Grounding techniques for functional seizures

When a seizure is about to happen, you go into what is known as a dissociative state. You may feel as if you are detached from your surroundings or as if the room is moving around, or just get a feeling of unreality. Not everyone gets this kind of feeling, sometimes known as an ‘aura’. As a way to combat that weird feeling and to try and stop the seizure from occurring, you can try sensory grounding. If you don’t get a warning then grounding may still help if you are having off days where you think a seizure may happen, or you are in environments that could potentially trigger a seizure.

This is a way of bringing your focus back into the present moment.

Understanding and Improving Your Skills at Grounding:

(This section is written with input from Dylan Williams, one of our peer support group members)

There are numerous grounding techniques that people that people have found to help when they feel a seizure may be coming on. Although functional seizures are not completely understood by the medical profession, evidence suggests that psychotherapeutic interventions can be helpful in managing seizures. Most psychotherapies work by giving your mind increased understanding and new tools to manage itself. Therefore beyond “out of the box” techniques for grounding, we can also pursue greater understanding and develop new tools that are individually tailored. This is suitable for seizures because they are complex and there are a wide variety of triggers.

Grounding is not just about repeating a technique, or simply noticing how you feel. It is a philosophy of mindfully observing. Grounding can be achieved through almost any activity or state of inactivity, once you understand how mindful observation works. In the early stages of mindfulness, one learns to recognise and “put to one side” an internal voice (perhaps that is anxious, or critical, etc.), and consider approaching situations with a new, more impartial perspective. You may be aware of having some environmental or subconscious triggers for seizures, which can be difficult to manage or interpret. Often focus can become too consumed by certain input, and we become unaware of other things around us. Mindfulness can help our awareness and channel focus towards experiencing our environment and our inner thoughts differently, with a greater focus on the present moment. Mindful techniques often traverse the detail and substance of experiences, but crucially, without passing judgement or interpretation.

Grounding techniques are more than just distraction; they can become a philosophy of living. Working through mindfulness exercises you can begin to practice taking control of your mind, rather than always trying to control your surroundings. Practice makes perfect, and there are hundreds of free and paid resources out there to help you learn mindfulness practice, and expand your skills at grounding. 

For some people, trying to reduce seizure events can leave them feeling distressed, vulnerable, and defensive, because avoided memories and experiences have become irrational triggers or associations. These associations can be understood as chaotically interpreted input – not processed mindfully. This is one reason why understanding a broader perspective on grounding can be particularly helpful. Utilising an already externalised voice requires relinquishing a bit of “power”, or “control” in process, and may help tackle more deep-rooted internalised interpretations.

Hopefully you will be able to consider and explore grounding techniques, with some insight into how you can find an approach that is right for you. As you develop your skills, you will more become proficient, and be able to apply the philosophy of mindful observation as a dynamic grounding tool.

Some Examples of Things to Try:

Ask yourself some questions such as ‘where am I?’, ‘what’s the date today?’, ‘who is the current Prime Minister?’, ‘what’s the capital of Japan?’ etc. By focusing on these types of questions, you can reorient yourself back in the present time.
Try counting backwards from 100, or remembering your eleven times table, or perhaps adding up the numbers in your birth date and dividing by three. Anything that helps you to really focus your mind in the present. Be aware of your breathing.
Focus on what you can hear in the room or outside. Really listen and identify each sound as you hear it. Alternatively, focus on any smells and identify where they are coming from. Try holding something rough in your hand and focus on how it feels.
Try different things to see what works for you. You could try snapping an elastic band on your wrist, turning on some music, popping some bubble wrap, picking up a book or magazine to read, play with a fidget toy, etc. Anything to distract from symptom focus.

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