woman sitting in a field looking up with her eyes closed

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 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 dissociating. 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 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 works best for you. Each of them is a tool that, if you practice, will help you develop 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. 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 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

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 tense your muscles without realizing it. Progressive muscle relaxation will help you relax your entire body, and, in the process, relax your mind as well.

  • Pick a muscle group to start with. (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 your senses. It guides your thoughts and directs your mind to a “happy place” where you can calm yourself. Although it’s happening in your mind, your brain will treat it as though it’s really happening.

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. Mindfulness can help you regulate your emotions. 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 purfume, I can smell spaghetti sauce in the kitchen, I can smell my daughter’s strawberry shampoo…”
  • Go through all 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. 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.

Creating a Vision Board: What Do You Want Your Future to Be?

Creating a Vision Board: What Do You Want Your Future to Be?

Faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: either you will be given something solid to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly. – Edward Teller

Here at The Younique Foundation, we say that faith is the act of moving forward based on your belief that wholeness and healing are possible—even if you can’t see it yet. Faith can lead to personal growth and positive movement. Faith leads to hope. Faith gives you the will to act and change.

When you’re a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, past trauma can stifle the power of faith to create change. Hope, however small, comes from a willingness to believe and declare how you see yourself in the future. It is the result of your faith in the possibility that you can be whole.

Having direction is challenging when you don’t have a vision or goal for your future. The power of faith can direct your thoughts to a positive, proactive path. If you are not proactively focusing on anything in particular, then you open yourself up to the influences around you. You become reactive instead of proactive.

So how do you put the power of faith to work for you on your healing journey? Try visualizing your future. Literally.

Vision boards are a powerful way to plan your future. The unconscious brain has the capacity to think in pictures. The limbic system of the brain can’t tell the difference between a thought that is repeatedly and vividly imagined and something that actually happened in the external world.

To create your own vision board, the first decision you need to make is where you want the finished product. That will inform the tools you use to create it. You can create a digital vision board as a backdrop on your computer, make a collage for your closet door, or hang a bulletin board in your office. No matter which you choose, the next step is to pick the images.

Gather images that reflect what you want your future to look like. Find images that literally or figuratively embody what you want. After you’ve found the images you’d like to use (it may be five or fifty, depending on the size of your board and the breadth of your vision), put them all together. Don’t worry about the order or trying to put the most important one in a certain place. Just do what feels natural and let your unconscious mind help you by not thinking too much about it.

Take your finished product, a vivid and inspiring board of your future, and place it where you’ll see it regularly. Every time you see it, you’ll be sending your brain a visual message about what you desire. By viewing your vision board daily, you’ll be connecting your aspirations to the power of faith.

Keep your vision board up to date. If something on it no longer resonates with you, it’s okay to remove it. If you’ve accomplished a goal, it’s fine to replace it with a new one. This isn’t a one-time project but a continuous tool you can use to build your faith to continue on your healing journey.

Win the Fight through Mindfulness

Win the Fight through Mindfulness

You may have heard of “mindfulness” before. In recent years, it’s become a buzzword that has taken on a lot of different meanings. At the Younique Foundation, we define mindfulness as the ability to focus on empowering thoughts and feelings while choosing to coexist and not give undue attention to nonproductive thoughts and feelings.

So what does that mean? Mindfulness is being present in the moment. Mindfulness is letting the good thoughts have a presence in your mind. Mindfulness is noticing when bad thoughts come, recognizing them for what they are, and letting them be.

Mindfulness means that you have the power to choose what thoughts and feelings stick with you, despite the sexual trauma you’ve experienced. You can’t change the past, but you can learn how to manage it. Managing doesn’t mean minimizing what you’ve been through. It means empowering yourself to realize how strong you are and acknowledging your ability to navigate through your thoughts and feelings.

When you’re triggered, mindfulness will allow you to choose how you respond. It’s not about stopping thoughts or fighting them. Instead, it’s about observing them for what they are, without judgment, and moving on.

We have thousands of thoughts a day. Chances are, if you’re a sexual abuse survivor, you have thoughts you wish would just go away! That’s where mindfulness can help you. If you can stay grounded in the present instead of fighting or focusing on thoughts of the past, you can move forward on your healing journey.

The next time you feel yourself getting lost in negative or unhealthy thoughts, read the prompts below and say the answers to yourself OUT LOUD. This mindfulness tool will help you stay grounded in the present and not be pulled back by the past.

  • Where am I right now? (Be as precise as you can.)
  • What time, day, and date is it?
  • What am I doing right now?
  • What am I feeling in my body right now? (Say out loud exactly where you are feeling a sensation.)
  • What emotions am I feeling right now? (What word or words would best describe your feelings?)
  • What purpose am I pursuing right now? (Are you on your way home from work, working on a project, heading to the store?)
  • What action can I take right now that would benefit another person?
  • What can this precise moment teach me?
  • Look around you and notice everything that is a color you choose.
  • Look for a bird in flight. (Keep this thought in your awareness until you see a bird sometime today.)

Asking yourself these questions is just one example of the type of exercises that can help you be mindful and stay grounded. There are many others that can help you stay focused in the present. Check out the mindfulness section in our Reclaim Hope book and workbook for other ideas.

Practicing mindfulness will help you as you work on becoming whole again. Be patient with yourself. You’re doing the best you can in this moment, and that’s amazing!

5 Stages to Finding Healing

5 Stages to Finding Healing

Survivors of trauma often feel that they can never heal from their experiences. They feel angry or wish they could change their past. They often feel depressed or unworthy because of the experiences they go through.

All of these emotions and thoughts are common among survivors of sexual abuse. But these feelings aren’t just common; they are often actual stages every survivor passes through before they are ready to fully heal.

Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross classified these feelings and emotions into five stages in her book On Death and Dying. Though these stages were originally intended to describe terminally ill patients, their application is much broader and directly relates to survivors of sexual trauma.

The stages are outlined below:

1. Denial

One of the first reactions to a traumatic sexual experience is shock or denial. The survivor imagines a false, preferable reality.

 2. Anger

Even though it is completely unwarranted, many survivors of sexual trauma become angry with themselves. They may feel that they are to blame for what happened. Also, when a survivor recognizes that denial cannot continue and memories of the event keep intruding upon them, they can become angry.

The thought process can be something like this: “Why me? It’s not fair!” “How can this happen to me?” “Who is to blame?” “Why would God let this happen?”

 3. Bargaining

This stage involves negotiating with a higher power in exchange for a reformed life. It is common to make promises and commitments in return for freedom from past events. “If you just make this all go away, I promise that I will…”

 4. Depression

This is when reality sets in. Survivors come to understand that the past is not going to change. During this stage, people may withdraw and turn inward.

Feelings ensue such as, “I’m so bad, why bother with anything?” “Because this happened, my life is completely ruined and nothing is going to change that.” “No one is ever going to want me now.” “I know everyone can see right through me when they look at me. Why go on?”

5. Acceptance

When you can accept that bad things happen in life and that sometimes there is no adequate explanation, your feelings may turn to thoughts of, “It’s going to be okay.” “I can’t fight it or run from the truth, so I may as well do all I can to figure out how to manage it.” This is the stage when true healing begins to take place.

It is here that you are able to apply the five strategies to reclaim hope, which will help you fight the right fight to overcome triggering thoughts and memories.

Fluctuating between some of these stages from time to time is common. Healing from trauma is an ongoing process, and it’s possible to get to the acceptance stage. As you keep working, you will find peace and the strength to move forward and face the challenges of life.