Top Grounding Techniques To Deal With Breakdowns (From a Therapist)
You may want to act and think positively all the time, but know that you are doomed to fail now and then. As humans, we experience both pleasant and adverse emotions. In some phases of life, we are thriving, and in other phases, it seems like we can’t get to the surface of our problems.
Common factors that lay behind feeling hyper-aroused or numb include life traumas (small or big), mental illnesses, situational factors in your environment, medical problems, and burnout.
As you may have experienced already, the cataclysmal part about hitting rock bottom is that you overlook the odyssey. Our mind and body are on auto-pilot until the glass overflows. When we get to the boiling point, is when we stop to ask ourselves:
“How do I stop this?”
If you are a proactive person, I am sure your first instinct is to try to do everything people say “works.” — And you might attempt to do it all at the same time: meditation, self-care, CBD oil, going out with friends, distraction, etc.
I am here to tell you that most of those techniques and tools are preventive measures against crisis points. It is notably challenging to enjoy a meditation when your body is in hyper-arousal mode. Similarly, it can be overly demanding to think of self-care when you are numb and exhausted.
I am a Licensed Mental Health Therapist, and today, I will share the top 5 grounding skills you should have in your first aid kit in times of emotional crisis.
TOP 5 GROUNDING SKILLS:
Self-soothing techniques are pivotal in decreasing emotional dysregulation and lowering arousal levels. A popular technique in the therapy room is called “self-soothing with the five senses.”
What to do?
Go to a place where you know you can “stack the deck.” In other words, go somewhere where you can use the five senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell). If you enjoy being outdoors, bring a piece of chocolate or a drink of choice. Wear something with a texture that provides comfort, play some relaxation music, and breathe fresh air.
Whenever you use your five senses, you anchor your body and mind in time and place, and you lower emotional stress. This will help you think with more clarity and assess your situation with objectivity.
2. USE GROUNDING STATEMENTS:
Useful to combat intrusive thoughts and create a sense of safety.
What to do?
Create statements that counteract the triggers that cause worry, stress, or make you feel powerless. For example, if you feel heartbroken, create an affirmation that reminds you that you are loved. If you are struggling with guilt, make a self-forgiveness statement.
“I am worthy of forgiveness; therefore, I forgive myself.”
“I allow myself to make peace with this situation.”
“I am grateful for those who truly love me.”
“I embrace the here and now.”
Stress and numbness often make us feel frozen. You might feel like you cannot move on because your negative emotions are tangling you up. Your body might feel tense. In extreme cases, people even dissociate. Shifting positions or moving your body can transmit a sign to your body that it is time to both moves and move on.
Amy Cuddy says in her powerful Ted Talk, “Our minds change our bodies, [and] our bodies change our minds.”
What to do?
There are different types of movement you can do. You can engage in sports, dance, or yoga, but even something as simple as shifting your body’s position in moments of stress help. If you are sitting, merely stand and walk a few steps. If you are in bed, you can sit down or change rooms for a few minutes.
Here is are some examples you can practice:
- Sit up straight.
- Touch the flow with your hands.
- Move your feet onto the ground and notice the connection with the space around you.
- Take a short walk and focus on the sensation you experience as your legs move.
- Practice a yoga pose (e.g., child pose, savasana, tree pose, leg on the wall).
- Rock your body gently.
- Get a full-body stretch.
4. PRACTICE THE FLASHBACK HALTING PROTOCOL:
I use this technique with trauma clients. However, I find it useful for non-traumatic cases as well. Whether there is something in your past or present life troubling your sleep, this exercise can help.
What to do?
1. Right now, I am feeling ______ (describe your current emotion)
2. And I am sensing in my body __________ (Name your body sensations — at least three if you can, i.e., Pounding heart, tight chest, shaky legs)
3. Because I am remembering _________ (Name the situation that is triggering these bad feelings)
4. At the same time, I am looking around where I am now in _______ (name the current year, month, day)
5. Here, ____________ (Name where you are right now)
6. And I can see ___________ (Name things you can see right now in the room you are in)
7. And so I know _________ (Name the negative situation again, by title only)
8. It is not happening now or anymore.
I recommend practicing calm breathing (AKA diaphragmatic breathing) throughout the suggested grounding skills. I know calm breathing sounds overrated, but I promise this technique will make your grounding experience more prosperous.
When we are stressed and anxious, we tend to take short, quick, shallow breaths or even hyperventilate (AKA over-breathing). Poor breathing will counterbalance your efforts to improve your mental state. On the other hand, calm breathing will help you “ride out” the on-edge feeling.
What to do?
1. Take a slow breath in through the nose and into your lower belly (for about 4 seconds).
2. Try to breathe from your diaphragm. Your shoulders and chest area should be relatively relaxed and still. Watch the hand on your stomach rise as you fill your lungs with air, expanding your chest (the hand over your heart should barely move, if at all).
If this is challenging at first, it can help you try to lay down on the floor with one hand on your heart and the other on your abdomen.
3. Hold your breath for 1 or 2 seconds.
4. Exhale slowly through the mouth (for about 4 seconds).
5. Wait a few seconds before taking another breath. Ensure that you aren’t hyperventilating; it is essential to pause for a few seconds after each time you inhale.
Note: About 6–8 breathing cycles per minute often decrease anxiety.