Grounding Techniques for Your Recovery Toolbox
Open up your toolbox, here is another one to stash away.
Mirasol philosophy supports that eating disorders are the result of chronic stress or trauma. Triggers may include loss of control, emotional pain, life transitions, etc. When too overwhelmed to interpret and manage stress in healthier and more adaptive ways, individuals with eating disorders commonly use negative behaviors to cope. There may be comfort in familiarity or even a false sense of empowerment in these seemingly unhelpful actions.
While going through the recovery process, I have often been overwhelmed with emotions, memories, and PTSD symptoms, because I had become so dependent upon my eating disorder to numb out all the negativity. Without the eating disorder to cope, I found myself coming face to face with all of these stressors. At times, I felt my body go into a somewhat surreal flight or fight response where I would almost detach myself from all that was around me, because it was too much for me to process in the moment.
Learning the coping skill known as "grounding" can help individuals stay more present and tolerate such times of distress, preventing the need to turn inward, disassociate, or resort back to eating disorder behaviors. The main goal is to find a healthy balance where the individual can be conscious of reality and maintain presence while also looking outward and experiencing the emotion without using some form of detachment.
There are three basic forms of grounding: mental, physical, and soothing.
Mental grounding is a cognitive strategy where you distract yourself from emotional discomfort with mental "games" that will still let you remain present. Some example exercises include: describing the room you are in down to the smallest detail, playing a categories game with yourself, repeating a safety mantra that provides assurance that you are safe, in the moment, and not in the past. Other ideas include counting, alphabet games, and reciting poems or favorite quotes.
The physical method of grounding focuses on using all five senses to stay centered through difficult periods. Some techniques people commonly use are: sitting down in a chair with your feet touching the ground, legs uncrossed, and hands on knees; running hot or cold water on your hands (hot and cold showers work as well); carrying a special token/rock to hold, clench and release with as much tension as you can while being mindful of each tiny muscle used; practicing a breathing exercise inhaling deeply, counting each breath, and exhaling slowly; eating something slowly describing in detail the texture and taste of what you are eating; and taking a walk noticing as many sights, textures, smells, and sounds as possible. What physical methods might work for you? Start making a list!
The soothing method may be the most difficult for some, because the focus is being kind and gentle to YOU in every way... This is a great chance to bring out your recovery toolbox and get to work with it. Add to your personal affirmation list. Create a bucket list of things you are looking forward to as you grow stronger in recovery. Write down your favorite things to do and go do one of them. Listen to your favorite songs. Treat yourself to a spa night at home. Draw and color a mandala. Remember or imagine a safe place and either describe, collage, or draw it. Ask others to help you if you need encouragement. They will likely learn something helpful from the experience, too!
Helpful Guidelines for Grounding Practices
To ensure your experience has the best chance of benefiting you, consider implementing the following guidelines before practicing a specific grounding technique:
- Remember, grounding can be used at any time or place, making it very accessible.
- Be aware of triggering situations and events. As soon as you notice a negative urge, tune into your environment and adapt your grounding technique to the current experience.
- Place your feet on the ground. If you are sitting, uncross your legs in order to feel your physical connection to the ground.
- Open your eyes to awaken your senses. Keep on the lights. Be mindful of details and make observations.
- Practice non-judgment by remaining present, factual, and neutral. Try, "I'm sitting on a yellow couch," versus, "This stiff couch makes me (judgment) think of the hospital's waiting room (past)..."
- Practice non-attachment. Let negative thoughts flow. Non-attachment allows you to experience the fact that thoughts and feelings really do ebb and flow.
- Stay active with your focus in the present moment. Let go of past and future. When the mind wonders, simply make notice, "thinking, thinking...," and return to grounding.
- Establish your grounding before practicing any relaxation techniques. Remember, feet planted and eyes open!
- Experiment with rating your mood before and after to determine the effectiveness each grounding technique has for you.
With practice and exploration, grounding is very effective. If you can approach each of the methods as an experiment, you can learn what works for you and what does not.
Keep Your Recovery Toolbox Near
Keep your recovery toolbox near, because you never know when you might need it. Ask safe people to assist you and try to catch yourself early in a negative cycle. Be prepared with a list of grounding techniques to try when you need apply them in the moment; it makes it much easier than having to think on your feet in during chaos. Personally, I have to wear my tool belt just to make it through the day sometimes, but I'm okay with that. Although some great, creative ideas might come to you when your head is in the clouds, there are more people than you know that you have positively influenced and touched right here on the ground.
Basically, don't give up, find what works, you are worth it and you are wonderful.
"Every day a new story begins, and each moment is a fresh chapter." -Anonymous
What Works for You?
Is there a special grounding technique you have to share with others? Please, feel free to comment here with any tools that have helped you along on your own recovery journey.