De-escalating Reactivity at Work: Practices for Individuals, Teams & Groups

October 3, 2014
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December 20, 2014

When humans come together in organizations, mutual triggering and reactivity is inevitable, especially if members or staff are passionate about the work and/or the community being served. Here are some practices to reassure your lizard brain when it feels threatened at work.

Grounding Practices

*Feeling Held

Notice where your body is being physically supported. Pay attention to the sensations of your feet on the floor, your sitting bones on the chair, your back on the wall or chair. Keep bringing your attention to what your tissues and nerve endings are feeling with this contact. Notice what it feels like to have the floor/chair/wall, etc. consistently holding you.

*Bone Meditations

Your bones are your body’s reliable scaffold. Directing your attention to the bones can be very reassuring. Here is a bone meditation:
Using your hands, squeeze all of your bones, one-by-one from toe to head. Notice the shape of your bones, and notice how when you squeeze, your bones push back. Notice how dense and reliable each bone is.

*Grounding Breath

Inhale slowly and deeply, then exhale down towards earth, making a sound or sigh that matches how you feel. Repeat this at least three times. Notice how you feel afterward. Try adding this practice to your staff or community meetings. Doing this as a group enhances everyone’s ability to ground and settle.

Restoring Practices


Write down or speak aloud a couple of things you feel grateful for. Make sure you pay attention to the sensations that show up in your body. This is powerful to do in pairs.

*Stand with one leg slightly in front of the other and gently sway forward and back for at least 3 minutes. As you sway, pay attention to any places in your body that feel warm or cool or neutral. Try doing this as a group: As you sway, you might want to call out appreciations of each other and the group. Feel your body sensations as you take in the appreciations. Notice what shakes loose. Allow yourself to yawn, laugh, shake or cry.

Presence & Awareness Practices

*”Draw” a line down the center of your body: Place a finger tip or the side of your hand at the top of your head, and maintaining contact, move it slowly down the center of your face, throat, chest, down to your belly button. Then using both hands, draw two center lines down your legs to your feet. Do this 2 or 3 times, and allow yourself to feel the sensations during and after. This practice can help you feel in alignment with yourself and the earth. It can be powerful to draw a center line down your back body as well.

* Get in the habit of tuning into your sensations. (Notice any tendency to analyze or interpret your sensations versus simply inhabiting them; thinking about your sensations is different from being immersed in them.)

*Scan your body feelings of exposure or vulnerability; this will clue you into when you are in fight-or-flight mode, and help you notice where your body needs safety practices.

*Periodically check in with yourself by asking, what is the mood of my body? You can start and end staff or community meetings this way to build everyone’s awareness and reduce reactivity.

*Have everyone in your group practice being present with their body’s mood and sensations for a few minutes. Then each person switches to being present with the physicality and moods of the people near them. Bring the attention back and forth between your body and the other bodies. It may help to close your eyes when you tune into you, and open them when you tune into others. After a while, see if you can pay attention to your body and the other bodies at the same time. This practice enhances your ability to stay centered in yourself (and your truth) while empathizing with others.

Safety Practices

*If part of your body feels exposed, give it a safe container: cradle your arms around the top of your head for a few minutes; cover your chest with a cat or hoodie or your hands; bundle up your body with blankets or pillows. Let yourself steep in the sensations for several minutes.

*Find an area of tension in your body and imagine drawing a “yes” around it. Thank this part of your body for “holding things together.” Appreciate its efforts. Pay attention to your sensations.

*Make space for yourself: Push your arms out with your hands facing forward as if you are stopping something. Do this 3-4 times in every direction: above, below, in front, behind and to the sides. If you want to, say aloud as you do this: “Go over there.” or “This is my space.” or “No.” Repeat this until you feel a clear sense of space around your body. Clearing your space reprograms your body to send clear non-verbal boundary messages to others.

Practice this together as a group and notice the effects on everyone. Claiming space creates room to reflect and respond mindfully. As you begin to own your space, your sense of spaciousness and safety will increase. Your reactivity (any tendency to auto-appease others, freeze, get defensive, attack, “check-out”, bail, escape, shut down, etc.) will decrease.

*To create a sense of group safety, have everyone sit side by side in pairs during difficult or shame-stimulating discussions or when sharing painful or challenging experiences. This practice builds a biological sense of safety and allyship, and relaxes the reptilian brain.

You can add some of the other practices to these dyads, such as grounding breaths, feeling held by the chair/floor/wall, or gratitude sharing. This will increase mutual trust and group resilience.

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