In a previous post I tried to describe strong emotional reactions in a way that would facilitate dealing with them more effectively.
In this follow-up post, I look at one method for managing overwhelming feelings.
It is called Grounding.
Strong feelings are a normal part of life. When we lose something important to us, we are sad. When we feel out of control, we might be scared. When we feel we’ve been wronged, we are angry.
Strong feelings bring your focus very much inside your own body and mind. You become attached to your swirling thoughts; you feel the emotion in different parts of your body; the rest of the world kinda disappears.
In a number of ways this is appropriate and helpful. I’ve talked about emotions as alarm systems attempting to notify of us of something important. It is sensible therefore that our attention would focus around the emotional experience, so we can learn what we need from the emotion.
But it is also easy to get lost or trapped in a feeling. Sometimes when we focus inwards, we overly attach to unhelpful critical thoughts about ourselves, others and the world which makes us more distressed. Sometimes it feels like our mind is forcing us to pay attention to our worst memories, our worst insecurities and our worst fears.
Grounding techniques seek to counteract this effect by shifting our focus back on the world around us.
The core of a grounding technique is to reorient you to the present moment; where you are in time and space.
If you google ‘grounding techniques’ you will find many different options. The one described below is the one we also include on our “feeling stressed page“. You will find variants of this technique in lots of places on the web. My apologies to the original author of this technique as I can no longer track down where I originally found it.
Basically you are going to count down from 5 to 1. For each number you are going to engage a different ‘sense’.
5: Acknowledge FIVE things you see around you. Maybe it is a bird, maybe it is pencil, maybe it is a spot on the ceiling, however big or small, state 5 things you see.
4: Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch around you. Maybe this is your hair, hands, ground, grass, pillow, etc, whatever it may be, list out the 4 things you can feel.
3: Acknowledge THREE things you hear. This needs to be external, do not focus on your thoughts; maybe you can hear a clock, a car, a dog bark, or maybe you hear your tummy rumbling. Internal noises that make external sounds can count, what is audible in the moment is what you list.
2: Acknowledge TWO things you can smell: This one might be hard if you are not in a stimulating environment, if you cannot automatically sniff something out, walk nearby to find a scent. Maybe you walk to your bathroom to smell soap or outside to smell anything in nature, or even could be as simple as leaning over and smelling a pillow on the couch, or a pencil. Whatever it may be, take in the smells around you.
1. Acknowledge ONE thing you can taste. What does the inside of your mouth taste like, gum, coffee, or the sandwich from lunch? Focus on your mouth as the last step and notice what you can taste.
Practice this technique regularly when you are feeling overwhelmed. In future posts we will look at other emotional management techniques you can use.