Over the last six months, I have been learning how to use grounding techniques. Triggered is something that is often used as a jeer on the internet, but being triggered is no laughing matter. As I learned when I got myself back into therapy, I have PTSD. Part of dealing with PTSD means learning to identify and manage being triggered and the reactions that can follow. Some people become angry, some run away, some experience flooding of emotions that feels like having your ability to process in real-time short-circuited.
Being triggered leaves me exhausted and overwhelmed. I find that I need a few days to myself to really feel back up to speed, and that isn’t always an option. The best way to ensure that I am doing my best is to try to identify and neutralize the triggers immediately. Grounding has been so effective for me with that.
What is grounding?
Grounding is an exercise involving anything that keeps you in the present moment. It is effective for people with PTSD or Anxiety because it keeps you in the present moment, not in the past or the future where anxiety typically focuses. When your mind is triggered, it can transport you to a traumatic experience, or the visualization of fear with ease. Your body then begins to react as though you are actually in that scenario. You can feel the pain and desperation of past rejection. You can feel the terror of your worst fear coming to pass. Using a grounding technique is a way for you to signal to your body that you are in no actual danger, and it can allow the fight or flight chemicals that flood your body and cause havoc to recede, leaving you with the calm of the present moment.
Grounding exercises you can use
These aren’t the only exercises you can use, but they are so helpful to me. Being triggered is not fun, but when I am I know that I can use these exercises to stave off the full-on panic attack that I know will bring aches and pains, frustration, and shut down my life until I am feeling back to myself.
Try one grounding technique from the list:
- Use the senses – A very popular grounding technique has you employ your senses to help calm the anxiety you feel. So find one thing you can touch, one thing you can taste, one thing you can see, and one thing you can smell. When you are able to find something that fits each of those requirements, your mind will begin to come back to the present and allow you to move forward
- Identify the color – One day as I was driving I got an upsetting phone call and began to feel triggered. Instead of giving into the trigger I thought of something quickly that could ground me. I began looking for items that were red or blue along the road. Combining that with deep slow breaths helped keep me from spiraling into a full-on panic.
- Touch something – There are a few different ways you can use touch as a grounding technique. You can cuddle with a pet, play with putty, or pop bubble wrap. A really easy method is to step into your bathroom or kitchen and run some water. As the water runs over your skin, think about the way that feels. What is the temperature like? Is it cool and refreshing or warm and comforting? How does the water sound? Finding a touchpoint is another wonderful way to stay in the present without venturing into the future or past.
- Narrate your surroundings – There is more going on in your environment than you think. As I sit writing this, I am having a quiet evening at home. The crickets are chirping in the background, I can hear them because the AC is off in the living room since it is a cool evening. I am curled up under a soft blanket that is big enough to puddle onto the floor. My dog Po is curled up on the part of the blanket that rests on the floor, falling asleep and snoring softly like an old man. His brother is curled up on one of their pillows, while I sit here scratching a new mosquito bite. See how I narrated my surroundings, even though it seems like nothing is going on? Keeping yourself present by using the grounding technique of narrating your surroundings will always save you in a pinch if you can’t think of anything else to do in a moment of distress.
- Create a mental oasis – People joke about safe spaces, but everybody needs a place where everything feels comfortable and peaceful. Sometimes the only way we can create that space is in our imagination. Where do you love to be more than any place on earth? Imagine that place now. What sounds do you hear? Is there any aroma wafting around. What can you see? Put yourself there when you begin to feel ill at ease. This is another grounding technique you can put into action when you are too upset to think of anything else quickly.
- Play it out – Is there a special song that always puts your heart at ease? Consider creating a playlist of music that soothes your heart when you are feeling troubled. I know I love to listen to Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s In Need of Love Today” or Beyoncé’s “Love On Top” because they always remind me of joy. Using music as a grounding technique is a fun way to calm yourself after a trigger.
Practice makes perfect
Give these a try. Practice them so you’ll have a few of them memorized. Triggers don’t come with a warning most of the time, and it is important that you know a grounding technique well enough to use it in the moment. These don’t have to be complicated techniques. Anything that will keep you focused on the present moment will do. Deep breathing? Grounding. Tapping your fingers and toes? That can work. Counting the instances of the word “grounding” in this post? It totally counts. All that matters in this practice is that you put it into practice. I hope these are as helpful to you as they have been for me.
There’s always more to explore when it comes to a new technique. Give these a try to continue your practice.
How To Use Grounding Techniques – I had the pleasure of meeting Kati Morton and having an amazing discussion with her for Healthline! You can catch that here. Don’t miss Kati’s breakdown of using grounding techniques.