by Masha Bennett www.practicalhappiness.co.uk
When we suffer with anxiety, have been shocked or traumatised, it is not uncommon for us to feel disconnected from our body or from reality (psychiatrists may call these states “depersonalisation” and “derealisation”). We may feel numb, spaced out, distracted and generally “not with it”. It is a way our mind protects us from difficult feelings. However this disconnection or dissociation from our bodies can cause problems, as it numbs positive emotions as well as negative ones, and can also prevent any healing or therapy you undertake from working effectively. When we are ungrounded we are also more likely to suffer flashbacks to traumatic experiences.
The so-called grounding can be very important especially during stressful times, and helps us to reconnect our body and mind. It involves some very simple techniques that can help us feel calmer and safer. Grounding is also very useful to do in preparation for learning and practice of any form of relaxation, meditation or self-hypnosis. (If we are ungrounded when we attempt to relax, it is possible that the relaxation process itself may, paradoxically, provoke anxiety.)
To put it simply, grounding refers to our sense of connection with the ground (the earth or the floor) – with our physical environment.
The basic principles of grounding are straightforward – it is about paying attention to the sensations of your body being physically connected to the ground, floor, chair or any other surface you are in contact with. For example:
- Feeling your feet standing firmly on the floor
- Feeling the weight of your body in the seat
- Feeling your back against the chair
- Feeling your elbows on the armrest.
That’s it! When practising grounding, you will probably notice that your attention drifts from the physical sensations of your feet on the floor and your body in the chair to something else – e.g. everyday thoughts or worries, and that’s completely normal. When you notice that just gently bring your attention to the physical sensations of connecting with your environment again.
Touching and holding objects with your hands also has a gentle grounding effect – hugging a pillow or a soft toy, touching wood or metal and noticing their temperature and texture, focusing on the feel of fabric of your clothes or bedding – all can help to practise being in the “here and now”.
If you get a chance to try grounding outdoors, that is even better – when we can feel the ground or the grass with our bare feet, we re-connect with the Earth naturally. Hold a handful of soil, touch (or even hug) a tree, feel a leaf or a twig with your fingers.
Some people like to enhance the pleasant feeling of relaxation that is often associated with grounding through visualisation techniques (making pictures in your mind)– for example, imagining that there are “roots” growing from the soles of their feet, reaching deep into the ground, anchoring them firmly to the Earth, supporting them and holding them. The well-known holistic teacher and author Dr William Bloom suggests a range of grounding visualisation techniques in his book The Endorphin Effect, including imagining and sensing that you are:
- a tree with a strong trunk and deep roots
- a mountain rising out of the earth
- the big fat smiling Buddha sitting firmly on the ground
- the wide-hipped “Earth Goddess”
You can also ground yourself whilst walking – just pay attention to the sensations in your legs when you move them and the feeling in your feet as they connect with the floor.
If you are beginning to feel anxious and it seems like a part of you is disconnecting from your body, or when you are getting a flashback to a traumatic experience, you can bring yourself back to “hear and now” by stamping your feet hard on the ground or floor a few times (if there are people around you, it may be helpful to explain what you are doing, so that they don’t think you are having a tantrum!) Any other strong sensory input can be helpful – for example, holding an ice cube or putting your hands in cold water (or splashing it into your face. Strong smells can also be useful for grounding too – if you can get hold of spices or herbal teabags, you can use them to help yourself ground.
Eating food also has a grounding effect (meat, root vegetables and starchy foods especially so) so try to make sure that you don’t miss your meals, and pay conscious attention to the food whilst eating it. This may be one of the reasons that some people who have experienced trauma develop eating disorders – with the numbness and painful emptiness inside being temporarily soothed with food.
If you enjoy listening to or making music, deep low notes also tend to have a grounding effect – if you have enough privacy to do this comfortably you could hum or sing to yourself at the lower range of your voice and notice the effect it has on your mind and body.
Regular grounding practice is especially important for people who experienced trauma, suffer with anxiety, eating disorders, self-harm and addictions, and should become an integral part of your healing process.
References and further information
Bloom, William (2011) The Endorphin Effect. Piatkus.
Behaviour Health Resources www.bcbhr.org/Articles.aspx?7
Mosaic Minds www.mosaicminds.org
Masha Bennett is a UKCP registered psychotherapist and a trainer of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques). She has worked for a number of years within the criminal justice system, including running a drug rehabilitation programme in a women’s prison, and currently combines work in the UK National Health Service with her private therapy and training practice. Masha teaches EFT, trauma awareness and self-help tools to professionals and general public across 10 countries in Europe, Asia and Middle East. Her website is www.practicalhappiness.co.uk.