Nesting is an idea that may be useful for you to explore if feeling chronically unsafe is part of your life. This may be as part of an anxiety disorder, a dissociative condition, for someone with self harm issues or who is highly reactive to triggers, and so on. The idea of a nest is to create for yourself a bolt hole to retreat to when you are feeling very unsafe and overwhelmed. Kids often instinctively do this, they may hide under the bed or in a cupboard or up a tree when they are scared. If you did this as a kid it may be you can replicate a similar sense of safety for yourself now by tapping into that good memory. I used the term nesting to describe this behaviour because it is so strongly linked in to your environment rather than other techniques that may be about self talk or moving your body in calming ways for example. That’s not to suggest this is in some way a better approach – there’s a lot of options out there and by no means do they all work for everyone. Nesting is also often the term used when a parent prepares a room or nursery for a child, and that has a similar concept behind it – to make a safe, comfortable pleasant place.
For many people, their home is their nest and they feel safe there and don’t need to think any further about it. To them, the idea of creating a nest for yourself may seem a bit ridiculous or childish. But many of us who feel chronically unsafe don’t find our home serves this purpose, and sometimes harking back to childhood and finding a way to calm our ‘inner child’ is more effective than efforts to maintain a mask of being ‘grown up and coping’.
If you can make your home feel safe that would be fantastic. If you live alone, it may be that you need good bolts on your windows, a lovely big dog, your own posters on the walls or music playing to help you feel like you belong and this is your space. If you’ve been burgled or assaulted in your home, this might be a real challenge. It can feel like the walls were torn apart and your sense of security turned out to be an illusion. The memories of people who came into your space may linger and torment you. You can over time reclaim your own space and drive these memories out. But if you’re having trouble with this, you might find it easier to start with something smaller.
It can be ideal if your bedroom is a safe place for you, especially as we spend so many hours sleeping and vulnerable there. For some of us though, the bedroom is the most tainted and difficult room in the house. If this is causing you major problems, don’t be afraid to rearrange. It doesn’t matter if you sleep on the couch or drag your mattress into the kitchen. Whatever you need to do to start to feel a little safe is worth trying. Once you can find a toehold on safety, it may be then that you can start to reclaim more and more territory. Sometimes it’s just finding that first toehold that gets everything started.
Follow your instincts in creating your own nest. If the wardrobe was a safe spot as a child, it may be that you can put a pillow, some stuffed animals, a flashlight and a book in there and hide out whenever the dissociation/flashbacks/panic attacks/urge to self harm etc gets bad. When I was a little kid, I read a book about meteors. It told the unfortunate true story of a woman who went to sleep one night in her rocking chair and was struck by a meteorite and killed. Being a highly stressed child with a vivid imagination, I linked her death to the act of sleeping and developed a terror of sleeping in my bed. For many months I went to bed obediently, then dragged my blankets off to the bottom of my wardrobe where I figured the meteorites wouldn’t be expecting me!
This little story is a great illustration of the kind of logic we have as children, and this kind of logic can sometimes be in play for those of us under high stress. Sometimes if we can put aside our need to look ‘normal’ we can speak our own emotional language and meet those needs. Whenever we do things that communicate to our self that we are looking after ourselves and working to make things safe we’re sending good messages. Sometimes that alone is enough.
One of my ‘nests’ is my bath. It eases joint pain, it wasn’t a tainted location for me, and I find it comforting and safe. My preference is to set up candles and oils and music and nest in properly. I keep topping up warm water and stay there as long as I need to. I find putting my ears underwater where I can’t hear anything but my heartbeat is very soothing. I’ve had some struggles with self harm when I’ve felt very unsafe, and there have been days where I’ve crawled out of bed and into the bath – with clothes or PJ’s still on, and just stayed there until I was safe to walk past the knife block in the kitchen. I think 9 hours was my longest stay. I might feel stupid or really annoyed with myself but I get out of those situations safely and that’s often more than the ER can offer me.
I’ve also used my computer space as a nest sometimes. Surfing the net can be quite trance inducing, hours pass without you really noticing. I’ve used this to reduce building panic or wait out dangerous situations too. When my bedroom has been simply impossible to cope with, I’ve dragged the mattress out into any other room and slept there that night. My bedroom has posters of my favourite artworks, an oil burner, music player, my journals, everything in it that I can use to make myself feel safe and at home. I put the kind of thought into it that expecting parents put into a nursery, and I keep playing around with the contents and arrangement until I find a set up that mostly works. It has to be familiar and to speak to me specifically. I often put up quotes and poems that I find inspiring or reassuring, and I keep my favourite books by my bed where I can reread them whenever I need to. Bolting back to a familiar environment is one of the keys of a good nest. For some people it might be their craft space, their kitchen, their shed, their garden… the possibilities are endless. All it needs to be is close by and some place that feels safe.
Fear and stress often have a regressive effect on us, and this can be really challenging to deal with. We are often deeply committed to our idea of ourselves as rational adults, and when we suddenly present with the emotional logic of a traumatised child it can take a lot of courage to face and meet those needs. But the pay-off can be huge. There’s a lot of ways to work on increasing a sense of safety, nesting is just one suggestion. If it doesn’t appeal to or work for you, try not to be too disheartened. You will find what you need. If you hadn’t thought of it but if it strikes a chord, you might want to go look at your environment with new eyes and see where your nest – or burrow, or eyrie, might be.