How to Connect to a Sense of Safety at This Time

A containment exercise for times of stress.

Posted Mar 23, 2020

Dr. Odelya Gertel Kraybill Expressive Trauma Integration™
Containment in times of stress
Source: Dr. Odelya Gertel Kraybill Expressive Trauma Integration™

We now live in a time when stress is the highest we have experienced globally since WWII. How can we cope?

In situations that are unstable and unpredictable, we are strengthened by engaging in activities that enhance stability and predictability. Even if these are small or short, they help us renew a sense of connection to safety.

Containment, the psychological term for healthy management of emotions, in times of crisis focuses on reconnecting to resources that were already there before the crisis. When it seems there are none, we can use imagination to create these resources. Experiential modalities are particularly useful in promoting self-regulation and re-establishing containment in the midst of chaos.

Everybody has resources. If you are reading this post, you already deployed some to get here. You were active enough to engage in a search to look for information about managing stress at this time. There are many more.

An inner connection to a sense of safe space is one of the most useful resources available to anyone. In this post, I'll suggest a strategy to connect to or enhance this sense.

The GENA (Grounding/Expressing/Naming/Anchoring) sequence is rich in pre-cognitive modalities that engage the instinctual brain. These include mindful grounding, spontaneous art-making, naming (restoring cognitive functions), and mindful movement and embodiment that anchor the experience in an integrated expressive pose. 

I developed the GENA sequence across several years of work with individuals and groups in which I came to see the importance of integrating multiple modalities into responses to stress and trauma. Perhaps it goes without saying that it works well for many people but not for everyone.

This combination of activities helps build a web of connections between the instinctual part of the brain and the emotional and thinking parts of the brain.

The time required: 20 mins to 1 hour (depending on how long you spend making art and anchoring).
Materials needed: A4 paper, markers, crayons, and any art supply you want to use.

If possible, have a skilled therapist guide and accompany this activity. If you want to do it yourself and don't have a therapist to guide you, have a friend or family member guide you. If at any point you feel uncomfortable, stop and use the “reset” exercise (below the exercise). Please read all the instructions before you begin.

  1. Grounding. Follow the link to listen to a guided visualization (begins at 2:20).
  2. Expressing. Portray the safe space of the grounding stage with an artistic creation (minimum of 15 mins).
  3. Naming. Give a name (one word) to the safe space.
  4. Anchoring. Stand in whatever way is comfortable. Feel where in your body the name you chose for “safe space” resonates:
  • Take a few breaths, and let the word move around your body. 
  • Pay attention to how your body wants to move, whether a tiny movement or a large gesture and respond in a way that facilitates expansion (you will notice it is easier to breathe and feel a sense of inner flow). Notice that some movements bring contraction instead of expansion. This is valuable info to note for future use; for now, simply move in a different direction until you find a sense of expansion.
  • Once you have found a position where you feel comfortable and experience expansion, anchor the sensation of safe space in your body (by imaging that you are extending a strong anchor from that part of your body deep into the ground).
  • Take a few breaths and remember the sense of expansion in your body.
  • Take a few moments to reflect; write down whatever comes up.

Click here to download a PDF of the sequence.