If you’ve ever experienced trauma, shock or chronic levels of stress then it is quite normal and understandable to experience times of anxiety, overwhelm, flashbacks or a sense of dissociation (feeling disconnected). If you struggle with these symptoms, it can be useful to learn and practice grounding techniques. Grounding techniques are ways in which you can manage the overwhelm or feelings or disconnect, feel more present, calmer and help you to shift and return to within your window of tolerance.
Below are a range of grounding techniques. It can be useful to try each one and find the few that you like or that you find work best for you. Then, practising them on a regular basis even when you feel fine, can really help strengthen their effects and help them to feel more accessible for times when you need them most. Practise can help keep you feeling more grounded.
1. ‘Drop the anchor’
Often, when we are triggered, energetically it can really feel like we have come up and out of the tops of our heads. When feeling stressed or if old trauma is triggered our thoughts can really speed up, we can even feel caught or stuck in our heads or beyond that we can feel very disconnected to our bodies, the present moment and our experience.
So it can be helpful to think about bringing our focus energetically in downwards motion, down into our bodies, down into our feet and down into the contact we have with the ground beneath us - literally grounding our minds and bodies to the earth or floor. I call this ‘dropping the anchor’.
a) Shift your mental attention down into your body, then specifically into your legs and/ or feet.
b) Become curious to notice where you feel your physical body make contact with the ground or chair - whatever is beneath you.
c) Stay with the experience of your feet or legs making contact with the ground. Play around with different sensations, for example, move your feet, wiggle your toes, step from side to side, flex your ankles, point your toes, jump up and down, then stay still… all the time just noticing any physical sensations through this contact with the ground.
d) You might even like to imagine and visualise your feet growing roots deep down into the earth, much like a tree. Visualise roots from your feet growing and just like a tree, stabilising and strengthening the trunk and the rest of your body.
With time and practise this dropping the anchor can help you to feel more connected and calmer.
2. Breathing Techniques
When we are stressed or triggered almost always our breath pattern is disrupted or constricted. As soon as we are not breathing properly, messages are sent to our brain that signal further stress and so our alarm system fires even further. An effective way to help calm and ease this is gently focusing on your breath, notice your breathing patterns and aim to take 10 deep and full breaths, letting out a sigh with the exhalation if that feels good for you.
Another breathing technique in particular I find useful is 2-1 breath. This is where you exhale for twice the length of the inhalation. So after you have taken 10 deep, full breaths you can try inhaling to a count that feels comfortable for you, (usually between 3-6) and then exhale for twice the length. So if you inhale to the count of 4, then take a slow and steady exhalation all the way to the count of 8. If you are inhaling for 5, then exhale to 10 etc. Continuing to focus on slow and steady 2-1 breathing can help to calm and reset the nervous system within just a few minutes. Aim for at least 5/6 minutes, more if you can.
3. 5-4-3-2-1 Technique
The 5-4-3-2-1- technique utilises each of the senses to help you to feel more connected, present and grounded.
Notice 5 things you can see. Be curious as to what is around you, however big or small, try to notice something less obvious, perhaps something you haven’t really taken note of before such as the way the light sits, or patterns or colours in surrounding objects.
Note 4 things you can feel. Take some time to fully connect with and be curious to different objects around you, perhaps clothing, fabrics, hard surfaces, soft surfaces. Notice the textures, the weight, the temperature and so on.
What are 3 things you can hear? Slow down and take your time to tune into sounds you may not usually notice like the sound of birds outside, the traffic in the distance, the ticking of a watch or clock…
Name 2 things you can smell. Really see if you can focus in on noticing any subtle smells. Keeping a pleasant or calming aromatherapy oil (like Lavender) with you can also be a good grounding tool.
Notice 1 thing you can taste. Again, having some tasty sweet or gum can be a helpful grounding tool. Tasting strong tastes as well as eating something with a stimulating crunch can help.
A final note:
As you feel more settled and more grounded using any combination of these or other grounding or centering techniques, do then be mindful of how you speak to yourself and what your inner self-talk maybe saying. When we are very stressed, overwhelmed or our trauma is triggered it can be all too easy to slip into punitive self-talk. Try to talk to yourself in the same way you would to a good friend, loved one or young child. Be reassuring, kind and compassionate. Remind yourself that right here right now you are OK and these are just feelings. Feelings pass. You are OK.
For guided meditations or other techniques check out Insight Timer app https://insighttimer.com/drsarahdavies