Before I start describing some grounding techniques let’s talk about why grounding works and the science behind it. Does GROUNDING help for anxiety?
When we start to think about something stressful, our amygdala, a section of the brain located in the temporal lobe, goes into action. The amygdala, simply put, is the part of our brain that is responsible for our emotional responses, especially fear. It is great for preparing for emergency events but sometimes it kicks into action and detects a threat where there really isn’t any.
Here is a typical process; we have a negative thought about a situation (remember a thought doesn’t necessarily mean it is real), our amygdala says “emergency! emergency!” and initiates changes in our body such as increased muscle tension, rapid heartbeat and faster breathing. The amygdala then interprets these body changes as further evidence that something is actually wrong which of course further activates it and creates a vicious cycle where you become more and more anxious and physically and emotionally overwhelmed.
Does GROUNDING help for anxiety?
Thankfully, we can use grounding techniques to break out of this vicious cycle. By re-focusing on your body and what you’re physically feeling, you get out of your head and divert your mind away from anxious or stressful thoughts and into the moment.
Trauma activates the stress response. This is known as a fight, flight and freeze or fawn response. It can cause people to be agitated (hyper-aroused). It can also make people shut down (hypo-aroused). Survivors of trauma can experience one or the other and often both at different times.
Being hyper-aroused can make it difficult to sleep and concentrate. It can also make you irritable and angry. Sometimes people feel like they can’t breathe properly, and their heart is racing. You might startle easily and be constantly ‘on guard’.
When you’re feeling anxious or panicky i.e. activated or hyper-aroused the following strategies can help you feel calm. Different strategies work for different people. Try and see what works for you.
Trauma survivors often over-breathe. This is because we all breathe faster when we are threatened. This can make some people hyperventilate. Others can experience panic attacks.
Our rate of breathing also affects our heart rate, blood pressure and the rest of our body. Slowing breathing slows other processes in our body. It also lowers our level of arousal. This, in turn, reduces tension and stress. Slowing our breathing down can help turn off the ‘fight/flight’ response.
You might find the following ‘controlled breathing techniques’ help you calm yourself if you start to feel tense, anxious or panic. This is what you can do:
- Focus on your breathing.
- Try to breathe evenly
- Lengthen your breath
- Try to make your breath out slighter longer than your breath in e.g. in for the count of 3 and out for the count of 5.
Box breathing is another technique you can try to help relieve stress or anxiety. Breathe in for 4, hold for 4, breathe out for 4, hold for 4 and repeat.
Mindfulness practices can help us connect to our bodies. They can help us become more aware of how our body is responding at different times. We can observe what is happening in our body and know that bad feelings in our body will pass.
- Is my throat closing?
- Am I getting a headache?
- Is my stomach tightening?
- Do I feel hot or cold when I feel scared?
You can scan your body moving your attention from the top of your head down to your toes. Notice how the different parts of your body feel as you pay attention to them.
When we sit still and breathe, we are being mindful. Simply breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth, with awareness, and calmly sitting can help relieve your anxiety.
Mindfulness helps us learn to respond instead of reacting. It is empowering. It also helps us manage critical self-talk.
There are many books, websites and classes for mindfulness available. Choose one that suits you and use it when you need to. Mindfulness is not for everyone. Feel free to try it if you want.
My favourite apps are “Calm” and The Mindfulness App”
Sit down in a comfortable chair, one where your feet reach the floor. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Breathe in slowly for the count of three, then out slowly. Bring your mind’s focus to your body. How does your body feel sitting in that chair?
Shift your bottom right into the back of the seat so the whole length of your back is pressing into the back of the chair. Can you feel the contact between your body and the chair’s surface? If the chair has arms, touch it, is the material smooth or textured?
Press your arms down the length of the chair arm, notice how your hands hang off the end. If your chair doesn’t have arms, touch the material on the seat, how does that feel?
Next push your feet into the ground, imagine the energy-draining down from your mind, down through your body and out through your feet into the ground. I picture it as a colour filling my body as it goes from top to toe, but this is your image so choose whatever you want your energy to look like.
As the energy drains from your head, feel how heavy each body part becomes, your torso feels heavy and now your arms as you relax those muscles. Lastly, feel the heaviness go down your legs, through your feet and down into the ground.
Doing repetitive movements can be helpful to calm us e.g. brushing your dog or cat, trying knitting, bouncing a ball, jumping on a trampoline, drumming, or colouring in.
Let your thoughts come and go
When we are anxious our thoughts about our worries go around and around in our minds. Never-ending and building on each other until we feel drained by them so we try not to worry. Whenever you try not to do something it is guaranteed to make you do it more so instead, observe your thoughts like you are on the outside looking in through a window.
Just watch your thoughts for a minute. Imagines leaves floating on the surface of a stream. For each thought that comes to mind, allow that thought to take its place on a leaf and watch it blow away in the wind. Or allow the thought to turn into a fish and watch it float away down the stream. Allow those thoughts to come and go, you don’t need to respond to them.
Sometimes my clients tell me that they just can’t concentrate enough to do any of these grounding exercises because their body seems too pumped full of adrenaline-fuelled energy. If this is happening to you, it is good to kick-start the calming down the process by doing something physical first to get that pent-up energy out and then come back to your favourite grounding techniques.
- Run on the treadmill/elliptical if you have one at home
- Run up and down the stairs
- Take a brisk walk or run outside
- Cleaning up the kitchen, house or backyard channels that extra energy into something useful
- Dance around the house while listening to loud music
When you’re feeling spaced out, shut down or ‘unreal’ you might be dissociated or hypo-aroused.
Being hypo-aroused is the survival response of `freeze’. When we freeze we might zone out or shut down. We can also go into autopilot. When some people are hypo-aroused they dissociate.
It is best to try and notice as soon as we are feeling overwhelmed and are shutting down. When we do, we can then use one or more of the following exercises to help us get back into our bodies in the present.
Choose the strategy which helps you so you can use it when you need to ground yourself
- pushing your feet into the ground
- pushing your backside into the chair
- standing up and stomping your feet against the floor
- pushing your fingernails into the palms of your hands
- your imagination is the limit …
The following ‘orienting’ exercises can help you orientate to the here and now:
- looking around the room and naming 5 things that begin with C
- looking at objects and naming them
- focusing on someone else talking
- naming the day, date, time, year
- Other ideas include using cold water on your face, touching ice, flicking a rubber band on your wrist,
- or taking a warm shower followed by a cold one. Some things work for some people. Some with others.
Choose the strategy which helps you so you can do it when you feel you are shutting down.
When you are physically spent, you can return to trying these techniques to calm down your mind.
Which one of these grounding techniques works best for you? Maybe different ones help at different times. Whichever one you choose, once you have calmed down and your mind stops racing, you are then able to look at the situation more rationally and challenge the thoughts that made you anxious in the first place.
If you find that you or someone you care about isn’t able to manage their own stress or anxiety, I would like to invite you to get in touch with me to discuss how I can help.
So, does GROUNDING help for anxiety?
When your child is battling with anxiety and stress and nothing you do seems to be helping, It can cause worry and panic to parents. This is normal and many parents feel this way. It doesn’t make you a bad parent. It doesn’t mean you are failing horribly to help them. Sometimes Pre-teens need more intense professional help and guidance, to work through issues that might be contributing to their low self-esteem.
I have developed a unique 12 step process that has helped hundreds of pre-teens over the years, learn how to improve their overall attitude, energy level, their response to peer pressure; their ability to learn, grow, and be creative; relate to others; make healthy choices; problem solves, and reach their goals.
During this process, the pre-teen builds a strong bond with me, which enables them to be open and honest about things they might find difficult to discuss with anyone else.
The skills that I teach during the 12 weeks are easy to understand and easy to implement into their day-to-day lives immediately. As a result, they can start seeing the difference it makes in their lives pretty soon, and their self-esteem and ability to manage their anxiety increases.
The appointments are once a week and I also offer text or phone call support to them so that they can reach out if they feel the need in-between appointments.
If you are worried about your child because you can see they are struggling with low self-esteem, and it is affecting various aspects of their life, please get in touch. I would love to work with your child. The first step is a brief conversation with you and your pre-teen so that I can be sure that I am the best person to work with your child.
“Yours is the energy that makes your world. There are no limitations to the self except those you believe in.”