May 1, 2020

Self Regulation

Prevention at Home Video Education Series

YWCA Spokane staff have joined together to create a unique online engagement opportunity focused on cultivating increased community education and awareness surrounding issues related to intimate partner domestic violence. The eleven-part video series presents engaging, educational content for individuals from any background or current knowledge base. The videos and blog posts also offer watchers an opportunity to get to know YWCA Spokane advocates on a personal level; each contributor brings their own personality into their writing and presentation style. Each topic within the series has its own blog post, like this one, including a video. All of the other topics in the series are linked below. As you watch these videos and read the blog posts, we hope that you will gain more knowledge, explore topics that you may not have been exposed to, and empower yourself and those around to be in healthier, happier relationships. Thank you for taking the time to further your education, awareness, and understanding surrounding these critical issues. 

Self Regulation

Hey there! It’s Brit again. I work for YWCA Spokane as an Associate Therapist. At the time of my writing this, we are currently working remotely so we can practice safe social distancing during COVID-19. This is a very stressful and anxiety-provoking time for a lot of us–and even when we don’t have an international pandemic happening, there are going to be days when we feel overwhelmed by life. Whether we have a history of trauma, struggle with our mental health, or just have a bad day, it’s good to know how to re-center ourselves. That’s where grounding techniques can come in. If you want to watch the video version of this, you can find it here. 

So, what is grounding, and how does it work?

“Grounding” simply means bringing ourselves back into the present as balanced as we can be. In order to help us understand how this works, we need to know a little bit about our nervous system. The nervous system has two main parts: sympathetic and parasympathetic. If your body was a car, the sympathetic system would be the gas pedal, and the parasympathetic would be the brakes. Our nervous system is responsible for keeping us safe and responding to danger, so we want it to work.

Say, for example, you’re hiking in the woods and you see a bear. How might that feel? Racing heart, rapid breathing, sweating, the feeling of needing to run, fight, or play dead. That’s our fight-or-flight system at work. In this situation, the bear would be the trigger. Not everyone responds to triggers the same way, and one person might have different responses at different times. We can have any combination of responses. Triggers are things that might push on our gas pedal, while grounding techniques can tap on the brakes. One of my coworkers made more content about trauma and the brain–if you want more information about this, you can access that here.

To the right is a little doodle I made that might help explain different trauma responses and how grounding can help. I drew mine as a spectrum from “hot” responses to “cold/checked out” responses. Let’s go over each section real quick.

“Hot” Responses:

  • Feeling “amped up”
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Hypervigilance (that constantly looking over your shoulder feeling)
  • Decision fatigue

“Cold” or checked-out responses:

  • Dissociation or feeling like you’re on autopilot
  • Numbness
  • Disconnected
  • Seeing the world through a window rather than being fully present
  • Decision fatigue

You might have noticed the term “decision fatigue” in both lists. We use this term when talking about that feeling you get when you just can’t possibly make any more choices. My example of this is when I’ve had a long day at work (working in trauma means that sometimes we’re pretty exhausted at the end of a day) and have to stop at the grocery store to get something simple like pasta sauce. Should be easy, right? But there I am, in the pasta sauce aisle, looking at twelve shelves of options and feeling like it’s impossible to pick which one to buy. That’s decision fatigue! It can be very unhelpful to experience decision fatigue, especially if we’re in a situation that isn’t safe, we have kids around we have to take care of, or we’re doing something that requires our attention, like driving.

Mindfulness/”Wise mind” 

  • Present
  • Aware
  • Able to make decisions
  • Able to self-regulate

Being in a mindful state, as balanced between hypervigilance and dissociation as we are able to be, means that we are still aware of what’s happening around us but we feel stable enough to move through it. This is the goal of grounding techniques! It doesn’t mean that all of our feelings go away, and we might still feel the stress or anxiety to a degree. The purpose of grounding is to get us to a place where we can move through the moment as safely as possible. 

So how do we do this?

Fortunately, there are a few hacks we can use to help ourselves feel more centered. A good tip is to practice some of them before you find yourself in a stressful situation. That way, we’ll be more prepared and can pull them up more easily.

Breathing Exercises

One of the first hacks is doing some intentional deep breathing. Most of us aren’t using our full lung capacity, so it might take a bit of practice to get the hang of these–that’s totally fine! Just do the best you can. If you need to modify any of these suggestions, please do that for yourself.  

  • #1: 8-count breaths
    • Breathe in, counting to eight.
    • Hold the breath, counting to three.
    • Release the breath, counting to eight.
    • Repeat as many times as needed (for me, it’s usually three).
  • #2: Tiered breaths
    • Breathe in, counting to three.
    • Hold, counting to three.
    • Breathe in again, counting to three.
    • Hold again, counting to three.
    • Breathe in again, counting to three.
    • Breathe out completely.

Muscle Relaxation

Another way to re-center is to target muscle groups that might be holding tension. Again, these methods can be adapted to whatever you are able to do or that works best for your situation. 

  • #3: Muscle tension & relaxation, two ways
    • Method 1: progressive
      • Starting at one end of your body (your feet or your head, usually), focus on one muscle group/body part at a time.
      • With your in-breath, flex or tense up the muscles in that area.
      • With your out-breath, release them.
      • Continue until you’ve done your whole body (or as much as you’re able)
    • Method 2: all at once
      • With your in-breath, tense/flex all the muscles in your body that you can.
      • With your out-breath, release them.


Intentional sensory mindfulness can be really helpful if we’re feeling overwhelmed. Use as many senses as you can, or just pick one. The idea is to focus all of our attention on a limited sensory experience. Don’t be afraid to get creative!

  • #4: Using the five senses
    • Some examples of how this can be done:
      • Find 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste
      • Pick a color or shape, and find everything around you that falls in that category
      • Touch something very warm or very cool (be careful not to burn yourself!)
      • Close your eyes and listen to loud music. Focus on the lyrics or instruments.
      • Put your bare feet on the cool floor or in the grass outside.
      • Close your eyes and inhale a pleasant or familiar smell.
      • Find something with an interesting texture (a soft blanket, a wool sweater, a pet, bricks or concrete, etc). Close your eyes and focus on the feel of it.

Safe place

Sometimes, the situation we’re in feels so unsafe that grounding to the present doesn’t seem possible. It’s ok to take a brief moment with a small mental vacation. My “safe place” is a small beach inlet my late grandfather used to bring us to when I was a child. When I imagine it, I think of the smell of the ocean, the feel of the sand under my feet, and the sound of waves and seagulls. 

  • #5: Safe place
    • Take a breath.
    • If needed, close your eyes.
    • Imagine a place that’s safe for you. It can be real or fictional.
    • Use whatever senses you need to make it feel more real:
    • What does it smell like?
    • What’s the temperature? Is it warm or cool?
    • What can you hear?
    • Take a moment or two to enjoy the safe place.
    • Take another deep breath, and wiggle your fingers or toes to bring yourself back.

Written content and video for this topic within the Prevention at Home series provided by YWCA Spokane staff member, Brit Wilson.

Continue Learning with Prevention at Home!

Explore more topics on your journey empowering yourself and those around you by visiting the following blog posts and watching the other videos in our prevention at home series.

  1. Services at YWCA Spokane
  2. What is Intimate Partner Domestic Violence
  3. Red Flags and the Relationship Spectrum
  4. Respect, Boundaries, and Consent
  5. Teen Domestic Violence
  6. Why Do They Stay or Go Back
  7. Trauma and the Brain
  8. Safety Planning
  9. Self Care
  10. Self Regulation
  11. How to Help a Friend

External Resources for Continuing Education

YWCA Spokane staff members have collected the following external links for you to further your education.


If you or someone you know is impacted by intimate partner domestic violence, know that confidential advocates are always available through our 24hr helpline services by calling 509-326-2255, emailing, or texting 509-220-3725. 

To learn more about accessing additional services through YWCA Spokane during the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit

By: Mia Morton

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