Mental Grounding as a Coping Skill
This month we continue discussing how to use coping skills to manage our emotions when they become over whelming. Last month we focused on the use of deep breathing and distraction skills like using games, household chores, and other distraction options. I recommend you take time to read those posts because each tool can be useful in different situations. In this post, we are going to learn about grounding skills. Grounding is a technique that helps keep someone in the present. Grounding skills are used to focus our mind. They help a person be “in the here-and-now” and in reality. This focus can be on different thoughts or on physical sensations. In fact, you probably do grounding skills but don’t even know it. Grounding skills help because they help redirect and control thoughts. This focus on changing our thought process in turn helps to decrease the emotional response that we’re having and we gain some control or center on something else rather than on our negative emotion.
One of the main mental health disorders that grounding skills can be used for is post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. Post traumatic stress disorder is an emotional disorder that occurs after a traumatic event or multiple traumatic events. A person can get PTSD by direct exposure as well as indirect exposure to a traumatic event or by witnessing or learning about an event done to a loved one or close friend. PTSD has many symptoms, which I will not be able to address in this blog post, but the main categories of symptoms include intrusive and distressing memories or thoughts, avoidance of things related to the trauma, thoughts and feelings that worsen after the event and increased anger or hyper vigilance. One of the predominant symptoms of PTSD is remembering emotional or physical feelings that remind us of the event(s). These emotional reminders or triggers take hold of a person’s brain, releasing chemicals and the negative thoughts follow.
Persons who have PTSD can try to avoid anything that will remind them of the event and therefore try to avoid the symptoms, but it’s not possible. There is no way to avoid everything. Plus, our mind has the event(s) in our head so it can bring them up in our thoughts and even at night in our dreams. PTSD is a complex psychological disorder and I recommend counseling with a trained therapist to address the trauma and symptoms and to help solve the many challenges of PTSD.
What Works for PTSD?
Working with your therapist is the best way of dealing with PTSD, but there are things you can do in your day to day life to help with the symptoms. Anytime the emotional brain is taking over with thoughts of anger, anxiety, sadness or even depressive thoughts, grounding skills can help so that you can get control of your emotions. It takes awareness that your emotional mind is taking over and that your emotions are increasing. It takes work but redirecting your thoughts can make a difference. If you’ve read the other blog posts you’ll know that redirecting your thoughts doesn’t have to take a lot of time, only 20 minutes to decrease our heart rate and get our emotional brain chemicals back to a normal level.
Of course, PTSD isn’t the only mental health diagnosis that grounding can help with. I remember helping a client who was very anxious, their thoughts were all over the place and we worked on using mental grounding skills. It didn’t take long before I could physically see they were less anxious.
Helpful Grounding Skills
Grounding skills are not one size fits all. Luckily there are a lot of different ones to choose from. There are two categories of grounding skills, mental and physical. Mental is working with our thoughts and feelings. Physical is working with and using our physical environment through our senses. Some of course use both. This month I’m going to focus on mental grounding skills. I’m going to suggest some techniques now so you have a couple weeks to try them and then provide additional approaches in the next blog. Find the ones you like and make sure to have several options available when you’re feeling anxious, depressed, angry, or even when having PTSD symptoms. Write them down or have them on your phone for easy access. So lets’ get started.
Mental grounding is focusing on thoughts so let’s practice.
When you are having PTSD symptoms or not feeling safe, even though you are, then try saying a Statement of Safety to yourself. Remind yourself of your name, where you are located and that you are safe, the date and time, how old you are, and that you’re in the present not the past. And yes you can say this out loud if that helps.
Repeat a mantra to yourself. “This too shall pass”. “All is well”. “I can handle this”. “I can stay calm and relaxed”. You can even combine a coping statement with deep breathing like “breathe in peace, breathe out anger”. (To learn more about deep breathing read here.)
Use humor. Remember funny times you’ve had, watch a funny video or movie, think of a joke that makes you smile. There are a ton of videos of every type on YouTube, watch one of those or remember ones you’ve watched before.
Describe your environment in great detail. The more details the better. If there are sounds or smells then mention those too (this also adds some physical grounding) For instance: I have 4 beige walls, one brown wooden door, a brown desk with one drawer, a two door black filing cabinet, there are 7 books on the top shelf, one turquois tote, one grey lidded box, one grey marker holder and lots of colored markers, lots of colored construction paper, one window with two panes, one green plant with two white flowers, one dark brown couch with two pillows, one circular medium brown chair, I hear the white noise maker….etc.
A variation on the above is to spot and name categories of things you see, 5 circles/diamonds/squares/triangles or make patterns in your mind, name 5 blue/red/yellow things that you can see or look for rarer colors like orange and note to yourself how many things you see with that.
Describe an every day activity in great detail. For example describe your morning routine, “I wake up and get out of bed, I put my slippers on, I use the bathroom, then brush my teeth, then take a shower, etc. Or use preparing a meal, “In a large bowl I combine lemon juice, salt, oregano, cumin, garlic, chili, and paprika; add the chicken and marinade in the refrigerator…”.
Try the above list out and see what works for you over the next few weeks. Then tune back in for more examples to try. Make sure you keep these suggestions in a place you can find them; of course, coming back to our website is always an option. You can also put them on sticky notes, on the fridge or door, or any place you’ll see them and be reminded to use them.
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. Please check out our staff bios here.
Diane Cerven, LPCC
Want to read past posts on distraction skills, follow them here: