Kara Grant, LPC
When was the last time you walked to your car and listened to the sounds of the environment surrounding you? A soundtrack consisting of your own footsteps, leaves blowing in the wind, a dog barking, cars driving by and perhaps maybe even a bird gifting you with a song to start your day. I walk the same path to my car multiple times a day and most of the time my mind is anywhere but that path I am walking. When I recognize that I am no longing communing with my environment in an embodied presence, I take a few moments to ground myself. It might be with a conscious breath, a mindful awareness, or a sensed grounding technique. Grounding and being mindful are proven tools to help navigate one’s journey and bring a more enlivened sense of Self.
I USE GROUNDING (in my own life and/or with a client) WHEN:
- feeling stuck in a memory or ruminating thought cycle
- anxiety increases
- having difficulty identifying emotions
- feeling rushed or too busy
- caught in negative self-talk or in depression
- activated by a conflict with a friend or family member
WHY USE IT?
Einstein said, “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” If I am caught in the undertow of rumination, I set in motion a compounding cycle of anxious feelings, worst case scenarios and unattainable solutions making it impossible for my authentic Self to be heard. Anxiety is creating this problem, so it cannot fuel the answer.
GROUNDING HELPS TO:
- bring us back into the present moment
- create safety within
- get unstuck
- engage the parasympathetic nervous system when highly activated in the fight or flight response
- activate the sympathetic nervous system when paralyzed in the freeze response
- transition out of the threat response cycle
- slow down and experience the moment
Engage the Senses
- Smell – Find a scent that is pleasant to you (perfume, soap, lotion, tea, essential oil, etc.). Create a routine that includes this scent (a lotion you put on before bed each night, a cup of tea you make each morning). Bring that scent with you throughout the day so you can smell it when you need to center or ground yourself (having a travel size of the lotion you like, carrying the essential oil in your purse, cutting a piece of the soap). Inhale the scent you have chosen in a slow and mindful way.
- Taste – Eat or drink something. Notice the different sensations involved during this experience. Is it hot, or cold? Does it taste sweet, sour, bitter, savory?
- Touch – Lay on the floor. Scan your body and notice each part of your body that touches the floor. Focus on that sensation: the pressure, the texture, the temperature, etc. Do this with each part of your body that meets the floor. You can also do this with your clothing: noticing the texture of the fabric on your skin, the temperature or pressure.
- Hear – Find a song you like and play it. While listening to it notice the different layers to the song: listen to the voice, the instruments (each individual instrument), background voices, the words, the rhythm, etc.
- See – Go outside (or peek out the window) and choose an object, bringing your full attention to it. Look at this object as if you are from another planet and have never seen this object before. Notice as many details about the object as you can. For example, if you choose a tree, notice the different colors and shades of color. Notice the parts of the tree where light touches it and similarly where the shadows touch. How many limbs does this tree have? What shape are the leaves? Notice the different textures (on the trunk, branches, leaves).
Expand Tolerance by Giving Your mind something else to focus on:
- Look around your environment and find something that has a repetitive pattern and try to draw that pattern on a piece of paper. For example you may try to draw the pattern on the carpet, ceiling tiles or the chain of a necklace.
- Play a game of categories: think of a particular category such as birds, fruit, colors, memoirs, and try to name 10 examples from that category.
- I Spy: Pick a color and then scan your environment finding all the objects with that color. You can also do this with specific shapes (find all the triangles in the room, or circles, etc.)
Engage Your Breath:
- Belly Breathing: Gently place one hand on your stomach, and the other on your chest. Inhale slowly and deeply into your belly, feeling the hand on your belly rise in this expansion. Try to keep the hand on your chest still and breathe only into your stomach-feeling your belly fill up with air like a balloon. Then slowly breathe out, feeling the hand on your stomach lower like a balloon deflating with each exhale.
- 4-6-8 Breathing: Breathe in slowly, counting to 4 while you inhale. Then, hold your breath as you count to 6. Finally, breathe out slowly and softly, using the full 8 count to exhale completely. Repeat as many times as feels comfortable for you. (Note: If this particular combination feels uncomfortable, you can change the numbers to a combination that feels comfortable for you. The point is to slow your breath down and to have a longer exhale than inhale).
- Box Breathing: Breathe in slowly, counting to 4 as you inhale. Hold your breath for 4, then slowly exhale as you count to 4. After you exhaled, hold your breath again for the count of 4, completing the “box”. Repeat. 4x4x4x4 (Inhale x Hold x Exhale x Hold)
Grounding is not about changing our emotions or making our feelings go away; it is about changing our relationship to the experience and emotions. Grounding helps us to hold our emotions and experiences while staying present in our body.
With practice, over time, our capacity to stay present to life’s joys and difficulties will grow.
Gratitude to Lexi Schmidt for sharing some of the grounding techniques she uses and providing some of the examples for this writing.
Kara Grant, LPC-S, CDWF is the newest therapist at Houston Therapy for Girls, she will be seeing clients Fridays and Saturdays.