovering what’s called safety signals, that which seems to work especially well for many who struggle with fears and unwarranted fears.
Therapy, medication and safety tools
The introduction of the safety signal offers a tool that actually comes from an entirely different area of the brain than where cognitive therapy operates.
With cognitive therapy, the patient who suffers from anxiety or phobia about certain objects is slowly presented with the object in order to help them grow the courage to deal with the triggers. Over time, anxious people spend more and more time with the object or even the situation they fear, and these half really progress.
But our topic is about safety signals, and how this can help the other half and maybe even those who’ve initially tried cognitive therapy.
Going back to my childhood, I remember certain stuffed animals that made me feel comforted. I remember how they took away my fears sometimes during abusive situations. Do you know what that stuffed animal represented? That’s right, it was my safety signal, a positive stimulus that was bigger than my negative object or situation.
There are other things that are considered safety signals as well. I can touch upon these for a bit to help you understand.
What can be a safety signal?
1. A shape
The first safety signal was used in case studies. The subjects of these studies were asked to associate one shape with a negative feeling, and another shape with a positive one. The negative feelings represented a threat, while positive shapes were non-threatening.
When test subjects were alone with the threatening shape, they became anxious, but when the non-threatening shape was introduced, they seemed to calm down. Thus, you have the beginnings of a new way of healing.
2. A sentimental object
The first safety signal was a shape, used to prove a point about another way of coping with anxiety. But to get a little more specific, we need to look at common comforting things so you can understand what a signal of safety can be. One of those signals can come from sentimental objects.
When you’re afraid and anxiety has exacerbated that fear, you can look at a picture of a lost loved one who used to comfort you. You can hold an object that has a lovable meaning to you as well. You may read old letters, use cups that a loved one gave you, or even sit in your car if it has sentimental value for some reason.
Sentimental objects have few limits considering many things are gifted by special people in your life. This signal is not meant to cause dwelling in the past, however, it can temporarily take you back to a time and place of safety.
3. Stuffed toys
You don’t have to be a child to use a stuffed toy as a safety signal to ward off fears. I still have bears that I cuddle when I get really upset. It seems to be a way to feel something soft and familiar in your arms while defeating the fears of being alone, the paranoia of future bad news, or any negative thing that causes fear.
I can’t exactly explain why stuffed toys work so well, but they do. They’re inviting, comfortable and definitely always there for you. You’re never too old for a stuffed toy safety signal.
In the same way, and yet differently, music can serve as a safe way to deal with fears. If you’ve been on this planet for a long time, you’ve probably built up quite a few favorite songs, styles of music and genres that provide certain feelings at certain times. When you’re afraid, due to anxiety, go to the music which signals a warm feeling inside. This is the type you want to listen to.
For me, many classic rock songs from the 70s and 80s seem to bring my head into a good space. Music choices to battle anxiety are different from person to person. The next time you are afraid, experiment with songs until you find what seems to calm you.
5. Certain people
Safety signals can also be people, but don’t assume they’re going to be the obvious choices. You may assume your mate would be your safety signal, but they’re not always the correct choice.
Your signal could be one of your children, a friend, or some other extended family member, like a cousin. You will know who it is when you feel that same feeling of safety as when you squeeze a stuffed toy.
And again, I must give props to nature for being a powerful safety signal for many people who have phobias and anxieties. That is unless, of course, they have a fear of nature. In that case, it won’t work.
Otherwise, nature, with its brisk fresh air, beautiful greenery, trees, the open skies – all this can quickly calm fears if you let it. And don’t forget the sounds of nature as well. You can listen to nature sounds on digital media, but nothing beats the real thing.
Finding your best signal for safety
Only you can discover what works best when dealing with anxiety, phobias, or other unwarranted fears. Triggers can be tamed with safety signals when used quickly and practiced for consistency.
With a routine of using these signals, your therapy, and prescribed medication, you can really put a hurting on those things which scare you. And that’s exactly what we aim to do. Even during times of universal crisis, we can stay on top of things with the right comforting object, person, or place.
Now’s the time, if you don’t already know, find your safety signal. I already have quite a few myself.
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