What is grounding?
Grounding techniques can help bring you back to yourself when something throws you off or you become disassociated for some reason. Getting “triggered” or activated is another reason you might want to engage in a grounding technique. Most people would agree that being connected to yourself and having your full capacities available is essential to good living. Clearly this can’t always be the case, but if you find yourself beside yourself, or “off” in some way, grounding techniques can bring you back.
Breathing. We do it entirely without thinking. Most of us learn early to hold our breath when we are threatened, as a way of shutting down and shutting off our feelings. When we breathe very shallowly, up in our chest, it activates the sympathetic nervous system: the part of our nervous system that readies us for flight, fight or freeze. Another response we might have, especially if females, is tend and befriend (https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200009/tend-and-befriend). Whether getting ready to fight, shutting down, or irresistibly making others feel comfortable, it’s not the same as feeling comfortable in our skin and using our best executive functioning to respond to the present situation. What does this have to do with breathing?
Breathing long and slow enables the parasympathetic nervous system to come back on line. In plain language, when we are breathing deep into our lungs, our system gets the message that it’s safe to rest, to think, to look around. Once we are breathing regularly and deeply, it will allow access to the thinking part of our brain so that we can make rational decisions.
One, Two, Three, Four
Can you count to four? If so, One, Two, Three, Four may be a useful tool for you when you are stressed, activated, overwhelmed, or over committed. Once I have identified that things are piling up faster than I can deal with or delegate, if I can remember , One, Two, Three, Four, it can make all the difference. I am grateful to have friends remind me: you can ask your friends to remind you, too. One stands for emotional needs. Do everything you can to address your emotional needs first. This could mean talking to a friend, taking a day off, getting into bed, taking a hike, taking a bath…whatever it is, do whatever you can to address your emotional well-being. Two is for your physical needs: eat something nurturing (or comfort food, but it’s probably best to stay away from sugar and caffeine), drink water, get some exercise, maybe you need to sleep, if so take a nap or go to bed early. Three stands for anything vital. If you cannot delegate, deal with what must be dealt with: if you have animals in your care (including children) make sure their needs are addressed. If you need to communicate to colleagues or your boss that you are incapacitated do that. It’s ok to call in sick if you are not functional for emotional reasons. Around here we say “it’s like you have a flu, and it will go away, but first you have to take care of yourself.” Four is for everything else. One, Two, Three, Four is strictly In Order! Keep doing One and Two until they are satisfied, sprinkling in Three items as necessary. You don’t get to look at the things under category Four until One, Two, and Three are addressed. When are you ready to start tackling things in the Four category? You’ll know. And if you can’t tell, go back to One, Two and Three, or call a friend for an outside opinion. All credit due to Georgia for this conceptualization for putting it in first gear and putting self-care first.
Five, Four, Three, Two, One
If you prefer counting backward, Five, Four, Three, Two, One might be for you. After taking a few deep breaths (see the tips on Breathing), notice and count five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can feel, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. If for some reason, you want to change the sense you are exploring for a different number, that’s just fine. For a deeper experience for one thing you can taste, see Eating a Raisin.
Eating a Raisin
This is an exercise in taste, what we eat, and how much attention and mindfulness we can apply to eating. Find yourself a raisin, a single raisin. Sit for a minute or two examining the raisin, notice where it was connected to the tendril that connected it to the vine. Imagine this raisin as the flower it once was, not so long ago. See if you can sense the sun and the water that created the grape that this raisin became, in a clump of other grapes, connected to the vine and to the earth. Examine the folds and wrinkles that were created during the drying process. Roll the raisin slightly in your fingers, feeling the give of the flesh beneath the pressure of your fingers. Can you hear it? After a few minutes, bring the raisin to your lips, but don’t put it in your mouth right away, feel the texture with your lips. Smell the raisin, if you don’t smell much, try squeezing it a little. Notice how it feels to touch the raisin with your lips. You might want to tentatively touch it with your tongue and feel the wrinkles. Notice if you can taste it, or if the sensation is mainly still texture. Roll it around in your mouth, getting to know it better. It’s possible that you will begin to salivate; this should bring out the flavor a little more. Move the raisin with your teeth without actually breaking the skin. Notice how much pressure you need to break the skin, and how that changes the texture in your mouth. Flatten the raisin between your molars. See if you can notice the flavor of the raisin as “flavor” instead of “pleasant” or “unpleasant.” In other words see if you can notice the flavor without needing to decide that you like it, or that you don’t like it. Poke your tongue into the fruit, noticing the changing texture and flavors. Can you sense the grape behind the raisin? The flower behind the grape? The sun and the water, the vine and the soil from which this experience was born? See if you can generate a sense of gratitude for the intersection of your life and this raisin, this experience that you are fully showing up for with all of your attention and senses. As you continue to experience the raisin, notice what it is like to crush it with your molars; can you can hear the flesh of the raisin give way under your teeth? Chew very slowly, noticing the raisin slowly disintegrate and spread out in your mouth. Maybe you will be left with just a skin of a raisin, most of the flesh melting away in your saliva. As you swallow the last of the raisin, give it a little nod of thanks, and see if you can bring some of this awareness to your next meal.