We continue learning about coping skills by learning how, when and why to using mental grounding skills. We talked last time about how mental grounding skills are helpful for people with PTSD (read here), but I recommend grounding skills to anyone who feels that their thoughts get stuck. This can include rumination or repetitious pondering of depressive thoughts or the “what if” and excessive worrying that comes with anxiety. Grounding skills can also help those with anger problems as it allows your mind to move away from the anger and onto another subject (or emotion).
Another use for the various mental grounding skills is when you need a break. Perhaps you have too much to do at home, or at work, and the pressure is overwhelming. Perhaps a relationship isn’t going well and the conversation you were trying to have has turned into an argument. Perhaps you are in uncomfortable situations that you are not familiar with. Changing the focus of your mind onto something else can be very helpful to many people. Personally, when the roads are icy or snowy in the Minnesota winter, and there is ice that has to be traversed in order to get to and from places, I find that my stress level increases. These are all situations where it is helpful to take a mental break and do a grounding skill. In fact, at a previous high tension job I had, I would do several grounding skills throughout the day to relieve the stress. Though it may not change the situation you’re in, it helps your brain to take a break from the moment, then recover or at least de-stress a little from your problems.
Regardless whether you are having diagnosable mental health problems (ex: depression, anxiety, PTSD) and need a skill to help reduce the immediate symptoms you’re facing or if you find that you need a mental break from stress or a difficult situation, grounding skills can help. I’m focusing first on mental grounding skills, and then in a future blog, to physical grounding skills. Be sure to come back and read about those.
Practice and Make a List
Grounding skills need to be practiced and used in order to be effective. At times you may have wanted to try something quick, but it didn’t help. I would recommend that you dedicate more time to doing and focusing on the skill. Our minds like to wonder (we’ll talk about that more when I write about meditation*) and we need something that will capture our attention and direct it to the thoughts we want to cultivate. Often our thoughts will try to take us back to our problems but with practice and intention we can keep our mind where we need to be. See last post list to learn more. Skills are tools you can use when you need to divert your focus and listing the tools out for easy access is very helpful. Here is a link to a useful PDF that you can print and write down the skills that you like, Grounding Skills. When you make a list, take a screenshot, write post-it notes, write it on your mirror or door, hang it up on the fridge, return to this page, whatever it takes to have it convenient for your use. When our minds are consumed by stress, anxiety, depression, PTSD, anger, an argument, etc. we often forget the skills we want to use, make sure that you keep your own list handy.
Mental Grounding is focusing on thoughts. Here are more suggestions to add to your list of skills:
Play a categories game with yourself. (Bonus if you can do this with someone else). Write example categories that you like on your list such as; types of foods you like, types of dogs or animals, pets you have had, cities (this is a favorite of mine to use in session when someone is very anxious), sport teams, cars, TV shows, songs or groups. Anything goes here, you pick the category. I worked with a young person who would name her favorite types of cookies which helped her during school to take a mental break and be less angry.
Read something, focusing on each word. You can read slowly or read the letters backwards. This is not about comprehension or getting lost in a book, it’s about a quick break. Personally I like reading each letter backwards. It takes more concentration and therefore distracts away from what’s going on outside and inside your brain.
Read something fun. Reading something fun can help move our focus away from our ruminating thoughts. Maybe this is why Facebook is so popular; we all read little snapshots or small doses of a lot of things.
Count in multiples. In anger management they recommend counting to ten, this has to be done slowly to be effective. Personally I like to count in multiples; doing 7s is a personal favorite 7-14-21-28-35-42-49 etc. Your brain has to work to access its math center. Make it easier or harder depending on your mood or your math ability.
Count what you see. Look outside and count the trees, the cars, or houses. Whatever you see out there, count.
Imagine. You can dream of being someplace. I have a friend who likes to take mental breaks by looking at real estate in Hawaii. I have a picture of the beach and ocean in my office. I take a break and dream of being there, especially in the winter.
Imagine leaving the situation. Use your imagination and see yourself closing the door to your problems or turning the light off on them. You can also imagine riding, skating, or driving away from them.
Say the alphabet slowly, very slowly.
Look at pictures or think of the people you care about.
Think of the things you’re looking forward to that are coming up, being with a friend, going out someplace, time away or time in. Anything that encourages you and gets your mind occupied. Plan an activity if you don’t have something to look forward to.
Mental grounding is something you can do anywhere, at any time. No one knows what you’re thinking about. Instead of continuing to ruminate in depressive, anxious, angry, stressful thoughts, just focus your mind on a grounding skill.
Use with Your Children
Grounding skills can be very useful with your children. When you notice that they are emotionally stressed or losing control, that’s the time to help them by bringing up a skill you can do together or you can remind them to do one on their own. I mentioned about the child that would name her favorite cookies, it didn’t take very long and she would calm down. She focused on something she liked and it gave her a mental break. Most, if not all of the above, plus the ones from the last article can help your child just as they can help you. They are going to need more help applying each skill, even as a teenager, they may need you to remind them about using a grounding skill or start the grounding skill for them, but it will soon help. Remember that when they become calm; you should try discussing with them whatever may need to be addressed or talked about. So next time they show a need, bring up a skill and you’ll soon see a change in their emotional behaviors.
What’s the Next Step?
Coping skills can help, but they cannot take the place of counseling and cannot solve many of the challenges associated with mental illness. If you need more help, we’re here for you. To schedule a counseling appointment, call us at 218-366-9229 (Park Rapids) or 218-444-2233 (Bemidji). For those interested, I offer Christian counseling out of the Park Rapids office. Please let our office support staff (and me) know that you are interested in Christian counseling. Learn more about LCA clinical staff here.
Diane Cerven, LPCC
Missed reading about using distraction skills as a coping skill, catch up
Read more about Mental Grounding Skills