Have you ever found yourself feeling overwhelmed by uncomfortable emotions like fear, sadness or anger? Those feelings can get so large that they're all you can process, cutting you off from the here and now. You might even feel like you're not really here, or that you've lost the connection between your body and your mind...
I've been there, and I know how unsettling it can be. It can be triggered by something small, or sometimes by something our unconscious picks up that we don't even notice. The supermarket used to be one of the biggest triggers for me - one minute I'd be fine and the next I'd be having a panic in the pasta aisle.
Dissociation happens when there is a disruption in your brain's processing power, often due to strong emotions, remembering past events or extremely challenging life events. When you're in that state, you might feel disconnected from your thoughts, feelings, memories, and surroundings. It can even affect your sense of identity and how time passes for you.
Sometimes, these feelings can pass by themselves. But in my experience, waiting for that to happen is not a pleasant process. Even if the rational side of your brain knows that this will pass, it can feel like the disconnection is becoming a permanent part of you. (Spoiler alert - it isn't).
What is grounding?
Grounding techniques are designed to distract your brain away from whatever is causing you distress, and refocus you into the here and now. Often, they use your senses (like sight, smell, touch etc) to bring you back into your body and help you create some emotional distance from whatever brought on the distress.
There are lots of ways to ground yourself, which means you can find one that works best for you. If you're in that place of overwhelm and upset, that can also be a little daunting. So here are six of my favourites for you to try.
Hands in water - put your hands in a bowl or basin of water. Notice what the temperature is, and how that feels on your fingertips, and on the palms and backs of your hands. Are there any differences in how your hands feel? Next, change the temperature of the water and see how that feels. Do your hands feel different when you go from warm to cold, or cold back to warm?
Scan your environment - we're going to focus on the things that are around you right now. Either out loud, or in your head, list five things that you can see. Next, four things that you can hear. Three things that you can touch from where you are. Two things you can smell. One that you can taste. Try to notice all the little details around you that you might normally tune out - can you hear birds, or cars passing on the road? Does that jumper feel as soft as it looks? Can you notice any little details of the floor in the room?
Breathing deeply - take a slow breath in through your nose, then out through your mouth. It can help to say or think “in” and “out” with each breath. Feel each breath as it enters your nose, expands your chest, and how it feels to let it back out.
Using your thoughts:
Grounding phrases - this is a phrase you use to bring yourself to the here and now. It might include your name, your age, what the time is and where you are. (e.g. My name is Anna, I'm 34 years old, it's 8.30 in the morning and I am in my bedroom...) You can start using a set pattern like this, and then add in details to expand it. Try noticing what the weather is like, what your body feels like, and whether it's noisy or quiet.
Visualise the emotions - we're going to use your imagination to create some distance between you and the upset. You're going to create some space for yourself right now, and commit to working through the emotions at a later time or date. You could imagine yourself gathering the emotions together, putting them into a box and putting that box on a shelf in a cupboard that you walk away from. You could treat the story in your head like a TV show you're bored with - imagine using a remote control to turn the volume down, mute it, or even change the channel. It's still there, but you're done listening to it.
Positive talk with someone you love - often, the people we love can help us with these grounding exercises - they might ask us the questions, or remind us to use the technique. This can be in person, over the phone or it's even worked for me by text in the past. But what about if you can't reach them right now? Imagine a person who loves you and makes you feel safe. Think of their face, their smell, the way their voice sounds. How it feels to be with them. Imagine them telling you that it's okay to be not okay right now, but you've got this. You'll get through the moment and feel better soon. You're safe and loved, exactly as you are.
I'd love to hear how you get on with these - why not pop over to Port in the Storm and let me know if these work for you or to brainstorm new ideas together.