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July 12, 2017

Grounding Techniques: How Can they Help in ED Recovery?

Girl struggling with eating disorder recovery

Contributor: Theresa Braun, B.S., Research Assistant at  The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt

Grounding is a type of therapeutic mindfulness tool often taught to individuals who struggle with trauma symptoms, such as flashbacks or dissociating.  Grounding techniques allow these individuals to cope safely with thoughts and emotions that can otherwise be disruptive or overpowering.  

However, grounding can be utilized by anyone.  Whether you’re dealing with PTSD, recovering from an eating disorder or addiction, or simply having an unusually stressful day, knowing a little bit about grounding and how it helps can be beneficial.       

When is Grounding an Effective Tool?

You’re caught in the middle of a busy day at work and your to-do list feels like a tidal wave about to break over you.

You’re a student starting school in just a few weeks and you are thinking that the “freedom” of summer is slipping away, making it hard to catch your breath.

You had a difficult conversation earlier in the day that is making you want to engage in counterproductive behaviors.

You keep reliving something that happened to you years ago and you feel held captive by memories and feelings from the past.

If these experiences feel familiar, you’re not alone. No matter what we’re going through, our minds have a way of dragging us through the past or pushing us into the future.  

How Can Grounding Help?

Grounding is the power we have to take our minds back and tether them to this moment.

Woman sitting on a benchGetting stuck in the past or being distracted by the future can quickly overwhelm us and make us feel disconnected from the present. When there’s a lot going on inside of us, it can be hard to be mindful of what’s around us and what is really happening in the moment.

Grounding is reconnecting with ourselves and what we are experiencing here and now.  It means shifting our attention away from those spinning thoughts and spiraling emotions of the past or future and calming ourselves through the simple acts of being and noticing.

Through grounding, we are able to remind ourselves that we no longer live in the past and the future is not yet happening, so we are free to embrace what is currently around us with intentional awareness and mindfulness.

How Does This Reduce Depression or Anxiety?

Past and future thinking can be associated with the same pathways in the brain as feelings of depression and anxiety.

When the brain is not receiving enough stimulation to keep it focused on the here and now, it defaults to using the parts of the brain that are responsible for past and future thinking. This is how we experience mind-wandering.  When we are under a lot of stress about the future or have experienced very difficult things in the past, this default can become a major challenge. This is why grounding is important to practice regularly.

Woman sitting in desert with co-occurring disorders

Grounding is for everyone, no matter where we are or what we are doing, and it can be easy to practice as we go about our day. It simply means to “tune in” to the information our senses are giving us and “tune out” the overwhelming thoughts our brains are giving us. In fact, you can ground yourself right now.

Close your eyes and take a deep, slow breath – in through your nose, out through your mouth. Now open your eyes, look around, and ask yourself: What can I see? What can I hear? Do I smell or taste anything? What can I feel to the touch?

Just by noticing and acknowledging, you have grounded yourself in this moment and pulled yourself out of what was occupying your mind just a moment before.

When we are feeling the overwhelming tug of the past or anxiety about the future, we can actively choose to engage with our environment and firmly plant ourselves in the present.

These sensory experiences can demand our attention and distract us from our other thoughts so that we can exist here in the present with a greater sense of peace. Here are some ways to take charge and seek out soothing and attention-grabbing sensory experiences:

Sight: Take inventory of your surroundings. What objects are around you? How many pieces of furniture are there? What shapes make up the ceiling structure?  What kinds of colors, patterns, and designs do you see?

Hearing: Put your favorite music on. Focus on the sounds and the lyrics (if there are any). What individual instruments do you hear? What harmonies are coming together to make the song?  If you’re in a public space, you can still focus in on the sounds around you – clicking on computer keyboards, plastic bags crinkling, birds chirping.

Taste: Bite into something sour or spicy. How does your mouth react? Where do you feel those taste sensations the strongest?

Smell: Breathe in the scent of your favorite candle or perfume. What do you notice in the fragrance? What do you feel in your body as you experience the scent?

Touch: Run your fingers through the grass or turn a piece of sticky tape over in your hand.  Touch your pet, stuffed animal, or favorite blanket and notice the texture as it comes in contact with your fingers. Focus on how these things feel to your touch.

Next time you find your mind wandering to the overwhelming details of the past and the future, try to take the opportunity to redirect yourself to the current moment. Actively exist in the present. Whether it is immediate or over time with practice, using grounding techniques in the midst of your daily routine may help you to live a more peaceful and mindful life.

 


About the author:

Theresa BraunTheresa Braun, B.S. Reseach Assistant, The center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt

Theresa joined the team at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt as a volunteer research assistant in 2016 and is currently earning her Master of Science in Clinical Psychology at Loyola University Maryland.  Previously, she earned her Bachelor of Science in Psychology at Towson University in 2015, where she also served as a research assistant for the Site for OCD and Autism Research during her senior year.

In addition to her role at CED, Theresa currently works with clients across Baltimore County, Maryland as an outreach worker for a community mental health program.


References:

[1] Malinowski, P. (2013). Neural mechanisms of attentional control in mindfulness meditation. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 7(8), 1-11.
[2] Norman, A. S. F., Segal, Z. V., Mayberg, H., Bean, J., McKeon, D., Fatima, Z., & Anderson, A. K. (2007). Attending to the present: mindfulness meditation reveals distinct neural modes of self-reference. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 2(4), 313-322.
[3] Sheline, Y. I., Barch, D. M., Price, J. L., Rundle, M. M., Vaishnavi, S. N., Snyder, A. Z. . . . Raichle, M. E. (2008). The default mode network and self-referential processes in depression. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the Unitesd States of America, 106(4), 1942-1947.
[4] United States Department of Veterans Affairs. (2015). Mindfulness practice in the treatment of traumatic stress. Retrieved on 6/19/17 from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/treatment/therapy-med/mindful-ptsd.asp.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on July 12, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on July 12, 2017.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

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