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.
Let’s learn about some fun and helpful techniques you may use to help yourself or a friend find calm in the present moment.
THE BACKGROUND ON GROUNDING TECHNIQUES
First, some background on grounding techniques. Grounding techniques are extremely effective at calming the brain and body down when someone is triggered and has a trauma moment. Perhaps an event triggers a trauma flashback and their brain tells them to flea, fight, or freeze and they are unable to deal with the present moment. Grounding techniques can help the person return to the present and decide the best and healthiest way to respond to the moment.
Grounding techniques use a person’s five senses — sound, touch, smell, taste, and sight – to end a traumatic flashback, or panic attack, or preventing dissociation. The following techniques send signals to the brain to connect the mind and body to the present moment by activating the left side (known as the “rational” side) of your brain to resume its communication with the right side (the “emotional” side) of your brain.
Which grounding techniques will be successful for the individual vary by person. You may need to try out several to personalize your grounding routine. Some will work when you’re alone and others work better when you’re in front of a crowd of people, unable to utilize some techniques. 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. Once you start singing, however, it immediately relaxes your mind and body. It releases 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. 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.
Or, listen to the sound of a babbling brook, 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 into your brain where they will have a calming effect quickly.
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.
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.
Another touch-based technique, which is easy to do and effective, is to grab a handful of ice cubes and leave them in your hand as they melt. Pay attention to the feeling of coolness and the melting sensation. The cool temperature sends signals to the brain that can shift the trauma trigger to a calmer state of being.
Or, 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, taking a bath or a shower will have a similar effect. May consider filling a bucket with some water to soak your feet.
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. This one is easy to do when you’re in public.
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. Touching your fingers in this way sends signals to your brain which activates the left-to-right side communication. This is an easy and successful way to calm your mind and return to the present when you cannot use more obvious techniques.
GROUNDING TECHNIQUES USING SMELL
Essential oils and diffusers aren’t just a fad. Try some citrus-based oils such as orange or lemon, in a diffuser. Notice how quickly your mood perks up as the smell fills the room.
When you’re not in a moment of trauma, plan ahead by identifying 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. Pine may 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). As an added bonus, peppermint oil helps to relieve migraines, 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. Grab a mint candy cane or a breath mint and let it work for you. If not using mint, pick stronger tastes that will communicate to your brain that it’s time to shift. For example, try biting into a lemon or lime slice. Or 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 markers or colored pencils. Look closely at the different colors you use as you fill in the pictures on the pages using both sight and touch to bring yourself to the present and calm you.
Another good approach is to play brain games, such as Sudoku, crosswords, or jigsaw puzzles. If you can’t do that, simply sit outside on a park bench, or chair, at the beach and look around you, paying close attention to each item you see. When you see the item, name it in your head or aloud. Bird. Tree. Litter. Grass. Boat. The sight will connect to the mind and bring you back to the present.
There are plenty of examples of grounding techniques that you can find on the Internet, on YouTube, or in books.
SPECIAL NOTE TO THE ONE RESPONDING TO THE TRAUMA VICTIM
If you work in a field that requires you to hear, see or address stressful situations or stories or to work with trauma victims and survivors, we recommend you 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 successful in the field you are in and continue to be effective in the long term without shutting down or burning out, it’s essential 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. Recognize that you might experience compassion fatigue or vicarious trauma. And take care of yourself. Put the oxygen mask on yourself before the person next to you!