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Grounding Techniques: Safety and Resilience

Updated: Oct 8, 2022

“What progress, you ask, have I made? I have begun to be a friend to myself.” -Hecato

Grounding techniques assume that movement interventions help improve emotional awareness, emotion regulation, and functioning. These techniques deepen awareness of our psychophysiological experience (the mind-body connection) with the underlying belief that one needs to feel safe before being able to regulate one's responses. While emotions can be elicited in several ways and these exercises will not work for everyone at any given time, exploring and identifying which work best for your in-the-moment needs will give you an invaluable tool… Ultimately, this practice helps build resilience- the ability to successfully adapt to stressors and adversity.

Our experience with self, engagement with others, and how we move in the world is inherently a mind-body experience. Body, brain, and mind are inextricably linked in a feedback loop. These practices send ‘safety signals’ to our autonomic nervous system. Grounding techniques are divided into three broad categories: physical (focusing senses), mental (focusing mind), and soothing (talking to yourself with kindness).



Body:

Scanning: Sitting in a relaxed position, look around the room. Describe colors, textures, shapes, sizes, sounds, smells, and temperature. Add movement: find a comfortable sitting position and do gentle twists, inhaling in the center and exhaling slowly as you twist and notice your surroundings.

Breath Awareness: Make the practice of taking a minute throughout your day to notice your breathing pattern, connect with your breath and pay attention to the expansion of your body as air enters and exits, the temperature of the air as it comes in and out through your nostrils and sensations as it moves through the rest of your body.

Tapping: Tapping your skin all over increases awareness and gives a greater sense of awareness by connecting with your body and its boundary.


Mentally:

Glimmers: Think of a positive memory and ‘bring it to life' by describing the experience using images, sounds, emotions, and body sensations or positions.

Imagery: Imagine a scene or story where you feel safe. Name body sensations, images, emotional feelings, and thoughts (example: a garden, surrounded by colorful butterflies and fragrant flowers, feeling happy and warm under the morning sun).

5-4-3-2-1 Technique: Look around and acknowledge 5 things you see around you, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste (or how your mouth tastes at the moment).


Soothing:

Self-kindness: Offer reassurance and compassion, sometimes you may just need a reminder such as “I am going to be kind to myself.”, other times you may find it good to acknowledge your struggles followed by reassurance: “I am having a rough time, but I’ll make it through”. You can try speaking in a second-person point of view when doing this, “You got this.”

Music: Listen to, sing, or hum a song that makes elicits positive emotions, bonus points if it’s a song that inspires you to dance!

Loving Kindness Meditation: Ideally, find a quiet place and bring breath awareness first. What words do you need to hear? Repeat 3 to 4 positive, reassuring phrases to yourself. These could be something such as: “May I be happy. May I feel safe. May I feel connected.”. Extend the practice: repeat them substituting “I” with “you” (May you be happy. May you feel safe. May you feel connected” and then with “we” (May we be happy. May we feel safe. May we feel connected.”).

These practices increase self-awareness and deepen our connection to ourselves and the environment. They create an embodied sense of safety and increase our capacity to regulate our emotions using our mind-body resources, facilitating the adaptation to life’s challenges. It is important to note that you may experience distress during the above exercises, if so, discontinue. You may try another moment, a different exercise, or try them for very short periods of time (say only 30 seconds – 1 minute). Exploring within the therapeutic context provides a safe place with the presence of a connected other, possibly expanding the effects of these practices.


Thaina Cordero is a Certified Sexologist and Care Coordinator at Cypress Wellness Center. She has an MS in Educational Psychology, is a trauma-informed yoga teacher, and doctoral student of Clinical Sexology at Modern Sex Therapy Institute. She has completed Levels 1 and 2 of Clinical Foundations in Gottman Method Couples Therapy. She helps individuals and couples explore their sexual expression, needs, fantasies, preferences, curiosities, and difficulties as they create more pleasurable, satisfying, and fulfilling sex life and relationships. Click here to request an appointment.


Resources:

Delahooke, M. (2019). Beyond behaviors: Using brain science and compassion to understand and solve children's behavioral challenges. Eau Claire, WI: PESI Publishers.

Dana, D. (2018) Polyvagal Theory in Therapy: Engaging the rhythm of regulation. W W Norton & Co.

McRae, K., Misra, S., Prasad, A. K., Pereira, S. C., & Gross, J. J. (2012). Bottom-up and top- down emotion generation: implications for emotion regulation. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 7(3), 253–262. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsq103

Najavits, L. M. (2007). Seeking safety: An evidence-based model for substance abuse and trauma/PTSD. In K. A. Witkiewitz & G. A. Marlatt (Eds.), Therapist's guide to evidence-based relapse prevention (pp. 141–167). Elsevier Academic Press. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-012369429-4/50037-9

National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (2017) Treating Trauma: 2 Ways to Help Clients Feel Safe, with Peter Levine. Web. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7zAseaIyFA&ab_channel=NICABM

Shuper Engelhard E, Pitluk M, Elboim-Gabyzon M. Grounding the Connection Between Psyche and Soma: Creating a Reliable Observation Tool for Grounding Assessment in an Adult Population. Front Psychol. 2021 Mar 8;12:621958. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.621958. PMID: 33762998; PMCID: PMC7982724.

Zeng X, Chiu CPK, Wang R, Oei TPS and Leung FYK (2015) The effect of loving-kindness meditation on positive emotions: a meta-analytic review. Front. Psychol. 6:1693. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01693



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