Last week we started this series on resiliency by talking about optimism. (Click here if you missed it and want to catch up.) This week we are moving on to staying grounded.
Whenever panic, over-stimulation, or wonky brain strikes, we often times find ourselves caught up in a tornado of thoughts and feelings. One way to combat this is through the practice of coming back and rooting ourselves in the moment and in our physical bodies.
When done on a regular basis, this can become second nature. However, when we save calming practices only for when we’ve already begun to spiral, it’s a lot harder to get our brains to do what we want them to do. It’s the day-to-day training that makes the difference.
Below are some ideas for how you can train your mind and body to stay grounded every day. Just like with optimism, it’ll all about finding what works for you.C
The simplest way to do this to breathe consciously through your nose and take full, deep breaths. It might seem crazy but breathing through your nose is actually better for you than breathing through your mouth. Gaiam has an article on nasal breathing if you want to learn more. One thing their article doesn’t mention is that breathing through your mouth actually increases the oxygen levels in your prefrontal cortex (remember that from last week?). Too much oxygen in that regions creates fatigue, which results in less activity in that part of your brain.
Any exercise, I think, can be a way to connect with your body as long as you are paying attention to the physical sensations you are experiencing rather than going through the motions. I don’t have much experience with weight-lifting or running because, um, no thanks. But, I have found when I do yoga, take walks, or dance to music AND focus my attention on how what I’m doing physically feels and think about how grateful I am my body allows me to do what I’m doing, I feel so much more alive.
Check in with your senses
Pause where you are and list X number of things you see, feel, hear, smell, and/or taste (or list things until you start to breathe easier). If you’re listing them just for the sake of getting the list done, this probably won’t be a super grounding experience. But if you truly take the time to take in and observe the world around you (I hear some kids vs. I hear little kids playing a game. It sounds like they are playing tag. They’re laughing and have a good time. It sounds like there are three voices. It reminds me of playing at the bus stop before school when I was young.), you’ll get much better results.
Physically feel your emotions
When you find yourself experiencing a strong emotion, try to suspend the action of going directly into your mind. There is a huge benefit to untangling your thoughts, reflecting on the situation that triggered an emotion, and naming what you’re feeling. That’s why I say suspend. Before you get too thinking too much, close your eyes and pay attention to how the emotional is physically manifesting in your body. Is your heart racing? Is you stomach upset? Is there a funny sensation in your arms? Do you have a head ache? Are you knees weak? How is your body experiencing the emotion? Sometimes this is enough and the emotion will actually pass on its own. Other times it is a good, grounding start to be able to work through what you’re feeling in a more level-headed way.
Do one thing at a time
Do a chore without a podcast and focus on solely on what you’re doing. Enjoy a meal without streaming a TV show and savor all the flavors. Get lost in a TV show or movie without picking up you phone to scroll or send a snap chat. Drive to work without the radio and notice all the cool trees, nice houses, interesting buildings, and other things you missed because you were never paying close attention. Listen to a song, focusing on a certain instrument or appreciating the different harmonies. Soak the thing you’re doing up for all it’s worth.
I’ve only gotten into meditation somewhat recently. I never really gave it a fair shot in the past because sitting still and focusing aren’t really my greatest strengths. But, the point is to train your brain to be able to come back to the sensations of the present, not to already be great at it. There’s plenty of apps and free videos on YouTube with guided meditations so you don’t have to just sit in silence. They range from two minutes to an hour (I can’t even begin to imagine making it that far). Start small. Stay small if you want! 10 minutes is currently the max I can do. I usually stretch while I do a meditation, even if the narrator says to sit still, because that’s what works for me. It might feel dumb at first and like a total waste of time, but if you do one every day around the same time and tweak it to your own style, you’ll (probably) notice yourself start to adapt and look forward to the time of relaxation.
All this isn’t to say you should never reflect on the past, daydream, or plan for the future! However, if your experience is anything like mine, the more you implement grounding practices like these, the better you will be able to distinguish between productive/healthy forms of getting lost in thoughts and obsessive/pointless ones. Your eyes will begin to open as to how much of your time you’ve been wasting regretting or worrying when you could be soaking up the life of the current moment. And, you’ll begin to build the mental strength to pull yourself out of many mental spirals and back to the present before they become unmanageable.
What grounding practices do you use?