Grounding: Manage Overwhelming Emotions by Connecting Deeply to the Body
What is Grounding?
Grounding is defined as “the act of connecting more deeply and completely to the body, strengthening the feeling of being inside the body and connected to the ground or earth.” To be grounded is to be relaxed, in touch with our inner truth and wisdom.
This can mean two things:
1. Being fully present in the body
2. Feeling connected to the Earth
Why is grounding useful?
When we feel overwhelming emotions, our first inclination is to avoid feeling the emotion. Our nervous system typically enters “freeze” mode in which we are completely immobilized by the overwhelming emotion. We become dissociated-- completely disconnected from the body. When done consistently, we begin to develop a habit of disconnecting from our bodies during stress, which can cause a number of emotional, mental, and physical issues. we completely cut ourselves off from our body. Grounding helps us manage overwhelming emotions. It prevents both hyperarousal (i.e, panic or extreme emotions) and hypoarousal (i.e. avoidance and numbing). Grounding communicates to us that we are safe.
While there are many specific grounding techniques, most of them fall into three categories:
1. Sensation – using awareness and attention to tune into any of our five senses.
2. Visualization – using active imagination or guided meditation to encourage the body/mind system to become more connected to the idea and feeling of being supported by the earth, floor, chair etc.
3. Movement – touching the floor or earth with one’s hands or body, doing yoga, dancing, jogging etc. while consciously feeling the connection to the ground.
How do you use grounding skills?
There are a variety of grounding skills you may find useful. It requires a bit of trial-and-error to find grounding skills that are personally effective. Listed below are various grounding techniques you may find useful:
Put your feet on the floor. Change the position of your body and place your feet on the floor. Notice the feeling of your feet on the ground and the chair. You can also actively push your feet firmly into the ground and notice the muscles that engage. You can also wiggle your toes. Look around the room and consciously remind yourself that you are safe.
5-4-3-2-1 Game: Name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can smell, 2 things you can touch, and 1 thing you can taste.
Touch a variety of textures and fabrics. In your mind try to describe them to yourself. Do you like them? Dislike them? It may help to keep a grounding object that feels soothing to touch.
Recite basic information about the present moment/yourself. What date/year is it? Where are you right now on this planet (be as specific as you can)? What is your full name? How old are you? You can do this out loud or in your head. You can even tell a loved one to do this any time they notice you could use some more grounding.
Practice deep breathing. There are specific types of deep breathing that help you to focus, but that would require its own post. Take several deep breaths into your belly and exhale longer than you inhale.
Listen to music. It would be helpful to use music that feels soothing or calming or music that you know the lyrics to or would want to sing or dance to.
Use cold water or ice. You can either put a bag of ice over your face, splash your face with cold water, run your hands under cold water, or hold a cold object. This is helpful because of something called the diver reflex, which is a set of reflexes that get activated with facial contact with extreme cold temperatures or by holding our breath. When this happens, our heart rate slows, blood flow to nonessential organs decreases, and blood flow is redirected to the brain and heart. It is a quick way to calm ourselves down on a physiological level. It’s a way to mimic our body’s physiological reaction to drowning, in which our body selectively shuts down parts of the body in order to conserve energy for survival.
Chew gum or suck on candies. Mint is especially beneficial for its ability to increase focus, but cinnamon or any sour candies can help too because of their intense tastes/smells. Notice the smell and flavor. Both scents are strong enough to pay attention to, and mint is helpful for improving focus.
Use mantras or coping statements. For example:
“This is only temporary.”
“This won’t last forever.”
“I can use my coping skills and get through this”
“I know that this will fade away.”
“I am in control.”
Pick a color and identify everything you can see in that color.
Call a friend or trusted person to talk to. You can even tell them some of these grounding techniques so they can help you if you are having difficulty remembering them in moments of extreme emotion.
Crack a window (either in the car or at home). Notice any breeze or any new sounds you can hear.
Trace all the fabrics and seams of furniture or clothing articles within reach. Notice the difference between different textures around you (i.e., cool buttons, rough denim, soft textures, zippers, etc.).
Journal. Write down what’s happening (particularly if it’s upsetting). You can either keep it and reflect back when you’re feeling calmer, or you can even tear it up or dispose of it, letting go of it physically and mentally.
Play calming apps or games on your computer/phone/tablet.
Stretch your body. See how much space you can take up with your body. Notice points of contact with your feet against the floor.
Try some brain puzzles like Sudoko, word searches, or other games with puzzles that require problem-solving.
Send text messages or write yourself a note on your phone. Feel your fingers tapping the glass as you type and try hitting all the right letters.
Pet your cat, dog, or other animal that may be around.
Go for a walk. If that’s not possible, or you don’t want to leave your home, find another change of scenery. A change of scenery can do more than you think, like giving us a fresh perspective. If you’re in your bedroom, go to your kitchen. If you’re inside, go outside.
Watch something funny on YouTube or TV. (Maybe even make yourself a playlist of good laughs for when you’ll need them.)
Put on hand lotions or antibacterial gels that have a strong fragrance. Are they cool or warm? Thin or thick? Soft or stinging?
Eat or drink something. Notice how you enjoy the experience using all five of your senses. It may help to choose something with a strong smell or flavor. Herbal teas are a good resource.
Snuggle up with a soft and snuggly blanket or robe. Feel how incredibly warm or soft it is. Notice its threading and colors.
Actually ground your feet into the Earth. If you’re outside, it can be incredibly helpful to take off your shoes and press them into the grass. Connect with the Earth’s energy. You may even think about inhaling the energy of the Earth through the soles of you feet all the way up to your head and exhaling it back down.
Write down your feelings. Describe them in extreme detail. If they were a color, what would they be? If they were a weather condition? A temperature? A texture? A volume? Soft or sharp?
Do some jumping jacks, sits ups, push ups, or jog in place. The duration is up to you, but most likely you’ll feel the benefits after only a few minutes. Get your blood flowing. Feel the blood circulate your body and move into your limbs and bring energy into your body.
Progressive muscle relaxation. This involves tensing and relaxing different parts of the body. It can be done very quickly by tensing and relaxing your body as a whole. There are great YouTube videos for this online that can help you learn how to practice progressive muscle relaxation.
Go down the alphabet and list names for each letter. You can do girls’ names, boys’ names, gender neutral names, pet names, or any other categories.
Try counting by 3’s or 7’s. Try to get to 200. Then try multiplying by them.
Use safe place imagery if you are having no luck orienting with your present surroundings. Mentally retreat to a place that feels safe and soothing to you. Imagine it with as much detail as possible using all five of your senses. When you’re feeling calmer, slowly start orienting yourself back to your current surroundings.
Color in an adult coloring book or doodle.
Practice yoga. If you have access to a YouTube video or other resource you can use that. You can also write down a list of grounding yoga poses that you can practice in these situations.
Light a scented candle. Notice the flame-- it’s glow, flicker, etc. Notice the smell.
Disengage from anything that’s too overstimulating. You may have too much going on at once. Put your phone away, turn off the television, stop the music, leave a crowded room/place.
Carry a grounding object. Find a small object you can bring with you that feels soothing. Stones are great grounding tools but keys, jewelry, or other small gadgets work just fine. Notice its textures.