Coping Mechanisms and Grounding Methods

Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist or mental health professional. All of this comes from my lived experience with borderline personality disorder and I’m covering the basics in managing your emotions and thoughts in distress.

All of us with a mental illness face a daily struggle to manage our mental wellbeing and emotions. These struggles will vary depending on the type of disorder you have and how your lifestyle is surrounding it. From personal experience, It’s taken me a long time to work out how to manage and keep under control my illness. Especially in difficult and unpredicting circumstances such as work, in public, etc. Even to this day, it’s incredibly difficult to manage my thoughts and emotions.

With a lack of support and resources on emotional management and de-escalating our mental breakdowns, it can be difficult to know how to move forward. Not everyone has the same access to treatment and advice. In this post, I’m going to explain a few coping methods professional therapists and psychologists recommend. They are ones I’ve been taught over the past few years and have tried. Not all of them will work for everyone. However, I want to provide some option so that you can try them and see what works.

Those who have had some level of therapy like CBT and DBT will probably recognise some of these coping mechanisms. A lot of them stem from the idea of grounding and mindfulness. I know many people have strong opinions for or against mindfulness, but I ask if you can try them and see what helps. All of these methods hopefully can help you in situations where your mental wellbeing isn’t okay and can help make changes to build a life worth living.

Finding ‘Wise mind’

There is a theory within DBT that illustrates the ‘States of mind’. It separates our thoughts into three different categories.

  • Rational Mind,
  • Emotion Mind,
  • Wise Mind.

The theory displays what type of thoughts we project and how to possibly control them. The rational mind is where we aren’t as emotionally attached, think rationally and reasonably to a situation. This can also be seen as a cold approach. An approach with a lack of empathy or emotion. The emotion mind is where you’re very emotionally invested in a situation. This can be good to generate passion and confidence, but for those of us who are mentally unwell, it can lead us to being overwhelmed and unable to think straight.

These are on either side of the spectrum of our mental response. An image used often is a see-saw. Where the rational mind is placed on one side, and emotion mind on the other. Displaying and projecting too much of one can cause issues in your actions. The rational mind can leave you uninvested, unattached, disassociated and cold to the particular situation. This isn’t always a bad thing, however, if overdone It can be. The emotional mind can lead to feeling overly attached, emotionally overwhelmed, unable to think logically, etc. Yet it can give you passion, drive and allow you to connect. This (if used repetitively) overtime can lead to major mental and emotional overloads and breakdowns.

Predominantly, those of us with a mental illness or mental health issues tend to lean towards our emotion mind in how we respond. Other disabilities like autism, disassociative disorder and more can have people lean towards the rational mind more. Both are exceptional, in moderation. If all your actions and reactions link only to one side, you tend to end up with various issues.

Picturing the see-saw, we must try to balance out both sides. This is where we discover the wise mind. It’s described as:

“Wise Mind is that place where reasonable mind and emotion mind overlap. … It is the integration of emotion mind and reasonable mind. Linehan states, “Wise mind is that part of each person that can know and experience truth. It is where the person knows something to be true or valid.”

DBTSelfHelp

This theory is balancing both sides of your metaphorical see-saw to finding a blend of rational and emotional thinking. It’s finding the balance in order to have clear thinking and considered action. It takes practice to enable your mind to not race to either side. I’m going to elaborate on some basic mindfulness techniques that help enable the chance to find wise mind and make clear decisions.

Distress Tolerance

In my previous blog post, I mentioned finding your emotional path. Examining and delving deep into your emotional pattern of behaviour can help to fully understand our minds experience. It also helps us evaluate where we could find ‘wise mind’. By identifying where our emotions become too heightened mean we can use the spot beforehand to start including mindfulness and lower our emotional path before reaching too high of a level. For example, at about a 5 point, I start to get extreme worry and I start picturing bad scenarios and having flashbacks. At the step before this, if I can include some techniques to finding ‘wise mind’, I can prevent that emotional path from building.

Heres the link to my previous blog post for more context on our emotional path and distress tolerance.

The STOP Method

The STOP method is an anagram that is used in an overwhelming situation, to enable us a way of find more rational/wise mind and move on productivly and calmly. Using this in small situations and working your way up to more distressing times helps to build this as a habit.

The STOP method is:

S – Stop

T – Take a step back

O – Observe

P – Proceed mindfully

The starting point is to stop. Stop completely. In body and in mind. Taking a moment to completely sit/stand still and focus. Next, taking a step back can both be metaphorical or literal. If it helps to literally take a step back, do so. Imagine placing the problem on the floor in front of you to see. Throw those thoughts down and take a deep breath. Then you’ll observe. Observe whats laying out in front of you (metaphorically). Notice what’s happening both inside and outside of you. What’s happening? What are you thinking? Lastly, proceed mindfully. Act with awareness and considered thought. Use both what you feel and what you know to guide you to using wise mind. Think of what actions going forward is going to achieve goals and positive outcomes.

This method when practiced can be really effective. I know first hand how incredibly hard this is to do in troubling situations, however, once you’ve worked out how your emotional path works it’s much easier to use. You can then find common situations you can slot this practice in. Then over time, it can build as a mental practice that habitats in your mind.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Method

There is a similar grounding method called the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 method. This method is meant to distract you from your thoughts and have you focus on your surroundings. This enabling you to rechannel your emotions afterwards and use more of your rational mind alongside it. Reaching a wise decision. The steps are:

If you have trouble with dissociation and getting wrapped in your emotions, this will really help. It helps ground you and recognise your environment. Showing you that you are in a safe place and help acknowledge your surroundings. This helps you escape your thoughts and, once again, enable you to take a step back and think about what’s really happening at that moment.

Tips for Grounding

Additionally here are some tips to remember when you’re practising any grounding technique:

  • Practice as much as possible.
  • Try in different situations and scenarios.
  • Record yourself or someone else reading grounding methods if it helps you remember the steps and have less pressure on you.
  • Start grounding earlier in your emotional path rather than later.
  • Change the methods up if it helps you.

There are no strict rules. Just do what works for you.


That’s where I’m going to end this post today. If you would like a part two on this subject, let me know in the comments or on my twitter @ Anxiety_Sugarr. Remember that with these methods and practices, the results won’t always be immediate. It takes time to practice and master them. Additionally, they won’t work for everyone. If you have methods that help you and you want me to discuss them next time, leave me a comment and let me know.

I hope this helps some of you out there. I know not everyone can afford therapy or has access to this information so if I can help share what I’ve been taught, hopefully, it reaches those who need it.

Until next time,

A.S

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