Updated: May 29, 2021
Sometimes anxiety can be so overwhelming, it feels like you're being drug underwater by turbulent rapids. You're could be literally fighting for air and not sure when your next chance to breathe might be. Or, you might be so overcome by your emotions that you feel like an elephant is sitting on your chest keeping you firmly in place. Most counselors teach traditional grounding techniques like breathing exercises, meditation, etc. but sometimes you need something a bit more effective on a timely schedule.
Okay, so here’s a super weird thing to admit; I have a grounding technique that I rarely share with anyone. The main reason I’m sharing it now is to demonstrate how a grounding technique can be just about anything that makes you focus on the current moment. It doesn’t have to be one of the traditional grounding techniques. So don’t worry if you can’t manage to ground yourself by describing your surroundings with your five senses, or deep breathing. You can make your very own, one of a kind, grounding technique. Hell, the grounding technique you make for yourself is probably better than any grounding technique I could come up with for you.
I can’t really tell you the origin of my grounding technique. It kinda just became a thing one day for me. My technique is based on a line from the movie Beetlejuice. Yep, that’s right. The beautiful, funny Tim Burton classic. I’ve loved that movie, and really anything Tim Burton, since I was a kid. The line that’s my grounding technique? “It's showtime.” Normally I do a 3, 2, 1 countdown similar to the one I would do as a child when Winona Ryder’s character said “Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice.” Every single time I do this grounding technique I picture Beetlejuice’s face and mannerisms as he says “it’s showtime.”
As I said, I really don’t know when I first started this. All I know is that when I’m really struggling mentally, the “3, 2, 1 it’s showtime,” with the picture of Beetlejuice in my head is enough to ground me. I’ve definitely used it more times than I can count in order to get any personal problem out of my head for a session. I also use it before public speaking or an anxiety-provoking situation to calm my nerves. I’ve been able to use it to go from crying to calm in a matter of moments. Sometimes, something about that scene makes me crack a smile even if I’m upset when I use the grounding technique. There have been times that I have needed to do the technique multiple times for it to be effective. So if it doesn’t work after the first time, I just take a deep breath (or two) and do it again.
This is something my partner has talked about. We could be talking and I could be crying for one reason or another, and realize that I have a telehealth session in 3 minutes, and ground myself with this technique and be able to look like I had allergies rather than been sobbing previously. She talks about admiring my strength, but really it has just become my normal at this point.
It's actually the only technique that is consistently effective for me before a session. There’s an element to it that makes me feel like I’m acting and another element that makes me feel like someone is counting on me to be something. Much like Lydia (Winona Ryder’s character) is counting on Beetlejuice to do something in the movie. There’s some dark, sardonic component to the grounding technique and thinking about Beetlejuice helping someone do anything. Alas, my brain has always worked best when I put things in the context of satire. The type of humor that makes you want to laugh and recoil at the same time. This grounding technique works for me because I figured out a way to play into my own sense of humor, my love of cinema, and my imagination.
How do you go about creating your own personalized grounding technique? One that isn’t the standard counting or listing things off? Which by the way, if those work for you, that’s fucking awesome. Keep utilizing them, because you can always use ALL the tools. The more ways you can ground yourself, or utilize any coping skill, the more resilient you will be. *Plus, sometimes skills that used to work for us in the past might not always work for us now. The ability to tweak them is important. Okay, back to creating your grounding technique.* What is something that can normally get you out of a distressing moment? Think just in general. It can be your favorite movie or song that you go to whenever you are feeling down and need a pick-me-up. It can be a favorite memory that you reflect on when you need to remember better times. Do you have one that pops into your head? Okay, now how can you make that into something you can play or enact in your head in thirty seconds or less? It can be the best lyric from that favorite song. Or one of the funniest, most uplifting, or relatable images/scenes in that favorite movie.
The reason grounding techniques need to be something you can do in your head is because the best skills you can have, are the ones that don’t require anything externally. Essentially, you don’t need any additional tools to use the skill. Ea: Journaling takes pen and paper, as well as a prompt. You can never guarantee you would have those external stimuli (like music) at the moment you are distressed. What would you do if you didn’t have cell phone reception or couldn’t access your phone at the moment of distress? If you have the ability to ground yourself internally, it won’t matter if you don’t have something that you associate with coping. I threw the 30 seconds or less out there because sometimes we go into situations where we can’t take five minutes, we need to snap back into ourselves quickly. Hopefully, those instances are few and far between, but every once in a while, you will need to be able to do the skill within a short period of time, so be ready.
30 seconds makes it feel intense, doesn’t it? I would have originally told someone they were crazy if they thought I could do a grounding skill in 30 seconds or less. Practice is really where it's at when it comes to shortening the time it takes you to ground yourself. The more you practice, the more control you have over your mind. It's very much like mindfulness in that the more you train that skill, the more control you feel over your own mind and your ability to direct your attention to what’s important.
You can try repeating the thought redundantly. If possible, you can try to keep track of how many times you repeat/restart or how long it takes you to calm down. Next time, just try to use one less thought cycle, or just 30 seconds less time. Like a muscle, by trying to ground faster, you will train yourself to respond to the cues of your grounding technique, and one day, you could possibly reach the “Calm in 30 seconds” everyone wishes they could advertise.
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