Grounding Exercise For Trauma

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Traumatic events are bad enough on their own, but for many people things get even worse as they relive those traumas time and time again, what we call PTSD. You could say that PTSD is living in the past, that past events are experienced as viscerally real in the present.

Since what we are talking about is leaving the present moment, there is no help more appropriate for combating PTSD than mindfulness. Learning to be mindful means learning to exist fully in the here and now. If you are 100% in the present moment it follows that nothing from your past or your future can affect you.

We are going to show you a simple grounding exercise for trauma, a way for you to get in touch with your present moment when those intrusive thoughts, images, and sensations start to bombard you. Pretty much all the Eastern masters agree that your breath is the best vector for accessing the present moment. By concentrating all your attention on your in-breaths and out-breaths, you have something to focus on that is occurring in the present moment, something you can feel throughout your body, something that connects you to the external world, and it tells you that you are alive right now. Slowing down your breathing also combats anxiety because it activates your parasympathetic nervous system, the one that counteracts the ‘fight or flight’ response.

Start by just coming to your breath, inhaling and exhaling slowly and deeply three times. We recommend adding gratitude into the mix by saying to yourself “Breathing in I know that I am alive, breathing out I’m thankful to be alive.” Why gratitude? Because you are a survivor, not a victim. Regardless of what happened you’ve made it through and a happy, meaningful life is still possible for you. Gratitude dissipates feelings of victimization.

After breathing in and out three times, you can ground yourself even more in the here and now by naming three things you see, three things you hear, three things you smell, and three things you feel, all while continuing to make your in-breaths and out-breaths slow and even. Focusing on stimuli from the environment forces the situation to come full circle because it’s often some stimuli from the environment, a sound or a smell, that occasions symptoms of PTSD in the first place. But this time these stimuli are fully under your control. You are the one recognizing and categorizing them, coming more and more into the here and now through the exercise, realizing a past trauma hurt you then but has no power to hurt you now. You are safe in the present moment.

We recommend making mindfulness a part of your daily life so that when you need to turn to it when intrusive thoughts, images, and sensations arise it will feel like turning to a good friend whose personality and behavior you know very well. Existing truly and fully in the present moment is incompatible with PTSD. The more you live in the here and now the less you will be bothered by the past.