Do you experience a lot of anxiety and stress that leaves you feeling drained, disoriented, and unsettled? Do you feel like you keep grasping for something to steady you that you just cannot reach? Then perhaps you are not feeling grounded, and need something to help you anchor yourself back to the present moment.
Grounding is an extremely helpful and simple mindfulness technique that allows us to stay connected to our present environment and calm ourselves down in times of distress. Whether you struggle with anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD, or unwanted thoughts, grounding techniques can help you to cope more effectively and increase feelings of comfort and relaxation.
If you feel like you are in need of some grounding, below are some helpful techniques you can include in your self-care toolbox that will allow you to create space from distressing thoughts and feelings, and help you refocus your attention and energy on what is happening in the present moment.
1. The 5-4-3-2-1 technique
This technique is one of my favourites! This strategy basically entails paying close and deliberate attention to the details of your surroundings, using your five senses. Using this technique, you will strive to notice small details that your mind would usually tune out, such as distant sounds, or textures of ordinary objects.
The first of your senses that you will want to engage is your sight. You can do this by looking around wherever you are, whether that is on the subway, in your bedroom, etc. As you look around, look for five things that you can see. You will want to focus on looking for small details such as the pattern on a pillow or on the ceiling, or the way the light is reflecting off a particular surface.
Next, you are going to engage your sense of touch by looking for four things that you can feel. You can do this by paying close attention to how your clothing feels on your skin, how your legs feel against your chair, or how the sun or wind grazes over you. Take some deep breaths and really try to focus in on what sensations you can feel.
After this, you will focus in on three things that you can hear. Do you hear the distant sounds of an ice cream truck? Birds chirping? The sound of a ticking clock? Close your eyes and try to pay attention to whatever sounds you can hear. Spend a few minutes just listening and actively focusing on your breathing. If you find your mind starting to wander and get distracted, gently bring it back to the task at hand.
Now, you are going to focus on two things in your environment that you can smell. Do you smell your parents cooking dinner downstairs? What are those specific smells? Can you smell freshly cut grass through your open window? Smell has been found in various studies to have a very strong connection to our memories, and smelling a certain scent can transport us back in time to a memory that is associated with that smell. For example, does the smell of fresh chocolate chip cookies remind you of baking with your grandmother? Or does the smell of oranges remind you of a trip your family took to Florida when you were younger? Smells can be very comforting, and elicit a sense of safety. Some people even like to carry around with them certain scents that they know will bring them to a happy place or provide comfort and relaxation. Can you think of any scents that have this effect on you?
Lastly, you are going to focus on one thing you can taste. For this one, you can chew on some gum or suck on a candy, and really pay attention to the intricate details of how it tastes. Is it sweet? Sour? Fruity or Minty? Try to pinpoint the exact flavours you are tasting.
A major reason why this grounding technique is so popular and effective is that it can be done by anybody, anywhere! With some practice, you can really get into the groove of using this simple and easy technique to help ground yourself, wherever you are.
2. Body Scan
This technique is also great for helping yourself stay grounded in times where you may be feeling overwhelmed and disconnected from your environment. Body scanning involves paying close attention to parts of the body, and bodily sensations, in a gradual sequence from feet to head. By mentally scanning yourself, you can bring awareness to every single part of your body, noticing any pain, tension, or general discomfort.
You can begin this technique by closing your eyes if you are comfortable, and starting with a few minutes of deep breathing through your nose, and out your mouth. As you continue breathing deeply, start bringing your attention to your feet. Notice if there are any sensations you feel, such as tingling, pressure, tension, etc. Once you have noticed any sensations in your feet, slowly start moving up your body, focusing in on each individual body part, such as your calves, thighs, hips, pelvis, stomach, chest, arms, hands, neck, shoulders, face, head, etc. Investigate each part of your body for however long you feel is needed, continuing to pay attention to anywhere that you notice a particular sensation coming up. Continue to breathe into this area. If you notice there is particular tension in one area, such as the neck, shoulders, or jaw, try to remind yourself to actively unclench. Once you have moved from one end of your body to the other, you can stop there, or continue going back down your body again to the place you started at. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers, just tune in to what’s present, as best you can, without judgement.
As you open your eyes, or bring yourself back to your current surroundings, take a couple moments to reflect on what that experience was like for you. If you feel a bit calmer and more relaxed, then this is a good indicator that this strategy worked well to ground you. Additionally, this body scan technique can be used to focus in on any emotions that are coming up for you. Our body holds onto our emotions, and so while doing this technique, if you find yourself all of a sudden becoming a bit emotional, do not feel scared. It is normal for some emotions to come up during this exercise, and if they do, you can gently ask yourself where these emotions are coming from. What may be happening in your life that is bringing these emotions up? Doing this can help you stay connected not only to your environment, but also to the inner world within yourself.
If you feel like this may be a strategy you would want to try, there are body scan scripts you can easily find online to follow along with, as well as mindfulness and relaxation apps such as the Calm App that have guided body scans that talk you through the exercise so you can focus solely on the task at hand. YouTube also has many mindful body scan videos that you can use.
3. Use a grounding object
This final strategy is quite simple, and involves identifying a particular object that can be held easily in your hand and taken wherever you go. Just like the previous strategies we have discussed, as you hold onto your chosen item, focus your attention on how it feels in your hands. Is it rough? Smooth? Soft? Holding onto something solid and focusing in on it can help us to feel more grounded in times of high stress. Take a moment to reflect on whether or not there is a particular item of significant meaning or importance to you that you can use as your grounding object. It can be as simple as holding on to a lip balm tube, or a pen. Just plant your feet firmly on the ground, take some deep breaths, and focus on the feeling of the object in your hands.
I hope these simple grounding strategies have inspired you to explore the world of mindfulness and expand your understanding of techniques you can use to help yourself achieve greater relaxation in times of stress. So, if you find yourself feeling particularly overwhelmed, out of control, or on the verge of an anxiety attack, consider using these simple strategies to help yourself feel more grounded and connected to your inner world and your surroundings. Remember, if something isn’t working for you the way you would like it to, you can tweak it to best fit your unique needs and self-care routine. Consider asking yourself: What are some ways I can make these strategies more effective for myself?