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  • Kristin Miller, PhD, Psychologist, DCEP

Sheltering at Home Safely - Taking a Pause to Calm Yourself

I am a psychologist who has spent most my career serving people who have experienced profound abuse. My own childhood was a nightmare of abuse. My family was in reactive mode much of the time, yelling, putting each other down, and sometimes becoming violent.

When we feel threatened our system automatically defends us by shutting down the thinking process and revving up the survival response to fight, run, freeze, or shut down.

We did not have a pause button built into our family to take some space, calm ourselves, and move forward in a gentle way together. Family vacations were hell, because I could not get away and go to my safe place to hide and heal. I cannot imagine what it would be like to shelter in place with my family or the families of many of the people I serve.

Learning to Find a Safe Place

Fortunately, I learned a great deal from this experience. Every place I would go I would scan the environment and find my safe place, a place where no one could get to me. I still do this. I have fond memories of a single stall portable bathroom in one of the fire camps I worked in.

Although as a child this was not possible, I now have a word and hand gesture that lets my family know I need a break. I learned to stop when things get heated, let go, and take that pause. I understand what my body feels when I am in the mindless survival/stress response. I take the time to calm myself. I re-enter my family when I can do so with an open mind, calm body, and a willingness to move forward gently with compassion.

The miracle of my childhood was as early as three, I knew when I came from love it was almost impossible for my Dad to stay in an abusive state. The trick was learning how to do this.

Self-Care Safety Skills

So here is my best shot at giving you some skills to do this while you are sheltering at home with your family. Please take time to watch this video and try the techniques for yourself.

Finding Safety and Calm in Abusive Situations

Descriptions of Three Stress Calming Techniques

On your right, you'll find descriptions with illustrations for three of the stress calming techniques shown in the video.

Summary of Safety Actions

  • Create a safe place;

  • Stop when things are heated;

  • Give the signal to take a pause;

  • Know what you experience when you become reactive;

  • Calm yourself; and,

  • Re-enter with an open readiness to understand.

The challenge is to pause and create calm before you interact.

More Self-Care Resources

For more self-care resources, visit our bank of skills videos at FREA, R4R, and the Peaceful Heart Network.

Learn what works for you while you are not stressed and overloaded so you are prepared for the next time you find yourself reactive rather than calm and cooperative.

Safety Resources for You

If you are assaulted or fear you are in danger, call police and take whatever other protective actions you need to stay safe. Here are three resources for you or anyone in your family to help handle a threatening situation:

Police in the United States: Call 911; Note: Check with your local police department to ensure they are using the 911 emergency call system. If you’re outside the U.S. check for your local emergency number and have it available.

National Domestic Abuse Hotline: - Toll free number: 1-800-799-7233; TTY: 1-800-787-3224.

National Resource Center on Domestic Violence:

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