Kym Marsden’s monthly mental health column aims to help anyone suffering from any mental health concerns. If this article raises any issues for you please contact the resources at the bottom of this article.
Ever increasing anxiety across our communities is on the rise with a surge in pandemic cases, lockdowns and that looming uncertainty circulating again, so I thought it would be useful to focus on grounding techniques.
Grounding is a technique which I liken to activating your ‘internal pause button’ enabling you to re-engage your senses, stabilise and regain a sense of safety over internal chaos which can be overwhelming and at times debilitating.
Think about when you last felt overwhelmed, your head is all over the place and it’s incredibly difficult to focus or troubleshoot what is occurring with a messy head. I speak from experience with the ups and downs I have at times with anxiety; it results in overthinking which fills my head with unhelpful thoughts, increasing my worry even more!
I engage my internal pause button which grounds me by allowing me to pause, breathe and systematically switch off escalating emotions and sensations by redirecting my attention from the stressors that are triggering me. Over time, I’ve perfected the point in time I need to activate the that internal pause button to act more preventatively as opposed to acting reactively where I feed those negative emotions.
Be aware that grounding strategies vary for each of us, some techniques will work for some and not for others. It is really about finding a strategy that fits you, which can often be trial and error. I find that in order to ground myself, I need to combine some of the following strategies:
- Cognitive strategies — Used to distract and refocus your mind, for me this is popping in headphones and listening to my favourite tunes or podcast, allowing me to tune out.
- Physical strategies — Allows redirection of negative energy and may take the form of focusing on breathing, tuning in to your senses and/or exercise. I will often take a walk around the block or do some boxing.
- Sensory strategies — Allows you to retune your senses to your environment through touch or smell, I find smell works for me and have certain scented candles that I light in my home to fill it with a calming scent that creates a relaxed ambience for me.
To assist you in finding a grounding strategy that works for you, I’ve included some techniques you can try but feel free to put your own slant on them so they work for you:
- Place an ice cube in your hands or place your hands in water — Sensation will help refocus you to the now and I suggest focusing on sensations you’re experiencing, like how it feels, the sensation of water on your hands or the ice melting.
- Scents/aromas — These are powerful tools to placate and are activated easily in most settings, think about what aroma calms you. Ideas to replicate scent can be lighting a scented candle, brewing fresh coffee, or keeping a vial of scented oil in your bag. Silly as this may sound, I have a small bottle of perfume that reminds me of my time in Arnhem Land, the smell calms me and many of the Elders wore this scent. I find that when I’m anxious I spray it onto my wrist and it redirects my senses to these happy memories!
- Engage all your senses — The 5,4,3,2,1 Method, this technique tunes you in to the senses of sight, touch, hearing, smell, and taste. You can download this as a reference sheet, why not laminate it and put it up somewhere you can reference it when needed or create a smaller version you can pop in your wallet or handbag?
You will find there are many articles and resources online to help you, and I have gathered a few that I reference or others have pointed me towards which may help you get started:
- Grounding exercises from Living Well
- The Blue Knot Foundation’s guide to grounding
- ACT Community Services’ beginner’s guide to grounding
- University of Sydney’s grounding techniques.
Remember, strategies will differ in effectiveness for us all and it’s about finding the best fit based on your needs, so don’t be disheartened if what works for you doesn’t work for someone else — we are all wonderfully unique!
Lastly, once you feel grounded don’t forget to reflect. This will allow you to act preventatively to manage your symptoms better in the future. Ask yourself: what were your early warning signs? Were you shaky, distracted, breathing rapidly, etc.? This will allow you to put in place a plan to manage future episodes as you recognise your early warning signs as opposed to reacting once you have reached that heightened headspace.
Identifying these signs early will enable you to hit your internal pause button at the appropriate time to allow your grounding strategies to kick in. Remember, it’s a process, so keep at it as eventually this will become your normal response. If you find your symptoms persist or increase, please reach out and seek help through your GP to engage with an appropriate mental health professional in your region.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental ill-health, call or visit the online resources below:
- Spartan First Suicide Prevention Crisis Line – 1800 370 747
- Lifeline – 13 11 14, lifeline.org.au
- Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636, beyondblue.org.au/forums
- MensLine – 1300 789 978
- Kids Helpline 1800 551 800
- Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
- Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet – healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au
By Kym Marsden
Kym Marsden is a Kamilaroi woman and Accredited Mental Health Social Worker with over 19 years’ experience in Mental Health and Community Services. Her qualifications include BA Health Ageing and Community Services, Masters Social Work, Dip Counselling, Dip Community Services (AOD and Mental Health), and Cert IV Training and Assessment.