Grounding Techniques: Definition & How To Use Them
What are grounding techniques? Learn more about how to use grounding techniques to relieve stress, anxiety, or unwanted thoughts.
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What Are Grounding Techniques? (A Definition)
Grounding techniques are coping strategies that reconnect you with the present, a self-regulation mechanism for times of stress and anxiety. Grounding techniques can help you manage your anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD flashbacks, unwanted memories, dissociation, or trauma.
Grounding techniques are useful because they help you distance yourself from an emotional experience. When you experience negative emotions—for example, perhaps you accidentally remember something incredibly painful—the natural instinct of the brain is to start the involuntary physiological change known as the “fight or flight” response. Although this response keeps you safe by preparing you to face, escape from, or fight danger, sometimes the danger your brain tries to protect you from is not exactly what it seems. If you find yourself in moments like these, grounding techniques can help the body calm itself and realize that there isn’t an actual threat present.
Grounding techniques work by “grounding” you in the present moment and pulling you away from intrusive thoughts or feelings. This refers not only to having your “feet on the ground” but also “the mind on the ground. ”When you turn your attention away from thoughts, memories, or worries, you can refocus on the present moment (Fisher, 1999).
You can use grounding techniques to help manage various issues:
Grounding can be categorized into three types:
Grounding Techniques for Anxiety
Anxiety is something that most of us have experienced at least once in our lives. Many activities can trigger anxiety, like speaking in public, going on a first date, or walking alone at night.
Although anxiety is a normal stress reaction, being anxious too often or experiencing chronic stress can negatively affect your physical and mental health, relationships, or work efficiency. For example, if you have anxiety, you might have a hard time concentrating or you might feel distracted, which can impact job performance and even interpersonal relationships (Vytal et al., 2013)
You can watch the video below to get an overview of what grounding techniques are and how to use them to soothe your anxiety:
Video: Grounding Exercise For Anxiety
Grounding Technique 1: The 54321 Grounding Technique
The 5-4-3-2-1 technique is probably one of the most common grounding techniques, used in many cases and for many issues, including anxiety and PTSD. This technique helps by grounding you to the moment and reconnecting you to all five senses by naming:
The next time you feel anxious or are overthinking about a problem, try the 54321 grounding technique to become more present in the moment. If you like, you can use the following video to walk you through this grounding technique.
More Grounding Techniques With the 5 Senses
You can use the 5 senses to stay grounded and connect with the present moment. Some examples can include:
Grounding Technique 2: Play a Categories Game
This grounding technique helps your mind to focus on something else, ideally something more pleasant or neutral. For this technique, you can list a couple of categories and challenge yourself to list as many things as possible in those categories. You can include your favorite things or other things:
Grounding Technique 3: Do a Meditation Exercise
Mediation is a very powerful tool to reduce stress, depression, anxiety, and it can help you get out of your head and reconnect to your body. There are many types of meditation, such as the body scan, moving meditations, or loving-kindness meditation, so it’s important to try and figure out which one works best for you. Meditation has been shown to reduce stress, make you calmer, promote happiness (Mineo, 2018), and even reduce symptoms of PTSD in the US military (Seppälä et al., 2014)
Grounding Technique 4: Focus on Your Breath
Many clinical workers use breathing exercises to help patients be present in the moment. Focusing on breathing is a great tool for reducing stress and anxiety (Stefanaki et al., 2015). This breathing exercise works because it helps you disengage with your mind and not pay attention to the distracting thoughts. You can do this simple exercise before bed, when you wake up in the morning, or before an important meeting.
First, find a comfortable and quiet place to sit or lie down. Breathe in slowly through your nose, and notice how your chest and belly rise as you fill your lungs. Then, breathe out slowly through your mouth. Do this a few times until you start to calm down. Here is a video that can walk you through this exercise:
Grounding Exercise for Anxiety: Square Breathing
Grounding Technique 5: Move Your Body
Going outside for a walk or to exercise might help distract you from spiraling thoughts and rumination. Exercise is very good for your physical and mental health, and it can boost your happiness hormones. Some of these hormones, such as serotonin and endorphins, significantly increase after exercising. Lucky for us, we don’t have to run a marathon or do an intense workout at the gym to boost these happiness hormones. Dancing, walking, hiking, or biking can improve your mood and have an antidepressant and anxiolytic effect (Young, 2007).
Having an active lifestyle, doing regular exercises, and building other healthy habits can have many benefits for your life. For example, movement has been shown to boost your mood and memory and protect your brain against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.
Grounding Technique 6: Play With Numbers
You might not be a math genius, but numbers and doing simple math may help ground you. When you do math, your brain may stop the ruminative processes and think more about the problem to solve.
To play simple math games and redirect your attention, you can try to:
Grounding Technique 7: Be a Narrator
Be the narrator of the world that’s going on all around you. You can mention who you are, your name, where you are, and how you feel. When you describe what is going on around you, you must be attentive. If you’d like, you can say the little story out loud, you can say it in your head, or you can start a daily journaling practice to practice this strategy more often.
For example, I might say, “My name is Zamfira and today is Tuesday. Currently, I am sitting on a white chair in my living room and looking out of the window. The view is pretty and the streets are busy. Next to the window, there are a few pictures of my friends and family. I can smell the cup of fresh coffee, but I notice that my body is still warm from the other cup I just finished.” You can keep going like this, or you can add as many details as you’d like. It’s important to be non-judgmental and have self-compassion while being your own narrator.
Grounding Technique 8: Practice Being Kind To Yourself
Whenever you feel upset or distressed, negative thoughts might spiral in your head. You might think that the reason you’re feeling this way is silly, or that you should be able to put everything behind you. In moments like these, it’s important to remind yourself to have compassion for yourself.
You can say some positive affirmations, mantras, or compassionate phrases, such as:
Grounding Technique 9: Listen to Music
Put on one song you like to do the following exercise. Imagine you’re listening to the song for the first time, focusing on the music or lyrics. Is there something new you notice now? How does your body feel now? Pay attention to what stands out to you now and how it makes you feel.
Grounding Technique 10: Practice Yoga
Yoga, an ancient set of exercises that are combined with breathing techniques and meditation principles, can help your mental and physical health. What makes yoga special is that you can benefit from the exercise even if you’re not experienced in yoga and you’re just starting with some simple poses. When you concentrate on breathing and doing the poses, your mental focus may shift from the distressing thoughts onto the yoga practice.
In one study, for example, researchers found that after 12 weeks of daily yoga and breathing exercises, depressive symptoms significantly decreased. Also, they noticed an increase in a brain chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid that has calming and anti-anxiety effects (Streeter et al., 2017).
To learn more grounding techniques, check out the videos below:
Video: Grounding Techniques for PTSD
Video: Grounding Technique for Being More Present
Articles Related to Grounding Techniques
Here are some more articles to read that can help you calm your mind and body:
Books Related to Grounding Techniques
Want to keep learning how to use grounding techniques? Check out these books:
Final Thoughts on Grounding Techniques
Grounding techniques are coping strategies that may reconnect you with the present and may help you overcome anxious feelings, unwanted thoughts or memories, flashbacks, distressing emotions, or dissociation. You can try as many grounding techniques as you want: the more you try, the higher the chance you’ll find something that works for you.