Who hasn’t ever experienced a strong surge of emotions? The truth is, everyone at some point finds themselves trying to fight back against what feels like an upheaval of emotion. Your body starts to sweat and your heart pounds. Your thoughts begin to swirl through your head like a violent tornado. Perhaps you even lose control of your breathing to the point you nearly hyperventilate.
As your brain and body reacts to a surge or emotions, you begin to imagine every worst possible outcome. Panic sets in and your body’s fight or flight response is in full gear. The only time such a strong reaction is necessary is when you are in a legitimately dangerous situation. Otherwise, your only desire is to get yourself back under control.
Fortunately, grounding techniques can help you do just that. Grounding, which is also commonly referred to as mindfulness, allows you to control your body’s panic response. With proper grounding, you can access your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps ground you back into the present. It is best to practice techniques during calm moments so you can use them in times of necessity.
When it comes to grounding techniques, breathing exercises are perhaps some of the most important. The purpose of breathing techniques is to slow your breathing and heartrate. When you go into a full-fledged panic attack, you feel as though you cannot catch your breath. With the right breathing exercises, you can calm yourself and take a moment to breathe deeply.
First, you need to draw a deep breath in and count to three while doing so. Hold the air in your lungs for another count of three. Finally, let the air out slowly for yet a final count to three. Keep repeating this exercise, increasing your count until you reach eight. By doing so, you manage to slow your breathing in and out, which helps you focus and calm your mind.
Another way to catch your breath is to look around at your environment. Although it might be hard, practice focusing on objects around you. The goal is to use your senses. Identify objects that you can see, hear, taste, smell, and touch. Start by naming five things you can see, which is simple enough. Next, say aloud four things you can touch. Now find three things that you can hear, such as a bird. Next, locate two objects you can smell and one that you can taste.
Use Your Senses
Grounding techniques are all about grounding yourself back into the present moment so your brain will stop running at high speed. When your brain is overloaded with thoughts or too much stimulus, it can stir up every emotion at once. You may feel sad, mad, and happy all at once, but you are unable to control those feelings and emotions. Make sure you use your senses to ground yourself back to the moment.
Sense of Hearing
Use your sense of hearing to bring you back to the present. You can start by turning on music. Make sure you turn the volume up so that it is very loud. The louder the better because it makes it hard for you to ignore the sound. Focus on that sound, the voice of the singer, the instruments, or even the lyrics if you have to. The goal is to find something else for your brain to focus on.
You can also use your sense of hearing to help ground you by stepping outside and identifying every sound you hear. Sounds can include car horns honking, children playing, birds chirping, the wind rustling leaves on the trees. Focus on every sound and do your best to identify those sounds. Focus on these things so you can take your mind off the millions of thoughts going through your head at once.
Make noise if you have to. If you play an instrument, pick it up and start playing. If you do not have an instrument, make noise by turning your pots and pans into drums. You can also jingle your keys or tap your hands on coffee cans, boxes, or the surface of a table or counter. Grab a rubber band and put it between your thumb and pointer finger. Strum the rubber band like a guitar. Focus on the sounds you create to help ground you.
Sense of Smell
Another way to practice grounding techniques is to use your sense of smell. Pick up something that has a strong smell, such as perfume, cologne, or coffee grounds. Take a deep breath in and focus on the smell. You could also consider buying a candle with a strong, yet soothing scent to help you.
If need be, step outside and take a deep breath. Try to identify everything your nose detects. Perhaps you smell flowers blooming, fresh cut grass, or meats being cooked on a barbecue grill. Whatever smells surround you, do your best to pick them out and name them off. In doing so, you are distracting your brain so you can calm yourself and stop the flood of endless emotions.
Sense of Touch
Use your sense of touch to your advantage. If you feel yourself spiral out of control and losing control of your emotions, touch something. One example is to touch something that feels cold, such as a cold stone, a piece of metal, or even an ice cube. Touch it briefly and focus on how it feels.
If that doesn’t work, touch objects all around you and focus on the texture. Touch a soft, fuzzy blanket. Touch something with a rough texture, such as a scrub sponge. Anything you can touch that has a texture, do so and focus on the feeling to help set your mind straight again. Activating your senses is what is going to help you calm your center back down.
Sense of Taste
If you can, take a moment to activate your sense of taste. The best way to do this is to make sure you have something sour on hand. Bite into a citrus fruit, such as an orange, lemon, or lime. You can also opt to drink lemonade or limeade. The sour taste of food and drinks are strong enough that it helps you focus on the taste.
Sense of Sight
Decide on a specific color and look around you to identify all objects in that color. For example, if you pick red, you can look around to find a red apple, a red car, a red toy, a red pillow, or anything else that is red. If you cannot focus on a color, just start identifying objects in the room. If you are in the living room, name all of the different pieces of furniture in the room. Let your mind focus on what your eyes see so you can ground yourself.
If you find that the grounding techniques mentioned above do not help you, it may be best to seek the help of a therapist. A therapist can assist you in managing intense emotions by suggesting grounding exercises that work best for you.
Monica Ramunda is a cognitive behavioral therapist with offices located in Louisville and Denver, Colorado for in-office visits. With a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology and more than 16 years experience in therapy and counseling, Monica works as both a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and Registered Play Therapist (RPT) with adults and children respectively. Much of Monica’s success is based on her eclectic orientation and drawing on a wide range of different approaches and techniques all while remaining strongly grounded in the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Techniques (CBT).