by Misha Grodt MA, LPC
Very often people who have experienced trauma have coped at least in part through some degree of dissociation. While this was essential for your survival then, continued dissociation (especially forms that are not within your control) is not adaptive once the trauma has passed. Now the task of therapy is to help you stay present long enough to learn other means of establishing safety in the present.
Grounding is about learning to stay present (or for some, to get present in the first place) in your body in the here and now. It is a set of skills/tools to help you manage dissociation and the overwhelming trauma-related emotions that lead to it.
The most effective way to ground is through your senses: sight, smell, sound, taste, touch. As you are doing them, pay close attention to the sensations of the activity.
- Root into the earth via the feet or other part of the body
- Mindful seated or standing body scan (feel feet on the floor, feel where body connects with chair, etc.)
- Spritz your face (with eyes closed), neck, arms and hands with a water mister.
- Hold an ice cube.
- Run your hands under hot or cold water.
- Put your feet firmly on the ground. Stomp them.
- Listen to soothing music or familiar music you can sing along to. Sing at the top of your lungs. Dance.
- Rub your palms; clap your hands. Listen to the sound. Feel the sensation.
- Hold something that you find comforting. It may be a stuffed animal, a blanket or a favorite sweater and notice how it feels in your hands.
- Look around, name 5 red (or other color) things that you see. Or 5 things that you smell or hear.
- Carry something meaningful and tangible in your pocket that reminds you of the present. Touch it to remind yourself that you are an adult.
- If you have a pet, touch its fur and speak its name out loud. Look into its eyes. Engage with it.
- Exercise: walk, stretch, ride a bike, lift weights, do jumping jacks.
- Breathe – slow and deep into the abdomen, like blowing up a balloon.
- Move around. Feel your body. Stretch out your arms, hands, fingers.
- Peel an orange or a lemon. Notice the smell. Take a bite. Focus on the taste.
- Smell your favorite perfume, or an essential oil.
- Take a bath or shower.
- Go for a walk. Feel the sunshine (or rain, or snow!)
- Dig in the dirt.
- Color! There are some great grown-up coloring books, or download printable mandalas.
What works for you?
- When in doubt, ground. It can never hurt.
- The bigger the trigger, the bigger the ground. Stomp the feet, clap the hands, get back in the body!
- Keep in mind that getting back in the body is the first priority when triggered. The “smart” brain gets hijacked by older Fight/Flight/Freeze systems, so higher thinking skills will be compromised.
- Ground/breathe first, and then you can use cognitive skills to help calm you.
Misha Grodt, MA, LPC, views therapy as sacred work in which the therapeutic relationship is one of mutual respect and collaboration. She holds a BA in Anthropology from the University of Washington (1997) and a Master’s degree (MA) in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Argosy University (2010) and is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in Colorado. In 2014 she completed a three year advanced training in Somatic Experiencing (SE), a body-centered approach to treating trauma and other stress disorders. She is inspired by Western psychological models and Eastern contemplative techniques, and her practice is enhanced by many years of experience as a yoga and meditation teacher, and as a seeker of various healing modalities. A life-long path of self-exploration and global adventure has led her to ashrams, Native American sweat lodges, monasteries, and innumerable seminars, workshops, and retreats. You can find more about Misha’s work on her website and on Facebook.