Stress Management through Mindfulness.

Published April 3, 2017

Tree Blue Sky Cherry Blossom Nature Sunny Spring 1037974With April comes warmer weather, cherry blossoms, and the promise of summer adventures coming around the corner.  But it also brings with it the peak of academic stress which inevitably accompanies approaching finals, the end of the semester, and for some, graduation.  Though life stress is inevitable, letting stress rule you isn’t.  The trick is to balance stress with coping skills.

One means of coping is through the use of grounding skills, a type of mindfulness practice that provides us an anchor into the present moment.  After all, much of our stress stems from “mental time travel” into the past or the future. Think about your own suffering, is it stemming from what is happening right now?  Certainly, there are occasions where it is, but a large deal of stress comes from ruminating over the past or worrying about what challenges the unknown future will bring.  We can catch a break from all of this by tuning back into the present moment, a moment that is often better than our brains would have us believe.


What does grounding look like?  It looks simple - like paying attention to one sense at a time.  It is based on the principle that when we activate any of our five senses, this grounds or connects us to the present moment.  This is because sensing happens in the here and now - we don’t taste in the past, we don’t smell in the future.  We sense now.  So next time you are feeling overwhelmed with stress, numb with depression, or notice a panic attack is coming on, turn to grounding skills!  Given that April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, we also want to mention that grounding skills are especially helpful for survivors of trauma (sexual or otherwise) to use when “old stuff” comes up, whether that be a flashback, an image, or an emotional or physical feeling in the body.  Try to detect the early warning signs that these symptoms are coming up, and use those signs as a signal it’s time to practice grounding.


Grounding can be practiced in nearly limitless ways, so take this as an opportunity to call on your creativity.  Pick one sense (maybe you’re a visual learner so you pick sight, or perhaps you respond better to touch so you use your tactile sense) and give yourself permission to focus only on that one sense for 2-5 minutes or more.  Some suggestions for activating the senses are below.
Touch: rub your jeans or a blanket, carry a “worry stone” or other trinket you can run your fingers over, play with Silly Putty or Play Dough, take a warm or cool shower, hold a piece of ice in your hand, feel the sun on your face, pet an animal, or ask for a hug.


Sound: listen to soothing music (or maybe loud music!), play an instrument or clap your hands, pay attention to the sound of your breath, chant, sing, or scream.


Sight: name colors you see in the room, look at pictures of loved ones or a favorite work of art, watch videos of cute animals or calming scenery like ocean waves, get outside and admire natural beauty.


Taste: eat a peppermint or ginger candy (or if you’re feeling brave, bite into a ginger root or a slice of lemon), eat a piece of fruit or chocolate mindfully (google “mindful eating exercise” for further instructions), drink a cup of tea.


Smell: use essential oils (some of our favorites are lavender, lemon, and peppermint), inhale the cooking aromas while you make yourself a good meal, take a whiff of something strong like vinegar, literally stop and smell the flowers.


Happy Spring,
Sara Klčo, Ph.D.
Staff Psychologist

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