Have you ever had the experience of feeling really stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed? Caught up in these episodes, people can feel at a loss for how to halt these difficult emotional states. The anxiety can build and build and people can sometimes feel powerless to stop the mounting emotions – only hoping that soon the feelings will pass.
A very effective method for stopping intense emotions in their tracks is through grounding. Grounding is a purposeful effort within yourself to shift your focus away from your troubling feelings and into the present reality. During periods of intense stress and anxiety, we lose touch with ourselves: we disconnect from our bodies, from our surroundings, from our relationships. Grounding helps you reconnect and refocus on the things that are going on around and within you so that you can disconnect from your intense and painful feelings.
General Grounding Tips
1. Grounding can be done anytime and anywhere. You don’t have to be in a special place, and you certainly don’t have to be in a special mindset. In fact, grounding is most useful when you are feeling overwhelmed or upset. Sometimes, this could be at work, in the car, at the airport, in school, or just walking down the street.
2. Grounding can and should be done as often as you need it. If you are finding that your efforts to ground yourself are not enough, consider doubling your efforts. Often what happens with grounding is that the more you do it, the more effective it becomes for you.
3. Stay neutral, non-judgemental in your practice of grounding. Use this time as a way to get in touch with yourself, not judge yourself.
4. See if you can rate your emotions before and after your grounding work. This will give you an idea of how well your efforts are helping you. You can use a 10-point scale with 1 being “At Peace”, and 10 being “Emotions Feel Very Intense.”
5. Grounding is not relaxation. You aren’t fighting with your emotions, instead you are refocusing yourself on the present and disconnecting from your emotions. Instead of telling yourself to “calm down” or “relax,” you should let your emotions be, and focus your energy on getting in touch with yourself and the world around you. In doing this, your emotions will take care of themselves, and oftentimes when you are focusing on the present, they will naturally calm down on their own.
6. Give grounding time to work. If you only try it for 15 seconds, you probably won’t notice much change. But if you can devote a few minutes to these exercises, you should be able to experience the relief you are looking for.
1. Focus on your breathing. Notice each in- and out-breath without attempting to change their natural flow. See if you can just watch yourself breathing amidst whatever is going on around you, like you are in a small pocket of peace.
2. Describe the world around you in specific detail. Use all of your senses to get specific on your surroundings. What do you see, what do you hear, smell, etc. No detail is too small. For example, if you are in the airport you might say, “I am in the airport. I am sitting on a leather seat, which feels soft. The carpeting has 3 colors in it. I feel my phone in my hand, it is smooth and cool to touch. I can smell food and coffee from the store to my right. Out the window are two planes….”
3. Touch things around you and describe how they feel. Grab your phone, a chair, your bag, your clothing, and describe in minute detail how they feel. Are they smooth or rough, warm or cool?
4. Describe in detail a routine you have. For example, what steps do you normally take when you wake up or go to bed? Do you do something the same way every day? Take a moment to narrate this activity to yourself, slowly describing each step—what you see when you do these steps, what smell, feel, taste, etc. you experience.
5. Scan your body. Begin at your toes and move your way up, paying close attention to how your body feels. Do you feel pressure in your back? What does your face feel like? How are your shoulders? You can direct attention to different parts of your body, and spend a few moments wiggling and loosening these areas as you go.
6. Carry a special object with you. This takes some planning, but chose an object that is meaningful for you, and can fit in a pocket. This could be a coin, a rock, a toy, anything that is special to you. During times of stress, reach for that object as a reminder to be present. When you hold the object, direct all your attention to how it feels: it’s weight, texture, temperature, etc. You can also have the object remind of you an important mindset. For example, when you hold your object, you can use it to help you think thoughts such like these:
– “Just breathe.”
– “Be present.”
– “I am safe.”
– “I am loved.”
7. Think of favorite things. Take a moment to think of favorite movies, food, music, TV shows, books, people, activities, etc. And then tell yourself what you like about these things. What excites you about them? What do you find soothing? How do they make you feel when you participate in them?
8. Make slow, purposeful movements. If you are walking, make your gait very slow and focus on each step. As you move, feel your knees bend, feel the ground beneath your heel, then your arch, then your toes. If you are sitting down, slowly move your arms and hands, feeling each minute movement. By physically slowing yourself down, you can help your mind find calmness.
Be patient and kind with yourself as you try these techniques. Remember, you are trying something new for the first time. Not all of these techniques will work for you, and it might take some time to find the ones that work best for you. But if you practice at these, you will find that you can experience more peace and calmness in your daily life. And you fill find these to be great antidotes to stress, anxiety, and other challenging emotions.