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Activities & writing prompts related to trauma on the body


Try one of the following strategies to help cope with body-based symptoms (e.g., increased heart rate, hypervigilance) following trauma:

Square breathing

Connecting to your breath can help bring you back inside your Window of Tolerance. Box breathing, also known as four-square breathing, involves inhaling to a count of four, holding air in your lungs for a four-count, exhaling at the same pace, and then holding your lungs empty for a count of four before beginning anew. (It might help to visualize your breath travelling around the four edges of a square while breathing.)

UAB Student Affairs. (2021 Mar 31). Square Breathing: a three-minute visual exercise [Video]. YouTube. Square Breathing Visual – YouTube

Grounding 5-4-3-2-1

Use the 5-4-3-2-1 technique to mindfully take in the details of your surroundings using each of your senses. Notice:

  • Five things you see
  • Four things you hear
  • Three things you feel
  • Two things you smell
  • One thing you taste

Try to notice small details that your mind would usually tune out, such as distant sounds or the texture of an ordinary object.

Body scan

The body scan is one of the most effective ways to begin a mindfulness meditation practice. The purpose is to tune in to your body — i.e., to reconnect to your physical self — and notice any sensations you’re feeling without judgment.

  • Sit quietly or lie down
  • Start at one end of your body and focus on each body part
  • Notice any areas of tension and then try to soften or relax them
  • Continue until you have mindfully scanned each part of your body

Writing prompts

You can also try one of the following writing prompts:

  1. Make a list of people, places, or things that push you out of your Window of Tolerance. Try ranking them in order of most impactful to least. Next, write a list of people, places, or things that help bring you back into your Window. 
  2. Take a moment to write down what you’re feeling in your body the next time you notice you’re feeling stressed. Consider each body part. Notice where you feel tension, shakiness, or numbness. Describe it in as much detail as you can.