Trauma and Traumatic Experiences
It is very common to experience trauma. There are also many different types of trauma that someone can experience. When we think of trauma most of us think of something incredibly violent like a war or rape. Trauma actually can come in many forms. For example, teasing throughout childhood can be a form of trauma. Not getting your needs met growing up can be a trauma as well.
It is also important to note that the impacts of trauma can present differently from person to person. Each person will experience their own symptoms. If you have experienced a traumatic event, you may notice that sometimes unwanted memories, flashbacks, and challenging emotions arise. These symptoms may cause anxious and upsetting feelings.
Grounding Exercises In Trauma Therapy
One technique we often teach our clients in trauma therapy is grounding. Grounding is a practice that can be used at any time and at any place. This coping strategy is a tool that is designed to “ground” you. In other words, it helps connect you with the present moment by pulling you away from unwanted thoughts or feelings. Grounding practices contain a variety of exercises that help you refocus on the moment, and move away from anxious or overwhelming thoughts and emotions. Grounding exercises help you to feel more calm and relaxed. They help to tell your mind and body that you are not in danger and that you are safe in the present moment. Grounding practices decrease the chance of experiencing m flashbacks and negative emotions.
Grounding is useful for everyone, but those who find themselves with any of the following mental health concerns or symptoms may find grounding especially useful:
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Does Grounding Work?
Many studies have confirmed that grounding is effective. Some studies suggest that grounding slows down the fear response while activating the more cognitive and logical areas of our brains. Many individuals who use grounding exercises report that they feel more calm and less stressed within just minutes.
One important thing we know about grounding practices is that it is a very personal exercise. What may work for you, may trigger feelings of anxiety in another person. A trauma therapist is able to work through this trial and error with you to find what suits you best.
There exists a wide variety of different grounding techniques. This is because what may work for you, may not work for someone else.
Grounding exercises that activate one or all of our five senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound) can be very helpful. These grounding exercises distract our brains from the unwanted feelings and thoughts. What is also beneficial about these grounding techniques is that they can be done in any location.
The goal of these techniques are to focus on the present when particularly triggering unwanted past memories appear.
With grounding exercises, it is helpful to activate your vision while being mindful that you are doing so. The goal is to distract you from unwanted thoughts and decrease your unwanted thoughts by changing your brain activity. Some ideas of visual things things that can help ground you are:
- Doing a puzzle
- Reading a book
- Locating an object and describe it in as much detail as possible out loud
- Picking a color and see how many objects you can find around you of that color
- Finding a nearby shape. Look around you and count how many of those shapes you can find
- Making up your own visual game! Identify an object in sight and count how many of those objects you can find
Many individuals find it useful to take note of noises they are hearing in their environment. It is common for us to block out noises we do not need, but it can be beneficial to bring our awareness to them when grounding. Some examples of exercises you can do relating to hearing are:
- Call someone on the phone
- Read a book out loud
- Talk to yourself out loud about what you are experiencing
- Count how many sounds there are around you
- Go for a walk outside. Listen for sounds around you
Do you ever find that certain smells bring back specific memories? This is because the part of our brain that is associated with memory is also connected to smell. So when you are completing a grounding exercise you can use scent in order to bring yourself into the present moment. Some ways to ground through scent are:
- Purchase essential oils of scents you associate with positive memories
- Light a candle
- Smell peppermint or lavender. Many find that the effects of these scents are relaxing
- Put on and smell a scented lotion
- Take a walk outside and notice what smells are around you
- Find a food or drink. Take a sniff of its aroma and describe it in as many ways possible
- Smell familiar scents such as clothes and linens
Touching is a very useful variation of grounding. When you feel something, your brain realizes you are in the present and makes your body feel safe. Some examples of touch to try are:
- Press your heels firmly into the floor and notice the feeling
- Wrap your hands around a hot or cold beverage cup
- Stroke and fold a piece of clothing, towel, or blanket
- Hold an ice cube in your hand
- Play with slime or putty
- Run your hands under water
- Hold an object that is nearby. Note it’s different textures
- Become aware of where your body is touching a chair or bed
- Complete a full body scan. Become mindful of what each part of your body is touching and describe what it feels like
Taste can be very effective for grounding. When you are eating and drinking, it can be beneficial to become aware of the sensation. If not, take a bite, sip, or put your tongue against an edible item to activate this response. Below are some ways you can activate your taste sense for grounding:
- Bite into a lemon
- Eat a piece of chocolate and let it melt it your mouth
- Suck on a mint
- Take a bite of pepper or another spicy food
- Suck on a sour piece of candy
- Chew a piece of gum
- Lick ice cream and note it’s temperature and flavor
- Become mindful of your mouth while it’s empty. What does it taste like?
Many individuals find using the 5-4-3-2-1 method as a grounding exercise helpful. It incorporates all the senses above in a way that is quick and easy! To use this method take note of:
- 5 things you hear
- 4 things you see
- 3 things you can touch
- 2 things you can smell
- 1 thing you can taste
Therapy For Trauma
While these grounding techniques are a great starting point, they are sometimes not enough. If you are suffering from trauma, it is important for you to take the next steps towards healing. You do not have to deal with your trauma alone. Here at Best Within You, Dr. Laura Riss and Dr. Vincent Fitch provide therapy to clients experiencing trauma. Trauma therapy will help you feel better both mentally and physically.
Our therapists will help you process the painful memories, thoughts, and emotions in addition to their impact on you in a personalized, thoughtful, and compassionate way. To schedule a free consultation with Dr. Riss or Dr. Fitch, you can visit this link, and you can also read more about our trauma therapy services!
– Than you Maura, Best Within You Therapy & Wellness Intern