Did you know that PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is considered a trauma induced anxiety disorder? PTSD is also considered a normal reaction to abnormal events. That means you are normal, and your responses are normal responses to what happened, the event that happened is considered ‘abnormal.’ Statistically common events, unfortunately, but still ‘abnormal’ in our day to day world.
That means that trauma often shows up in our minds and body as anxiety symptoms. Which could look like a spinning mind with racing thoughts, trouble focusing, panic attacks, or feeling like you are barely in your own body…to name a few common ones!
Sometimes these symptoms turn on when it makes sense to do so, and sometimes they seem to appear out of nowhere.
During some of my hardest moments of my experience with PTSD, I was having daily panic attacks. And, to me, they seemed to come out of nowhere. I still remember staring at my closet and trying to figure out what to wear for the day and suddenly finding myself in the midst of a full blown panic attack. Wondering how that happened, which felt really scary. I felt like I couldn’t trust my own mind or body.
When looking back on it, my anxiety box was so full that any extra crumb of anxiety just caused the whole box to topple over. And it would take a minute (or what felt like an eternity) to pick the box up again so that I could breathe and know I was okay.
So what do we do when our anxiety box is overflowing? Yes, there are steps like self care practices that we can take to keep the box in check. That’s a fact.
But today we are talking about what to do when we find ourselves maxed out and filled to the brim.
In trauma work, we talk a lot about using grounding tools as coping skills when we feel triggered or anxious about what is happening in the world around us.
These tools are really helpful to have in your toolbox. They can be used in any order, and work best when you have practiced using them before you feel like you’e in a crisis, just like a baseball player practices over and over before a big game.
Practice these tools so you’re ready to use them whether you’re having an anxious day or a full blown panic attack. These tools can even help you stay present for what’s happening in your day to day life, which is such an added bonus if you ask me!
Grounding Tools to Help with Trauma Symptoms:
Tool #1 Notice what is without judgement. When we stop and notice what is happening in the world around us, we literally get out of our own way. We remind ourselves that there is a whole big world out there, much bigger than what is happening in our own minds.
But, here is the key, it works best when we notice without judgement. We notice the fruit tree in our neighbors yard but we don’t compare it to our own garden. Or we notice the texture of the base boards in the room that we are in but we don’t judge it for the dust that has settled there.
Stop reading this for a moment and look up right now and find five new things to notice. Take this as an opportunity to notice that photograph on the wall that you love but simply got used to and stopped noticing. Or the changing leaves on the tree outside your window. What else do you notice around you?
Tool #2 Use your hands and feet to notice what’s around you. Similar to the tool mentioned above, you can use your hands and feet to ground yourself by using touch to connect to the physical world around you. This tool is helpful for anyone experiencing anxiety, and is particularly helpful if you are prone to disassociating (a common trauma symptom where you feel disconnected from your body), as it can help you bring you back into your body in a safe and loving way.
Pick up a pen, your keys, a book, or whatever is nearby you right now and hold it in your hand. Just notice how it feels without judgement. Is it heavy or light? Smooth or bumpy? Wrinkled? Warm or cold? What else do you notice about the object? You can even feel the arms of the chair you are sitting in, or the floor or carpet you are standing on. Just take 5 minutes to notice the objects nearby! Check in and see how you feel.
Tool #3 Go for a walk. Yes, its sounds cliche but getting outside helps. The mixture of nature, fresh air, endorphins, and array of things to look at does wonders for the racing mind.
This is my go to tool, it helps me to go for a 10 minute walk outside. For example, just the other day was an exceptionally bad “in my head” type of day. I felt like my head is literally going to explode. It was that kind of a day. In fear of a mental explosion, I put on my walking shoes and stepped outside the door. Wandering though my neighborhood I started to notice the way the clouds were streaked with pinks and grays, the way the last rays of the sun shone through the tree branches, the many types of succulents in my neighbors garden, the smell of a peach rose…. And as I was wandering around just noticing what was around me, suddenly I felt lighter, and clearer. And more joyful – Which was astronomically different from how I was feeling just a 10 minutes earlier.
Go to the beach, the forest, or a 10 minute walk around your neighborhood and just notice the natural world! The trees overhead, flowers, smells in the air…drink it all in!
Here is an example of this exercise if you are near the sea:
Go to be beach, sit down and begin to notice what’s going on around you. The color and texture of the sand, the smell of the sea, the color of the ocean waves at each point in their journey, the sound of the waves, of birds overhead, the temperature in the air, the sun on the body. Spend 5-10 minutes doing this and then reevaluate how you feel. Do you feel more grounded, peaceful, balanced and centered?
As with any tool in the toolbox, it’s helpful to practice when we are feeing calm so that we can pull them out and know how to use them in times of need. I’d recommend practicing these tools at least once a week!!
Share with us, What do you do to ground yourself?
Lindy Ariff, LCSW is the founder of I AM A ROCKSTAR. She is a Rockstar, a psychotherapist, clinical social worker, writer, and healing professional in Portland, OR. Lindy mixes a unique palette of meditations, guided imagery, energy healing, hypnosis, counseling, and deep transformational work. She has nurtured and guided hundreds of clients in aligning mind, body, and soul. She has a blog and offers both in person and e-coaching for her clients. Connect with her on Facebook and at HealwithLindy.com.