What is Grounding?
People often use the expression “I need to stay grounded” when they feel themselves being pulled too much into overthinking and worrying about things or being pulled into very strong emotions. As a counsellor, I find that knowing and using grounding tools and techniques can make a massive difference to how we feel. All grounding techniques are designed to do one thing: to help us to connect with the present in a focussed way which gives both our body and mind a chance to calm themselves. Once our body feels a little calmer, it sends a signal to our nervous system and brain that there isn’t an actual threat present. There is a sense of “finding a safe place”.
Grounding exercises don’t require a yoga mat and a lighted candle, they often only take a few seconds and can be used invisibly if needed!
What works for you?
Grounding is highly personal and we may need to do some trial and error before we figure out what grounding techniques work best for us:
- Bodily grounding techniques often use the five senses—sound, touch, smell, taste, and sight—to immediately connect you with the here and now. For example, singing a song, plunging the hands under cold water, or drinking a glass of water.
- Other grounding techniques use mental rather than bodily strategies.
From small day to day stressors to full blown panic attacks or addictive cravings
Grounding techniques are useful for day to day stressors, whether we are sitting stuck in traffic when we are late for a meeting. They can also be used when we are in conflict with another person whether our boss or our partner. They can also be used when we are experiencing what can be quite overwhelming experiences of panic attacks, flashbacks caused by PTSD, unwanted memories and intrusive or obsessive thoughts, distressing emotions, or dissociation. They can also help with reducing and overcoming addictive cravings.
Practice when you are calm
Although grounding techniques are certainly effective when you feel flooded and overwhelmed, it is important to practice them when we are calm and composed. Once our heart starts to race and we start to get pulled into strong emotions, all our good intentions go out the window! If we routinely practice a particular breathing technique, for example, it starts to become a habit that we can go into almost automatically when the going gets tough.
This is not about digging deep into feelings nor is it about relaxation
There are times when we really want to focus on our feelings and go into them and acknowledge them but there are also times when this is going to make us feel worse. When we are grounding ourselves, there is no talking about negative feelings or journal writing. You want to distract away from negative feelings, not get in touch with them.
Note that grounding is not the same as relaxation training. Grounding is much more active, focuses on distraction strategies, and is intended to help extreme negative feelings including the symptoms of PTSD. Relaxation training can be incredibly valuable but there are times when trying to relax can make us feel worse.
Stay neutral, stay present
When we use our senses to bring ourselves into the present, it’s important to suspend judgments of “good” and “bad’. For example, “I hate that wallpaper” “I don’t like that person”. Simply say “I see wallpaper, I see a person” and move on. Don’t allow thoughts of “this is never going to work” to sabotage us. Try grounding for 20-30 minutes if necessary. And, repeat, repeat, repeat. Focus on the present, here and now, not the past or future.
Try to start grounding early in a negative mood cycle. Start when the addictive craving just starts or when you have just started having a flashback rather than when you are feeling helplessly overwhelmed. (If you are feeling helplessly overwhelmed, just trust the process and start anyway. It WILL help!)
Find what REALLY works for you
Rate your mood before and after to test whether it worked. Before grounding, rate your level of
emotional pain (0-10, where 10 means “extreme pain”). Then re-rate it afterwards. Has it gone down? If so, use it again in the future., If not, try something else until you find exactly the right one.
My next few blogs will give some examples of grounding techniques.
Need some advice and support?
If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
Book a counselling session today!