Have you ever found yourself in a public setting, perhaps at school or work, and suddenly you’re overcome with an intense feeling that becomes difficult to control in the moment?
Perhaps you just received a text that a loved one is in the hospital and now you’re trying to hold back tears and concentrate as you push through the remaining ten minutes of your professor’s lecture.
Maybe your heart is racing with anxiety as you begin to analyze every moment of the work meeting you led an hour ago and now you’ve just spent 10 minutes re-reading the same sentence of an email, still unable to digest the content of those words against the loud beating of your heart.
If something like this has happened to you before, welcome to the human condition!
Hard as we may try to remain calm, cool and collected as we go about our everyday lives, our emotions sometimes have other plans, showing up with intense power at the most unexpected times.
When these moments happen, as they inevitably will from time to time, it’s important to have a strategy for bringing down the intensity of these feelings so that we can function in the present moment until we can move to a safer space and process the emotions more effectively privately, with a trusted loved one, or in a professional mental health setting.
A strategy I often recommend to my clients in these situations is to utilize grounding techniques.
Grounding techniques, defined as coping strategies that utilize at least 1 of the 5 senses, help reduce the intensity of our emotions by bringing our mind’s attention to the sensations we are activating while we use tools for grounding rather than staying focused on our emotional intensity or unhelpful thoughts in our head.
Once our mind becomes focused on the sensations activated by the tool, the intensity of our feelings begins to go down as our consciousness becomes oriented in the present moment, not caught up with thoughts in our head.
Rotating between a variety of different types of grounding tools can be helpful in determining which tools bring you the most relief from the intensity of emotional responses.
Additionally, it’s important to keep in mind that if you overly rely on just one specific grounding tool, it can lose its effectiveness more quickly.
So, to begin regulating the intensity of your emotions and to effectively keep that intensity down with grounding techniques, I often suggest that clients build their own ‘first aid’ kit for emotional regulation, often calling this a ‘Panic Attack Pack’.
To create this kit, start with finding a container big enough to hold a variety of grounding tools but not so large that it would be difficult to transport during your daily life. Some examples of possible containers could be a pencil case, cosmetics bag, or small pouch.
After you’ve gotten your container, you’ll want to fill it with at least 3 different grounding technique tools. Below you will find some suggestions of tools that work with different senses and a brief explanation of how you could use them in a moment of emotional intensity.
Grounding Technique Tools:
Imagine that you just stubbed your toe against the corner of your desk at work and suddenly you’re trying to hold back the urge to scream loudly in anger in response to that pain.
Instead, you grab your ‘Panic Attack Pack’ and pop a few Red Hot candies into your mouth. While your toe is likely still recovering from the pain of the bump, your brain is instantly directed to the cinnamon flavors you’re digesting in your mouth and thus your urge to respond in anger begins to dissolve.
Items such as mints, sour candies, ginger candies, or even a few drops of your favorite hot sauce can all help quickly ground you into the present moment due to their intense flavors.
Maybe you just got home from dropping your kids off for practice and need a minute to bring down the intense feelings of stress flowing through your body as you think about all the other tasks that need to be accomplished before you can rest your head on the pillow tonight.
You reach into your grounding technique toolbox and pull out a eucalyptus essential oil and place a few drops in an oil diffuser, allowing the calming smell to enter your awareness as you rest on the couch and reorient yourself for a few minutes.
Other items that help utilize the sense of smell could include candles, scented hand sanitizers, travel sized body sprays, scratch and sniff stickers, etc.
You’re in a large crowd navigating public transportation and can feel your anxiety rising as you’re racing to get on the train before it leaves the station.
As you grab the last seat open in the train car, you reach into your backpack and grab your headphones, gently placing one in each ear before turning on a playlist of calming sounds of the ocean while you make your way towards your destination, breathing a sigh of relief that you made it on time.
Ear plugs and headphones can help with grounding you when you’re feeling overstimulated because they help cancel out hearing so that only 4 or less of your senses are being stimulated in the environment.
Perhaps you find yourself in the heat of an argument with your boss over how your latest project was handled. In the next five minutes, you’re expected to hop on a call with a customer utilizing your best customer service voice, but you can’t stop working yourself up over your bosses words.
Once again reaching into your ‘Panic Attack Pack’, you grab an instant cold pack, squeezing the room temperature packaging until the cold sensation begins to activate, drawing your mind back to the present moment in your office and the numbing coldness in your palms.
Aside from instant cold packs, grounding techniques for touch that could fit in your toolkit could be small pieces of fabric such as velvet, smooth or rough stones or crystals, small pieces of sandpaper, etc.
Now that we’ve reviewed different types of grounding tools and how they can help bring down the intensity of your emotions in the present moment, I hope that you’re inspired to put together your own personal ‘Panic Attack Pack’ or grounding technique toolkit to help give yourself some emotional first-aid when you’re in a setting that is not ideal for fully processing your emotions.
Remember to make sure to use a variety of these tools when needed so that one particular tool doesn’t lose its effectiveness as quickly.
If you find yourself often struggling with managing the intensity of your emotions, Solid Foundations Therapy wants to help! Visit our website at www.SolidFoundationsTherapy.com or give us a call at 630-633-8532 today.