Grounding – to keep myself here… and now…
I do a lot of grounding. Every day, several times a day. Almost constantly I have something around me or with me that I can use to ground myself. Nothing of what I wear is random. Most of it you can see, some of it not. I wear clothes that disturb me the least, but also can help me, textures and colors that are good for me. I wear jewelry that help me feel myself and that I can touch, often they carry some symbolic meaning as well. I often paint my toenails so I can find my feet – see them on the ground easier – especially in the warm season when I go barefoot a lot. I also put the date of the day and this year on my hand – each morning, so I can always check what day it is, as what year it is. I also put a little symbol on my hand each day that keeps on reminding me that I am not a victim in the now. That now, today, I have choices. And if I end up in emotional overwhelm, I can step away, and try to assess the situation and think, before I act, all to help me not react according to old patterns.
Some of the “clothes or equipment” I use – is invisible. I use my imagination. I have my protective cloak, I put it on when I will be in environments where people will touch me (often in social settings). I have invisible flowers I can smell when there are triggering smells around, I have calming sounds I listen to internally, I have comforting things I put on – that I do not want people to see, so I use the invisible ones.
In my front pockets (my real ones 😊), I carry some small stones and a couple of marbles – so I have something I can touch and play with – fidget with. In my back pocket I carry a couple of notes with some writing that I can read, that reminds me of that I have support, that I am not alone.
Almost wherever I go, I also carry a mug of tea, so I have something I can sip. If I leave the house, I carry additional items in my handbag. More fidget things, headphones to filter out sound, smells, little mints, to put in my mouth and some healthy snacks if I need energy, a pen and paper, to take notes and re-read things that grounds me.
I try to at least once a day get out into the woods – and often I lay down on the ground – which sounds silly maybe – but for me is almost the ultimate way of grounding. But I also walk around a pay attention to the nature around me, seasonal changes, colors, textures, details, bugs and other small animals, often I take pictures of them – so I can look at them later also. I listen, to the wind, to the leaves, to the birds, I look at the sky, I touch leaves, grass, moss, bark. And I go to the horses – and just let myself be, and them too – I just go there and see what happens – and follow my own impulses, or theirs. At times I lay down with them, or sit besides them, listening to their grazing, feeling their warm breath, sniff them, let them sniff me out – or just sit and look at them and what they do. At times I stand close to them, touch them, lean onto them, or let them touch me, lean onto me. It also becomes an exercise in listening and seeing – sensing each other.
Often when I go outside I first need to move a lot – to get some pent up energy out of me. After a while I calm down a bit – and then I can also do more focused grounding – at times I leads to some more reflective mindfulness exercises and meditations.
If I can’t go outside, or if there are people around, I use more hidden techniques. My favorite is using my senses – which I can do more quietly by drinking some tea, eating a mint, touching my hair, smelling my sweater and listening to my own steps/moves. I have worked hard to be able to do this exercise, in the beginning I usually triggered myself, there are sounds that I e.g. know to avoid if I am a bit anxious. I do not listen for my own breathing, or the sound my own clothes do when I move, I do not look for red things, or do not touch certain textures, at times I cannot put something edible in my mouth, then I go for only the tea. I do not smell certain things.
There are a couple of other techniques I use, like counting backwards from 100 – deducting 7 in each step, in all languages that I can count in. If I have intrusive pictures and “movies” – I put them on a screen, adjust he resolution, put it into black and white, adjust the sound, remove the screen further away. At times, I even put myself in an imagined space suit – so I am securely protected from my own memories and flashbacks.
If I see something that scares me – I blow it up to gigantic proportions – and then shrink it to a grain of sand – and put it in a secure tiny box. At times – if my thoughts wanders – and they get into things I do not want to think about – I put them into a black box, lock it securely and put it on a shelf in a room deep inside a mountain in another country.
If I need to rest but cannot – I have a safe place inside I can go to – a place only I know about and that I have constructed to where it feels safe for me.
I still have a lot of nightmares, and my sleep is often not so restful. I often wake up feeling scared. I do not often use breathing techniques, but when I wake up with a pounding heart I sometimes need to get my breathing under control – and then I breath in a square. I picture a square and then breath in counting to 4 following the top of the square, hold my breath counting to 4 picturing following the right side of the square downwards, breath out counting to 4 following the bottom of the square, and then stay in the out breath counting to 4 following the left side upwards again – and the start all over. Until my breathing is more stable and my heart is not running in full speed. Sometimes I just try to breathe normally but focus on the breath out – to make them really long. For me, focusing on the breath is a bit risky. It can make me more anxious than I already am – so it is not the first thing I use.
I have become much better at taking care of myself in a parenting way. I can hug myself; I can sing to myself, tell myself calming stories, I can fetch things that has a soothing effect on me. At times – I need to write. That stabilizes the kind of mind I have and stops it from running amok.
I am also much better at estimating how much of a feeling I can allow myself to feel. Not shutting it out – but not delving into it either.
I am getting this, with grounding. And how important it is to me. Some days I feel like I am not doing anything else. Other days, it is much calmer, and I do not have to do as much grounding exercises – and I can focus better on what I actually have in front of me.
Grounding has become part of my self-care. Since I am a trained mindfulness instructor, I did in the beginning fight myself. There is a lot of mindfulness things I can not yet do. But now – it feels okay. I do no longer think it makes me a worthless mindfulness practitioner, or instructor. I have, out of necessity, had to modify mindfulness so it is trauma sensitive, so I could use it myself. It has made me very aware of both how to be towards other people when I offer mindfulness practices, and of the part of mindfulness that can be extra triggering to traumatized people. I know how it can feel. I know the pitfalls of it intimately. And its benefits.
I caught a glimpse of a post from a friend on Instagram the other day (thank you Sara Bref!) - that made a lot of sense. It was about our consciousness’ bandwidth vs our senses’ bandwidth - all in bits/second:
Vision - 10000000, hearing - 100000, touch (skin) - 1000000, taste - 1000, smell - 100000, in total 11201000. And then our consciousnesses - less than 40. (Dykhoff, 2002). This means our senses can receive over 11 million bits/second – but that our consciousness only can perceive and process 40 bits/second. How does that affect a person who is often in a hyper vigilant state? Where you either take in very widely what goes around you – you bombard your own sense with information or if you are in a tunnel vison mode – and you can just take in a small streak of what goes on around you? What is overwhelm if just we look at our senses capabilities to take in information vs our capability to process, or even being aware of that information? How does that relate to our window of tolerance? How does that relate to how we teach and practice grounding exercises?
As I mention above a bit – I struggled a lot with getting grounding exercises to work for me. In the beginning they mostly overwhelmed me, and I could not understand what I did wrong? If I focused too much on what my senses took in – I ended up triggering and overwhelming myself. I could provoke flashbacks, and instead of containing them, I could make them worse. So I practiced a lot. I tried to practice when I was not already upset. So the exercises became routine. Now I often go into doing them without even having to think about it. If I feel slightly upset, I look around me, or get up to move, or shift position, or sip some tea, or touch the stones and marbles in my pockets, or sing something, or touch something – it goes automatically.
I have also become much better at naming what I am afraid of and not avoiding it. If I fear that I am eating something I do not want to eat – I say it out loud – this is not meat (e.g.). Or if I hear the sound of my own clothes when I move – and first think there is someone else there – I say it out loud – this is only me making sounds when I move, there is no one behind me.
I have also big startle responses. I used to have them quietly. I was so ingrained in me to not make sounds. Now – I more often let sounds out when I get startled. In the beginning I got ashamed over that. Now I show myself more leniency. I comfort myself. Tell myself it is good that I have a voice. It is okay to voice fear.
It feels as if working with my traumas – is up to 70% about learning to ground myself. And to realize that I will have to do that for the rest of my life. It sometimes feels very unfair, and tiresome. But it is my “medication”. I would not want to trade this sort of medication for any other medication in the world. I don’t need any other sort of traditional medication (not that I would take it anyhow – I had a period when I was much younger when I tried that out – not voluntarily – and it did not work for me). If it works for you – keep on taking it.
So grounding practices has become part of my life. And I can highly recommend you to find out what kind of grounding practices work for you. I have mentioned the ones I use on a mostly daily basis – but I have library of maybe up to 50 more. I use almost all of them, at different times and in different situations. They take me through my days. It is that simple.
Text and picture copyright protected ©Katarina Lundgren 2019