Need a Break From Your Brain? Try These Grounding Techniques
Inevitably, we all end up experiencing uncomfortable emotions such as anger, anxiety, and depression. Grounding techniques are used to shift focus away from these emotions, or from the thoughts and memories that trigger them.
But even if you’re simply experiencing more stress than usual at work or at home, you may still benefit from the grounding techniques described below.
What Is Grounding?
While similar to mindfulness, which involves cultivating positive thoughts and emotions generally, grounding techniques use the five senses to distract a person from his or her most troubling thoughts and to provide relief in the present moment.
Whereas mindfulness is mostly mental, grounding focuses on the physical — like chomping on a jalapeño. (Don’t worry, there are plenty of other ways to ground!)
Also, the grounding techniques below are not to be confused with the “earthing” form of grounding, which involves connecting your body to the earth’s negative electromagnetic charge for healing benefits.
Who Needs Grounding?
People often use grounding techniques for anxiety, PTSD, panic attacks, and dissociative disorders, says Dr. Simon Rego, Chief Psychologist of Montefiore Medical Center.
“You might have an unpleasant thought, image, emotion, or sensation that makes you very uncomfortable,” he says, “and some people intuitively develop a process where they cognitively disconnect.” This disconnect, also known as dissociation, is temporarily adaptive — and virtually everyone experiences it to some extent.
But in everyday life, disconnecting from the here and now prevents us from processing our emotions. That can lead to even more pain in the long run.
To combat dissociation and anxiety, Dr. Rego endorses grounding techniques for relief.
Grounding Techniques to Manage Stress
Dr. Rego recommends being consistent in your grounding practice to develop the habit. “Grounding is actually a skill that you have to develop over time,” he says, “so the more you do it, the better you get.”
Below is a list of techniques he suggests practicing daily:
- Listen to loud music, and try to separate each instrument you hear. Optional: Trace a pen to the rhythm of the music, creating an abstract representation.
- Snap and rub your fingers gently near your ears.
- Focus in on a particular sound in your environment and train your attention on it for 30 seconds. Repeat with more unique sounds until your feelings pass.
- Listen to grounding tracks from certified mental health professionals, or even a YouTube video of Bob Ross painting.
- Clench your fists and then release, imagining your stress flowing into your hands as you clench, and then out of your body and mind as you release.
- Hold an ice cube until it melts.
- Pick up a gem or polished stone and name all the different sensations you feel. Is it rough? Smooth? Edgy? Cool?
- Focus on one body part at a time until you can actually feel what you’re focusing on: your feet, shins, knees, and so on. Bonus points if you can create a tingling sensation.
- Drum on whatever surface is at hand: desk, dashboard, knee.
- Take your favorite essential oil (like lavender or peppermint) and rub a few drops of it between your palms, then — without touching your face — breathe from your cupped hands.
- Try to imagine the smell of something comforting from your past, like your grandmother’s home when she made cookies or cinnamon rolls.
- Dab some hot sauce on your tongue (if you can stand it), or even nibble on a jalapeño pepper.
- Bite into a piece of chocolate, but don’t chew — just let it melt in your mouth as you run your tongue back and forth.
- In lieu of the above comestibles, pick anything you can eat or drink, concentrating on nothing else but the sensation of consuming it.
- 5-4-3-2-1 technique: This tactic involves all of the senses, and offers the added benefit of structure. First, acknowledge five things that you see around you; then four things you can touch; three things you hear; two things you smell; and one thing you taste — even if it’s just your coffee from this morning.
- Pick a color and count all of the items in the room in that color. Cycle through different colors until your anxiety passes.
- If physical exercise isn’t an option, you can always turn to deep breathing, which is proven to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and reduce the stress response.