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By Boris M | 28 April, 2020 Published in Guides
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Grounding techniques, or grounding exercises, help to bring your mind to the present moment. They are tried and tested methods that help someone who is feeling overwhelmed by distressing feelings, memories or thoughts.

These techniques can range from a few very simple exercises such as deep, controlled breathing, to the more advanced ones, such as meditation. Grounding techniques can be helpful to alleviate stress, anxiety, panic attacks, anger outbursts, PTSD, short-wired decisions and actions, and much more.

For people who experience negative flashbacks, or find themselves reliving traumatic memories such as childhood abuse or sexual assault, grounding techniques can help them bring their minds to the present moment instead.

These exercises can vary from individual to individual, and what works for one person might not be effective for another. Finding the method that works for you can help you get through tough times more effectively and with greater ease.

How grounding techniques work

Grounding exercises help you focus on the “here and now” and rewire your focus on the present moment. This way, you’ll be able to avoid going down the path of the negative experiences and physical sensations that these emotions bring.

The goal of grounding exercises is to bring you to the present moment when you’re experiencing flashbacks, negative memories, unwanted emotions, and panic attacks.

Sometimes, the grounding techniques are as simple as deep, conscious breathing, while they can also be slightly more complex and require deep cognitive abilities and self-awareness.

Having a grounding chair, for example, is helpful for some, as it’s a spot where they bring themselves to the present moment and connect themselves with the physical, inanimate world around them.

For others, having cold showers or just washing their hands with cold water can do the trick. Here, the sensation of the cold water making direct contact with their skin ‘grounds’ their mind into receiving the sensation of that physical action.

Picking up objects can also help, with the individual focusing all of their energy and thoughts into that single, solid inanimate object.

But remember that techniques vary depending on the circumstances and individual, and deep breathing, for example, might not be effective for people who experience strong emotions and very negative flashbacks. In these situations, more intense and consciously challenging methods might be needed. [1]

Why is grounding so important?

Grounding can make your life much easier by bringing your mind to the present moment and prevent it from wandering into a negative state. These exercises can improve the quality of mental and emotional health, but they are also crucial for your career, familial relationships, social life, and all other aspects of your life.

For those who often experience uncomfortable feelings, negative memories, or PTSD flashbacks in social situations or when at work, knowing how to ground oneself effectively is crucial. Luckily, there are many grounding exercises for you to try. Putting your feet on the ground and connecting with the earth does work for many.

Additionally, objects around you can be helpful; for example, you can try to name the objects around you to bring your mind to the current moment. These exercises are viable not only for those who experience mild panic attacks but for those who suffer from severe cases of PTSD and trauma too.

Finding the right techniques for you can be achieved through trial and error – but it’s important to remember that patience is key, and the proven techniques that we discuss below ought to be practiced a few times before deciding if they’re right for you.

What is the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique?

One of the best exercises that helps many people bring themselves back to earth is the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. This method is all about engaging all five of your senses to concentrate and bring your mind to the here and now.

By focusing on each point of the body, this method slowly brings you back to earth, sense by sense. This technique works for anxiety, PTSD flashbacks, panic attacks, and other mental health issues.

You might find this technique incredibly helpful, and its simplicity means you can use it anywhere, in every day, life hassle-free.  Here’s how to do it.

First, focus on your breathing; take a few deep breaths and then start building an awareness of what’s around you. [2]

  • Find 5 things that you can see around you:

It can be something as simple as your clothes; the desk you’re sitting behind; the walls around you; or simply the colours you notice. Remember this step is simple and effective

  • Touch 4 things and become aware of them:

Touch can be incredibly helpful to bring yourself to the present moment. It can be the texture of the desk; your cotton shirt; the feeling of a book or a magazine; any inanimate object you find around you. Notice how they feel on your skin when you touch the items. Are they hot or cold, rough or smooth?

  • Acknowledge 3 things you can hear:

It can be the birds singing outside; the sound of traffic on the streets; or people talking next door. Don’t judge the noises, just listen to them and acknowledge them

  • Find 2 things you can smell:

Smell the fragrance you put on in the morning or the smell of the air around you. Can you smell hot tarmac or a nearby building sight? Is there a cafe or a food joint nearby that is setting off aromas?

  • Be aware of 1 thing you can taste: 

For example, the taste of coffee you just had, or the taste of the toothpaste you used to wash your teeth.

Engaging your senses can help you come back to the present. If this technique doesn’t work after the first attempt, do it again in a different surrounding, or multiple times until the desired effect is achieved. This is, according to experts, the best effective grounding method for most people.

What other grounding techniques are there?

While the 5-4-3-2-1 technique is the most tried and tested grounding method in modern anxiety therapy, there are many other ways to help bring you to the present moment. [3] These include:

Another useful technique to become present is to have a chair that you’ll use to bring your mind back to here and now. This can be any chair; in your office, at home, in the kitchen. Make sure your feet can touch the ground, too.

  • Take a few deep breaths to prepare your mind for the exercise. Close your eyes and take several deep breaths. Focus on your body at the same time
  • Then, start to slowly feel the world around you. Focus your mind on how the chair feels; touch it with your arms and feel how it feels
  • Make sure your feet touch the ground. As you touch the ground with your feet, imagine that you’re draining the energy from the ground
  • Notice how the chair feels when you touch it with your back
  • Take a moment to notice the sensations around you; can you hear anything? What about the smells?

Sometimes, having objects around you can help you to become aware of your surroundings and come “back to Earth”. Pick up objects around you, and notice how they feel. Are they smooth or hard? Do they feel heavy or are they light? Warm or cool?

Also, take a moment to notice how they feel – the texture of the object. Keep your mind focused on the object for some time, and you’ll find yourself present.

This is an interesting technique that many find useful. Place your feet on the ground, and start imagining as if you are drawing around your foot with your preferred colours.

Then, do the same for your other foot, and you’ll notice that after some time, your mind will be focused on the present moment.

Quick mental exercises that you can do in your mind can be extremely helpful to focus on the present moment. By keeping your mind busy, you will be able to rewire your focus on the here and now anywhere and at any time.

  • Look around you and name all the objects you can see
  • Count backwards from 100 to 1
  • The object technique
  • Describe the process of doing an activity you love doing. For example, if you like cooking pasta, name the steps of how you cook your pasta
  • Think of three people and spell their names and then spell them backwards. Do the same with your name
  • Name all of your family members, their names, age, and their favourite activities
  • Find something around you that you can read, and read it backwards, letter by letter
  • Think of an object and draw it in your mind. You can also draw it with your fingers in an imaginary fashion

Below we have listed some useful techniques to work through which will help keep you grounded. These are all based on physical awareness and include:

  • Take 5 long, deep breaths, and exhale through puckered lips
  • Place your feet on the ground, and feel the ground. Also, wiggle your toes and notice how it feels
  • Stomping your feet to the ground can also be helpful. Notice how that feels
  • Clench your fists and release 10 times
  • Place your palms together and squeeze tightly. Hold for 15 seconds and notice how that feels.
  • Start rubbing your hands together, and notice the warmth that builds up
  • Stretch your hands over your head as if you’re reaching for the sky. Hold for 5 seconds and try again

What is ‘Earthing’ and how does it work?

Earthing, or grounding, is another technique where you focus on connecting with the planet Earth. Mostly, it’s done by placing your feet on the ground and feel the energy of the Earth coming to you.

Take your shoes off and allow the energy to enter into your system; it’s been scientifically proven that the earth emits free-flowing electrons to the objects it comes into contact with.

Focus on finding this energy deep in your core, and sometimes, picturing the earth’s energy like a wave in your mind’s eye can help you feel its force too.

Some people have found earthing to be beneficial for their arthritis, inflammation, insomnia, and even depression and anxiety. Feel free to try this exercise at any time – though we would recommend doing so in a natural environment for maximum effect.

How grounding reduces depression and anxiety

Grounding techniques can be vital for reducing cognitive or mental conditions. As you’re bringing your mind to the current moment, you’re not allowing it to wander to negative thoughts that are associated with anxiety and depression.

Grounding techniques help separate your mind from the mental or emotional distress you feel. These feelings are a subconscious result of the brain feels like the body is under threat from external forces, which then triggers the ‘fight or flight or freeze’ response in our central nervous system.

Grounding techniques allow the body to calm itself by sending messages to the brain that the threat is only perceived, not real.

Instead, take a few deep, mindful breaths and notice what’s happening at the moment. Notice the sounds, smells, and the objects around you and focus on the “right here, right now”. [4]

10 ways to ground yourself in sobriety

Practicing the ten techniques listed below have a proven impact on reducing stress and anxiety during addiction recovery by means of grounding oneself in the present.

Try the following:

1. Acknowledge what’s happening

If you’re having negative thoughts, or your mind wanders to alcohol again, be aware of that craving and ensure you register that. Acknowledge it’s happening, and bring your mind to the present moment where you are not consuming alcohol

2. Focus on “we” rather than “me”

If you’re struggling at the moment, it’s important to acknowledge that you’re not alone in this. Instead of saying “I’m suffering”, think of it as “we are suffering.” Take comfort in the collective nature of your addiction problem is a worldwide one

3. Try the ‘earthing’ technique

Take your shoes off and walk outside barefoot. You’ll notice a shift in how you’re feeling soon. Be receptive to the Earth’s energy and picture its positive natural vibrations flowing through you

4. Slow down

Don’t rush with the things you find uncomfortable. For example, if you’re feeling the urge to drink again, slow down and be conscious of it. It’s important not to brush over it by keeping yourself busy

5. Stop multi-tasking

Focus on one thing, and do this one thing properly instead of transferring your focus on multiple things and doing them half-heartedly. Research has proven that multitasking is not actually effective in task-management, and most often only leads to increased stress and disorientation

6. Go out into nature

Find a relaxing spot and listen to the sounds of nature, and breathe the fresh air. Scientists have acclaimed that being in nature releases serotonin into the brain, and helps us ground ourselves by returning to primal instincts (being able to differentiate between actual threats and perceived ones)

7. Be aware of tension in the body

Focus exactly on the parts of your body where you feel tense, and try to relieve that tension as much as you can. This can involve a self-massage, such as rubbing the palms of your hands or balls of your feet or trying stretching or yoga routines for the back and neck

8. Stop saying “I can do this”. You are doing it.

Take pride in the fact you are attempting to change your thought process, and that you are trying – and succeeding – to take control of your body. Every positive and calm thought is a step in the right direction.

9. Trust your gut more often

Instead of thinking too much, trust your instinct from time to time and go where it wants to go. After all, grounding techniques are all about reconnecting with your inner self – so remember to do that

10. “This isn’t me”

Tell yourself that this isn’t you who is suffering. Believe it is a temporary feeling inside your own head that will soon pass. Acknowledge you are a person, a separate entity to your cognitive turmoil. This will take your mind off your struggles and focus it somewhere else.

Things to remember about grounding techniques

While grounding techniques can work wonders in helping rewire the brain, it is crucial to always be aware that using ‘distraction’ as a grounding method can sometimes lead to avoiding a certain problem.

If you find yourself using grounding techniques multiple times a day, it’s important that you later return to the problem or issue, and address it accordingly. Grounding can be seen as a ‘bookmark’ where you acknowledge your problems, and ‘save them for later.’

Other things to remember about grounding techniques are:

  • Grounding can be used anywhere and at any time
  • Notice what triggers your negative urges
  • Keep your feet (or one part of your body) on the ground
  • Awaken your senses, open your eyes
  • Remain as neutral as possible as you bring your mind to the present
  • Let negative thoughts flow away
  • Let go of the past and focus on the present
  • Ground yourself before relaxation practices

Rate your mood before and after these grounding techniques to establish their effectiveness, and to discover which method suits you best.

Ready to get help?

We offer high-quality rehabilitation & detoxification services tailored to your individual needs.

To discover your road to recovery, call us today on 0800 140 4690.

References

[1] https://www.winona.edu/resilience/Media/Grounding-Worksheet.pdf

[2] https://insighttimer.com/blog/54321-grounding-technique/

[3] https://drsarahallen.com/7-ways-to-calm/

[4] https://savp.vassar.edu/docs/Grounding%20Techniques.pdf

 

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