You are not Your Illness
Mental health issues create trauma and noise in a person’s mind and life. Depression, anxiety, PTSD, and trauma all come with a focus and preoccupation on the symptoms. This makes it challenging to live life. People are more than just their mental health disorder. Having depression, anxiety, PTSD, trauma etc. doesn’t mean you are those things. They are a part of who you are, and they don’t get to define you. With that said it can feel challenging to shift focus from the pain and struggle to find moments of calm and peace.
Mindfulness and Calming
I love teaching mindfulness and calming skills to my clients as a regular practice. Everyone has their preferred coping skills for dealing with the stressors in life, and not all coping skills are healthy. Unhealthy coping skills work and they come with a cost. But to give up unhealthy coping skills means you have to replace them with something else. Something that actually works.
One of my favorite skills to teach is something I call “tapping to calm.” I did not invent this technique. I do love its simplicity and effectiveness which is why I teach it to almost everyone that I see for therapy. This technique is based on EMDR which is an evidenced-based trauma treatment. EMDR which is short for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing was developed by Francine Shapiro.
EMDR uses bilateral stimulation to help people reprocess trauma and calm and soothe. Bilateral stimulation just means stimulating right and left through eye movements, tapping, or sounds to use the whole brain. The technique I teach clients is not for reprocessing, only calming and soothing. Reprocessing should never be done without your therapist unless otherwise instructed.
Tapping to Calm
Tapping to calm can be used anytime you feel anxious, nervous, or are struggling to sleep. It is simple to do and very effective when practiced regularly. It is based on 5 simple steps.
1. Slow tapping is soothing. You cannot tap slow enough! If you feel more anxious when you tap, stop, take a breath and tap more slowly. Some with conditions like ADHD have a difficult time with slow tapping. A strategy to help slow down is download a metronome app on your cell phone. Find a tempo that is calming and soothing and then tap to that beat.
2. Tapping one time left and right = one set. You can tap on your knees, tap your feet on the floor, tap your index and thumb together, or use a butterfly hug. A butterfly hug is simply crossing your arms across your chest and tapping on your shoulders. When tapping do 6-12 sets of left-right taps. Then stop and take a big breath in and out.
3. After a deep breath, notice how your mind and body feel. Scan your brain and body for sensations like tightness, warmth, coldness, tension, etc. Is there less anxiety? Is there room to feel even calmer?
4. If there is room for improvement go back and do another round of 6-12 sets of taps very slowly. Then breathe slowly in and out before scanning your mind and body again.
5. You can do as many sets as needed to feel calm. Remember to stop after each round of 6-12 sets and breathe. You might be thinking well if 6-12 sets are good then more must be better! Not true. Continuing to tap can trigger the brain to free associate or go to dark and scary places which is not what this activity is for! That is why you stop after 12 sets. If you go to 13 or 14 sets nothing bad is likely to happen, but if you lose track of where you are in your sets just stop, breathe, scan and start again if needed.
Using Your Five Senses
Another method for grounding or being in the moment is to use one of your five senses. Your five senses are taste, touch, hearing, sight, and smell. Here are some examples for how you might choose to use each of your five senses.
1. First an example of using your sense of smell for grounding might mean you breathe in a favorite essential oil.
2. For taste it might be mints, gum, or even Warhead’s candy for a jolt.
3. Sense of touch means doing dishes by hand and noticing all you feel. The warmth of the water, the slipperiness of the soap bubbles, the smoothness of the dishes in your hands.
4. An example for hearing is to stand outside and close your eyes taking in all of the sounds around you for a moment. Or to turn on music that you enjoy and immerse yourself in the sounds.
5. Finally, sight, really notice what you see. All of the nuances of color, patterns, textures or even just listing off the items that are around.
Challenges and Benefits
Being in moments is challenging especially when we are used to always thinking about what is next. What is going to happen next in our day. What we are going to say when the person we are chatting with pauses. Maybe even thinking about what we will do tomorrow, next week, or next month. Worry or anxiety often encompasses focusing large amounts of energy on what hasn’t happened yet.
Mindfulness and grounding techniques intentionally slow us down. These techniques focus our mind and energy even if only for a brief moment on the here and now. It doesn’t take large amounts of time to benefit from a mindfulness or grounding practice. Setting a timer and using one of the above techniques even for a few minutes is helpful and soothing.
The next time you are in a conversation with someone, really listen to them. Listen with the focus of hearing them, not trying to formulate what you will say next. Look at their face as they talk. Listen to the sound of their voice. Notice what you feel in your body talking to this person that you really care about. This too is grounding and mindfulness.
A final thought on grounding, mindfulness, and soothing skills. If your mind wanders or thoughts creep in while you are practicing any of these skills, that is okay! It is normal and expected. Even the most experienced person’s mind will wander. When it happens do not judge yourself. Instead notice what is happening in your mind and then gently shift your attention back to your goal.
If you need more help you can find me at www.katefreese.com or 866-989-4318 (Can call or text, it is secure and HIPPA compliant). Please reach out and remember I hold on to hope until you are able to hold on to it for yourself.