Community Trauma: Navigating a Pandemic #7
Article #7: 5-4-3-2-1: Ground Me
J. Thomas Munley, LPC, CTP-C
Trauma Coordinator, ACE’s Master Trainer
Mid-Michigan Trauma Collaborative
I am often asked after a Trauma or ACE’s (Adverse Childhood Experiences) training session, “Now that we know what trauma is, what can we do about it?” Once we understand the science of what trauma is and what it does (effects) we need to have some understanding of what to do about what we now know. Grounding Techniques can be used to detach from emotional or physical pain. The strategies work by promoting an external rather than internal focus. They create a healthy distance between us and negative feelings. Anxiety seems to be ruling the day for many people all around the world and the pandemic has left many people tattered in its wake with no promise that those feelings will end when the virus subsides.
Strategies for coping are essential and can normally be exercised without much practice. Let me outline some Grounding Techniques to put in your healthy living tool box, with the first one being one of my favorites.
5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Exercise; is a simple quick way to ground us in the present and pull us from anxiety and negative thought process. You write down your answers or simply visualize and/or say out loud.
By using our senses, we are able to reconnect with our reality versus the jumble of thoughts and worries we can conjure in our head. I recommend cutting out one of the grounding aids above and keeping it near you until you can do by memory.
5 – Name five things you can see in the room or environment around you. Maybe it is your desk chair, your clock, your TV or a spot on the ceiling. No matter how big or small, simply name five things that you can see. There is no right or wrong ways to notice what you see.
4 – Name four things you can feel against your body or touch around you. Maybe it is the feeling of your hands against your desk chair. Maybe it’s the feeling of your sweater against your shoulder blades.
3 – Name three things you can hear right now. Make sure you focus on something external that you can hear such as the sound of raindrops, an airplane flying above or the sound of birds chirping.
2 – Name two things you can smell right now. Perhaps you can smell the faint smell of your perfume or cologne; perhaps you can smell the soap you use in the shower, a candle burning or perhaps even the smell of nature.
1 – Name one thing you can taste. What does the inside of your mouth taste like? Perhaps it tastes like the coffee or tea that you just took a sip of, gum or the sandwich from lunch. If there’s no taste in your mouth, just notice the lack of taste and then let it go.
The distress Tolerance skill of “Stop”, by Marsha Linehan, 1993
S – Stop! When intense feeling of anxiety arise and you begin to feel overwhelmed, just STOP! Do not react. Stop in your tracks. Don’t do anything at all with your body or say anything with your speech.
T – Take a step back. Remove yourself from the situation you are in. Walk away from the person, the event or the situation that you find yourself in. Step away and take five deep and long belly breaths.
O – Observe. Observe, notice, pay attention and grow curious as to what is going on around you both on the outside and inside. Notice with your five senses all the things that you can see, hear, smell, touch and taste. And notice what thoughts are showing up in this moment and what is showing up in your physical body. Perhaps you might notice shallow breathing, a tight chest, knots in your stomach, hands and jaw clenched.
P – Proceed Mindfully. After you have stopped, taken a step back and observed both inside and outside of your body, then you can proceed mindfully. Act with awareness. Ask yourself “Even in this moment of anxiety, which action can I take that will help me move in the direction of ease and peace of mind”?
A Practice of Self-Compassion
Within your own heart is a source of healing energy – if we can allow ourselves to open to it. The following is a loving kindness meditation that can help us tune into and cultivate our natural sense of caring love. Begin by choosing a spot to sit in that is both comfortable yet dignified, either in a chair or on the ground.
Allow your eyes to gently close, or softly focus your gaze on an object in front of you. Place your palms either face up or face down on your lap and gently roll your shoulders back so that your back is straight up. Feel strong and relaxed with the ground or cushion beneath you. Hold your head upright, as if there is an invisible string gently pulling at the top of your head.
Then, when you’re ready, breathe from your belly, in through your nose and out through your mouth. After five rounds of deep belly breaths, begin to introduce the following statements to yourself, silently or out loud, whichever feels best. “May I be safe”, “May I be happy”, “May I be healthy”, “May I live with ease”. You can say one at a time over and over again, or you can say all four in a row, as many times as you wish.
As you repeat the phrases, just relax and allow yourself to feel what you feel. If you don’t feel of a direct result in the moment, it’s ok, and just let yourself to connect whatever is there. In that way, you are cultivating loving kindness towards your experience, just as it is.
Remember, humans are resilient!
Grounding Exercises taken from: Anxiety Relief Project, 2018.