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How to chill: Grounding Skills

November 08, 2019 | Anxiety, Awareness, Body

In my previous post, I talked about Anxiety. In there I said that, before we can change what causes anxiety, we need to tell our bodies that we’re safe enough now. This is what I call self-regulation or, as the title suggests, chilling.

I heard once that anxiety is all about the future: what if? This is, I think, a useful way to look at it. It gives us a loophole on how to hijack what our brain is doing: if we can bring it to the present, then it will have to notice that, right now, there’s no threat. That, right now, we’re safe.

Bringing yourself back to the present

A quick way to bring our brains to the present is through the senses. An example:

Notice where you are. Try and use your senses to explore the space. Take the time to really look and name three things you can see; touch three things within reach; and listen for three different sounds. You can name more than three things, or do 3 of each, then 3 again, then 3 again in a pattern.

Another way to bring yourself to the present is through mindfulness exercises. An example, which I took from this page:

Select a piece of music you have never heard before. You may have something in your own collection that you have never listened to, or you might choose to turn the radio dial until something catches your ear.

  1. Close your eyes and put on your headphones.
  2. Try not to get drawn into judging the music by its genre, title or artist name before it has begun. Instead, ignore any labels and neutrally allow yourself to get lost in the journey of sound for the duration of the song.
  3. Allow yourself to explore every aspect of track. Even if the music isn’t to your liking at first, let go of your dislike and give your awareness full permission to climb inside the track and dance among the sound waves.
  4. Explore the song by listening to the dynamics of each instrument. Separate each sound in your mind and analyze each one by one.
  5. Hone in on the vocals: the sound of the voice, its range and tones. If there is more than one voice, separate them out as you did before.

The idea is to listen intently, to become fully entwined with the composition without preconception or judgment of the genre, artist, lyrics or instrumentation. Don’t think, hear.

I liked this exercise because, although many people think that mindfulness is about emptying the mind, it makes it clear that it is about attention. Also, music provides enough stimulation that it may be easier to concentrate on it.

There are millions of ways in which you can bring your brain to the present. Some of the most common ones are breathing techniques, or other grounding skills.

Practice, evaluate, practice, evaluate… forever

Since our brains are used to moving between the past and the future, the first time you try to practice exercises like these it may not go as planned. You may find it very difficult to focus your attention in the present. I want you to know that this is normal! And that attention is like a muscle: it gets stronger with training. As you practice, it’s important to evaluate: how effective is this technique? Is breathing a quick way to calm down? Or do things you look at help you the most? If you know what works best for you, you can start building a toolkit of strategies that help your body recognize that the present is safe enough.

I grew up speaking Spanish. English is my second language. When I communicate in English, I make mistakes. I've chosen to let my writing reflect the kind of mistakes I make when speaking, so that you have an idea of what it might feel like to talk to me. I trust the message is still clear but, if it's not, please don't hesitate to ask me for clarification.

The information provided on my blog is a mix of my personal thoughts, professional approach, and articles related to mental health. The purpose of sharing all of this is to communicate the models at the core of my practice, as well as to provide education. I hope this will help to minimize some of the power imbalances related to my profession. The articles on this blog should not be considered as professional advice for any one person or group of people. If you have any questions about the appropriateness of this content for you, please contact a qualified mental health professional.

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