April 26, 2016

4 Grounding Techniques to Combat Anxiety and Depression Caused by Trauma

You’re going about your day, mind whirring with thoughts, when one of them suddenly comes to the forefront. It’s a triggering memory that sends you into a tailspin. Your breath becomes shallow, you feel dizzy, you begin to sweat – the anxiety cycle has begun.

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What do you do next? If you listen to your limbic system then you’ll do whatever you have to do to get rid of those thoughts and feelings, whether it’s healthy or not.

Grounding techniques are different tools that will help you find footing in the present moment. They calm your thoughts, soothe your anxiety, and prevent you from disassociating. Grounding techniques, like the ones below, will give you a healthy way to deal with anxiety, depression, PTSD, or any other negative symptom that is distracting you from living your life to your full capacity. You’ll be able to break the anxiety cycle.

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Not every grounding technique works for every person. Try each one and see which one best works for you. Each of them is a tool that, if you practice, will help you raise your ability to handle the moments that try to knock you down.

Technique #1: Breathing

Breathing gives you something to focus on and control as well as providing much-needed oxygen to your brain. It will center you in the moment, combatting your depression or anxiety. Anxiety is a hyper-arousal of the symptoms, where depression is a hypo-arousal. Breathing can help regulate both and bring you back to a happy medium.

You don’t need any fancy gadgets for breathing, which makes it perfect for any and every situation. It’s a learnable skill that can be incredibly effective the more you practice. So how do you practice?

Sit down somewhere comfortable, whether it’s a chair or the floor, where you won’t be disturbed. Now you’re ready to start.

  • Inhale through your nose, counting five heartbeats
  • Hold your breath, counting seven heartbeats
  • Exhale through your nose, counting nine heartbeats
  • Repeat this

Adjust the heartbeat count as you feel necessary – if you’re combatting depression, try doing longer inhales and shorter exhales; if you’re combatting anxiety, try shorter inhales and longer exhales. As you count heartbeats you may find your mind wandering, that’s okay, just bring your thoughts back to your breathing and relax into the moment.

Need more? Check out our blog post on Breathing, with a video to walk you through the process!

Technique #2: Progressive Muscle Relaxation

This particular technique can help reduce anxiety, stress, and muscle tension. When you’re in intense situations you can tens your muscles without realizing it. This will help you relax your entire body, and, in the process, relax your mind as well.

  • Pick a muscle group to start with and what order you’d like to go in. (Generally people will start at either the top or bottom of their bodies and progress systematically in the opposite direction.)
  • Tense that muscle group.
  • Release
  • Tense that muscle group again.
  • Release
  • Go through your entire body, one muscle group at a time, tensing and relaxing each twice. Don’t forget to breathe!

Need more? Check out our blog post on Progressive Muscle Relaxation, with a video to walk you through the process!

Technique #3: Guided Imagery

This technique uses our senses. It guides your thoughts and directs your imagination to a “happy place” where you can calm yourself. Although it’s happening in your imagination, your brain will treat it as though it’s really happening.

For guided imagery you can walk yourself through an imaginary scenario or you can watch videos or listen to recordings that will take you through one.

Need more? Check out our blog post on Guided Imagery, with a video to walk you through the process!

Technique #4: Mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness can benefit you in every aspect of your life, but it’s especially beneficial to keep you grounded in the moment. This will help you regulate your emotions, help problem solve, and make you better at conflict resolution. Depression and anxiety force you to live in the past or the future, but mindfulness brings you back to the present. Below is one way to practice mindfulness.

  • Notice your surroundings.
  • Name one of your five senses and focus on it for five minutes. For example: “This is my sense of smell. I can smell my deodorant, I can smell spaghetti sauce in the kitchen, I can smell my daughter’s strawberry shampoo…”
  • Go through each of your senses, focusing on each one for as long as you can.
  • Notice every small detail without assigning a value or judgment to it. Don’t bring your emotions into it, just notice things and move on.
  • Don’t forget to breathe.

As mentioned above, find the grounding technique that works best for you and keep practicing it. You’ll find that your window for tolerance will increase. Though your triggering moments may never go away, you’ll have an arsenal to use against them as you move along on your healing journey.