As human beings, we are wired for survival.
The body is designed to respond to stressful situations and then return to its normal baseline when the danger has passed.
Our bodies are amazing!
It’s important to realise that stress is a normal response to any stressful life event, whether that’s COVID19, your partner’s unpredictable behaviour, concerns about your child’s health or difficult work colleagues. Life can feel overwhelming sometimes. So it’s a good thing that the body has a way of responding to our strong emotions such as fear, pain, anxiety, anger and sadness.
Stress involves an increase in the body’s cortisol levels. Similarly, adrenaline is released into the bloodstream, and this facilitates the flight or fight response in your body. This neurochemical response prepares you to move in a way that metabolises the energy produced in the body.
We are meant to move our bodies to resolve stress.
Ideally, when you feel safe again, the stress response resolves, and your brain receives a message to stop producing these neurochemicals, and your cortisol levels return to normal. Stress is meant to be temporary.
Moving The Body To Feel Calm
Unfortunately, our culture tends towards stillness times of stress. We sit and watch boxsets, become obsessed with scrolling through our smartphones or have a drink or two, which makes us feel lethargic and slows us down.
Dr Arielle Schwartz PhD says that when we do not include movement, conscious breathing or body awareness in our self-care toolbox, we limit the body’s natural ability to manage stress. As a result, the biological effects of stress persist long after events have passed.
In the long run, the accumulation of stress detrimentally impacts our physical emotional and mental health. You might feel anxious, irritable or have difficulty sleeping or feel weighted down by life.
Perhaps it difficult for you to slow down and to feel grounded.
What is Grounding?
The term grounding refers to the capacity to sense your body and to feel yourself as embodied and integrated.
Being grounded means that you don’t stay swept up in intense feelings where you find it difficult to relax or sleep and are hypervigilant. When this happens, you are experiencing hyperarousal. Conversely, you don’t zone out, numb yourself or shut down. These are forms of dissociation and are signs of hypoarousal.
When you discover ways to feel calm and grounded, you are within what Dr Dan Sigel refers to as your Window of Tolerance or comfort zone. Because when you feel your feet on the earth, you calm your nervous system. It’s simple but effective. It works.
Grounding practices will help you regulate and respond effectively to different emotional experiences, especially those events which leave you feeling overwhelmed and anxious.
Furthermore, grounding can be quickly done by tuning in to your senses, i.e. hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting and touching.
How You Know You Need To Ground Yourself
Here are some signs that you could be getting close to the edge of your nervous system’s ‘window of tolerance’. If you notice any of these, you may need to ground yourself so that you don’t tip over into overwhelm, panic or dissociation:
- Feeling flustered
- Sweating even though you’re not exercising
- Shallow breathing
- Sudden headache
- Feeling dizzy, spacey or confused
- Stomach tightening
- Pacing around
What do you find yourself doing that lets you know you need grounding? I know when that at times of stress in my life, I’ve been known to drift off and miss a train or bus stop.
Ground Yourself – 10 Tips to Feel Calm
Notice that these tips to feel calm and grounded centre around your mind and body.
Use these practices when you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Maybe you’re your worried about your partner’s behaviour, perhaps you feel nervous or have difficulty sleeping. Play with them, use what suits you and adjust them to meet your needs.
- An immediate thing you can do is the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise. Name 5 things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell and taking one slow deep breath.
- You can mindfully increase your awareness by enhancing your sensory experience. For example, suck on a sour-sweet, chew mint gum or let a chocolate melt in your mouth. Alternatively, choose an essential oil that you like and savour the smell.
- Bring your awareness to your body. Notice your body sensations and surrender the weight of your physical body into gravity to feel the support of the earth. If you can walk barefoot and have access to a garden or park, try walking barefoot on the grass. Walking on the carpet, or a wooden floor is also fine, just notice the sensation in your feet.
- Answer the following questions to ground you in the present moment: Where am I? What is the date? What is the year? How old am I?
- Try this breathing exercise.
Make sure you are sitting comfortably. Close your eyes if you are comfortable doing so. If not focus your gaze to the tip of your nose, which means that you are not looking around the room and you can keep focused. Place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest. Be aware of your body sitting and any sensations you notice. Bring your attention to your breathing. There’s no need to adjust or change anything. Now breathe in slowly through your nose for the count of 4. Pause for a moment and then exhale through your nose for the count of 8. Pause and then repeat 5 times.
Also try to make sure that your breath is smooth, steady, and continuous. We are deliberately making the out-breath longer as this calms the nervous system. If the 4:8 pattern feels to much try 3:5 instead.
- Count colours. Look around you in whatever room or environment, you may be in, and try to scan your environment to find and count aloud five colours of a particular shade.
- Counting Backwards. Another great tool to use on yourself is to count backwards. Recite the 17 times table going back from 340. If you want to make it tricker, pick a significant number like 780 and then choose an odd, random number like 19.5 and start counting backwards to zero from 780 by 19.5. This engages your brain in a way that can distract from the anxiety and stress. It’s a subtle, invisible tool that can be wonderful for emotional regulation.
- Move! Shake or stomp out excess energy.
- Hug yourself, tightly but gently.
- Finally, make yourself a sensory grounding tool kit and use it. Include something that connects you to each of the senses. Think about an item that you can hold in your hand. Choose a scent that helps you feel grounded, chocolate or sweets, poems or quotes, images, pieces of music that help you feel calm and safe.
Over To You
How do you get back into your window of tolerance? If you want a safe space to talk and find ways to feel calm and grounded, get in touch and book your first counselling appointment. I offer video sessions online via a secure platform. Coronavirus (COVID-19) doesn’t need to put your therapy sessions on pause.
Or call me today on 07535 864836.
Leave a comment below; I’d love to hear from you.
P.S. PASS IT ON
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© Sandra Harewood 2020
Soul Centred couples counsellor Sandra Harewood specialises in working with couples and women with childhood wounding that impacts their adult relationships. Sandra provides a soulful space for her clients to explore and discover creative solutions to their difficulties and create a great relationship.CONNECTION is at the heart of all human experience. That need for connection is what keeps us in relationships, even those that are hurting us.