Grounding techniques are increasingly popular approaches to coping with stress, anxiety, and other difficult and/or overwhelming emotional states and experiences. They work by reorienting the person back to the present moment by focusing on sensory information, such as vision, hearing, and touch, strategies that are helpful for reducing the reactivity and intensity associated with future-oriented worries or the reliving of past experiences of shame, rejection, or pain. They can be practiced anywhere, anytime, to snap you back to the present moment where things are generally more manageable and tolerable than they are in our minds when we’re stressed.
Grounding exercises generally help the person connect to their body and environment by focusing on their sensory experiences which, in many cases, promote a sense of feeling rooted in the earth and the present moment. They also help integrate and enhance the connection between mind and body, which allows people to be more mindful of their thoughts and feelings and to pause before responding to them. Because they often involve breath work, mindfulness, and other activities of the parasympathetic nervous system, grounding techniques also have beneficial impacts of the nervous system and overall health (for more about this, see last week’s post Worried Sick).
The following are 3 grounding techniques that can be practiced in times of stress. Everyone is unique, so what works for one person may not work for the next. Give each of them a try in order to figure out which strategy will work best for you. You may find one stands out as a clear favorite or that you like aspects of different approaches and it may depend on your situation, mood, or other variables. Be flexible and keep experimenting until you find an approach that clicks for you!
Wherever you are standing or sitting, look around to find:
5 things you can see in the space around you (e.g., lamp or picture frame).
4 things you can feel on your skin (e.g., chair against your back or feet pressing into the ground).
3 things you can hear going on (e.g., car driving by or hum of the air conditioning).
2 things you can smell right now (e.g., neighbor’s BBQ or freshly cut grass).
1 thing you can taste or that describes the inside of your mouth (e.g., coffee or minty).
2. Touch and Describe.
Pick up any object around you (a rock, paperclip, water bottle, etc.).
Begin to describe it in your mind as you would to someone who has never seen such an object. How would you describe the texture, shape, size, and other notable features so that another person could visualize it?
Continue to focus on the details and subtle aspects of the object until the anxiety passes naturally.
3. Grounded Breathing.
Sit up straight in a comfortable position.
Picture your tailbone and lower body gently pressing into the earth or chair while you reach the top of your head towards the sky or ceiling.
Begin to breathe slowly in and out, filling your belly with air and then exhaling until empty.
On the inhale breath, focus deeply on inhaling what you need in that moment, whether it be courage, love, patience, or hope. Picture it as it fills you up, giving you everything you need to thrive as you stretch your spine upward.
On the exhale breath, let go of what you no longer need, including fear, hate, resentment, and jealousy, while focusing on the deep connection and sense of support provided by the ground.
Continue to breath in and out, alternating inhaling and lengthening with exhaling and rooting, as you focus on breathing in what you need and discarding the rest.