Seeing Red Can Help You Manage Trauma Symptoms

At Cutting Edge Counseling, Somatic Therapy is one of the approaches we use to help people recover from trauma and restore resiliency to their nervous systems. While it takes a therapist years to become skillful with this therapy, there are simple tools that we teach our clients to use in their everyday lives to help them manage trauma symptoms.

trauma symptoms

Somatic Experiencing allows us to access extraordinarily simple self-regulation skills that tap into our body’s ability to heal and balance itself. Self-regulation skills, also known as affect-regulation skills, help us manage uncomfortable inner states, such as depression, anxiety, anger, sadness and fear.

Try This Practice 

When you get triggered by an event, memory, thought or physical sensation, you may find yourself filled with uncomfortable emotions and body sensations. Or, you may find yourself blanked out and detached. Either way, these trauma symptoms will impact your ability to think clearly.

When you feel triggered, look around to establish where you are. Turn your head so that you can see what’s to the right, to the left, up and down. Allow your eyes to become interested in what’s around you, to see where you are and to be curious. In this simple practice of noticing your surroundings, you activate your Exploratory Orienting Response, which can bring you out of your internal spin and back into engagement with the world around you.

Take the practice to the next level by noticing things around you that are red. Maybe that’s a rug, a notebook, a clock, etc. Count them and name them. It would sound like this: One: the rug. Two: the notebook. Three: the rug, etc. Count 10 red things. Pretty soon, you may notice that you’re less spun out and more focused, which is a lot of reward for just looking around and counting red things.

Here’s The Science 

When we pause to notice what is around us, we are doing what is called  “Orienting” in Somatic Experiencing. The process of orienting accomplishes many things:

  • We notice whether we are safe or unsafe physically and emotionally.
  • We situate ourselves to this time and this place and come into the present moment, which can pull us out of the upsetting experiences of the past or fear about the future.
  • In turning our heads, we engage the exploratory muscles in our eyes, head and neck, stimulating curiosity
    about this present moment.
  • We become more embodied and aware of the full range of options available to us. We come out of a primitive state of overwhelm and into our adult self, able to think more clearly and respond effectively.

Why Notice The Color Red?

As humans, we’ve always had a sense that red has special properties. Red is the color of stoplights, emergency lights on ambulances and the flashers on your car. Recent research from the University of Rochester demonstrates that the color red evokes emotional and physical responses different from those of other colors.

There are three responses to danger: fight, flight and freeze. Sometimes when we become overwhelmed by emotion, our bodies go into a shutdown that we call freeze. We may be unable to think clearly, speak or move. Engaging with our environment through orienting and naming things that are red can bring us out of this state and into a more resourced functioning.

We physically react stronger and faster when we see red. Red provides a neurological trigger that affects our motor reactions, such as the ability to slam on the brakes quickly. It also elicits a faster and stronger emotional reaction, inducing a rapid preparation for fight or flight. It brings us out of freeze and into the more mobilized states of fight or flight. Red grabs us, catches our attention, wakes us up and gives us an energetic charge to cope with what’s before us.

Enjoy Better Brain Functioning

If you’re struggling to manage trauma symptoms, a skilled trauma therapist who is trained in EMDRsomatic therapy, mindfulness therapy and attachment repair can help you resolve trauma, regulate your nervous system and enjoy overall better functioning. There is a happier, healthier way to live, and with guidance, compassionate support and effective tools, such as orienting and noticing things around you that are red, you can mitigate the “freeze” response and feel present, aware and safe.