As discussed in the article “Trauma Survivors: Why Relaxation Skills Don’t Work and What to Do Instead”, grounding techniques* are different from relaxation techniques because they have a different aim.
The goal of relaxation is to calm us, while the goal of grounding is to engage our senses to direct us back to the present. In effect, grounding techniques help us to occupy our minds in a non-destructive way—avoiding emotional eating, getting drunk, cutting, or acting out sexually. They also allow us to find a balance between feeling cut off from our emotions and being overwhelmed by them when something triggers memories of trauma.
Since different trauma survivors feel safe with different techniques, grounding utilizes various types of techniques—emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical.
Learning Grounding Techniques That Work for YOU
Each category of techniques brings your attention to different aspects of yourself or your surroundings.
- Emotional grounding techniques make you conscious of your feelings.
- Mental grounding techniques connect you with your thoughts.
- Spiritual grounding techniques tap into your deeply-held values and beliefs.
- Physical grounding techniques allow you to become aware of your body.
Some grounding exercises combine multiple elements. It is up to you to discover which techniques work best for you.
Grounding Technique Examples:
Bite Lemon – Bite into a lemon, a lime, or other sour food (like sour candy). Notice the flavor, scent, and texture. Due to the strong sensation, it will be hard not to be present. (Physical Technique)
Create Art – Draw, paint, color, make a collage or mixed media art. The creative act helps you express emotions and focus your mind on the moment. You can even draw a safe place or person that will help soothe you. (Emotional/Mental/Physical Technique)
Do a Mental Puzzle – Engage in a mental puzzle, such as 1-A, 2-B… or backward (26-Z, 25-Y…). Counting and matching at the same time can help use both sides of your brain, which leaves little room for thinking about other things. (Mental Technique)
Feel Textures – Use your hands and feel the textures of objects around you or on you, like a fabric, plastic or metal item. Focusing on the various sensations and differences in each texture fully engages your sense of touch as you explore what is present with you. (Physical Technique)
Go for a Walk – Walking—especially in nature—provides fresh air, releases endorphins, and fosters mental clarity through a change of perspective and environments. Notice your surroundings, the way your body feels, and how each footstep corresponds to your body movement. (Physical/Emotional/Mental/Physical Technique)
Grounding Object – Keep a small object with you that reminds you of something important about yourself—that you’re strong, safe, and loved. Moreover, using this object as a reminder that you’re not alone can bring balance. (Emotional/Spiritual/Physical Technique)
Laugh or Smile – Even if it’s hard in that moment, find something to laugh at and break those spinning-out-of-control feelings. Also, look in the mirror and force laugh if necessary. Laughing is good medicine because it boosts the immune system, relaxes muscles, relieves pain, and enhances alertness. (Emotional/Mental/Physical Technique)
Listen to Music – Choose music that is familiar, soothing, even loud. Of course, it all depends on what will be most helpful to bring you to the present. (Emotional/Mental Technique)
Pet an Animal – If you have a pet, stroke its fur or brush it. Petting your pet can quickly lower anxiety, improve mood, and help you be present. (Emotional/Physical Technique)
Reach out for Support – Contact someone in your support network—a friend, a family member, or a professional. Sharing how you’re feeling or just talking about nothing for a while is soothing and therapeutic. (Emotional Technique)
Run Hands in Water – Hold your hands under cold or warm running water (or if it’s not triggering for you, use your whole body and take a cold or warm shower). Warm water tends to help relax you, while cool water will make you more alert. (Physical Technique)
Sing a Favorite Song – Singing a song that reminds you of something important about yourself or your values and beliefs can be soothing, or exhilarating and inspiring. (Emotional/Spiritual Technique)
Stretch – Reach up into the sky with your hands, or out to your sides. Slowly roll your head around, unclench your fists, or bend and touch your toes. Or, simply change your position, wiggle your toes, tap your feet. Paying attention to the differences of motion versus rest can help you get “unstuck” when you’re feeling confined. (Physical Technique)
Creating Your Personal Set of Grounding Techniques
Once you figured out which grounding techniques help you the most, make a list. Put them on a piece of paper and hang them on a wall at home. Keep them centrally visible. Then, make an index card set and carry them with you in your pocket or purse. You can also put the list on your telephone.
While you should definitely practice these techniques at home, your personal set of cards will do you the most good if it’s easily available for you whenever you need it. For ease and durability, you may consider investing in a set of portable grounding cards.
* (Note: Grounding techniques are not just a great tool for trauma survivors and people with PTSD and but also help with anxiety, depression, or when you are feeling disconnected.)