Whether you have experienced abuse or another trauma, have PTSD or anxiety, or you have been counseling or comforting someone who is a trauma victim, you need to take good care of yourself. When you are feeling fatigued, anxious, stressed, depressed, fearful or other symptoms of trauma distress, it’s important to take time to get grounded and return your mind and body to the present moment! Grounding techniques help protect against symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety disorders, and the effects of Trauma or Vicarious Trauma. Here are some fun and helpful techniques you may use to help yourself or a friend find calm in the present moment.
First, some background on grounding techniques. Grounding techniques use a person’s five senses — sound, touch, smell, taste, and sight – to connect them with the present, possibly ending a traumatic flashback, panic attack, or to prevent dissociation. The techniques send signals to your brain to connect your mind and body to the present moment by activating the left side (known as the “rational” side) of your brain to communicate with the right side (the “emotional” side) of your brain. Which grounding techniques will be successful to the individual vary by person. You may need to try out several to personalize your grounding routine. Take note of what works for you and recognize which techniques are likely to trigger a past trauma for you. For example, if using ice (recommended below) reminds you of a traumatic incident in your past, do not do it. There are plenty of replacement options.
Here are some ideas for you to consider trying:
GROUNDING TECHNIQUES USING SOUND
One of our favorite things to do when relieving stress, anxiety, or fear is to sing aloud. It might sound counter-intuitive at the moment you are feeling anxious, but once you start singing, it relaxes your mind and body, releasing negative energy that has been bottled up and can become toxic. Add a little dance to that song and you’re sure to find some joy in the room! If you can’t quite get there, try reading aloud or speaking positive declarations about life and yourself out loud. Or, listen to the sound of a babbling brook, or the notes from a violin or viola, or birds chirping in the early morning. All of these sounds can be found on the Internet, Spotify, YouTube, etc. Lay down, close your eyes, and listen. Allow the sounds to enter in. You may also find music on the Internet that contains special sound frequencies composed for the sole purpose of relaxation, healing, and meditation which has been shown to calm your nervous system, slow your heart rate, and release negative energy from your body. Whatever you choose to do, it is key to do this with audible sounds on the outside which connect with the brain on the inside.
GROUNDING TECHNIQUES USING TOUCH
Wash your hands and face in cool water to send messages to your brain that will bring you to the present moment. Pay attention to the water’s temperature connecting your mind to the present experience. Take your shoes off and walk on smooth stones or the sand at the beach. Let the coolness of the ocean water (or a lake, creek, or river) wash over your feet or hands. If you’re not near the beach or other waterways, take a bath or a shower. Perhaps fill a bucket with some water and soak your feet. Another touch-based technique, which is easy to do and effective is to take a handful of ice cubes and pay attention to the feeling of the coolness in your hands as you let them melt. Or apply lotion or coconut oil to your hands and arms. If the lotion smells, you’re getting a two-for-one technique using both touch and smell to recenter yourself. If you’re near someone you feel safe with, you may ask permission to hug them tightly; once you do, don’t let go for a little while. Let the embrace speak to your mind.
If you are in a crowded room, workplace, or courtroom, making it difficult to employ some of these techniques, try using the tip of your thumbs to touch each finger on its hand, perhaps even counting in your mind at the same time (1-2-3-4-3-2-1) as you connect the thumb to each finger over and over again. This is an easy and successful way to calm your mind and return to the present when you are unable to use more obvious techniques. Touching your fingers in this way sends signals to your brain which activate the left side.
GROUNDING TECHNIQUES USING SMELL
Essential oils and diffusers aren’t just a fad. Try some citrus-based oils (e.g., orange, lemon) in a diffuser and notice how quickly your mood perks up as the smell fills the room. Or, you can identify some smells that remind you of happy times – perhaps jasmine to remind you of your childhood garden, or cloves to remind you of the smells during the holidays, or pine to remind you of hiking. Also, peppermint oil – or any other way you can smell peppermint – has a healing, calming effect on people. Try it out. Add a couple of drops to some coconut oil (or by itself, depending on your personal sensitivity) and rub a little on your temples (be careful not to use too much or it might burn). Peppermint also helps to relieve migraines or headaches and body pain.
GROUNDING TECHNIQUES USING TASTE
Back to peppermint…this is a great thing to use when trying a taste-based grounding technique. You may eat fresh mint if you have it. Or, grab a mint candy cane, or a breath mint. If not using mint, pick tastes that will communicate to your brain that it’s time to shift. For example, try biting into a lemon or lime slice. Or if you’re game, grab some chips with some spicy salsa. Stay away from mild foods and tastes – they won’t sufficiently trigger your brain to “wake up” to the present. Get the drift?
GROUNDING TECHNIQUES USING SIGHT
Now might be the time to pull out one of those adult coloring books along with some colorful markers or pencils. Pay attention to the various colors as you fill in the pictures on the pages using both sight and touch to bring yourself to the present and calm you. Or, try brain games, crossword puzzles, or jigsaw puzzles. If you can’t do that, simply sit outside on a park bench, chair, at the beach and look around you, paying close attention to each item you see and naming it in your head or aloud. Bird. Tree. Litter. Grass. Boat. Sight will connect to mind and bring you back to the present.
There are plenty of examples of grounding techniques which you can find on the Internet, YouTube or in books. These are just some good examples, which are easy to try out when you need them. If you work in a field that requires you hear, see or address stressful situations or stories or perhaps you are a first responder who deals with trauma survivors, create a weekly schedule for self-care time. Please don’t make the excuse that you do not have time. If you want to remain in the field you are in and be truly effective long term, it’s important for you to implement strong self-care practices. Do yoga, walk, run, meditate, sing, dance, pray, etc. Take the time, and know that you are worth every minute of it.