Grounding: Emotional First Aid

Grounding is a tool I often use with patients. In CBT it is usually used to help people who have been through a traumatic experience, for example to ground someone back in the present moment if they are experiencing a flashback.

However, in my opinion, you don’t have to have been through a trauma to benefit from this simple yet powerful technique.

 

What is grounding?

Grounding is a technique that can be used immediately in the moment when you feel your emotions are at a high level to help to bring them down to a more manageable level.

The aim of grounding is to re-connect with the present moment by using your senses.

In this way, it is similar to mindfulness.

An example might be to literally stamp your feet and feel the contact of your feet on the ground.

Other examples might be:

  • Rubbing your hands quickly together and feeling the heat you can generate.
  • Deliberately spotting all the green objects you can see around you.
  • Listening for the next 5 sounds you can hear around you.
  • Smelling essential oils/your perfume/your coffee.

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When to use it

Crucially, the aim of grounding is not to get rid of emotions.

Emotions are there to help you to make sense of your situation.

However, if the emotion is very distressing, unmanageable or overwhelming, then grounding can help to bring the emotion down to a point that you can cope with it and allow it to pass.

 

Emotional first aid

I like to think of grounding as emotional first aid.

We all know that from time to time, we might cut ourselves and bleed.

If the cut is small, we don’t need to do anything. We can leave it alone and it will heal itself.

This is the same with most of our emotions.

We will all feel difficult emotions from time to time but if they are at a manageable level, they will pass by without any need for us to intervene.

At this level, we don’t need to use a grounding technique to manage our emotions but we could choose to use relaxation techniques, meditation or mindfulness practices to boost our overall wellbeing.

 

If we cut ourselves a little deeper, we may need to cover it with a plaster so that we can get on with our day.

The cut is still healing itself underneath the plaster and it wouldn’t necessarily harm us if the plaster wasn’t there.

The plaster is helpful in that it is stopping the cut from bleeding all over the place and preventing it from getting caught on things that could hurt it or slow down the healing process.

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At this point, we might think of the emotional level as being difficult or distressing but not completely unmanageable.

Grounding could be helpful at this point to help to re-group (i.e. not spill all over the place).

Just as the plaster helps to prevent a cut from getting caught on things that could hurt and slow down the healing process – grounding yourself in the present can help to reduce dwelling, worrying, and over-thinking that could exacerbate the difficult emotion.

This is where I believe many of us could benefit from grounding.

 

However, from time to time we might be unlucky enough to sustain a serious wound that needs pressure applying to it until medical attention can be sought.

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This could be the emotional equivalent of flashbacks, nightmares or ‘zoning out’  following a traumatic event.

Here, grounding can be used to manage severe distress until you can receive help from a therapist or mental health professional.

Just as you would go to A&E with a serious wound, if you are experiencing these kinds of symptoms, it is important to seek appropriate support.

Your GP or your local Improving Access to Psychological Therapies service may be a good place to start.

 

Want to know more about grounding or building your emotional resources?

You can learn more about grounding at my upcoming Emotional Resource Building Workshop. Details of workshops and events can be found on my Facebook page here: Lemon Squeezy Wellbeing Facebook Page

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Building Emotional Resources

(Because sh*t happens)

When you first think of resources you may think about things like time and money. These things are undoubtedly important but I would like to invite you to think about your emotional resources.

If you were going about starting a practical project like building an extension on your house, starting up a small business or even a small project like baking a cake, it would seem very sensible to start by gathering your practical resources.

If you are building an extension, you need plans, building materials, experts to help you, money to pay for it, time to build it.

If you are starting a small business, you will need a product or service, somewhere to work from, insurance, promotional materials, a computer.

If you are making a cake, you need some ingredients, a mixer, a cake tin, an oven, and some time.

Yet people can often expect to be able to meet life’s challenges without investing anything into their emotional resources.

Even in the day-to-day life of working, parenting, caring for someone, being a friend, running a car, maintaining a home, there are bound to be many and varied problems along the way.

 

Just as you need building materials for your extension, you need emotional resources to deal with life!

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How do you know if your emotional resources are lacking?

Feeling drained?
Tired?
Irritable & on edge?
Tearful, fretful, harassed or over-stretched?

If it only takes a small thing to tip you over the edge or if you think you couldn’t possibly cope with one more thing going wrong, this is a sure sign that your emotional resources are depleted.

Even if you are OK, it makes sense to keep you emotional resources topped up and it certainly can’t hurt to have more resources available to you.

 

How can emotional resources help?
Let’s do a quick thought experiment to demonstrate the difference between running on empty and having good emotional resources…

Think for a moment about a time when you have felt really overwhelmed or drained.

  • Really picture yourself in this scene…
  • Notice how you stood or sat
  • What was the expression on your face
  • Notice your tone of your voice
  • How did you feel in your body.
  • Notice what kind of thoughts you would have when you feel this way.

Now imagine your car breaks down.

  1. How would you feel?
  2. What would you think?
  3. How easy or difficult would it feel to sort it out?

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Now contrast this by thinking of a time when you felt confident, on top of things, strong or competent. Picture yourself again:

  • Notice how you stood or sat
  • What was the expression on your face
  • Notice your tone of your voice
  • How did you feel in your body.
  • Notice what kind of thoughts you would have when you feel this way…

Now imagine again that your car breaks down.

  1. How do you feel this time?
  2. What would you think?
  3. How easy or difficult would it feel to sort out?

Which starting point would give you more resilience?

 

And…
When we invest in our emotional resources, it can save you other valuable resources too.

If you can solve a problem without worrying as much about it, you will save the time, effort and energy you would have put into worrying.

When you can think in a more constructive way about a problem, you could save yourself wasted time and effort chasing your tail on ineffective solutions or time spent dwelling about how bad things are or how difficult life is.

Whatever level your emotional resources are now, investing some time into building them is time well spent.
You can’t prevent sh*t from happening but you can build up your ability to cope when it does!

Did you know that Lemon Squeezy Wellbeing offers a Building Emotional Resources Workshop for the workplace?

Check out Lemon Squeezy Wellbeing Guided Relaxation & Workshops

The first step in building emotional resources is noticing and naming your emotions.

You may like: Why I Don’t Like the Terms ‘Stressed’ and ‘Depressed’

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Why I Don’t Like the Terms ‘Stressed’ and ‘Depressed’

First of all, I am not denying that many people feel stressed and depressed and I am not suggesting for a second that these terms are not valid descriptions of people’s experience.

I have used them to describe my own emotional experience and within my blogs!

The difficulty I have with the terms ‘stressed’ and ‘depressed’ is that we have come to use these words as a shorthand for too many of our emotions. As a result, I believe we are in danger of losing touch with our emotional vocabulary and with our emotions themselves. 

OK, they are useful umbrella terms in day to day conversation but underneath the ‘stress’ or the ‘depression’, there is likely a myriad of emotions going unrecognised, un-named and unprocessed. 

Whats more, when we overuse terms like ‘depressed’ in day to day conversation to mean sad or fed up, it can diminish the meaning of depression if you are experiencing an episode of clinical depression.

What happens if we lose touch with our emotions?adult-blur-business-986831

It may feel safer or more socially acceptable to tell someone you are feeling stressed or depressed than it is to say you feel:

  • dejected
  • furious
  • terrified
  • despondent
  • lost
  • flat
  • empty, deflated, defeated, bereft, sorrowful, rejected, apprehensive, bored, or have a sense of impending doom.  

But what happens when we only acknowledge the label ‘stressed’ or ‘depressed’ to ourselves?

We could miss the nuance of our experience…

We could avoid acknowledging and feeling emotions that could help us to understand something about ourselves or our situation…

Or we may just feel overwhelmed and confused because we don’t really know how we feel. 

Think for a minute about the difference in how it feels when you think of the word ‘depressed’ in comparison with ‘bereft’.

What do they feel like? Can you tell the difference?

 

When we don’t define the emotion it hinders appropriate action

When we can’t express what we are feeling to ourselves or to others, it could also prevent us from taking appropriate action or having our needs met. 

For example, I have recently noticed that my 6 year old will tell me he is hungry when he is actually bored. 

He is expressing to me that he has a need and he wants his internal state to change but he sometimes mis-labels what he is experiencing.

If he is actually bored but tells me he is hungry, I will give him something to eat but then in 10 minutes he will come back to tell me he is still hungry. 

His true need has not been met. 

If, on the other hand, he can identify and tell me that he is bored, the solution to this problem is different!

We might get out some different toys or activities or go out to play! (He has now started to differentiate between hunger and boredom with a little prompting).

 

Emotions are there to be felt!adult-change-clown-1990

Even the emotions we experience as negative are there to help us make sense of our internal and external world. 

Just identifying our emotions helps us to acknowledge and process them. Being specific about what you are experiencing is far more helpful than using a catch-all term. 

Of course, you may actually feel stressed or depressed, in which case these descriptions are absolutely valid.

But if you find yourself frequently using these words with other people or to yourself, or if you rarely use any other ways to describe your emotions, see if there is anything else hiding beneath them. 

Don’t stop at negative emotions either! Identify your positive emotions too!

Don’t you think elated, ecstatic, overjoyed, victorious, invincible or carefree feel better than ‘good’?

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Have a lovely, emotional day!

Lemon Squeezy makes wellbeing easy! 

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