Emma's Journey with Dissociative Identity Disorder


Grounding skills

Emma was pretty vulnerable in episode 12, and we want to share some of the things we are learning about grounding skills and coping skills.

Think of yourself as a thermometer for stress... and right now, you are filled up all the way to your nose with stress. So you only have from your nose to the top of your head to deal with normal, everyday stressors. What you need to do is process more of your stress - writing and talking to someone or processing in theray, using coping skills at work, getting creative with self-care - so that the thermometer goes down, like to your neck, then your waist, even, so when things happen you have more "room" to handle them better or differently.

Coping skills kind of come in two forms:

1.) Grounding techniques often use the five senses - sound, touch, smell, taste, and sight - to immediately connect you with the here and now through sensory input. It works by sending sensory information to your brain with messages of safety and comfort, which conflict with and distract from the "danger signals" your brain is getting from cortisol and other stress hormones in your brain.

For example, singing a song, rubbing lotion on your hands, or sucking on some sour candy are all sensory sensations that are difficult to ignore or distract you from what's going on in your mind. This helps you directly and instantaneously connect with the present moment. Here are some ideas for each of the senses, which you can use for brainstorming... ignore what doesn't help, and think of your own ideas that fit you more specifically. Add to the list. Practice it when you are well, so it is second nature to intervene in your own behalf during those moments of "crisis" or stress when you really need help.


Turn up the radio or blast your favorite song. Talk out loud about what you see, hear, or what you're thinking or doing. Call a loved one. Put on some nature sounds such as birds chirping or waves crashing. Read out loud, whether it's a favorite children's book, a blog article, or the latest novel.


Hold an ice cube and let it melt in your hand. Put your hands under running water. Take a hot or cool shower. Grab an article of clothing, a blanket, or a towel and knead it in your hands or hold it to your cheek. Concentrate on what it feels like. Rub your hand lightly over the carpet or a piece of furniture, noting the texture. Pop some bubble wrap. Massage your temples. If you have a dog or cat, cuddle and pet him or her. Drink a hot or cold beverage.


Sniff strong peppermint, which also has the benefit of having a soothing effect. Light a scented candle or melt scented wax. Get some essential oils that remind you of good times (freshly cut grass, rain, clean laundry, or sugar cookies, for example) and smell one.


Bite into a lemon or lime. Suck on a mint or chew peppermint or cinnamon gum. Take a bite of a pepper or some hot salsa. Let a piece of chocolate melt in your mouth, noticing how it tastes and feels as you roll it around with your tongue.


Take a mental inventory of everything around you, such as all the colors and patterns you see, the sounds you hear, and the scents you smell. Saying this out loud is helpful too. Count all the pieces of furniture around you. Put on your favorite movie or TV show. Play a distracting game on your tablet, computer, or smartphone. Complete a crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search, or other puzzle. Read a book or magazine.

2.) Coping skills are more like the offense, the way the grounding skills are the defense. They are proactive ways to deal with stressors or whatever is happening internally so that you can maintain function. Anything counts that helps bring that "temperature" down or helps you keep functioning. Sometimes these may be the same as grounding skills listed above (i.e., like lighting candles to relax), but when done as coping skills they are done preventatively rather than in response to the trigger or difficulty or stress.

Examples of unhealthy coping skills that are often used to "self-medicate" to deal with life include alcohol, drugs, stimulants, energy drinks, video games, or risk-taking behaviors. While not all of these are always bad, excessive use of any of them in effort to "drown out" the "noise" of life, or "numb" the feelings experienced in response to life are only ways to avoid dealing with life and often complicate matters or make them worse.

Some examples of healthy coping skills include:

Nutrition. Eating regular meals and getting the nutrition your body needs helps your brain to function properly.

Sleep. Your body needs time to rest and recover, but so does your brain.

Exercise. You can walk or move or do some kind of physical activity, even if you are not a work out fanatic, to help your brain be healthy. Stress chemicals, like cortisol, only get processed out of your body through physical movement, so it's really important to be up and about during parts of your day in ways you are able to do. Movement also releases endorphins, which are the "feel-good" chemicals in your brain.

Meditation and Relaxation Techniques: Practicing deep breathing techniques, the relaxation response, or progressive muscle relaxation are ways to help reduce stress and induce relaxation.

Time to Yourself: It is important to set aside time everyday to allow yourself to relax and escape the stress of life. Give yourself a private, mini vacation from everything going on around you. Be creative with identifying ways of self-care that help you manage stress, even when you are crunched for time or in public or with little energy to deal with anything.

Reading: Escape from reality completely by reading. Reading can help you to de-stress by taking your mind off everyday life. Some people like to read stories or books that match their emotions to help them better express them, and other people like to read stories or books that are the opposite of what they are feeling so they can get some relief.

Friendship: Having friends who are willing to listen and support one through good and bad times is essential.

Humor: Adding humor to a stressful situation can help to lighten the mood.

Hobbies: Having creative outlets such as listening to music, drawing or gardening are great ways to relax and relieve everyday stress.

Pets: Taking care of a pet helps distract the mind from stressful thoughts. Studies Show that pets are a calming influence in people's lives.

Finally, the third piece I mentioned was self-care. Self-care is different than just resting or being lazy because it is intentional and deliberate. It also should be an ongoing practice. You can be super creative in finding ways to better care for yourself on a daily basis, even when time or energy are limited, and even when you are at work or caring for others. You matter! Caring for yourself will help you function better, feel better, and be more productive in other areas of your life. Here are some examples:

Self-Care Ideas for the Mind

1. Start a compliments file. Document the great things people say about you to read later.

2. Scratch off a lurker on your to-do list, something that's been there for ages and you'll never do.

3. Change up the way you make decisions. Decide something with your heart if you usually use your head. Or if you tend to go with your heart, decide with your head.

4. Go cloud-watching. Lie on your back, relax, and watch the sky.

5. Take another route to work. Mixing up your routine in small ways creates new neural pathways in the brain to keep it healthy.

6. Pay complete attention to something you usually do on autopilot, perhaps brushing your teeth, driving, eating, or performing your morning routine.

7. Goof around for a bit. Schedule in five minutes of play or fun (non-directed activity) several times throughout your day.

8. Create a deliberate habit, and routinize something small in your life by doing it in the same way each day-what you wear on Tuesdays, or picking up the dental floss before you brush.

9. Fix a small annoyance at home that's been nagging you-a button lost, a drawer that's stuck, a light bulb that's gone.

10. Punctuate your day with a mini-meditation with one minute of awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and sensations; one minute of focused attention on breathing; and one minute of awareness of the body as a whole.

11. Be selfish. Do one thing today just because it makes you happy.

12. Do a mini-declutter. Recycle three things from your wardrobe that you don't love or regularly wear.

13. Unplug for an hour. Switch everything to airplane mode and free yourself from the constant stimulation of social media and email.

14. Get out of your comfort zone, even if it's just talking to a stranger at the bus stop.

15. Edit your social media feeds, and take out any negative people. You can just "mute" them; you don't have to delete them.

Self-Care Ideas for the Body

1. Give your body ten minutes of mindful attention. Use the body scan to check in with each part of your body.

2. Oxygenate by taking three deep breaths. Breathe into your abdoment, and let the air puff out your stomach and chest.

3. Get down and boogie. Put on your favorite upbeat record and shake your booty.

4. Stretch out the kinks. If you're at work, you can always head to the bathroom to avoid strange looks.

5. Run (or walk, depending on your current physical health) for a few minutes. Or go up and down the stairs three times.

6. Narrow your food choices. Pick two healthy breakfasts, lunches, and dinners and rotate for the week.

7. Activate your self-soothing system. Stroke your own arm, or if that feels too weird, moisturize.

8. Get to know yourself intimately. Look lovingly and without judgment at yourself naked. (Use a mirror to make sure you get to know all of you!)

9. Make one small change to your diet for the week. Drink an extra glass of water each day, or have an extra portion of veggies each meal.

10. Give your body a treat. Pick something from your wardrobe that feels great next to your skin.

11. Be still. Sit somewhere green, and be quiet for a few minutes.

12. Get fifteen minutes of sun, especially if you're in a cold climate. (Use sunscreen if appropriate.)

13. Inhale an upbeat smell. Try peppermint to suppress food cravings and boost mood and motivation.

14. Have a good laugh. Read a couple of comic strips that you enjoy, or watch a comedy movie.

15. Take a quick nap. Ten to twenty minutes can reduce your sleep debt and leave you ready for action.

Self-Care Ideas for the Soul

1. Imagine you're your best friend. If you were, what would you tell yourself right now? Look in the mirror and say it.

2. Use your commute for a "Beauty Scavenger Hunt." Find five unexpected beautiful things on your way to work.

3. Help someone. Carry a bag, open a door, or pick up an extra carton of milk for a neighbor.

4. Check in with your emotions. Sit quietly and just name without judgment what you're feeling.

5. Write out your thoughts. Go for fifteen minutes on anything bothering you. Then let it go as you burn or bin the paper.

6. Choose who you spend your time with today. Hang out with "Radiators" who emit enthusiasm and positivity, and not "Drains" whose pessimism and negativity robs energy.

7. Stroke a pet. If you don't have one, go to the park and find one. (Ask first!)

8. Get positive feedback. Ask three good friends to tell you what they love about you.

9. Make a small connection. Have a few sentences of conversation with someone in customer service such as a sales assistant or barista.

10. Splurge a little. Buy a small luxury as a way of valuing yourself.

11. Have a self-date. Spend an hour alone doing something that nourishes you (reading, your hobby, visiting a museum or gallery, etc.)

12. Exercise a signature strength. Think about what you're good at, and find an opportunity for it today.

13. Take a home spa. Have a long bath or shower, sit around in your bathrobe, and read magazines.

14. Ask for help-big or small, but reach out.

15. Plan a two-day holiday for next weekend. Turn off your phone, tell people you'll be away, and then do something new in your own town.

Hopefully that gives some ideas just for better caring for you, while You practice some of these things you already know, already are doing, and already trying so hard. You got this.

Emma Sunshaw