Grounding exercises help calm us down from anxious thoughts and feelings, settle our nervous systems, and ground us in the safety of the here and now. Grounding can be used if you’re feeling overwhelmed, irritable, anxious, panicky, or waking from a nightmare. It can be used to take a break, or reduce discomfort from any distressing thoughts, sensations or feelings.
Here is a list of my favorite 5 grounding techniques:
BREATHE – Breathe in through the nose slowly, so you feel your abdominal cavity fill up as you count to 5, then breathe out slowly through your mouth as you count to 5. Repeat at least 5 times, and as necessary.
© 2020 Marianne Vernacchia, MFT#35980
“Oh, I could never say that!” My come back to this is, “Why not?” “What would happen if you did?”
If you’re a people pleaser, co-dependent, or were raised in a family with volatility, chaos, or unsafety, you probably learned early on how to “read the room”. In other words, your survival instincts taught you to very quickly and automatically tune into those around you, particularly your caregivers, assess their mood and stress level, in order to determine how to act and what to say around them. This was so that you could stay out of the fray and remain as safe as possible. What an ingenious and finely-honed skill you developed! Most of us who were raised around alcoholism, mental illness, toxic personalities, abuse, or broken marriages, found that this really helped to keep us emotionally and physically safe. Not a bad quality to have, and it has served us well!
However, as adults, this can start to cause us suffering and hardship. The cost of us tuning into others’ feelings instead of our own, constantly editing ourselves, reading and misreading others’ minds, in order to determine how we should proceed, neglecting our own needs, or even not knowing our own thoughts and feelings can lead to depression, anxiety, or just feeling empty inside. Therapy is about discovering, validating, and honoring our true selves. The parts that are underground and begging to be paid attention to and validated. It begins with deciphering OUR true needs and finding OUR own truths, as a way to nurture ourselves to become confident and fulfilled. Healing is about becoming whole, as human beings, accepting our thoughts, feelings, and choosing our actions in a way that helps us live and reach our true potential. Some may call this self-actualization.
But, isn’t that selfish? (I hear this all the time!). The short answer is no! I am not suggesting that we become totally self-focused and inconsiderate of others and their needs, but that we put ourselves on the list! Hopefully, at the top of it, so that we are healthy and intact enough to show up for true intimacy in our relationships with others, even if that brings some bumps and conflict. When we are self-aware and honest within ourselves, we can be sincere and honest with others in a more intimate way. We stop trying to control and manipulate conversations, we stop our indirect ways of preventing or influencing the moods of others, we stop pretending and hiding our feelings, we let go of trying to control others’ reactions and upset, because when we do, we are not being sincere, but rather we are really trying to manage our own fears. It is possible to speak our truths in a respectful way and allow others to as well, without trying to control the outcome. It is possible to be set free!
Unrest, anxiety, frustration, even fatigue can occur if we are working too hard at something that we cannot or should not control. How do we know when this is the case?
Am I pushing and getting met with resistance?
Am I overthinking?
Am I trying over and over and it’s still not working?
Am I frustrated with trying to solve a problem?
Am I working at trying to solve someone else’s problem?
Do I feel anxious about timing? Am I feeling impatient?
Am I exhausted from trying?
Sometimes, it is time to step back. We may be trying to force or control a situation that we don’t have power over, or isn’t ours to control. This will always lead to frustration and a sense of defeat. What if we could recognize that things happen in their own time, driven by forces outside ourselves. We are not in control of the timing of the world, other people, their paths, the future, and outcomes. It is okay to let go. Perhaps there is a better outcome out there, than we, ourselves, could have imagined. There is a peace in surrendering and letting go.
I invite you to try it.
It’s normal to care about others with a healthy sense of empathy, but some of us get caught in perpetually taking care of others. “Caretakers” and “fixers” automatically go into advice-giving, problem-solving and may take on other people’s problems as if they are their own. They set themselves up in relationships to focus mostly on others, often to the point of losing their own interests, friends, opinions, and responsibilities…eventually losing themselves all together.
How does this happen? “Fixers” learn their well-honed skills at a young age. As children, they take on the role of making sure others are okay out of survival and necessity. They may be really “good” kids who, not only do as asked, but become excellent at anticipating what’s expected, and make sure that the boat doesn’t get rocked. They take care of other family members emotionally, physically, or may even become a “favorite” who serves as a friend, counselor, or sounding board for a parent. These children do this, ingeniously and instinctually to keep peace and maintain calm in the household. As a result, they never learn that they can set healthy boundaries. Furthermore, they attract those who also don’t understand about boundaries. Caretakers and fixers often find themselves with someone who cannot, or does not, take care of themselves in appropriate ways. They spend enormous amounts of energy focusing on others, then losing sight of themselves, feeling unsatisfied, resentful, unsafe, or depressed. Some may eventually decide relationships are unsafe and avoid them altogether, facing relationship burnout.
Psychotherapy, Codependency Anonymous and Al-Anon, all focus on helping people who struggle with caretaking and fixing behaviors to examine where this comes from, whether it’s working, and how to take responsibility and better care for one’s self in relationship with others. If this rings true for you, it is not too late to make positive changes to take care of yourself.
PROGRESS, NOT PERFECTION
Sometimes in therapy, things get worse before they get better. As we get in touch with difficult feelings and begin to look at patterns or issues in our lives that aren’t working, we may feel worse. Sometimes we may take actions that make it worse! Why? How could that be? Why am I doing all this, then???
The goal of therapy is to have a safe and confidential place to explore why we’re not feeling good, not acting like our regular selves, or perhaps to heal from a negative experience. If we feel safe enough in therapy, we can drop the wall we’ve built around painful, uncomfortable feelings to be able to explore what’s behind them. Like a scab that may be covering an infection under the skin, we may have to lift the scab and clean out the wound underneath. This hurts! And sometimes our pain becomes worse as we take a look and poke around at old wounds. In therapy, we often benefit from looking at how the past has affected us, how we’ve come to hold beliefs about ourselves, others, and life that aren’t accurate or working well for us any longer. Perhaps we’ve developed ways of coping that aren’t holding us up in positive ways anymore. Whatever it may be for each person, it is painful to revisit uncomfortable experiences and uncover problematic patterns in our actions and beliefs. This is the part that doesn’t feel so good.
As we uncover what isn’t working and why, we realize that we may want to try out new ways of thinking, acting and reacting. Things like, speaking up and setting boundaries, asserting ourselves, or practicing stepping back and letting go. These are new skills and new skills take practice. We may be clumsy and awkward at first. Nervous and unsure, we may take baby steps in the beginning. This is normal. If intense emotions have been bottled up, we may find that we let loose, and come across too forcefully when speaking up, or trying out new behaviors. THAT’S OKAY TOO!
Be gentle and forgiving with yourself as you go along. Be patient! New ways of thinking and behaving take time to practice.
Therapy is hard work and is not for the weak! It takes courage, effort and trust...in yourself. Here are some tips:
Set a time every day to check in with yourself and feel any underlying feelings. Ask yourself: What Am I Feeling?
Write your feelings down, or say them out loud.
Honor your feelings, and be curious about them, versus frightened or critical.
Ask yourself if there is anything you are doing that is contributing to yourself feeling this way? i.e., Are you allowing yourself to be treated unfairly? Are you expecting something unrealistic? Are you doing a behavior over and over and getting poor results?
Ask yourself what you can do to take care of yourself? Do you want to take action? Do you want to change something in yourself? Make a request of others?
If so, make an action plan or timeline.
Evaluate afterwards how you feel? Did it work? Would you do anything differently?
Remember that the goal is to make progress, not to be perfect!
© 2020 Marianne T. Vernacchia, MFT