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"Balancing Emotions: The Sympathetic Nervous System and the Art of Sensory Grounding"

Updated: Aug 13, 2023

In life's chaotic carousel, it's easy to become overwhelmed by stress, anxiety, and the fast pace of the world around us. Our sympathetic nervous system, often referred to as the "fight or flight response,, see other post for a more in-depth discussion on ANS. But what if we could channel this reaction and restore equilibrium? Enter the practice of sensory grounding a powerful technique that can help us find tranquility and equilibrium amid life's challenges. Being swept up by stress, anxiety, and the rapid rhythm of the world has almost become a point of pride.


The Practice of Sensory Grounding

Sensory grounding is a technique that draws from mindfulness practices and focuses on bringing attention to our senses in the present moment. By engaging our senses – sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell – we can redirect our attention away from stressful thoughts and feelings. This redirection can help calm the sympathetic nervous system and activate its counterpart, the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the "rest and digest" response.

Steps to Practice Sensory Grounding

  1. Find a Quiet Space: Start by finding a quiet and comfortable space where you won't be disturbed.

  2. Five Senses Check: Take a few deep breaths to center yourself. Then, consciously engage each of your five senses:

    • Sight: Notice three things you can see around you.

    • Sound: Listen for three distinct sounds in your environment.

    • Touch: Feel the texture of an object near you.

    • Taste: If possible, savor a small taste of something, focusing on its flavors.

    • Smell: Inhale and identify a scent, whether it's from a nearby flower or a comforting aroma.


  1. Breathing Awareness: While engaging your senses, pay attention to your breath. Take slow, deep breaths to further signal your body's relaxation response. When our bodies activate the fight or flight response, our oxygen levels decrease to prioritize fueling our vital organs and muscles, readying us to fight or flee in needed. Therefore, the instruction to take a deep breath is not merely an annoying phrase, but rather a scientifically substantiated recommendation.

  2. Stay Present: Whenever your mind starts to wander, gently bring your focus back to the sensory experiences you're engaging in. I like to visualize riding a horse and gently using the reins to guide your horse back on course.

Benefits of Sensory Grounding

Sensory grounding can provide numerous benefits, such as:

  • Reducing stress and anxiety

  • Enhancing self-awareness

  • Improving emotional regulation

  • Increasing mindfulness

  • Promoting a sense of calm and balance

Conclusion

In a world that often demands our constant attention and reaction, mastering techniques like sensory grounding can empower us to regain control over our stress responses. By nurturing our sympathetic nervous system and finding moments of stillness, we can foster emotional resilience and navigate life's challenges with a greater sense of ease. So, the next time you find yourself caught in the whirlwind of stress, remember the power of your senses and their ability to ground you in the present moment.


So the next time you feel guilty over your daily starbies run or avocado toast, take advantage of the opportunity to practice sensory grounding. Skip the drive through and sit down for 5 minutes, and allow yourself to experience and savor every aspect of it.


If you're based in Florida and interested in expanding your knowledge of sensory grounding, I invite you to get in touch with me at caroline@carolinegarden.com.





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