Over the holiday weekend, I went to a huge basketball tournament spanning over three days and two arenas. One day, while waiting in line to go through security, I overheard a woman make a nervous comment to her friend about it being scary to be in a big group of people these days - with the mass shootings and bombings of recent. I was saddened to overhear this - saddened that this is even a thought on people’s minds. To top it off, if your brain is prone to worry and anxiety, these thoughts can feel nearly impossible to turn off - they can grow and grow into a nightmare of worst case scenarios.
While sitting in my seat waiting for the game to start, I thought more about the woman’s comment. I don’t want people to stop living their lives because of fear. So, I thought it might be helpful to share with you the mindfulness technique of grounding. This technique can be used when you’re out and about and worry/panic thoughts take over your brain. The idea behind grounding as a coping mechanism, is that we are unable to pay attention to two thoughts at the same time. And while it can be difficult, we have the ability to choose what thoughts we allow to continue. By focusing on neutral elements in our immediate environment, it makes it more difficult for the worry portion of our brain to focus on all of those worse case scenarios that live in the future.
Grounding the Brain using Objects... As you're walking to your seat, count how many vendors are selling hotdogs (or pretzels or my favorite ice cream sandwiches). By strategically focusing in the present moment on neutral objects, the anxious part of the brain becomes "bored" that there isn't really a threat present and it will "forget" that it needs to try and protect you.
Grounding the Brain using Numbers... At a sporting event such that I was at, there are numbers everywhere. Look around the arena and count from 1 to as high as possible using different signage. For example, a "1" on the scoreboard, a "2" on the shot clock, a "3" in a phone number on an advertising sign, etc.
Grounding the Brain using Colors... Pick a color and see how many people you can spot wearing that particular color. I prefer to pick neon colors that jump out of the crowd. Or, remember back to 7th grade science when you learned the colors of the rainbow (Roy G. Biv = red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet) and then look for a shirt to represent each color in succession.
As I mentioned, by encouraging the brain to focus on neutral and present-focused items, the worry part of the brain is less able run amuck. These grounding techniques might be difficult to practice when you first start - be gentle with yourself. I recommend initially practicing this technique when you are not in a stressful situation. For example, while sitting in your living room, look around and see how many light bulbs are in the room or while walking through a store count the number of grocery carts around you.
Interested in learning other techniques to combat uncontrollable worry? Live in the Spokane area? Give me a call for a free 15-minute phone consultation: (509) 999-8696.