In the healing journey, a very important tool to help us along the way is the practice of grounding. Grounding is being present in the moment, being aware of our bodies, and connecting to the concrete world around us. It usually involves switching awareness from the racing, worrying, planning of our minds, to awareness of our physical bodies residing in a physical world. This shift of awareness can help us gain perspective, calm, and peace. I like to think of grounding as having an anchor in my boat, so that when the winds or the storm blow, I can find a sheltered place to drop anchor and safely weather the storm.
Do you experience unending chatter in your head? Inner voices that are critical, second guessing, ready to react, trying to control the situation or blaming yourself or others? This is when the practice of grounding can help you. It is about becoming aware that the over-thinking, over-processing in your head is usually very disconnected from what is happening in your body. Sometimes it means not being able to fall asleep, even though we are exhausted, because we don’t know how to shut off the anxiety in our minds. Our bodies need time to stop, relax, focus and regroup, so that we can handle the stresses and demands of life.
If the practice of grounding is not familiar to you, it may take some time and practice to learn how to do it. Or you may find that once you take the time it is not very difficult. The challenge is to practice focusing your attention in a way that is intentional and calming.
In healthy childhood development, we learn to self-soothe – to calm ourselves down when we are upset. If our parents were aware of our distress as children, they could help us take a deep breath, be aware of how we were feeling, and find ways to feel safe and not so overwhelmed by our situation. Then growing up we could internalize these skills, so that we had successfully learned how to manage difficult situations and calm ourselves down when we needed to. However, if we grew up in an abusive household, or if our parents did not have good skills to help us feel safe, we may have felt that pain and emotions were too overwhelming to manage, and so we cut ourselves off from feeling our pain and our emotions. As adults we never learned how to manage the stresses and challenges of life, and we still feel totally overwhelmed and distressed when times are hard.
It is important in our healing to learn that as adults we have resources and skills that were not available to us when we were children. It is not too late to learn how to calm ourselves down and soothe ourselves when life is challenging. This ability to ground ourselves – to find shelter and safety in a storm – is an important resource to develop so that we do not feel so much at the mercy of bad things that may happen to us.
So you ask, how do I learn grounding skills? How do I learn to calm myself down when I am upset? The best place to start is to focus on your senses.
Start by asking yourself, on a scale of 0 to 10 – 0 being no distress or neutral and 10 being the highest distress you can imagine – where you would rate yourself right at this moment.
Try to sit quietly in a chair or lie down and notice your breathing. Take at least 3 deep breaths, trying to slow your breathing down with each breath. Notice your feet on the floor, your body in your chair or the surface you are lying on. Can you feel the ground? Now, take time with each of your senses to notice what is around you: what you hear, what you smell, what you see, any physical sensations (a soft blanket, a rough carpet, a hard surface, an ache in your body, etc), notice the temperature, notice where you are holding any anxiety in your body. You may find that just being aware and noticing your physical body and the physical world around you helps you feel calmer already. If not, see if you can try to relax your muscles by first tensing and then releasing muscles throughout your body, starting with your toes and working your way up to your head. Now, rate yourself again using the same scale as above, and notice if you feel calmer now than before you started this grounding exercise.
What are other ways to ground yourself that you can experiment with? Everyone is different, so it is important that you can figure out what works best for you when you are upset. Some people find listening to music helps them to feel calm. Some people like to work in the garden or do something with their hands, such as kneading bread or knitting. Working with clay or paints can help you. Building a structure with lego, doing yoga or tai chi, playing with a pet, or having a warm bath might work better for you.
Whatever it is that works for you, the goal is to find something that shifts your focus away from that which is distressing towards something that brings calm and comfort and helps you feel rested and refreshed. As you get better at grounding yourself and soothing yourself when you feel distressed, you will feel more able to deal with the challenges and the stresses that life brings you. You will know that you have resources and tools to help you when the wind rises up and the storm begins to blow.
“… without darkness
Nothing comes to birth,
As without light
– May Sarton