How to Ground During Times of Uncertainty

During this uncertain time, it is inevitable that many of us are experiencing stress, anxiety, and feelings of overwhelm. This stress can take a toll on the brain and the body. One way to work through these feelings of anxiety is to draw on grounding skills. Grounding skills can allow you to step away from negative thoughts, uncomfortable feelings, or flashbacks from past experiences of trauma and stress by utilizing your five senses.

Focusing on what is going on in the present environment can help you detach from the past or the worries about the future. Grounding skills can help you notice the experience as it’s occurring, rather than getting dragged down into it, like scenery going by you while you’re riding a train. Using grounding skills can help you feel more connected to yourself and your body, and help you feel more present in the current moment – as opposed to distracted or pulled towards thoughts and worries of the past or the present.

There are many ways to engage in grounding skills. There isn’t necessarily a “right” or a “wrong” way to practice grounding skills. I would highly encourage you to play around with different strategies to see what works best for you. Grounding techniques can be highly personal. You may need to do some trial and error before you figure out what grounding techniques work best for you. Learning how to use grounding skills can be challenging, and the good news is – practice can help!

Some examples of grounding skills can include the following:

Movement. In a nutshell, grounding techniques draw on your five senses (sound, touch, smell, taste, and sight) to immediately connect you with the here and now. Movement can be one way to get in touch with your body in real time. Be mindful of choosing movement activities that you love and enjoy. Sometimes folks connect with movement through practicing some gentle stretches, taking a walk outside, doing some dance moves in the living room, or even some quick jumping jacks. Other times taking a moment to step outside to take a breath of fresh air while doing some movement can be helpful to pull your brain into the present moment.

5-4-3-2-1 technique. This technique asks you to call on all of your senses. You work through this skill by searching for five things you can see, then searching for four things you can touch, then searching for three things you can hear, then searching for two things you can smell, and then searching for one thing you can taste. Working through each of your senses can help your brain and your body slow down and begin to fully be in the present moment. If you find this grounding skill particularly helpful, some people find it helpful to create a mini 5-4-3-2-1 grounding kit. For example, people might create a photo album of pictures from favorite memories (sight), or silly putty (touch), or create a playlist of calming music (sound), or essential oils (smell), or carry around some mints (taste). You can personalize whatever speaks to you in regards to creating space for engaging in this grounding exercise.

Breathing exercises. Your breath can be a powerful ally in the journey towards grounding. Focusing on breathing, by consciously inhaling through the nose, and exhaling through the mouth, while having your exhale breath be longer than your inhale can be a powerful way to help your brain and your body return to the present moment. Having longer exhales than inhales also activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for calming the body by slowing heart rate, and relaxing muscles. There are many different ways to practice breathing exercises, however, starting out simple by simply focusing on your breath, and focusing on having your exhale breath be longer than your inhale can be a powerful way to pull yourself back into the present moment. If you’re looking to expand your breathing exercises, an exercise to practice might be “square breathing.” With this exercise you inhale for four counts, hold your breath for four counts, exhale for four counts, and hold your breath for four counts. You can envision creating a square with your breath while engaging in this exercise. Over time you can slowly increase the number of counts.

Find the rainbow. This technique builds off the sense of sight. For this grounding technique you work your way through the colors of the rainbow by finding things you see nearby for each color of the rainbow. For example, you would look to find something nearby that is red, then orange, then yellow, etc. This can be a fun and interactive way to ground yourself in the moment.

The great thing about grounding is that it can be done anytime and anywhere. These four skills are just the tip of the iceberg of grounding skills. You can practice at home, at a park, or anywhere you happen to be. Working on grounding techniques can take time and practice, however, with patience grounding skills can help you live in the now and focus on the present. If you are interested in learning more about what grounding skills might work best for you, please talk more with your psychotherapist for additional support.