Grounding exercises for anxiety and PTSD
Exercises are different from techniques in this guide in the sense that they can be done daily and take a little bit more time and planning, but all in all are more powerful in reducing anxiety and stress. Doing them every morning will help you combat anxiety in the long term. The practical thing is that most of them can be done any place and any time.
1. Coming back to the present (More suitable for anxiety)
Close your eyes and imagine that you have half the years of what you actually have now. How do you look? What are the major life events marking that year? How did your birthday go? Now progress one year. How was that year? What changed in you since the year before? Any major world events that year? Continue doing this until you reach the present. When you reach the current year, create a mental image of yourself. Now put your current self next to your old self. Notice all the changes and progress. In order to develop the skill to stay in the moment fully, do this exercise as often as you can (once a day is enough).
2. Take walks
As silly as it sounds, the habit of taking a walk is one that only few anxious people possess. The trick here is to walk somewhere alone. Every person needs a little bit of solitude and it will help you clear your mind. While you’re walking, make yourself aware of every step you make. If you want, you can play some soothing music as well as it will help you distract your thoughts. If you feel like the last thing you need are people, go to nature or to a place where you wouldn’t be disturbed.
3. The five senses
On a piece of paper outline the palm of your hand and attach each of the five senses to a finger. Now associate something pleasant to each of the senses. Let’s say your thumb is taste, and you really enjoy chocolate cake. Write down chocolate cake on your thumb on the paper. Repeat this for all of the five senses and take the paper with you. At first it might be harder but in a day or two you will memorize what each finger means. Now whenever you have the time (or if you feel that the anxiety is building up) stretch your hand in front of you and look at each finger. As you look at your finger, try and recall the sensation of the object it represents. E.g. look at your thumb and try as best as you can to imagine the taste of chocolate in your mouth.
4. What’s New and Current
Find news of current events and read them aloud. Preferably, find something that you are less interested in. On a piece of paper copy the text from memory with your non-dominant hand. The sheer amount of attention that you need will distract you away from your negative thoughts. Unlike other skills for this one you need the time but you will be amazed how much mental effort you need to put in it. Repeat this as much as you’d like. While your handwriting skills will get better with time, becoming aware of current events will ground you in the present. After some time, you will be able to draw parallels between events that affect each other or news that seem related.
5. Build yourself a grounding box
The grounding box is simply a collection of grounding objects (technique #31). Find at least a dozen objects and memorabilia that you have pleasant memories about. The more detailed these items are the better, or in other words, the more sensory response they produce the better. Whenever you feel that you are in a state of emotional distress just open the box and closely examine each of the objects. Objects that have more than a couple of dimensions work best for this. A little bottle of perfume will provide you with an object to touch and feel the shape of and hopefully colorful liquid to notice on top of the pleasant smell. Small music boxes work very well in this aspect as well. A lighter or an old banknote will do the same. Any item that you feel attached to can be a part of the box.
6. Reality check
Turn to your immediate surroundings. Analyze each object without adding a personal component to it (This is a blue chair that I hate because it reminds of depression will turn into this is a blue chair). Once you thoroughly analyze it, try and rotate the object in your mind. How would it look like from bird’s perspective? How about if you watched from the floor? From an airplane? Once done go ahead and touch the object. Notice if it feel like you thought it’s going to feel.
7. 5 to 1 relief technique
Again we are turning back to the five senses. Turn around and acknowledge 5 objects around you. After this, touch 4 objects fully feeling the shape and the material that they are made of. Next is to hear 3 different things. If you are in a quiet environment, try to squeak with you chair or tap a surface. Next, try to experience two different smells. Since we usually adapt to the smells that we constantly feel, you might need to move around. So go to the bathroom smell the soap, or open a can of coffee or even an old sofa cushion will do. At last, taste one thing. You might already have an aftertaste from your lunch or you might be chewing gum, but feel free to taste anything that might seem pleasant to you.
8. Feeling your body
Sit on a chair with you back upright and close your eyes. Feel your focus as a spotlight. It does not burn it just slightly warms the area. You will take your focus to each part of your body paying attention to each for at least 30 seconds. Start by feeling your toes. Wiggle them a little. Try to feel each toe separately. After this shift your focus on your knees. With as little movement as possible move your knees and acknowledge them. Continue by now focusing on your thighs and notice both the inner and other portion of it. Now shift your focus to your butt and genital area. Do you feel these muscles? Move to your abdomen and lower back, flex your abs and move your stomach through breathing. Notice everything that changes. After this move to your chest and upper back, and flex them gently. Finally focus on your neck and shoulders before moving on your head. Try and focus on your ears and move them (some people can). The exercise finishes by focusing on your face and jaw muscles, acknowledging all the small muscles present.
In the final part, on the next page, we will go into grounding SKILLS as long term solutions for anxiety and PTSD