• It's easy to rush from one thing to another, but doing so raises our stress levels

  • Taking just one minute out of your day to do a grounding exercise can make all the difference, says Owen O'Kane

  • If stress or anxiety are taking over your day-to-day life, you can find support here

Have you ever had one of those days where you’ve rushed out of the house already late for an appointment looking like you’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards, with your jumper on inside out and just blindly hoping you’ve got your phone, wallet and keys with you? Apart from looking like you’ve just been on a motorbike without a helmet, you also notice that your mind is racing. Everything feels frantic, chaotic and imbalanced. You’re not set up for the day and consequently the remainder of the day landslides into what can best be described as a pile of crap. We all have them.

Next time you’re on a morning train or bus, or in traffic, observe how frazzled everyone looks. But it doesn’t have to be this way. 

One of most common misconceptions that exists around therapy is that it’s a once-a-week chat, and that’s it. Job done. But therapy is a way of life, and it needs to be so because life throws new challenges at you all the time. Once you’ve mastered the skill of navigating your way along life’s twists and turns, you’ll feel truly empowered.

There are things you can do to help yourself throughout the week, both if you are in therapy or not – call it self-therapy. A mix of proactive and reactive techniques that will help restore a sense of balance.

Here's a grounding exercise to get you started:

One minute grounding exercise

Being ready for your day involves grounding. By this I mean steadying your mind and body. Although this is a short grounding minute, you are free to stay with this exercise longer if you would like to and if time allows.

Your mind is often incredibly busy with lots of thoughts (many of them unhelpful). A busy mind creates stress, and when you’re stressed, your body creates more cortisol. This leads to a strong sympathetic nervous system response. That is, your mind and body flip into ‘threat mode’: they expect danger or harm, so are primed for action. This leads to both a physiological and hormonal reaction that leaves you feeling jittery or on edge.

When you start the day slowing down this process, you send a message to the brain informing it that    it doesn’t need to be in ‘threat mode’ all the time. This helps deactivate the flurry of activity that we know as stress or anxiety.

There are many grounding techniques that people use to quieten the mind and relax the body. If you have a particular one that works for you, then use it. For those new to the concept of grounding I am going to use what I consider to be one of the most effective grounding techniques. I use this technique regularly with clients.

How to ground

I want to start by stating that grounding takes practice, but once you’ve done it a few times and gotten the hang of it, it will make sense. I encourage you to use the same routine every day, as this part of the self-therapy process will become your safe place. Remain seated with your eyes closed and follow these three steps:

1. In your imagination, go to a place that represents beauty and peace. (Use the same place every day for a sense of familiarity and safety.) Allow yourself to experience everything you can about this place: the colours, the sounds, the smells, the sensations, the tastes. Gently breathe and enjoy the tranquillity of where your mind has brought you. You are using your imagination to adjust your mindset.

2. When you are relaxed, choose a word that is going to help your mind identify that you’ve come to your safe place. As before, you’re going to use the same word every day. It could be any word, but I tend to find something like ‘peace’ or ‘calm’ or ‘joy’ works for my clients. Simply say the word aloud to yourself a few times. You are using language to reinforce a calmer state.

3. Finally, as you sit in  this place of peacefulness, simply use your hands to tap each thigh alternately, left to right in a slow rhythm. A fast rhythm will not be helpful. You can do this for 20 to 30 seconds. You are using a technique called bilateral stimulation. Essentially, your imagination has gone to a calm place and your chosen word reinforces that. The act of tapping while you are practising this technique is a further physical reinforcer. It sends a message to the brain that you don’t need to be in ‘threat mode’ anymore. The steady tapping rhythm creates a sense of ease and facilitates the grounded feeling.

When you’ve finished, open your eyes and reorientate yourself. You are now ready to face your day, whatever it brings.

Owen O'Kane is the author of How To Be Your Own Therapist  

Further reading

Techniques to survive burnout

6 beginner's meditation tips to get you started

What stops people seeing a therapist?

Why do some people get more stressed than others?

As a counsellor, here are 4 anxiety tips that have helped me