Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) brings with it a host of potentially distressing symptoms: from lack of concentration and avoidant behaviors to hallucinatory flashbacks and suicidal thoughts. Dealing with these obstacles can require the development of mental skills that provide a person with the ability to step out of the often overwhelming thoughts, feelings, and actions that keep PTSD thriving.
What do we mean when we refer to “mental skills”? Well, in general, a skill is something that can be learned and improved through practice. When we talk about skills being “mental”, what we mean is that they relate to the control of attention.
Trauma-related thoughts, feelings, and actions effectively steal the mind’s attention. To free one’s attention from the thieving grip of PTSD, at least one important mental skill must be cultivated: the skill of anchoring.
A Stable Place to Stand
Anchoring refers to the ability to repeatedly, intentionally, and deeply re-engage with one’s physical space:
1. Notice that your immediate physical environment is made up of things you sense: things you see, hear, touch, smell, and/or taste
2. Try to deeply engage with the experience of seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and/or tasting something with as much detail as possible — you can choose one or two senses to focus on at a time
A. For example: toss a ball up and down, appreciate the richness of the sunlight, absorb yourself in the taste and smell of a mint, or follow the rising and falling flow of ambient noises outside
3. If you get caught up and carried away with negative thoughts, feelings, or urges to act harmfully, do your best to return to the physical space you are a part of, and deeply re-engage with it
Wholeness: The Bigger Picture
Intentionally repeating this process reestablishes control over attention and gives the body and mind a dependable stability in the present; but, taken by itself, anchoring is not a panacea for healing from PTSD. Navigating the shadowy landscape of a trauma story with trained professional help is also vital.
Reprocessing the memory of trauma is like gradually moving away from the limited safety of a campfire to explore the surrounding darkness — mapping out its terrain. But anchoring can serve as a torch to light the inner paths of discovery so that sufferers of PTSD can make sense of the dimly-lit wilderness of their trauma narrative.