When overwhelmed with emotional pain, you need a way to untangle from it so you can better manage your feelings. If you stay completely absorbed by your negative emotions, then it’s more likely to snowball into stronger and more heightened negativity. Grounding is a set of strategies to help “ground” you back to the world around you. Instead of getting lost and overwhelmed in your head thinking about the past or future, it brings you back to present reality. Grounding has been shown to help people better regulate their emotions.

So How Do I “Ground” Myself?

There are three types of grounding that you can try: mental, physical, and soothing. Finding the effective grounding technique for you is a very personal thing, so keep trying different types until you find ones that consistently help. You may find that different types work for different kinds of situations. After trying out some techniques, you might even create your own methods. As long as what you’re doing grounds you to the present and is neutral, then give it a try!

Grounding is most effective if you practice it frequently. Practicing even when you aren’t feeling emotionally overwhelmed will help make it into a habit. That way, when you do need it, it will be like second nature.

Mental Grounding

  • Describe your environment in detail using all your senses. One of my favorite techniques is the grounding using the five senses. You could do a short one, where you name five things you see, four you hear, three you feel, two you smell, and one you taste. Sometimes that’s not enough, so you can go even further and look around your environment and describe objects, sounds, textures, smells, colors, shapes, numbers, and temperature. For example, the walls are white; there are five white chairs; it smells musky; it feels a little warm.
  • Play a categories game with yourself. Try to think of as many items in a category as possible. For example, brainstorm a list of four-legged animals, cities that begin with a “N”, comedic television shows, or popular songs.
  • Do an age progression. If you have regressed to a younger age you can slowly work your way back up . until you are back to your current age . for example I’m now 9 . I’m now 10. I’m now 11.
  • Describe an everyday activity in detail. Think of something that you do every day and describe in such detail that a complete stranger could follow your directions. For example, brushing your teeth could be described as squeezing toothpaste on to your toothbrush, wetting the toothbrush, using an up/down motion to brush your front teeth and using a back and forth motion to brush your back teeth, spitting out the toothpaste, rinsing your mouth, rinsing your toothbrush, and then putting it away.
  • Recite a safety statement. You can use any statement that helps you feel safe and calm. It could be a favorite soothing quote, a self-compassionate phrase, or something that makes you feel powerful. For example, “This too shall pass” or “This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is part of life. May I be kind to myself in this moment. May I give myself the compassion I need.”
  • Read something backwards. Better yet, read each word by just reading the letters backwards. This forces you to focus on the letters itself and not on the meanings of words.
  • Count to 10 or say the alphabet. Do this very, very slowly. Some people find that helps to sync each number or letter with your breath.
  • Use imagery. Use your imagination to picture your stress floating away, down a river. Or imagine that you’re changing the channel to a different television show. You can even imagine that a wall is being built between you and your pain; count the bricks as you envision putting them down to build the wall.

Physical Grounding

  • Dig your heels into the floor, literally grounding them. Notice the tension centered in your heels as you do this. Remind yourself that you are connected to the ground.
  • Grip your chair tightly. A variation of digging your heels into the floor, this literally grounds you to where you’re sitting. Grab tightly onto your chair and focus on the tension in your hands, arms, and shoulders. Release and then notice how your hands, arms, and shoulders now feel.
  • Focus on your breathing. Notice each inhale and exhale. Someone people find it useful to think of a pleasant word on each inhale and a different word for each exhale. For example, a favorite smell on inhale, and the name of a loved one on the exhale.
  • Carry a grounding object in your pocket. This could be any small object, like a smooth stone, soft piece of cloth, or a coin. Touch the object whenever you begin feeling overwhelmed and focus on how it feels in your hand.
  • Run water over your hands. Reflect on how the water feels on your hands. Change the temperature of the water to warmer or cooler and now notice if it feels differently.
  • Touch various objects around you. Touch things like your keys, your clothing, the table, or the wall. Notice the varying textures, colors, materials, weight, and temperature. Compare the objects you touch. Is one colder than the other? Bumpier than the other?
  • Notice your body. So often we move throughout the world without noticing our own body. Notice the weight of your body in the chair. Wiggle your toes in your socks. Feel your back against the chair. Stretch out your arms or legs. Roll your head around your shoulders.
  • Walk with intention. Slow down the pace of your walking. Notice each footstep and how you’re walking. How does your foot feel? You may even note which foot you’re stepping with, in your mind.
  • Eat mindfully. Describe how what you’re eating looks, feels, smells, and tastes. Pretend you’re describing it to someone who has never eaten it before.

Soothing Grounding

  • Say kind statements to yourself. Instead of becoming frustrated with yourself for being stress, anxious, or overwhelmed, respond with kindness. Say comforting words to yourself, as if you were talking to a small child. Repeat a self-compassionate phrase or mantra.
  • Think about your favorites. Think about your favorite color, animal, food, song, person, time of day, TV show, etc. Reflect on how you feel when you engage with your favorite things.
  • Picture people you care about. Actually visualize as if these people were with you. Notice how it makes you feel. If you’re able to, you can even look at photos of those people.
  • Remember the words to an inspiring song, quotation, or poem that makes you feel better. Focus on how you feel as you recite the song, quote, or poem to yourself.
  • Visualize a place you find safe or very soothing. Using all five of your senses, describe to yourself what the place is like. Focus on everything about the place— the sounds, colors, shapes, objects, textures, temperature, smells.
  • Listen to calming music or watching positive videos. Many of us always have our phones with us. This allows us to easily access calming or enjoyable music. You could even watch videos that you know typically put you in a positive frame of mind.
  • Plan a treat for yourself. Think about something you can do for yourself later that will nourish your mind or body. It can be a delicious meal, warm bath, or spending time with a loved one. Think about all the details of what your treat will be.

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Need more support in managing your big emotions? Contact Dr. Crystal I. Lee for a free 20 minute consultation to see how she can help.