After years of yoyo-ing through various levels and forms of anxiety and dissociation, I’m pleased, proud, shocked and relieved to be writing that I’ve got it pretty under control. Of course, it still comes up, I’ve got a sensitive fear button and probably always will do, but we’ve learnt, at least, to share this body peacefully. In learning to look after my fear, I’ve learnt a lot of techniques for calming myself (I wrote a piece last week about the discussion I have with my fear). I never really learnt about grounding techniques, but my boyfriend once brought them to my attention and I realised that so many of the ways I’d invented to calm myself were well-known grounding techniques. Since, I’ve wanted to share them with the world, because they were such a gamechanger for me. Hopefully they will be for you too.
Learning to ground yourself is a really physical challenge of your anxiety. When the blood leaves your hands, you learn to restimulate them, to notice that it’s happening and to turn that warmth around and send it back. When you find yourself freezing and being completely locked in your head, you learn to make small movements, to use the things around you to pull yourself out of the sinking sand and back into the real world. It’s the realisation that even if the stairs are moving downwards, our legs still work and we can still make the climb back up. Each step gives you clearer thoughts, more feeling, more power. And then you find yourself back in the light again – the thoughts aren’t so loud, you can look rationally at your fear, work alongside your feelings and deal with things, purposefully.
“Anxiety was born in the very same moment as mankind. And since we will never be able to master it, we will have to learn to live with it – just as we have learned to live with storms.” – Paulo Coelho
Ideas for sensory grounding techniques:
- Put your hands in cold water
- Find interesting materials and really focus on feeling them with your hands
- Breathe deeply, listen to your breath and focus on the sensation of the process of breathing in different parts of your body
- Listen to your surroundings – the cars outside, nearby birdsong, someone talking in the distance, the whir of an electronic device, the sound of a washing machine, whatever’s around you.
- Taste a small amount of strongly flavoured food. Mints and small sweets can be great ways to stimulate your taste buds
- Hold a piece of ice, how does it feel? How does the feeling change as the ice melts?
- Savour a scent – smell candles, soaps, beauty products, spray some air freshener
- Sing, hum or vocalise in some way – concentrate on the sound and the feeling of your voice in your body
- Go outside, put your hand on the trees and rocks, feel the wind, walk barefoot on the grass
- Drink a warm drink. Not only is the process of making it beneficial, but the feeling of a warm mug, the scent of the drink and the feeling of drinking something warm are blessed soft stimulation. Just make sure to avoid caffeine! I recommend a couple of slices of lemon in hot water, warm, sharp and hydrating.
- Wash your hands with soap – the physical process is good for getting your nervous energy out, but the feeling on your hands plus the smell of the soap will help too.
- Listen to calming music (my go-to has always been piano pieces)
- Clap your hands, feel your feet on the floor and rub your arms and legs to bring feeling back to your extremities
- Take a shower and use your nicest smelling products
- Hug somebody that will help you feel safe, concentrate on the physical sensation and the warmth (hugs have been shown to release oxytocin in our bodies, which helps you feel happier and less stressed)
- Take a short walk and take conscious note of your surroundings. The act of moving is good for using the adrenaline in your body and the fresh air and change of surroundings are great for your senses.
- Move your body – try yoga, stretching and dancing gently
- Move to a different room – when stressed, environments can feel like they’re shrinking on us, empower yourself to move and refresh yourself with a new environment
- Play with a ball – the concentration required to catch a ball is pretty small but is enough to occupy your mind and get your body moving
- If you can’t bring yourself to do any big movement, start small. Shake your hands and feet. Stretch your shoulders. Move your face – try smiling! It’s been shown that smiling releases happy chemicals in your body
- *the famous one* Try the 5-4-3-2-1 method – notice five things you can see, four things you can feel (physical sensations, not emotions!), three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste
- Hold something and really focus on it – I like to use crystals because they have a strong colour, interesting shapes and textures, and they’re always cold
- Sit with your pet – take note of their actions, mannerisms and small gestures, feel their presence and depending what pet you have, how they feel to cuddle/pet
- Do a body scan – this is a meditative practice that involves focussing on different parts of your body to assess how they’re feeling physically. Take your time and say your observations aloud or write them down
- Think in categories – look for red items in your room, count your plants, etc – use the alphabet game to come up with things in each category, one for every letter of the alphabet in order
- Recite anchoring information, especially if you feel very disconnected – I am [name]. I live in [place]. Today is Tuesday the 20th of April 2021… You can even add in calming statements about your situation: “I am safe right now. I can be myself right now. I am feeling nervous, but I know it will pass”
- Sit down and visualise the anxiety leaving you, I’ve heard people rave about colour breathing – if you’re into chakras this will be a great one for you
- Start talking aloud to yourself or someone else, this helps the nerves feel less trapped inside your body and will help you begin to challenge thought spirals
- Write a list – it can be about anything, but taking the time to think and physically write down a list will help you focus. Bonus if you can write about your thoughts so you can learn from them later
- Doodle, colour, make a paper aeroplane, water your plants, fold your laundry, do something small and practised with your hands that’s not too repetitive
The main focus of these grounding techniques is to get you out of trance-like behaviours (such as staring at one place for a long-time or doing things in a repeated rhythm) that tend to lead to thought spirals and dissociation. There’s a lot of ideas there, but the possibilities are endless and everyone will have something slightly different that helps. The main aim is to find a balance between coaxing you out of the safety of your mind, without overwhelming you, which is why all of these are gentle, simple actions. If you find yourself something that does that, you’re on to a winner.
I sincerely hope something on this list will help you learn to ground yourself. They may not work every single time, but the more you practice them, the quicker you’ll get. Dealing with fear responses is always a work in progress, but as with anything you work on, it’ll get easier with time. I hope these grounding techniques will give you a good place to start 😊
Find your peace. Love, Ella-Rose xx