If you’ve ever gone to counselling, then you’ve likely talked about grounding techniques. Mental health and self-care bloggers also talk about grounding techniques. So far, I hadn’t really talked about this topic, because for me, grounding techniques can trigger a psychotic episode. My anxiety disorders work in a very specific way, where my anxiety triggers are what grounding techniques are used to ground someone. Ironically, they’re meant to stop anxiety, but for me, it’s the opposite. And when my anxiety disorders get out of control, I have a psychotic episode.
But just because something doesn’t work for me, doesn’t mean it won’t work for someone else. Therefore, I wrote about grounding techniques because you might benefit from it. So I hope you find this article useful.
What Do We Mean By Grounding Techniques?
Let’s start with a basic definition. Grounding techniques are strategies we can deploy to help us reconnect with our immediate reality (Shukla, 2020, March 27), which is often stated as grounding you in the present. The two ways of phrasing it are often interchanged. I just wanted to make sure you were aware of both.
There have been many studies that show the benefits of using grounding techniques, and I will discuss a few of them here. These are the studies that caught my eye as showing a wider range of benefits in using this method. Jacobson, Fox, Bell, Zeligman, and Graham (2015) conducted a study on 13 participants who had dissociative identity disorder (previously known as multiple personality disorder). Using semi-structured interviews and open-ended questions, they found that grounding techniques were a significantly useful counselling technique for people with dissociative identity disorder.
Grounding techniques have also proven useful in acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). ACT is a mindfulness-based approach (Harris, 2006) with roots in behaviour and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Instead of teaching symptom management, this therapeutic approach deals with accepting the deep feeling and inner struggle, rather than avoiding and suppressing them (Psychology Today).
A case study by Burrows (2013) applied ACT to an 18-year-old adult who survivor of sexual abuse and who had developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This participant, like many people with trauma and PTSD, often suppresses and avoids their memories, thoughts, emotions, and physiological sensations that work as a trigger for their trauma. This has short-term benefits, but not long-term ones. Thus, this study sort to provide more long-term benefits by using ACT.
Burrows (2013) case study participant underwent 18 ACT therapy sessions, with the first six sessions being focused on increasing the participant’s contact with the present moment. They were taught to ground themself by planting their feet on the ground, following their breath, and connecting with their five senses. This was done to create a firm foundation for the rest of the ACT therapy.
In doing this, Burrows (2013) found that the use of grounding techniques was effective in reducing trauma symptoms, avoidance, and thought suppression. The results of this were an improvement to their participant’s quality of life.
Another beneficial example of grounding techniques was done to assist children in acquiring the vocabulary needed for communicating their daily experiences and traumatic pasts. Yehuda (2005) conducted three case studies on inner-city elementary school children with known or suspected histories of trauma. They found that grounding techniques are the crucial difference between hearing and not hearing a child’s anguish.
One example mentioned in Yehuda (2005) study showed how putting grounding techniques into practice with children can reap positive results. The example went like this. When one child went into a room, another child accidentally brushed against that child’s arm. This caused the child entering the room to jump and scream, “Don’t hit me! Don’t hit me! I kill you!”, which caused the other child to punch them. The researcher put this child in their lap, as they looked angry, lost, and completely terrified. With this, they gently called the child’s name, reminding them where they were, and reassured them they were safe.
The methods used in the example were basic grounding techniques for those adrift with flashbacks and dissociation. Which raises an interesting point. If a child is problematic, then maybe they just need the adults around them to help ground them. Instead of labelling them as problem children. Just a thought. We don’t know what goes on at a child’s home when they’ve left school.
So far, we’ve seen how grounding techniques can help with trauma and dissociative symptoms. But it can be useful in other areas as well. One such area is Dance Movement Therapy (DMT).
Dance Movement Psychotherapy (DMP) is a relational process in which client(s) and therapist use body movement and dance as an instrument of communication during the therapy process. DMP is an empathic creative process practiced as individual and group therapy in clinical, community, and educational settings, as well as in private practice.
DMT uses grounding techniques because they connect a person with one’s body and to one’s personal reality (de Tord and Bräuninger, 2015). Rhythm grounds us because it builds up our orientation in the here and now (Bräuninger, 2014). This rhythm can be achieved through singing, making sounds, making percussion sounds with the body, creating sensory grounding, physical grounding, emotional grounding, and social grounding when done with others (de Tord and Bräuninger, 2015). Take this as an endorsement to go karaoke.
I’m not one for singing around others or doing anything on a stage, although there was a time before the bullying destroyed that last bit of confidence I had. But, I have enjoyed going to places that have private karaoke booths so the only people who know how bad your singing is are your friends. Who will also be singing badly. A quick tip. Make sure someone else holds the microphones as you sing as a group.
Anyway, where was I? Ah yeah, DMT. The basic movements in DMT can help integrate bodily experiences to create wellbeing, integration, stability, and connection with reality at a physical, emotional, sensory, and social level (de Tord and Bräuninger, 2015). This is all thanks to oxytocin (the love and anti-stress hormone), which de Tord and Bräuninger (2015) states will help with depression, anxiety, stress, and trauma.
As you can see, there are many applications for grounding techniques that can benefit our mental wellbeing in a lot of different ways. So, although they can be problematic for the weirdness that are my anxiety disorders, that doesn’t mean you won’t reap the benefits of using them.
This is one of the most commonly known grounding techniques that uses your five primary senses to ground you in the here and now (Verywell Mind). It’s a simple method which was mentioned in Burrows (2013) study.
- What are five things you can see?
- What four things you can feel?
- What three things you can hear?
- What are two things you can smell?
- What is one thing you can taste, such as a drink you have or imagine the taste of your favourite food (if you have nothing to hand to taste).
An easy way to accommodate using taste to help ground yourself is to carry sucking candy (lollipops and hard-boiled sweets), especially the sour kind (Verywell Mind). Sour flavours are hard to ignore, pulling your attention to the present through your tastebuds.
Because grounding techniques work well in using our five primary senses, touch is another simple sense to use to ground yourself. All you need is some hand lotion/moisturiser. There’s also the added benefit of nice soft and younger looking hands.
Listen to music
Play your favorite song(s) because it will boost your mood while also eliciting emotions that bring you back down to earth (Choose Mental Health). Pay special attention to the lyrics and think about what meaning they have for you at this specific moment and get into the melody (Healthline). Not all great songs have lyrics after all, which is where the melody can help.
As DMT highlighted, singing can also help to ground us (Verywell Mind and de Tord and Bräuninger, 2015). You can sing along to your favourite songs or you can sing without music. Whatever works for you to make use of this grounding technique.
This is pretty simple to do, taking grounding to its more literal sense. Just take your shoes and socks off and feel the ground beneath your feet. You can even try walking barefoot over different surfaces (de Tord and Bräuninger, 2015).
We all need to breathe. But we can take that process and turn it into a grounding exercise. All you really need to do is pay attention to your breaths as you breathe in and out. There are also a lot of breathing exercises you can follow which can also help you relax. I wrote an article that lists 10 of the best breathing exercises, which you can find here.
- Place your feet firmly on the ground, either sitting or standing.
- State the date (and time if you’re able to look at the time).
- Take a few slow and deep breaths.
- State what you can observe around you in your environment.
- Remind yourself that you’re in a safe place right now.
Counting might not seem like a grounding exercise, but when you combine it with the environment you’re in, it can be. All you need to do is count something like all the pieces of furniture around you (Verywell Mind and BetterHelp) or all the red cars.
Although sucking on hard candy, such as a sour lollipop, is a good grounding technique, it’s not always practical to carry them around. Therefore, carrying strong tasting chewing-gum (peppermint or cinnamon gum) is a great alternative (Verywell Mind).
A warning: If you rely on chewing-gum, then try to avoid using sugar free gum too often, as this can have a laxative effect (Bauditz, Norman, Biering, Lochs, and Pirlich, 2008).
Stretching, even basic stretches like you do when you wake or feel a little tired, can be used to ground you. Using these and other light stretches, if you play close attention to the physical sensations and your breathing, will ground you in the present (Talkspace and Choose Mental Health).
This might seem like it’s far too simple to help you become grounded in the here and now, but it can. Change your seated position, stand or sit (depending on what you were doing before you started this grounding exercise), or even wiggle your toes and fingers (BetterHelp). If, when you do this, you pay attention to the physical sensations, then you can ground yourself.
Ironically, if you have a bad back, then your attention should be drawn to this when you move because of the relief you might feel from it. Pulling your attention, with no effort on your part.
Focus on an object
Select an object to focus on that you find interesting (Choose Mental Health). A great way to do this might be to carry or wear (a bracelet) something you can touch and focus on. Think about how it feels to touch it. Are there any imperfections? Does the texture feel nice or not? What made you pick this item? Just keep asking yourself questions like that.
Create a phrase you can say to help anchor yourself, such as what your full name is, your age, where you live, the date and time, and where you currently are (Healthline). You can keep adding to this anchoring phrase until you’ve calmed down, so you may add something about the weather, what you’re wearing, or what activity you were doing before you needed to ground yourself.
Movements like jumping or skipping (de Tord and Bräuninger, 2015), can help ground you in the now. But why stop there? Why not dance around the room to music and ground yourself on multiple levels? I know I always feel better after dancing around my room to my music or when I go out clubbing. How about you?
Look in the mirror
If you have a mirror at head, then look at yourself and smile. Then state what you see and how it feels to smile, even if you don’t want to smile (BetterHelp).
If all else fails, you can distract yourself by playing a game, talking to someone, calling a friend, listening to an audiobook, reading a book, or something along those lines.
There are a lot of grounding techniques you can try. The ones mentioned in this article are just the tip of the iceberg. So tailor your coping strategies by finding the grounding techniques that work best for you. People are individuals, so what might work well for some people might not work as well for you.
As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, please share your experiences with grounding techniques and what you’d recommend that wasn’t listed in this article in the comments section below as well. Don’t forget, if you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.
Lastly, if you’d like to support my blog, you can make a donation of any size below. Until next time,
Unwanted Life readers.
Bauditz, J., Norman, K., Biering, H., Lochs, H., & Pirlich, M. (2008). Severe weight loss caused by chewing gum. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 336(7635), 96–97. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39280.657350.BE and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2190242.
Bräuninger, I. (2014). Dance movement therapy with the elderly: An international Internet-based survey undertaken with practitioners. Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy, 9(3), 138-153. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/263393848_Dance_movement_therapy_with_the_elderly_An_international_Internet-based_survey_undertaken_with_practitioners and https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17432979.2014.914977.
Burrows, C. J. (2013). Acceptance and commitment therapy with survivors of adult sexual assault: A case study. Clinical Case Studies, 12(3), 246-259. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Caroline-Burrows/publication/274055156_Acceptance_and_Commitment_Therapy_With_Survivors_of_Adult_Sexual_Assault_A_Case_Study/links/5a8a18700f7e9b1a95542e2f/Acceptance-and-Commitment-Therapy-With-Survivors-of-Adult-Sexual-Assault-A-Case-Study.pdf, https://doi.org/10.1177/1534650113479652, and https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1534650113479652.
Harris, R. (2006). Embracing your demons: An overview of acceptance and commitment therapy. Psychotherapy in Australia, 12(4). Retrieved from https://contextualscience.org/files/article%20psychOz.pdf and https://search.informit.org/doi/abs/10.3316/INFORMIT.545561433272993.
Jacobson, L., Fox, J., Bell, H., Zeligman, M., & Graham, J. (2015). Survivors with dissociative identity disorder: Perspectives on the counseling process. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 37(4), 308-322. Retrieved from https://doughertyconsulting.com/Psychology_Course_Resources/documents/PSY249%20Articles/Survivors%20with%20DID%20_%20Counseling%20Process.pdf, https://meridian.allenpress.com/jmhc/article-abstract/37/4/308/83298/Survivors-with-Dissociative-Identity-Disorder, and https://doi.org/10.17744/mehc.37.4.03.
Shukla, A. (2020, March 27). A 5-Step Mindfulness Grounding Technique To Ease Anxiety & Why Mindfulness Works. Cognition Today. Retrieved July 21, 2022, from https://cognitiontoday.com/5-step-mindfulness-grounding-technique-to-ease-anxiety-why-it-works.
de Tord, P., & Bräuninger, I. (2015). Grounding: Theoretical application and practice in dance movement therapy. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 43, 16-22. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Iris-Braeuninger/publication/275208604_Grounding_Theoretical_application_and_practice_in_Dance_Movement_Therapy/links/5b180ca50f7e9b68b41fc59f/Grounding-Theoretical-application-and-practice-in-Dance-Movement-Therapy.pdf, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0197455615000040, and https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aip.2015.02.001.
Yehuda, N. A. (2005). The language of dissociation. Journal of trauma & dissociation, 6(1), 9-29. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1300/J229v06n01_02 and https://doi.org/10.1300/J229v06n01_02.