"Grounding" has become a bit of a catchword these days. Thankfully so--traumatic stress has descended on many of us during this pandemic, and helpers and healers are particularly at risk for experiencing stress and anxiety, as our roles have become ever so important in supporting others during this time.
Dissociation--zoning out, Netflixing for hours, bingeing on food, sex, wine, Amazon--is a common coping strategy that many of us use in order to manage distress. Most of the time, these moments of zoning out are just that--momentary--and getting back to life is easy and the negative affects minimal.
Yet when we experience chronic stress--hello, frontline providers!--this type of coping strategy can creep into being a main source of coping, a main strategy to not feel the weight of the stress.
"Allie, who would want to feel stress?"
It isn't as easy as saying "Oh yeah, stress is good," but the short of it is that stress is more good than bad. Our stress response is indeed a protective mechanism, a messanger to your brain and mind-body that you are under threat. When we ignore our stress and instead watch the whole season of Seinfeld within two days, irritating our partner and ignoring the fact we haven't showered today--or yesterday--we are setting up ourselfes for some serious consequences.
When we zone out and ignore our stress, we are setting our bodies up to revolt against their inattentive landlord.
When our stress response is on high alert, our sleep suffers, our relationship suffer, our jobs are affected (poor attention, focus, and concentration are out the window, and that doesn't fare well for frontline folks and the patients they see).
So instead of focusing on the stress, focus on grounding yourself. When we settle into our bodies and focus on the moment-to-moment, non-judgmental attention, we are telling our bodies that we are safe and secure. Our fight-or-flight response is taken over by the relaxation response, and our brain has a chance to come back online.
Three ways you can ground yourself:
1. Foursquare breathing. Try it:
In for four seconds.
Hold for four seconds.
Out for seven seconds.
Notice the feel of the air, each time, coming in, settling there, and then slowly exhaling, and allowing that pause. It is a time of true intentional breathing. Allow your belly to expand like a balloon with each breath. Try it for three cycles to start. Notice after the exercise if anything shifted, changed, altered, is your stress the same or has it changed, dissipated?
2. Try out this Noticing strategy-- Look around and notice 5 things you see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, 1 thing you can taste. Each time, take a moment. See if you can settle into the sensation, even for a couple seconds. Let your mind settle into the focus. If it wanders, bring it back. Notice after the exercise if any energy had shifted, if a sense of calmness has descended.
3. Socks off ( and if you're really brave go outside) and feel the ground with those tootsies. Notice the ground on your feet, what it feels like, not just in your feet, but through your legs, up through your body. Does your posture change? How does this feel? Allow yourself to experience this moment, grounded.
(If you are really struggling, it's important to get help, so contact me or another mental health professional or this hotline if things get to a point where you can't cope and you feel out of control with your stress.)
We aren't meant to be helpers and healers alone. Get support--connect with colleagues, friends, and reach out to me if you need extra support!
You can do this,
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