This is the first step in using grounding techniques in order to ‘ground’ yourself in the present moment. Grounding can help people manage anxiety as it can enable you to bring your thoughts into the present moment as opposed to entertaining your thoughts and fears of the future; it can also help you to bring your thoughts back from the past. Grounding can also help you feel more calm when you are tense, feeling stressed and/or find yourself overthinking. The first exercise in grounding is breathing. Breathing may seem so small and simple, however, the rewards for doing it properly can be great. One thing to remember when you are trying to be calm, is to not trying to force it, but to just let it happen. Recently, I heard someone compare it to ripples in water. You cannot do anything to water to make it calm, you cannot force the ripples to stop, you just have to leave them to settle on their own and it is the same with thoughts. The aim is to recognise them, let them be, and let them drift away by focusing on your breath in the present moment. It takes a while so don’t give up 😊
Why is breathing so important in grounding? The answer is that our focusing on our breath is probably the best way to ‘anchor’ ourselves back to the present moment. Also, breathing is directly related to our nervous system. When the amygdala (the brain’s emotional response centre) senses threat, our breathing can change: fast breathing= hyper-arousal, slow breathing = hypo-arousal. The amygdala sends messages to the rest of our nervous system which warns the whole body, that something is not as it should be. You may become tense, become more alert, hands may shake, legs may start to tingle whilst preparing to run. What breathing correctly can do is send signals back to the nervous system, telling us that all is o.k., you do not need to prepare for fight, flight or freeze; you can calm back down to a state of equilibrium.
Also, focusing on a long exhale, allows for more oxygen to work its way around your body. This is not just because there is more space in the lungs to breath in, but more importantly, it is because the release of carbon-monoxide in the exhale allows for a release of oxygen in the red-blood cells already present within you. The red-blood cells contain plenty of oxygen to oxygenate the whole body and it is the release of carbon-monoxide which allows this.
So, here’s what to do:
- Keep posture relaxed but not slouched. Upright, but not stiff or rigid. Try not to be laying down as you want your posture to support your intention to be awake but make sure it also supports your intention to be relaxed.
- Inhale for a steady for a count of 5 seconds. Make sure you can feel your diaphragm expanding by breathing right into your belly. Breath in through your nose if possible.
- Hold your breath. For a count of 3-4 seconds. This prevents any fast or slow breathing associated with hyper and hypo-arousal. This should help calm down the nervous-system.
- Exhale for a steady count of 7 seconds (remember the reason for longer exhale). Make sure you empty your lungs, feel your diaphragm collapse inwards as you breath out.
- If you find this makes you a little light-headed, don’t worry, it’s normal if you are not used to it. You can try an inhale of 3 seconds and an exhale of 5 then increase when you get used to it. Just remember the longer exhale.
- Repeat x 10.
I recommend doing this twice a day- once in the morning and once in the evening – and then whenever you feel necessary throughout the day. It is important to do this regularly as it is the repetition that will allow you to get to a calmer place more easily when you need it most. There is more to grounding than this breathing exercise. In later posts, we will explore other methods of grounding by using all 5 sense.