“Ladies and gentlemen, the Captain has turned on the fasten seat belt sign. We are about to enter some turbulence due to the storm. Please return your seats immediately and keep your seat belts fastened. Thank you.”
Anytime I’ve been on a flight that hit turbulence, I immediately respond by steeling myself for the inevitable jostling and lurching of the plane. I grip the arm rests (or my husband’s arm), press my feet firmly into the floor and close my eyes. I do anything I can to keep my body steady as everything moves around me. Only when the turbulence ends and the plane is flying smoothly again do I loosen my grip (to the relief of my husband, who has fingernail marks in his arm). I don’t fully relax until I feel the wheels hit the runway.
We are decidedly living in turbulent times. Not only have our day-to-day lives been completely altered due to COVID-19 but, in the United States where I live, movements for racial justice have changed policies as well as the way many Americans view racism and themselves.
Personally, I have been examining my beliefs and values to understand how I want to live my life going forward. This is incredibly important, but also very challenging. I find myself going down social media rabbit holes in the name of staying “informed”, but when I come up for air I feel disoriented and confused.
Because of a constant low-level state of anxiety about COVID-19, I want to pacify myself with Netflix and unhealthy food. I forget what day it is because the anchors of activities that differentiated my days are gone. I have a hard time focusing and feeling motivated to do things I normally enjoy, such as writing and exercising. I feel groundless, like the earth is constantly shifting beneath me. Because it is. There is a new me emerging, and it is not without growing pains.
In a more-is-better, technology-driven world, feeling “ungrounded” is the norm rather than the exception. Symptoms of groundlessness include:
- Difficulty focusing and concentrating
- Difficulty finishing tasks
- Forgetting what you were saying in the middle of a conversation
- Anxiety and perpetual worry
- Bumping into things, not being aware of where your body is in space
- Misplacing personal objects (phone, keys, etc.)
- Forgetting to drink water or eat meals
- Poor sleep
The good news is that there are some simple grounding techniques that can reverse some of these symptoms in your body, mind, and spirit including reduced inflammation and stress, improved sleep, and elevated mood. Here are three things that I have been doing to ground myself which have helped me tremendously.
Step 1: Ground yourself in your body
Grounding yourself in your body is the best way to get you back into the present moment when you feel scattered. This can include:
- Grounding yourself through all five of your senses, as Gretchen Rubin explains in this recent article
- Sitting in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, focusing on your breath, and noticing where your body is in contact with the chair and the ground. You can also try a guided grounding meditation using a free app like Insight Timer.
- Exercising in a way where you can be mindful of your body’s movements, such as dancing or yoga. Yoga poses such as Mountain Pose and Tree Pose have a grounding component to them that may prove beneficial.
Grounding yourself in your body is the first step in re-centering and re-aligning yourself. Once we know where our body is in space, we can then move onto what is going on in our mind and spirit.
Step 2: Ground yourself in your “Why”
I strive to live an intentional life. This means that I constantly evaluate my actions to make sure they are in alignment with my values and my why. Despite this, I easily become distracted and overwhelmed. I procrastinate on important tasks and resist activities that I perceive to be too challenging, spending my time on things that keep me busy but don’t move the needle in my life. The past several months staying at home have proven especially difficult because there are no pressing deadlines on the horizon. Everything is in a state of flux.
Asking myself “why” is helpful, but doesn’t really get to the root of the issue. That’s why I use an exercise called Seven Levels Deep that I learned from Dean Graziosi. It’s a simple exercise but not easy. Pick an activity, goal, or a challenge that you’re facing. Ask yourself why you want to prioritize it, accomplish it, or overcome it. Then ask “Why?” six more times.
Here is an example from my own life: I have a daily goal of moving my body for 30 minutes every day. Why do I want to move my body?
- I want to move my body because it helps me start the day with a strong body and a clear mind.
- I want to start the day with a strong body and a clear mind because I want to be able to play with my kids and be patient with them instead of frazzled and stressed-out.
- I want to be patient with my kids because my kids deserve a mom who isn’t angry, and it’s up to me to model healthy behaviors.
- I want to model healthy behaviors so they can learn from me and live long, fulfilling lives.
- I want them to live fulfilling lives because it is the greatest wish I have as a mother and part of the legacy I want to leave.
- I want to leave a legacy because I want to know my life mattered and had a purpose.
- I want my life to have a purpose because I was created for a reason, and I want to live my life to the fullest.
Around the third or fourth level of the exercise, something interesting happens. You start to move from extrinsic motivations to intrinsic, from the head to the heart. Like an anchor being lowered into the water, each question brings you deeper to the core of your why, and helps you find your true motivations for action or inaction.
When my alarm goes off at 5 AM, I don’t get out of bed to exercise because I want to look good in skinny jeans. I get out of bed because moving my body every day is part of the legacy that I leave my children. Making decisions based upon my deepest why allows me to stay true to myself, even when the world is constantly shifting around me.
Step 3: Ground yourself in rhythms
After my youngest son Sean was born, he spent most of the time being carried around, strapped to the front of me in a baby carrier. One of the only ways I could get him to sleep was constantly walking around the house with the awkward bouncing motion familiar to every new parent. Everything in his world was new and ever-changing, and the rhythm of my bouncing and swaying allowed him to feel safe.
I would argue that we are not much different than a newborn in this way. When we face uncertainty and feel out of control, we cling to what gives us comfort. Unfortunately, for many people (myself included) this can mean unhealthy behaviors that temporarily pacify us. Grounding yourself in daily rhythms, however, gives a predictability to your days that can comfort you while also ensuring that you are engaging in activities that support your self-care.
Rhythms that help me include:
- Biological rhythms including waking up and going to sleep at the same time each day; eating meals at the same time; getting adequate sunlight and rest
- Self-care rhythms after I wake up and before I go to sleep. Exercise, hydration, journaling, meditation, prayer, and personal development reading are included in my morning and evening rhythms.
- Planning/preparation rhythms to plan for the day and week ahead (meal planning and preparation, recurring chores, work tasks)
- Mid-day check-in rhythm to take a moment to notice how I feel, what is going well that day and what has been challenging me. This may include 5 minutes of deep breathing/meditation if needed.
- Evening walk after the kids go to bed to help me transition from “mom time” to “me time”
Rhythms anchored in biological or natural events (after waking up in the morning, eating meals, or going to sleep at night) will be the easiest to implement, but you can also create artificial rhythms around an anchor event such as a reminder on your calendar or phone (weekly meal planning, daily afternoon check-in). Rhythms have helped lessen the underlying anxiety I feel about the pandemic and everything else going on in the world, and I’ve had less of an urge to pick up my phone during every spare moment.
Now that you’re grounded, you can let go
During turbulent times, we grasp at whatever we think will keep us from being jostled around and will keep us safe. Oftentimes we hold onto something that we think will help us, but it may only do so in the short-term. We consume social media, food, and alcohol in excess to entertain and comfort us, but it usually makes us feel worse after the initial high wears off. We make purchases that promise to solve our problems but those promises usually come up empty.
When we ground ourselves in our body, our why, and daily rhythms, we stop grasping for what we think will make us feel better during turbulent times because we know what anchors us in our deepest self. We then have the courage to let go in ways we never thought possible.
When you are grounded, you are more willing to:
- Let go of the things you thought were “needs” and realize that most things in your life are “wants”
- Let go of the need to be right, to control every situation
- Let go of the expectations of who you and others “should be” and embrace and accept who and others truly are
- Let go of everything that does not serve you, including the person you’ve been up to this point, to make room for the person you want to become
We are in the middle of a turbulent life storm, grieving our past lives and anxious about what the future holds. Grounding ourselves in our body, mind, and spirit allows us to calm the storm within us, and gives us the courage to let go and come home to the truest part of ourselves.
About the Author: Emily McDermott is a wife, mother, and simplicity seeker, chronicling her journey at Simple by Emmy. She loves to dance, write poetry, and spend time with her husband and two young sons.