For PTSD Teens: Learning Emotional Awareness – Part Three

This three part series on Emotional Awareness includes what it means to be emotionally aware, the consequences of avoiding emotions, and tools to cope with emotions in a healthy way. The first part of this series defined emotional awareness and discussed some of the benefits to being emotionally aware.  The second article looked at the consequences to avoiding emotions and how this is particularly common among teens who suffer from teen PTSD.


This article will include how to become aware of your emotional state as well as provide tools to manage emotions safely and appropriately.

Emotional Awareness 

The fastest way to move out of a stressful state is to become aware of one of your senses. In his wonderfully healing book, Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World through Mindfulness, Jon Kabat Zinn details how returning attention to the senses can immediately shift your experience. By smelling a scent, touching an object, or experiencing a bodily sensation, you remind yourself of the moment you are in versus an imaginary moment that is likely the source of uncomfortable and challenging emotions. The reliving of trauma and its associated feelings is one of the main symptoms of PTSD. Shifting your experience to the present moment through the use of your senses can be an incredibly healing practice.


Of course, remembering to make this shift in attention is the challenge. Particularly right in the middle of feeling heavy emotions. For this reason, making this sort of shift must become a practice. One that you are able to do more and more quickly when stressful feelings arise.


The following are tips to support the development of this practice:


Take a break from technology. – Distancing yourself from the television, computer, phone, and Ipad can help with staying in touch with your present experience. It can also help with connecting with your senses and your inner experience. The amount of stimulation that technology provides keeps us from feeling.


Turn on some relaxing music.- When you’re feeling stressed, create a relaxing environment. If you’re at home, feeling overwhelmed by the amount of school work you have, turn on music that will relax the mind and body. Even while you are at school, you can ask to leave class for a few minutes, plug in your earphones and play some soothing music. Music is a tool that can dramatically alter your inner experience.


Focus on your breathing. – If you’re standing in line or waiting for someone to arrive, take a moment to put your attention on your breath. You might have the urge to send a text or make a call. Instead, use those few minutes to stay present with your breathing and your body.


It’s true that you won’t remember to make the shift into the present moment, through the use of your senses, each time you feel overwhelmed with feelings. However, the more you practice emotional awareness, the more you’ll find yourself using your senses more quickly, and with time, calling upon your senses will become second nature.


More importantly, you will be able to use your senses to manage your emotions and inner experience versus letting them drive you to drugs, drinking, or making unhealthy decisions.


Certainly, this is a long-term practice, one that yields wonderful results. In fact, you might find that you enjoy this practice so much that you’ll continue to use it long after you’ve healed from PTSD.