As a CBT practitioner I would be the first to point out that avoidance of upsetting thoughts and feelings only serves to perpetuate and strengthen the power they have over you. There are times however, when the sometimes overwhelming nature of these thoughts and feelings can simply be too much. Having intrusive and upsetting thoughts while your taking your child to school, or when faces around you become distorted, due to a painful flashbacks, is not to be recommended. I hope to give you a few tips to help you manage, so that you can go about your life with relative ease, until such time as you can address the causes of these upsetting thoughts and feelings safely in therapy.
The first technique I would like to share is adapted from the “Drop Anchor” exercise by Russ Harris (Harris, 2009).
This exercise will help you centre yourself and connect with the world around you.
1. Place your feet firmly on the ground. 2. Now push them down firmly. 3. Become consciously aware of the floor beneath you, feel it supporting you. 4.Notice the muscle tension in your legs as you push your feet down. 5. Become aware of your whole body, as if your whole body now is engaged in pushing. 6. NOw look around you, notice what you can see and hear. 7. Notice where you are and what you are doing. 8. Breathe!
These are very helpful techniques to learn, particularly if you are prone to upsetting intrusive thoughts, memories and images. THey are also good to employ if you are feeling detached and unreal. Rather like mindfulness, focusing all of your attention on sounds in the environment e.g. birds in the trees, waves on the beach or even the sound of your breathing can be very helpful.
There are many different grounding techniques and I have listed some of my favourite “sensory” grounding techniques below:
Visual: Select an object or perhaps a photo, picture or landscape to focus on. Study it intently; describe what you see out loud or in your head. You may choose to focus on something around you, like the wallpaper or even a spot on the carpet or ceiling. Really focus on the detail, shape, colour and pattern. Counting the grain in wood or fabric will really heighten your “in the moment” awareness. Use flashcards, with a message to yourself such as, “these dark days will pass” or “I can tolerate this.”
Touch: Carrying round a stone or crystal that you can get out of your pocket when you need to ground yourself is an easy way to bring yourself back to the present. Find yourself a special object to use at such times.Look at the colour, the shape, how solid it is, the temperature of the object and its texture, and whether it is rough or smooth. You can even use foodstuff like a sultana, banana or mushroom.
Look to your environment, for example by feeling the grass under your feet or the bark of a tree. Take a shower and become aware of the stimulation of the water on your skin, or perhaps slap your hand on the surface of bathwater. Pinging an elastic band on your wrist, rubbing a comb over your arm or an ice cube over your face can be helpful. The latter are particularly helpful as an alternative to acts of self-harm.
Sound: Use your voice, making different sounds and shapes with your mouth. Select a piece of music, preferably something up-beat, and listen to the sound, in particular, paying attention to the beat, rhythm, the different instruments and vocal harmonies and become aware of any feelings evoked. Listen to the sounds of birds, the ticking of a clock, or simply listen to the sounds around you, noticing how loud or soft they are. Notice those in the foreground, mid-ground and distance – now categorise these into groups.
Scent: Scented candles, oil burners and incense are all good for grounding. I burn incense before I see my first clients each day to help me to focus and put me in the “zone”, ready to attend to the issues they bring me. It can be helpful to carry round a small bottle of perfume, or putting a dab on your wrist to smell. A particular favourite of mine is the scent of patchouli, however, my Granny used to carry round a bottle of smelling salts to ward off the “vapours.” I can only think that this latter, rather pungent scent would be good for managing panic attacks!
Taste: Take a glass of water (with or without ice cubes) and drink it very slowly, savouring the taste, imagining it cleansing and washing away your tension or distress. A selection of herbal teas with different flavours can stimulate the taste buds. Be aware, however, that herbal teas have certain therapeutic properties and so should be taken with this in mind. If you want to find out about the beneficial effects of herbal teas consult your local health food store.
I hope you find these helpful.
Until next time, Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.
Visit us @ www.steveclifford.com
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Russ Harris – “Simple Ways to Get Present” – 2009. www.actmadesimple.com
Steve Clifford – “50 Tips to Beat Depression” – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Tips-Beat-Depression-Steve-Clifford-ebook/dp/B00ILV965A