“No feeling is final” – Rainer Maria Rilke (an awesome 20th century German poet)
Traumatic experiences can affect us both physically as well as emotionally in numerous ways. It is normal to feel physiological effects (ex: changes in temperature, muscle pain, fatigue) along with emotional ones (ex: panic, anxiety, numbness). Everyone has different reactions along different timelines. Talking with someone you trust can be helpful, but a lot of us have also found it helpful to have tools to be able to tackle trauma responses when we are on our own.
Grounding is a great tool to help center yourself in the moment if you are overwhelmed by intrusive thoughts or emotional pain. It helps you detach so you can gain control and feel safer by anchoring you to the present. Different methods work better for different people, so here’s a list of many different ways to ground yourself. There are three main types of grounding: mental, soothing, & physical
- Name everything that’s yellow in the room you’re in.
- Name 10 things you might find in a purse.
- Name 10 US states.
- Name 10 cartoon characters.
- Describe an activity you do, in great detail. (Ex: cooking a meal, doing laundry)
- Read something backwards, either by letter or by word.
- Say the alphabet, thinking of an animal or inanimate object for each letter.
- Review your schedule for the next day, in great detail.
- Name 10 things that you might find in an office.
- Name 10 places you’d like to go to on vacation.
- Say kind statements to yourself, as if you were talking to a young sibling, for example: “You are a good person going through a hard time. You will get through this.”
- Think of your favorite things (yes, kind of like The Sound of Music — no pressure to make it musical): favorite food, color, animal, time of day, TV show, etc.
- Picture people you care about — what are they probably doing right now?
- Remember words of an inspiring poem or song you love.
- Say (aloud) a coping statement, like “I can handle this” or “This feeling will pass.”
- Think of things you are looking forward to next week or next month, or plan a treat for yourself. (Ex: a piece of candy, dinner on Spring Street, a TV binge session, a call with an old friend)
- Run cool or warm water over your hands.
- Carry a grounding object around in your pocket – a smooth rock, a ring, a piece of cloth – and engage with the object when you feel anxious. Describe it to yourself, try to picture it mentally, hold it in your fist, etc.
- Grab the back of your chair as hard as you can.
- Feel deliberately aware of your body: your chest rising when you breathe; your toes wiggling in your socks; your clothes lying against your skin. You are connected to the world.
- Reach out and touch various objects around you: a pen, keys, your clothing, the table, the walls. Notice textures, colors, materials, weight, temperature. Compare objects you touch. Is one colder? Lighter? Press your heels into the floor. Notice the tension centered in your heels as you do this. Remind yourself that you are connected to the ground.
- Stretch. Extend your fingers, arms or legs as far as you can; roll your head around.
- Walk slowly, noticing each footstep and saying “left,” “right” with each step.
- Eat something. Describe the flavors to yourself in detail.
WHAT IF GROUNDING DOESN’T WORK?
- Grounding may not work the first time. Like any other skill, you need to practice to make it as powerful as possible. Try practicing the technique when you don’t need it, so that it will work really well when you do.
- Notice which methods you like best. For example, some people like carrying grounding objects and doing mental grounding exercises, while other methods don’t work as well for them. Take some time to find your preferred methods.
- Make an index card that lists your preferred grounding methods and how to use them, and keep it with you as a reminder.
- When you notice that your mood is becoming negative or start to feel a little anxious, try starting your grounding exercises early rather than waiting until you really need them. That will make it easier to keep negative feelings under control.
- Leave yourself messages or reminders to do grounding exercises around your room or in your bag.
The hand-outs listed here provide additional helpful information for managing responses to traumatic experiences.
CITATION: All this information was gathered from the wonderful counselors from Safe Horizon’s Staten Island Community Program and more specifically from a book called “Seeking Safety.” 🙂