One of the tools that I encourage my clients to utilize when they recognize that they are starting to feel anxious is Grounding. Grounding skills are a set of physical, mental, and soothing strategies that help us manage stress and anxiety, including trauma-related distress, in the moment. They consist of small tasks to help us deal with our distress by heightening our awareness of our current environment and refocusing on the present moment. They help us create a safe space so that we can center ourselves to gain control over our strong emotions and prevent us from spiraling into negative thought patterns.
There are 3 types of grounding skills, and you may find one or all to be effective at different times. There are numerous grounding skills available, and below are just a few examples of each type of grounding skill:
- Physical – focusing on your senses.
- Mental – focusing on your mind.
- Soothing – talking to yourself kindly and showing yourself self-compassion.
Physical Grounding Skills – focusing on your senses:
- Sit in your chair, or on the floor, close your eyes, clench your fists as you breathe in, count to 5, and relax your fists as you exhale, do this 10 times.
- Go to the bathroom, run cold water through your hands, count to 10, now use the soap, count to 10, wash off the soap with cold water, and count to 10.
- Close your eyes, take a deep breath, count to 3 then exhale. Now, open your eyes, and notice 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, 1 thing you can taste.
- Touch 2 to 3 objects that are around you (your pen, your water bottle, the side handles of your chair etc.): notice the shapes, colors, textures, weights, and temperatures. Compare the objects.
- Stretch: extend your fingers, arms, and legs as far as you can go, then slowly and gently roll your head around. Do this while sitting down on your chair, sitting on the floor, and standing up. Notice the difference.
Mental Grounding Skills – focusing on your mind:
- Describe your environment in detail out loud using all your senses: for example, the walls are off-white, there are 5 windows, the door is to the left side of where I sit, it is brown, with a shiny round mental handle etc.
- Do a 10-min guided meditation.
- Count back from 100 by 7.
- Go through the alphabet: A is for alligator, B is for bread etc.
- Recite your favorite poem or sing a song out loud.
- UNPLUG from your devices and spend time in nature! (being on social media can increased isolation, depression, and loneliness)
Soothing Grounding Skills – showing yourself self-compassion:
- Plan a safe treat for yourself: a favorite candy, a bubble bath, a stroll with a friend, or a pet.
- Your favorites: list your favorite activities, sports, hobbies, people, foods, places, movies, and songs, and how you are incorporating them into your life.
- Look at the photos of the people/pets/things you care about.
- Write down your strengths with colorful markers on sticky notes and display them on the wall.
- Be your own best friend and say encouraging things to yourself out loud in front of a mirror.
- Hug your favorite blanket, stuff toys, or use a weighted blanket.
- Connect with your hobbies and interests.
- Yoga, walking, strolling, stretching.
Grounding skills is one of the first steps to reign in our anxiety and depression. In addition to grounding skills, recognizing and labeling our emotions, practicing mindfulness and gratitude, expanding our coping skills, self-compassion and self-care are also essential components that contribute to our mental and physical wellness so we can find balance especially through challenging times.
Practicing different grounding skills consistently so that you know what to do when you need them. Being consistent is one of the key elements for these skills to be effective. Notice what types of grounding skills work best for you: the more you’re familiar with them, the better equipped you are in dealing with your anxiety and stress. So, practice the skills even when you are in a good space. Learn to be aware and recognize your moods so you can start implementing these skills in the early stages to help you de-escalate.
Christina Kuo, MSED, LPC.