Getting Back to Grounding by Mandy Curtis, MSW, QMHP, CADC III
I don’t know about you, but it seems like life has been a bit of a whirlwind lately as people are returning to the office and kids are going back to school. Our communities are still experiencing the difficulties of the pandemic in so many ways while also attempting to return to how things used to be. If you are feeling the stress of all that, you are not alone. There’s a lot to manage and it can feel like we don’t have the same ability to withstand it as we did before. Our bodies and minds are carrying the weight of long term stress from being in this global health crisis alongside the changes that are expected of us as we transition to a new “normal”.
I have been craving the ability to slow my thoughts and my body down to experience rest in the middle of my days. I have noticed this in my friends and coworkers as well. How do we take care of ourselves as we start moving more rapidly again? One tool that is helpful in slowing us down is grounding. If life feels too fast or overstimulating for you, this can help create a moment that is ours in the midst of our responsibilities. It can also help when experiencing PTSD triggers such as flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, or negative and unwanted ruminations or emotions.
Grounding is a practice that allows us to come into the present moment and find a resting spot in the midst of whatever is happening. This skill doesn’t have to be complicated or even take a lot of time. My favorite skills are the ones that no one will notice that you are doing them so you can do them on the bus, while in a meeting, or anytime that it feels necessary to just have a little space.
I wanted to share with you some of my favorite grounding techniques to try and practice:
Four square breathing exercise
Four square breathing is a technique that allows the body to relax and calm down. You have a regular breathing pattern that consists of breathing in for 4 seconds, holding the breath for 4 seconds, breathing out for 4 seconds, and holding the empty breath for 4 seconds. Maintaining this breathing pattern for 1-2 minutes will allow for you to come into the present moment and calm down the mind and body.
Soothing the senses
Soothing the senses is a technique from the DBT curriculum that focuses on the five senses and ways that you can soothe yourself through them. These may include:
Vision– look at beautiful scenes in nature either in person, on video, or in photographs. Look at colors or art that allows you to be present.
Hearing– listen to music that is soothing and calming. Find videos or music streams with ocean waves, birds, or other natural sounds.
Taste– Have peppermint, chocolate, or other soothing foods. Chew gum and pay attention to the flavor.
Touch– Touch fabrics that are soft or fuzzy. Use a stress ball or a fidget spinner. Put your hands in dirt to garden.
Smell- Find essential oils, candles, or fragrances that are soothing. Bake cookies to fill your house with the smell. Go somewhere in nature and focus on smelling all the scents.
A powerful way of coming into our bodies is through exercise and movement. We connect with our bodies when we move them. We feel our muscles, our skin, and our energy. The more we engage in movement, the more we know ourselves and our strength. Find movement that works for you: yoga, dancing, walking, running, strength training, swimming, and lifting weights. Find a way to move that you both enjoy in the moment and in the results.
To savor something is to experience and enjoy it fully. Look for experiences that you enjoy and that you can allow yourself to fully immerse yourself in. Allow the experience to roll over you and help you be completely in the present moment. Some things to savor could be amazing food, smells that you really love, or music that sounds really good.
This skill is similar to the Soothing the Senses as it involves all five senses. The difference in this one is that you are noticing what is present around you instead of finding things that will be intentionally peaceful or calming. You use your current environment to move back into the present moment. You search for 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch with your hands, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. Allow yourself to bring your full attention to each of these things and to the space that you are in.
See if you can find the space to use some of these grounding skills during your day to slow down and rest in the moment. Practice the things that work well for you.