We’re only three months into 2020, and sis is exhausted! These past three months alone have been more traumatizing, and mentally overwhelming than the previous 365 days. Speaking for myself of course. From the Australia wildfires, to the tragic loss of Kobe, Gigi, and their beloved friends, to the new Coronavirus; 2020 has made an unforgettable inauguration. And as much as I wish there were a reset button, there isn’t. However, as your mental health educator, advocate, and friend, I’m here to remind you this: You are never alone, and storms don’t last forever.
Now reread that.
In the midst of all unraveling events, I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce the importance of practicing grounding techniques. Grounding techniques are exercises you can practice during elevated periods of stress and anxiousness. Reason why is because during these periods the Amygdala (a portion of the brain) becomes heightened. The Amygdala is responsible for how one perceives emotions such as anger, fear, and even sadness. So when our Amygdala becomes “activated” as a response to an acutely unfamiliar, stressful, and/or triggering period, our body then goes into a fight-or-flight response. What fight-or-flight means is that our brain has now alerted our body that something is essentially wrong. In response, our body becomes prepared to “fight” that something. During fight-or-flight, your heart rate increases, increased amounts of adrenaline are released into the body, and senses (such as vision & hearing) become heightened.
The downfall to fight-or-flight as it pertains to mental health is that anything can easily set off one’s fight-or-flight response. So the saying: “The mind can play tricks on you” is a real thing.
To the mental health community, our brains do not always differentiate what is truly a threat to our safety from what is not. By practicing grounding techniques, you begin conditioning your brain and body HOW to respond during periods of acute stress and/or anxiousness.
Here are 5 grounding exercises to try in the comfort of your workplace, home, or anywhere you feel safe:
- 5-4-3-2-1 Technique
5: Recognize FIVE things you can see. This could be something inside the room you’re in, or outdoors that you can see.
4: Recognize FOUR things you can touch. Maybe (the silkiness of your skin, the texture of the material on your chair. Ask yourself what does your hair feel like? What is in front of you that you can touch?
3: Recognize THREE things you hear. Try focusing on noises you wouldn’t normally tune into. Such as outdoor traffic, dogs barking, or a running AC.
2: Recognize TWO things you can smell. Maybe your office smells like fresh (or old) coffee. Or maybe you’re home, and can still smell the Bath and Body Works Candle you blew out an hour ago.
1: Recognize ONE thing you can taste. This can be gum or a piece of chocolate you keep handy when doing this grounding exercise! Take a small bite, let it swill around your mouth for a couple of seconds, then eat it while savoring the flavor.
- Hold An Object and Focus On It
This one is one of my favorites! Scope out your surroundings for a textured object that’ll fit into the palm of your hand. This can be a broach, gem, stone, etc. Hold that object in your hand, and bring your full attention to it. What does it look like? How does it feel? What color and texture is this object? Are there patterns on this object? Does the object feel heavy in your palm? How does the object feel in your fingertips?
- The Grounding Chair Technique
Sit down in a comfortable chair, and plant both feet on the ground. Being mindful of your surroundings, close both eyes and focus on steadying your breaths. Focus on how your body feels and molds into the chair. Are you well supported? Ensuring your back is pressed to the back of the seat, focus on the chair’s material. Is the chair leather or made of a fabric? If the chair has arms, how do they feel?
Next push your feet into the ground. Imagine all of your energy is being drained from your mind, down through your body, and out through your feet into the ground. While keeping your eyes closed, be mindful of how heavy each body part becomes as you begin to relax. Allow your shoulders to relax, and be mindful of how heavy your arms and legs become. Finally, feel the heaviness go down your legs, through your feet and down into the ground.
- Flowing Thoughts Technique
During periods of stress and anxiety, our thoughts can circle around endlessly in our minds. Sometimes this causes even more stress and anxiety! So try doing nothing. Simply allow your thoughts to flow in, out, and around for a minute or two. Think of your thoughts as raindrops. They come, take up space, and evaporate or get washed away. So for each thought that comes to mind, allow that thought to take its place, then wash away. Not every thought deserves a response.
- Color Labeling Technique
Our last grounding technique is especially fun for those who are fond of colors!
Pick any color that comes to mind. How many things in different shades of that color can you see around the room or out of the window? Still feeling stressed? Pick another color.