Using Grounding in Trauma Recovery
Grounding skills can be helpful in a variety of situations. They can help cope with managing strong emotions, intense anxiety, dissociation, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts and when waking following a nightmare.
WHAT IS GROUNDING?
As the name implies, grounding is a simple but effective therapeutic technique designed to ‘ground’ you to the present moment. In this way, grounding might be considered similar to mindfulness. The main aim of grounding is to connect your mind and body, and re-orient yourself to the present moment reality.
WHAT CAN GROUNDING HELP WITH?
People with a history of childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault often experience painful memories, flashbacks or nightmares and feel as if they are re-living their traumatic experiences all over again. Grounding using the five senses (sound, touch, smell, taste and sight) can be quick way to re-orient to the present moment and reduce the likelihood of slipping into a flashback or an episode of dissociation.
Grounding skills can assist you to manage the following common symptoms of trauma:
Anxiety and Panic Attacks
Grounding exercises can be a quick and effective way to curb anxiety-inducing thoughts and manage panic attacks.
Anxiety and panic attacks occur when you react to a reminder of the past or worry about the future. Sometimes ruminating on worries or focusing on strong emotions can cause them feel even more intense and out of control. By engaging in grounding and re-focusing on the present reality you can reduce anxiety and panic.
Flashbacks or Intrusive thoughts
Survivors of childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault often experience flashbacks and intrusive thoughts of past trauma. During a flashback, memories of traumatic events can feel as if they are taking place in the present moment. Grounding techniques can help regain a sense of safety and control by focusing outward and reconnecting with the present reality, rather inward on painful memories of the past.
Dissociation is a common reaction to stress or trauma and is protective in nature. It can vary from mild detachment from the immediate surrounding to a more severe form of detachment from physical and emotional experiences. Grounding techniques are an effective way to reconnect to the physical body and the present moment.
Nightmares can be a frightening experience for those with a history trauma, leaving survivors with a pounding heart, feeling shaky, vulnerable and unsafe. Grounding is an effective strategy that can be used when waking from a nightmare, assisting to quickly re-orient yourself to the present moment and calm nervous system.
Detaching from emotional pain
When experiencing overwhelming emotions, grounding can also be effective alternative to less healthy coping methods such as deliberate self-harm, impulsive behaviours and food, alcohol or drug cravings.
Grounding works by focusing outward on the external world – rather than inward on negative thoughts, emotions or memories.
WAYS TO GROUND
There are many types of grounding strategies which work for different people, at different times. By practicing a variety of grounding techniques, you can learn which ones work best for you and be able to call on them in times of distress.
Grounding using your senses can help you to focus on physical sensations or external surroundings, instead of intense emotions or memories:
Touch: Hold a mug of tea in both hands and feel its warmth
Sight: Name 10 things that you can see
Touch: Take a shower/bath. Notice the sensations of the water
Sound: Turn on loud music which would be hard to ignore
Taste: Eat something and describe the flavours
Touch: Feel your feet pressing into the floor
Smell: Sniff your favourite essential oil fragrance
Touch: Run cool or warm water over your hands
Sound: List all the noises that you can hear
Touch: Touch various objects around you
Touch: Splace water on your face
Taste: Bite into a lemon
Touch: Grip a piece of ice
Mental grounding techniques help distract your brain by giving it something else to do:
Count to 10 or say the alphabet slowly
Do a maths puzzle in your head
Count how many objects you see around you
Name animals starting with ‘a’ then ‘b’ etc
Notice how many things of a certain colour you can see
Play a “categories” game with yourself. Try to list categories of “dogs,” “musicians,” “cars,” “TV shows,” “sports,” “books” etc.
Think of “favourites”: your favourite food, color, animal, season, time of day.
One of the benefits of 'grounding' is that it can be done at anytime, anywhere, and no one will be aware that you are doing it.
There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to managing trauma symptoms so it is important to try out a few different techniques to find out what works best for you.
As with any new skill, it can be helpful to practice your preferred methods of grounding as often as possible even if you do not require them. This will enable you to be able to call on your grounding strategies quickly in times of high distress. It is also advantageous to commence grounding early in a negative mood cycle or when first experiencing substance cravings or during an early stage of dissociation or flashbacks. Intervening early can help reduce the severity and intensity of trauma symptoms and assist to regain a sense of safety.