Per the new posting schedule, every Thursday is a Resource and Recovery themed post. In this series, you’ll find coping skills, tips, and tricks for coping with a mental health struggle, whether crisis or day-to-day management. The Thursday posts won’t necessarily relate to the more personal Tell-All Tuesday posts every week, but when I can tie them in, I will! My Tuesday post this week was on what it’s like to be triggered and some thoughts on the “Trigger Warning” debate. For this Recovery Thursday post, I’d like to share some grounding techniques I find helpful when I am triggered.
I explained my personal favorite grounding technique in my post Top 5 Ways to Get Through a Bad Situation (Without Making It Worse) earlier this year. Click that link to read all about the 5-5-5 grounding tool. But in mental health recovery, what works well for one person may not be as effective for another. And, honestly, sometimes success in grounding is situational. So, I wanted to make this post about multiple ways to ground yourself when triggered, so that hopefully you can find one that works best for you or one to guide a loved one through a flashback or a panic attack.
What is grounding? Grounding is getting your mind to stay in the here and now even if you are panicking or having a flashback. Often times, this is best accomplished by using something physical and tangible to “bring yourself back.”
I find physical grounding to be the most effective for me. In addition to the 5-5-5 technique, there are several other approaches you can take to physically anchor yourself to the present. Most of us do things to get “back in our bodies” already, but some of those coping skills are maladaptive and unhealthy. I’m thinking specifically of self injury: cutting, burning, punching walls, etc. Yes, these actions can keep you “here,” but “here” isn’t so great when you’re hurting yourself.
If your go-to coping skill is self harm, I’d like to give you some alternatives that may work as well and be better for your wellness in the long run.
ICE CUBES: I like to use ice cubes over everything else. I hold the ice cube in my palm and squeeze it. When that hand is numb, I switch it to the other hand and do the same thing. Sometimes, I put the ice cube on my arm or on my neck. The cold is usually a very helpful grounding technique. You may have heard of the ice cube trick before, but just because it’s floating around out there doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve tried it. You may have heard of the next one as well.
RUBBER BANDS: Keep a rubber band around your wrist and snap it against your skin when you need to ground. It will sting a little bit, but will not have the lasting impact of more drastic forms of self harm. The rubber band trick is only suggested to those actively struggling with self harm impulses. If you don’t currently engage in self harm, it’s not recommended as it could actually build the habit of hurting yourself when you’re overwhelmed, and that’s not a habit you want to start if you don’t have it already.
FROZEN ORANGES: This one is going to sound a little weird, probably. It definitely did when I first heard it. But, I keep a frozen orange in my freezer at all times. If I really need to ground, I take it out and put it against the back of my neck. Then, I start to peel it. Fun fact, it’s really hard to peel a frozen orange. And, if you’re focusing on that task, the combination of attention and fine motor skills needed to peel it and the strong citrus smell keeps you really grounded and often the panic or dissociation will pass before you are finished with the task. And being able to “dig” into the skin of the orange can help negate the need to hurt your own skin.
Now, let’s look at grounding techniques that are not necessarily substitutes for self harm. What can you do when you are starting to have a flashback?
Again, the answer is mostly physical. If you can prove to your body that you are here and not in the past, the flashback will pass much quicker.
GET ON YOUR FEET. Taking the term “grounding” quite literally, try to stand up, Feel your feet against the floor or the ground. Walk a little. Feel your legs moving. Stomp a few times. Ask yourself “where are my feet?” and answer “On the ground.” This may seem silly, but this is something I have used both in my personal and professional life to help keep myself or my clients grounded. And it tends to work very well.
FEEL YOUR ARMS. For me, when a flashback is happening or is about to happen, my arms are usually numb. Lifting them above my head (or having a friend raise them for me), wrapping myself in a heavy blanket and feeling where my body ends, or rubbing my arms to warm them helps immensely in grounding.
MINDFULNESS. Pick something up and really focus on what it feels like, walk around and focus on your feet and the floor, if you’re sitting, focus on where the floor or chair connects with your body.
OPEN YOUR EYES. If you’re eyes are closed, it’s usually game, set, match for the flashback. It’s got you. It’s really hard to stay present if you can’t see the present. Keep your eyes open and try to look around you mindfully. Focus on every small detail you can find. (the pattern of the floor, wood grain on cabinets, decorations on walls, leaves of grass, etc.) This really helps me stay “here” or, at the very least, get back faster than I otherwise would.
OK, so those are the “external things” you can do. What about internal? What can you say to yourself to help stay grounded?
ASK YOURSELF QUESTIONS. “Where am I? What year is it? What was I just doing? What time is it? How old am I? Where am I right now?” By thinking about and answering these questions, you will bring yourself back to the present.
HAVE A SCRIPT. “I’m having a panic attack right now. I am safe. I am not in any danger.” “I’m having a flashback right now. The worst is over. This happened in the past and is not happening now. I will come out the other side of this.”
THINK ABOUT DIFFERENT THINGS. Set your mind to a weird task. Count in 7’s, name ten different countries, think of your 5 favorite books and try to name the authors, name all of the characters in your favorite TV show, try to name 5 animals that start with the letter “M”, etc. If you can get your brain away from focusing on the trigger, you can show yourself that you are safe.
Remember that you are not powerless and at the mercy of your diagnosis. These are tangible coping skills you can implement immediately. Practice them, see which ones work best for you, and keep them fresh in your mind so that you can access them easily when you’re struggling.
There you have it! I hope you find at least one of these coping skills helpful! As always, I’d love to hear what you think of the post! Drop a comment, Tweet me, and check out my Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram! Also, be sure to check out the perks available to YOU on Patreon for becoming a Patron of this blog! (You’ll love ’em, I promise!)
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Be sure to check in tomorrow for ParallelDichotomy’s first ever guest post! It’s part one of a first hand account of medication induced psychosis in someone who does not live with a mental health diagnosis. I feel it’s important to honor all mental health struggles, and through the guest post series, I hope to host the voices of people living a different experience than I am. If you’d like to be a contributor to this series, please get in touch via social media or email me at Paralleldichotomyblog@gmail.com.