Learn about how to use grounding techniques to relieve stress, anxiety, or unwanted thoughts.
Sometimes, life throws you a curveball and you find yourself overwhelmed. Maybe you experienced a loss. Perhaps you find yourself pondering the meaning of life. Or maybe the current state-of-affairs makes you feel lost. Whenever you find yourself anxious or stressed, you can use grounding techniques to reconnect with yourself and the present moment. This science-based strategy may be helpful for anxiety, panic attacks, flashbacks, or even dissociation.
Grounding techniques work by “grounding” you in the present moment and pulling you away from intrusive thoughts or feelings. This refers not only to having your “feet on the ground” but also “the mind on the ground.” When you turn your attention away from thoughts, memories, or worries, you can refocus on the present moment (Fisher, 1999).
Grounding techniques are useful because they help you distance yourself from an emotional experience. When you experience negative emotions—for example, perhaps you accidentally remember a painful memory—the instinct of the brain is to start the involuntary physiological change known as the “fight or flight” response. Although this response keeps you safe by preparing you to face, escape from, or fight danger, memories are not a tangible danger. If you find yourself in moments like these, grounding techniques can help the body calm itself and return to the present moment.
The 54321 Grounding Technique
The 5-4-3-2-1 technique is probably one of the most common grounding techniques. This technique helps by grounding you to the moment and reconnecting you to all five senses by naming:
The next time you feel anxious or are overthinking a problem, try the 54321-grounding technique to become more present in the moment.
Play a Categories Game
This grounding technique helps your mind to focus on something else, ideally something more pleasant or neutral. For this technique, you can list a couple of categories and challenge yourself to list as many things as possible in those categories. You can ask yourself:
Do a Meditation Exercise
Mediation is a very powerful grounding technique to reduce stress, depression, anxiety, and it can help you get out of your head and reconnect to your body. There are many types of meditation, such as the body scan, moving meditations, or loving-kindness meditation, so it’s important to try and figure out which one works best for you. Meditation has been shown to reduce stress, make you calmer, promote happiness (Mineo, 2018), and even reduce symptoms of PTSD in the US military (Seppälä et al., 2014).
Focus on Your Breath
Many clinical workers use breathing exercises to help patients be present in the moment. Focusing on breathing is a great tool for reducing stress and anxiety (Stefanaki et al., 2015). Breathing exercises work because they help you disengage with your mind and not pay attention to the distracting thoughts. You can do the simple exercise below before bed, when you wake up in the morning, or before an important meeting.
Grounding techniques are strategies that may reconnect you with the present and may help you overcome anxious feelings, unwanted thoughts or memories, flashbacks, distressing emotions, or dissociation. You can try as many grounding techniques as you want: the more you try, the higher the chance you’ll find something that works for you.
Pamela (Pami) Parker currently serves as a holistic practitioner, coach and teacher. Her intention is to be a compassionate guide to those who choose to experience a healthier, happier and more peaceful way of life.