Sometimes being ungrounded makes us react poorly to situations, often escalating the difficult emotions that ungrounded us in the first place. For many, being ungrounded can be overwhelming. For some, it simply feels like being spaced out, disconnected, or not really present.
When I think of being ungrounded, I think of my kids in a candy store: frenetically driven by powerful emotions, overwhelmed by all the options, pulled in too many directions at once, reacting thoughtlessly rather than mindfully responding. Unlike the candy store, however, the stressors that typically leave us ungrounded are anything but fun.
Grounding puts you, rather than your emotions, back in the driver’s seat. Grounding helps us to stay in the here and now, so we can interact effectively with the present. Grounding also helps us heal from the past and prepare for the future.
Here’s a simple grounding technique that’s handy to have at your disposal. You can use it in a room full of people and they probably won’t even notice. There are three parts to it: Breathe, Touch, and Move…
Not rushed or forced breathing, frantically trying to relax. Rather, the ‘sigh’ type of breathing that happens naturally when you are relaxed. Start by taking a relaxed, deep breath in through the nose, filling up your abdomen, not your chest. Try to breathe in such a way that you almost produce a snore sound (almost!). Then, as you release your breath, let the air deflate from your mouth like you’re releasing open a bag. As you release let your whole body relax (I focus on my arms, shoulders, and legs when I do this). Repeat a couple times and notice how good and natural it feels.
Then right after that deep breath, Do something tactile. Maybe something as simple as rubbing your thumb and fingers together in each hand simultaneously, or gently turning your head from side to side. This could even be giving a big stretch, like when you’re tired. Tapping your fingers lightly on the table might even help. This simple gesture, whether unnoticeable to others (like picking up a small stone) or more obvious (like cuddling a dog for a minute) not only awakens nerve endings in our skin and activates our senses, it also connects us to the here and now in a tangible way.
If the situation allows, take an opportunity to stand up or walk around. In some cases you could even walk out of the room, get a minute of fresh air, even if it’s just walking calmly to a drinking fountain. As you walk you can practice the breathing and touch exercises described above. If you go for a walk, it’s best to do so with the full intention of grounding – getting connected back to the present. In other words, taking a walk with a coworker to discuss a project probably won’t give you the mental room you need to become grounded again. They say that one of the best grounding techniques is to take your shoes off and walk barefoot outside in the grass. On a nice day, with plenty of fresh air to breathe, this simple act could accomplish all three components – Breathe, Touch, Move – at once.
Andy Young, LCPC, CADC, CPAIP
New Prairie Counseling Center