Brain Breaks for Concussion and Brain Injury

January 18, 2022
The TBI Therapist Podcast with Dr. Jen Blanchette

It’s just me on the podcast today! I’ll be sharing my favorite tips on grounding skills. I hope to incorporate these at least once a month to give you manageable (short) nuggets of information on your brain injury or concussion journey. This week, we are talking about all things grounding skills. Which is something we all know how to do!

We’ll talk about how to incorporate it into your life. Here’s my pdf on this episode:

My Free Grounding Guide

Speaker 1 00:00:02 Hi everyone. Welcome to the TBI Therapist podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Jen Blin shot, where we explore the heart of brain injury. Hey everybody. I’m Dr. Jen Blanchett. I am a licensed clinical psychologist and a coach and consultant for folks after a brain injury or a concussion. Today I’m gonna talk with you a little bit about grounding. So I’m just gonna hit the ground running and go. So I’m gonna tell you a little bit about a story about my son. So when I think about grounding, and we’ll define what that is, I think about children because children don’t mess it up. Adults, we mess up how to engage in envi environment. We just do that.
Speaker 1 00:00:57 So every time my son sees this specific dirt that just, you can see it in this picture, if you’re looking at the slides right now, he’ll kick around this dirt. You’ll find it in like a dirt road, in a parking lot in the summer that makes like a cloud. And whenever he sees it, he just can’t stop throwing it in the air and going crazy looking at it. And so I think often about how children are so in touch with their environment, they’re literally touching everything, even though I don’t want them to touch everything, they touch anything, everything anyways. And for some reason, as adults, we turn off that part of our brain, it becomes stunted, and we have to relearn these skills that basically we had in kindergarten. So let’s go forward. So I’m gonna help you define what grounding is, how, how it’s helpful in our nervous system, and give you some more tools for your toolbox after a concussion. One of my favorite quotes about emotions is no feeling is final. When we’re in the midst of some emotional display or episode, we don’t think it’s final. It doesn’t feel final. We <laugh>, we feel horrible, and that feeling feels like it’s gonna stay with us. But I love this quote, no feeling is final because we know that we don’t feel sad forever. We don’t feel happy forever. We don’t feel angry forever. Things do change. They move.
Speaker 1 00:02:36 One of the biggest changes to my thinking as a therapist and a psychologist is polyvagal theory. And that’s really a new understanding of our nervous system.
Speaker 1 00:02:47 So if we are thinking of our nervous system as a stoplight, there are two things that help engage our parasympathetic nervous system. And that’s gonna be your red light and your green light. Your red light is gonna shut your nervous system down and the parasympathetic will engage. It basically will just say, I can’t do this anymore. So that looks like a dorsal vagal freeze. You’ve seen that when you’ve seen an an will do, a belly up response, or when you’ve seen iguana, when they get really cold, they stop moving. So their nervous system makes them stop to save energy for survival. And that’s what happens to us too. So a lot of people, when they see something happen, something threatening, they just stop moving. They, they’re frozen.
Speaker 1 00:03:37 When our para nervous system is in safety, when we are in the green zone, we’re we’re able to play. We’re able to rest, digest food, and it’s safe to go. Basically, we have the green light to engage with somebody. We meet someone new, they feel safe, that kind of thing. Our sympathetic nervous system is our fight or flight defenses. Our defenses are up, we are moving, we’re ready to act on something. And it’s not that we wanna stay out of our sympathetic nervous system is we want to do a dance. So if I’m driving and someone cuts me off, I need my sympathetic nervous system. It needs to jerk the wheel to make sure that I’m not gonna get in an accident. I’m not gonna die, basically. So that system is very important for our survival. And we don’t wanna say, I can never be elevated or escalated. What happens with folks after brain injury is that system goes completely out of whack. So people tend to stay in sympathetic energy too often, so they’re not resting because the brain has changed. We’re not able to regulate as much. There’s so many reasons why that happens that I won’t get into right now, but maybe for another time.
Speaker 1 00:04:58 So grounding skills. These are simple sensory exercises that encourage you to be more embodied or in your body literally. So when we’re not in our bodies, when white fuzz hits us, when we’re feeling overwhelmed, there’s steam coming out of our ears. We’re not in our bodies, we are in our head, we’re thinking or we’re shutting down. So these are skills to help bring the nervous system back online. So a definition grounding can be defined as centering, distraction, healthy detachment. It’s not a relaxation exercise. We don’t focus on our breathing, although it’s helpful, not gonna lie, often used in trauma therapy to reorient the person back to the present. So we want the person back in the present moment. And I’m a EMDR therapist, which is a form trauma therapy. And I will often, if somebody’s too much in their trauma, I will do some of these techniques to help them come back in the room. Concussion, emotions can feel out of control, and it’s a way to detach until you can manage the emotions. So there’s three different types of grounding, physical, mental, and soothing. So with physical, we’re basically using our five senses to bring the body back to the present. So we’re using visual cues. I’ll ask people in my office, you order five things you see on my wall. What are three things you can touch
Speaker 1 00:06:41 For a mental, a mental type of grounding? I’ll ask them to explain something in detail, for example. And soothing is something that’s calming, uh, emotionally to the nervous system. So I might do something I call a calm place exercise where we come up with a calmer, comfortable place that they can go to in their mind. My calm place often had been my backyard. So I’d imagine this hermit thrush that’s often singing in the spring in my backyard in Maine. And it’s just this ethereal, beautiful bird call sound. So thinking of that for yourself, you know, where is a comfortable or calm place that I can mentally go to? It’s really, really helpful. All right, so let’s go over and do a little mini deep dive into each one of these. So mental grounding, we’re gonna start by telling ourselves that you’re safe. And I know that sounds a little woo woo, you know, I’m am I safe right now? But your body doesn’t know you’re safe. So if you’ve gone been and you had some kind of car accident, your body is in sympathetic energy, cuz it still feels that threat. So I encourage people to just even audibly say, I’m safe right now. I’m in my house, or I’m at a friend’s house. Wherever you are kind of verbally or non-verbally in your head say, I’m safe.
Speaker 1 00:08:05 Describe a room in detail, watching out the window, singing a song. And one of the people on my podcast recently talked about spelling a word forward and backward. Some people sing a simple songs like I’m a Little Teapot, and it kind of is funny, if you put your little, you know, hear me shout, knock me over in <laugh>, you’re gonna be singing that the rest of the day, but it gets you outta your head, right? It’s something else to think about. Reground regrounding ourselves back in the moment, counting backwards slowly from 10. So 10, 9, 8. So thinking about trying to slow brain down. Another quote for you, Move a muscle. Change a thought. That’s an AA slogan that’s often used for folks when they’re new to the program or anytime the program. Rather, when your thoughts are seem so loud and you can’t avoid them, or they’re overwhelming, moving your body is probably one of the best things that you can do to help calm that stuff down. Physical grounding. So using our five senses. So there’s something called a 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 technique. So we’re gonna take five things that you see for things that you hear, three things you can touch, smell, taste, you get it right? So we’re gonna work through those senses and I have some resources on that if you’re interested in hearing more about that.
Speaker 1 00:09:48 Running cool water over your hands, really washing your hands, noticing that sensation. I’m rubbing my hands so you can hear it as I’m talking. Digging, literally digging your feet, heels and feet into the floor, grounding your feet, feeling like what that feels like to be, have the earth underneath of you, carrying an object in your pocket. A lot of folks I’ve worked with have done this, so they’ve literally carried, actually have a rock here. So I’m, I’m holding this rock here. If you’re looking at it on video, you can see it’s a smooth egg shape. Rocked that one of my sons found because they loved that it looked like an egg. So it’s about jumping up and down can be another thing you can do. Stretching, clenching, and releasing your fists. Sometimes between therapy sessions. When I’m working in the office, I will scrunch my face, which I look great on video right now, and then release it. And that really helps release attention in my facial muscles because oftentimes in the work that I do, I’m really emoting either into the screen or with my client in person. And it’s a little bit more than I do naturally in the conversation, honestly.
Speaker 1 00:11:03 But it’s something I have to do because I need to be present. So eat something and describe the flavors like an orange or even gum. Sometimes I have folks, you know, pop some gum and just notice what that experience is like. Focus on breathing doesn’t necessarily have to be slow. It could be enjoyment or a lozenge. Another quote here, A loving heart is the truest wisdom. Charles Dickens. So soothing, grounding, that quote, kind of set the stage for us to think about really loving ourselves through this process.
Speaker 1 00:11:50 So thinking of things that are comforting and soothing, like your favorite food, your favorite color, favorite place to rest. For me, my favorite food is sushi. Most likely favorite color would be turquoise. And I think of just light blue water and warmth. And favorite place to rest would probably be somewhere warm in the summertime. Picture people you care about, picture those loved ones you can see right in your mind. Imagine them there. Remember an inspiring song or poem. Listen to that song saying a coping statement like, I can handle this. This two shall pass. Remembering a comfortable or calm place, perhaps the beach mountains are your favorite room in your home. One of my favorite authors, Victor Frankel, says, Those who have a why to live can bear with almost any how I love his work. So that’s all I had for you today on Jen’s brain breaks. I’m hoping to do these live sometimes. So my dms are open on Instagram at TBI therapist and I have a free grounding guide there if you wanna check it out. Thanks for listening.
Speaker 3 00:13:12 Thank you for joining us today on the TBI Therapist podcast. Please visit tbi for more information on brain injury, concussion, and mental health. The information shared on today’s podcast is intended to provide information, awareness, and discussion on the topic. It is not clinical or medical advice. If you need mental health or medical advice, please seek a professional.


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