Using Your Senses as Self Care: Grounding
Blog by Ashley Simpson, LCSW at Agape Therapy Institute
Your senses are powerful. Your senses link deep in your brain to your memories. Your brain - your amygdala specifically - can bring you back to a time and place that you have been in the past using sensory data. For example, the smell of bacon cooking reminds me of my grandmother.
In some cases this can be unpleasant. If you have experienced trauma, activating your amygdala through your senses can send your thoughts back to a time and place where you have been harmed or threatened in the past. Next your hippocampus is stimulated by this memory, which triggers the fear response… thus, the flashback and stress response.
To calm the fear response in individuals who have experienced trauma, have anxiety, or are experiencing a panic attack, there is a set of coping skills called “Grounding.” Grounding exercises use the individual’s senses to focus on the here and now, calming the amygdala and bringing you into the present, and to relax, calming the hippocampus and nervous system. This allows the person to feel calm, centered, and in control of their emotions.
Using your 5 senses to ground and calm you
So first, let’s review your five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. A wonderful thing about using your senses to ground you is that you can access them at any time, no matter where you are. You can either bring awareness to your senses in the present moment as you are, or you can manipulate your senses to bring a pleasant feeling, ie: burning a candle or using a nice lotion, sucking on a peppermint, turning on soothing music, walking outside, etc.
Another benefit of grounding using your senses is that it forces you to focus your thoughts and attention on the exercise. This can temporarily soothe your mind if your thoughts are anxious, racing, negative, and if they feel out of control.
One of my favorite grounding exercises is the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 method.
Take a deep breath in through your nose, and exhale out of your nose slowly.
In this moment, notice:
5 things you can see
4 things you can touch
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell