With PTSD it is common to have intrusive memories of traumatic events. Even though these events happened in the past, when the memories come it can feel as though the events are happening again in the present.
This can be extremely upsetting, and it is helpful to find ways that help you to ‘ground’ yourself back in the safety of the present moment.
When we are anxious or upset, our breathing becomes more rapid. We can feel better by deliberately slowing and relaxing our breathing. Anxious breathing is up in the chest, whereas relaxed breathing happens deeper in the belly.
Relaxed breathing instructions
- Breathe in slowly and steadily through your nose for a count of 4 – don’t rush this!
- Pause for a count of 1.
- Exhale slowly and steadily for a count of 4 – breathe out gradually – try not to breathe out with a sigh.
- Repeat for a few minutes until you notice a change in how your body feels.
- If you get distracted, or if your mind wanders, just bring your attention back to how it feels to breathe in and out.
Smells are an incredibly powerful way of coming to our senses. If you are deliberately paying attention to a smell, you are truly in the present moment. Try to find a smell that has positive associations for you – maybe one that reminds you of happy times, or a smell which you enjoy. Carry it with you and use it to bring yourself back to the present moment if you get caught up in an unwanted memory.
- Small bottles of essential oils – e.g. eucalyptus, mint, lavender, lemon
- Small dried flowers such as lavender
- Perfume soaked on a tissue
- Whole spices from the kitchen
Unwanted memories in PTSD can make us mentally ‘time travel’ back to the trauma, and we can sometimes forget that we are safe in the present. It can be helpful to write a ‘grounding statement’ to remind yourself that you are safe. You can carry it around with you and read it if you become upset. Useful statements talk about safety, or remind you of what is different now compared to then.