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Grounding 101

Grounding is a way to detach from emotional pain or an overactive mind. In using physical grounding techniques, we shift focus away from thoughts, feelings, and internal images toward the body or the environment. These techniques are incredibly useful for people with anxiety or post traumatic stress, but they can be helpful for anyone.

Physical grounding brings us back to the here-and-now when we are stuck in worrying about the future, or re-experiencing or thinking about the past (i.e. flashbacks or rumination). Because the body and the immediate physical environment always exist in the present, intentionally focusing on these things brings your attention into the present as well. Physical grounding can help with thoughts or emotions that feel too big to handle, as well as with fogginess, numbness, or a feeling of being “checked out”.

Physical grounding doesn’t address the cause of these difficult experiences, but it does allow us to separate from them, which puts us in a better position to see what’s really going on. It’s like when a child holds a drawing right up to your face for you to look at — it’s way too close to see, but if you take a step back the picture becomes clearer. Creating space from overwhelming feelings, racing thoughts, or blankness allows us to return later to whatever might have triggered them, this time with the ability to see clearly and respond intentionally.

In the West, we’re conditioned to be in our heads most of the time, even when we are not experiencing overwhelming thoughts, feelings, or numbness. We constantly plan, analyze, or judge our experience, rarely leaving room just to notice what’s going on in our bodies and around us. Physical grounding brings us out of our heads and into our bodies and surroundings. This shift in perspective can bring a sense of balance to life and help us more deeply enjoy positive physical experiences.

Many physical grounding techniques can be done anywhere and take just a few moments. Here’s a short list of ideas for the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, detached, or like you’re stuck in thinking mode:

  • Use smell, taste, and touch to connect with strong physical sensations. You can try smelling something minty or intense, such as vapour rub, tiger balm, or peppermint essential oil. You can even put these on your body and notice the cooling, tingling sensation. It might also help chew or suck on something with a strong flavour, such as mint or cinnamon gum, or sour candies. Holding something cold in your hands or to your face can also work.

  • Move your body. Stretching, dancing, jogging on the spot, or doing jumping jacks are good ways to connect with your body. As you move, try to notice what it feels like from the inside out.

  • Pick a colour and then scan your surroundings, making note of everything you see in that colour.

  • Pay attention to your feet connecting to the ground and/or your back and legs against the surface you’re sitting on.

  • Take long, slow, deep breaths.

  • Hold an object and really focus on its texture and shape. Touch every part of its surface, noticing how it feels in your hands.

  • Try the 5-4-3-2-1 technique to bring your five senses online. Name five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can touch. It might be hard to come up with something for smell and taste, depending on your circumstances. Know that “nothing” is an okay response, it’s really about noticing your capacity to sense that way anyway.

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