Rehab 4 Addiction

Living with addiction means that you can be easily triggered by something in the present moment, giving rise to a potentially huge number of unpleasant and distressing experiences.

These feelings can be unbearable. For a person living with both addiction and trauma, a trigger can easily lead to substance use.

This is why addiction and trauma so often go hand-in-hand. Substances are often used to “numb” or “escape” uncomfortable feelings and memories.

Grounding: a coping skill

Grounding woods

There are things you can do to help you manage your response to triggers, overwhelming cravings and uncomfortable reactions.

Whilst it is always important to seek professional help, you also want straightforward and effective coping techniques you can turn to at any moment when you’re alone at home.

One really important technique you can use is grounding. When faced with distress it is easy to fall into unhealthy habits, whether that’s substance use itself or the risky behaviours connected to it.

Grounding is incredibly useful in bringing you back to solid ground after the feelings of being whipped up into a “fight or flight response”.

You can use it at any time to support you through whatever negative emotion you may be experiencing.

Whether you’re raging, unbearably upset, panicked, dissociative, or concerned about hurting yourself or someone else, you can use grounding to help you cope with these moments.

Where do people learn grounding?

Learn Grounding

Many people will have learnt grounding techniques in childhood, often without even realising it.

In a healthy family, parents will have comforted children in distressing moments. They will have shown their children how to regulate emotions in healthy ways. 

This isn’t always a conscious thing. Some behaviours are simply observed and passed down through generations.

In other families, however, children don’t learn how to ground themselves. They grow up without learning how to acknowledge, address, and ease distressing feelings.

As they haven’t been processed, these negative feelings can stay with the child and eventually become the norm.

Years of these unaddressed feelings can build up, becoming a type of trauma in itself.

How does grounding work?

Grounding person

Every person experiences feelings. This is an entirely normal and healthy part of being human.

However, for people who experience trauma or addiction, the way they experience feelings is altered. 

A person will usually feel too much or too little. The healthy person’s feelings will stay in a medium-range and rarely extend to extremes.

This medium-range is precisely where you want your feelings to return. Grounding can help you do this.

When you’re triggered you go into yourself. Grounding works by taking you out of yourself.

Grounding helps you take your thoughts and awareness to the external environment. 

It moves your focus away from the thoughts and feelings that have swept you into turmoil and brings you back to solid reality.

What is healthy detachment?

Independent

There are various ways to manage a wave of emotions. A healthy detachment is being aware of the present but not allowing yourself to become wrapped up in all the feelings and reactions you might experience in connection with it.

There are many different ways to develop a healthy detachment, such as:

These methods can all be extremely helpful for those who want to return to the present and relax. 

Grounding works where meditation and mindfulness doesn’t

Meditation

However, some people need a method that is easy and effective, something that is practical. Something they can turn to in a moment of extreme, uncontrolled emotions.

When you are overwhelmed by negative emotions and feel the rage, doom, or despair take over, meditation isn’t likely to come in handy. So what will come in handy?

You’ve got it: grounding.

This is because it’s active and practical.

Grounding helps you manage those extreme emotions where you can go on to lose control.

Unlike meditation and mindfulness, you keep your eyes open and remain actively aware of your surroundings.

This approach can help you to positively manage a craving as well as violent behaviours or overreactions related to trauma.

How to practise grounding:

When can you practise grounding?

When can I use grounding

You can use it at any time.

It might be as soon as you feel a negative emotion arising, at the peak of it, or after.

It’s obviously best to try to start grounding at the beginning of the feeling, but it might take a little practice to understand when that is.

You can do grounding when you:

  • Wake up from a bad dream
  • Are triggered by someone else
  • Experience a triggering feeling or memory 
  • Are craving alcohol or drugs

Before and after

Scale

Rate the level of your emotion on a scale of 1 – 10 before and after you have practised the grounding activity. 10 would be extremely angry, panicked, or upset, whilst 1 would be entirely calm.

This can be really helpful. It will reveal whether your emotion has reduced.

If it hasn’t, you can go through the grounding exercise again. If you need to you could practise grounding for an hour in order to recentre yourself and regain control and calm.

The 3 types of grounding

There are 3 different ways you can ground: physically, mentally, and through soothing.

You can practise one, repeating the exercise as many times as you feel you need to, before moving on to another.

The more you ground and the more variations you practice, the better you will become at managing those difficult moments. You will reach a point where you find one or two techniques that you like most and that work best.

Physical grounding techniques

Physical Surroundings

In physical grounding, the goal is to focus on the physical feeling and touch of your surroundings.

  • Touch or pick up various items that are near you. Say out loud what they are, what they’re made from, what they feel like, look like, and compare different objects.
  • Sit on a chair, squeeze its arms and or dig your heels into the floor. Concentrate on how this feels.
  • Place your hands on a wall and push against it. Take note of the pressure, how it feels against your palms.
  • Do star jumps, jump on the spot or go for a run.
  • Place your hands and wrists under a tap and run cold water over them.

Mental grounding techniques

Mental Focus

Mental grounding is designed to ground the mind through small exercises, an acute awareness of surroundings and focusing on one’s present self.

  • List out loud five things you can see. Note their colour and how many there are of each object. Describe each one in detail.
  • Place a hand over your heart and say out loud, “I know that I am safe, I am in my adult body, I am in the present moment.”
  • Use a mood shifter such as watching a film or reading a book that you find funny. You could play happy music and dance to it. (Be careful not to choose things that you relate to other people or events that could be triggering.)
  • Choose one of your favourite interests (i.e. cars, books, TV series, actors, sports, music, animals, cities) and list as many as you can.

Soothing grounding techniques

Soothing Tea

These techniques are designed to soothe the body and the mind by explicitly shifting thoughts to a calm and peaceful place.

  • Visualise a safe space, it might be real or one you imagine, describe it and imagine yourself there.
  • Talk to yourself the same way you would talk to a friend, saying things like: “You’re OK,” “You are coping well,” “You will get through this.”
  • Look at photos of happy moments or people you care about.
  • Focus on positive things you are planning to do in the near future, particularly those with friends or family.
  • Make a list of all your favourite things: films, books, songs, people, weather, season, colour, smells, etc.

What makes grounding even more effective?

Effective Grounding

As with anything you do in life, practice makes perfect.

The more often you try out grounding, the more you’ll get used to it and the more you’ll come to rely on it. Ultimately, you want these techniques to be one of your main go-to’s when an extremely negative emotion arises.

You can practise these techniques even when you aren’t emotional. In fact, this can be beneficial as getting used to them when you’re in a regular state will make you more likely to remember to use them when you’re in a negative state.

Some people might use grounding as their own type of meditation, regularly practising one or several of these exercises for half an hour.

This brings your attention to focus in an active way on the external environment around you.

Remember, as mentioned earlier, grounding works better when you begin it early. As soon as negative emotions start to swell up, start the grounding exercises.

Have your list of exercises to hand so you can see them and go to them quickly. Tell people who are close to you about what works for you.

When you’re really struggling, having someone who can help guide you through your grounding practice can be very helpful.

Final thoughts

Grounding Peaceful

Many people who use grounding find that one of its most helpful effects is to shift attention from the internal world to the external. 

Your thoughts become focused on the things around you. This helps to remind you of what is in the present, what is real, and what is calm.

While grounding may help with triggers, trauma, and addiction, it’s still really useful to have a variety of tools you can use in difficult moments.

Seeking support from professionals and others who understand your situation is extremely beneficial and will increase the likelihood of a sustainable recovery.

To find out more about support in your local area, contact Rehab 4 Addiction today.

References

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.2466/06.PR0.116k21w5 

boris

Boris is our editor-in-chief at Rehab 4 Addiction. Boris is an addiction expert with more than 20 years in the field.  His expertise covers a broad of topics relating to addiction, rehab and recovery. Boris is an addiction therapist and assists in the alcohol detox and rehab process. Boris has been featured on a variety of websites, including the BBC, Verywell Mind and Healthline.