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If you’ve ever experienced anxiety, panic, or a trauma response, you know how overwhelming and debilitating it can feel. While this experience can feel incredibly overwhelming and disorienting, there are simple grounding techniques that can help you feel more in control and less overwhelmed both in your emotional and physical experience.
In this blog post, we’ll share some of these techniques so that you can try them the next time you’re feeling anxious or triggered into a trauma response. But first, let’s talk about what complex trauma is and how it can affect your body and mind.
Identify what grounding techniques work for you – everyone is different and what works for one person may not work for another
What works for you when it comes to grounding techniques may be different from what works for the next person. Everyone has had different life experiences that have impacted how they react to situations in the present.
It is incredibly important in your healing journey to learn how to validate your emotions, as well as the impact of past experiences – radical acceptance is an essential component of personal growth and healing from trauma.
Exploring different methods and discovering what resonates with you best is something only you can do; know that these personal discoveries and greater awareness of your own needs will feel worth the difficult work it may take to develop these practices.
Practice your chosen techniques regularly so that they become second nature to you
Practicing intentional awareness of the somatic and emotional impact of your trauma response is an important factor in developing healthy, intentional grounding tools. Regular, intentional practice for refining the grounding techniques learned in therapy can help them become second nature—automatically guiding you towards a healthier and more balanced life.
Mindfulness helps to keep you aware and intentional so that your chosen techniques can begin to feel natural and part of your routine in managing distressing emotional experiences. Practicing mindfulness on a regular basis creates intentional pathways in your brain that enable you to find freedom and healing in life after trauma.
When you start to feel anxious, panicked, or triggered, take a few deep breaths and focus on the present moment using your senses
It’s natural to feel anxious, panicked, and even triggered in certain situations. It can be difficult to know how to effectively control these feelings in your trauma response. Grounding with your sensory experience can help you focus on the present moment, rather than being overwhelmed by anxieties about past experiences or worries about the future.
Self-soothe skills can be used to mindfully ground into a comforting sensory experience in the present moment to help create a sense of safety for your trauma response. Our trauma response can act as a “time machine” in that triggering experiences (i.e. people yelling, loud noises, perceived conflict with a loved one, emotional invalidation, judgement) may cause your brain to travel back in time as feel as if you are back in the experience of past trauma.
Grounding tools help us to recognize this trauma response, slow down any physical or emotional reactions, and find control by creating a feeling of safety in the present moment. Start by taking a few deep breaths into your belly – seeing the rise and fall of your belly and chest as you inhale and exhale will help bring you into the present moment where you can more calmly assess the situation.
Next, draw your attention to the five senses: sight (what do I see?), smell (what do I smell?), touch (what do I feel?), taste (what does my mouth taste like?) and sound (what can I hear in this moment?). Grounding yourself in this way enables a sense of safety and wellbeing that comes from experiencing an environment with all of your senses in real time.
Grounding yourself to space, time, and your present moment can help in finding control and creating safety in the now. Try speaking out loud or in your thought process and telling yourself the current date and time, your present location, and your age while grounding into your sensory experience. This could sound like “My name is Laura, I am 30 years old, I am sitting at my desk in my office at home, it is February 4th, 2023, and I hear music playing, dogs barking, and smell a pumpkin scented candle.”
If you can, get outside and connect with nature – feeling the sun on your skin or smelling fresh flowers can help center you
In this often chaotic and fast paced world, it can be difficult to feel grounded in our present experience. To create a sense of peace and relaxation, sometimes it can be beneficial to take some time to connect with nature.
Whether it’s taking a few minutes to sit in the sun, taking a stroll through the park, or smelling fresh flowers – these sensory experiences can center and ground you like nothing else. Taking the time to appreciate and be mindful of the beauty around us is not only an enjoyable experience, but studies suggest that connecting with nature can actually have numerous positive impacts on our mental health.
Spend time with animals – petting a dog or cat can be very calming
Spending time with animals, such as petting a dog or cat, has been shown to have calming effects on humans. Activities such as stroking a pet or engaging in leisurely activities with them can help self-soothe and regulate emotions. This type of self-care can not only reduce stress and anxiety levels, but it can also provide a sense of safety when forming an attachment to the animal especially when trauma has occurred in your life with people.
Another form of co-regulation with animals occurs when we take care of them – providing food, taking them on walks, playing together – they will often return those loving gestures back to us. Taking the time to show appreciation for these animals and create moments of connection with pets in the present moment is an excellent way to practice mindfulness and grounding skills.
Listen to soothing music or sounds of nature – this can help relax your mind and body
You can find grounding and relaxation of the mind and body through music or the sounds of nature. Listening to soothing sounds can allow your body to take a break and let go of the built up stress that it may be feeling and help you to connect with your emotional experience.
Whether it’s classical music, a guided meditation, or the sound of ocean waves crashing on the shore, taking some time to mindfully and listen to calming sounds is an amazing way to unwind after a long day. There is no right or wrong here – choose whatever works best for you as an individual. Ultimately, this kind of relaxation helps promote both physical and emotional wellbeing, so take advantage of its power and reap the benefits!
Grounding techniques are a great way to help you feel more calm and centered, no matter what is going on around you. Everyone is different, so it’s important to find the techniques that work best for you and practice them regularly.
When you start to feel anxious or panicked, use your TIPP skills and focus on the present moment using your senses and validate your emotions. If possible, get outside and connect with nature. Spend time with animals, listen to soothing music or sounds of nature, and be compassionate and caring towards yourself.