Everyone has experiences that trigger strong emotions, both during the event and afterward. After a trauma, it’s normal to experience flashbacks, anxiety and other uncomfortable feelings. Many people struggle with feeling either too much (overwhelming emotions and memories) or too little (numbing and dissociation).  In grounding, you attain a balance between the two: awareness of reality and able to tolerate it.  Remember that pain is a feeling; it is not who you are.  When you get caught up in it, it feels like you are your pain, and that is all that exists.  But it is only one part of your experience – the others are just hidden and can be found again through grounding.

Grounding is not about becoming emotionless, but about reducing the ability of current emotions to get in the way of experiencing joy and fulfillment in life, or make it hard to deal with the current situation. Some grounding methods are very useful for dealing with stress in the moment. Others are better as long-term strategies for dealing with the aftermath of emotional situations or to deal with carry-over emotion as you transition from one role to another in your day. Some methods work well for both. Only you can tell what is right for you by trying different methods.

  • Grounding can be done any time, any place, anywhere, and no one has to know.
  • Use grounding when you are faced with a trigger, enraged, dissociating, having substance craving, or whenever your emotional pain goes above six (on a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 means “the worst pain you can imagine”). Grounding puts a healthy distance between you and these negative feelings.
  • Keep your eyes open, scan the room, and turn the light on to stay in touch with the present.
  • Rate your mood before and after grounding, to test whether it worked.  Before grounding, rate your level of emotional pain (0 – 10, where 10 means “the worst pain you can imagine”).  Then rate it afterward.  Has it gone now?
  • No talking about negative feelings or journal writing – you want to distract away from negative feelings, not get in touch with them.
  • Stay neutral – avoid judgements of “good” and “bad.”  For example, instead of “The walls are blue; I dislike blue because it reminds me of depression,” simply say, “The walls are blue” and move on.
  • Focus on the present, not the past or future.
  • Note that grounding is not the same as relaxation training. Grounding is much more active, focuses on distraction strategies, and is intended to help extreme negative feelings. It can be more effective than relaxation training for some problems. 

Three main ways of grounding are described here – mental, physical, and soothing.  “Mental” means focusing your mind; “physical” means focusing on your senses (e.g., touch, hearing); and “soothing” means talking to yourself in a very kind way.  Meditation is also a form of grounding.

Mental Grounding

  • Describe your environment in detail, for example, “The walls are white; there are five pink chairs; there is a wooden bookshelf against the wall…” Describe objects, sounds, textures, colours, smells, shapes, numbers, and temperature.  You can do this anywhere.
  • Play a “categories” game with yourself.  Try to think of “types of dogs,” “jazz musicians,” “cars,” “TV shows,” “writers,” “sports,” “songs” or “cities.”
  • Describe an everyday activity in great detail.  For example, describe the steps to a meal that you cook (e.g., “First I peel the potatoes and cut them into quarters; then I boil the water; then I make an herb marinade of oregano, basil, garlic and olive oil…”)
  • Imagine.  Use an image: Glide along on skates away from your pain; change the TV channel to get to a better show; think of a wall as a buffer between you and your pain.
  • Say a safety statement.  “My name is ; I am safe right now.” “I am in the present, not the past.  I am located in : the date is .”
  • Read something, saying each word to yourself.  Or read each letter backward so that you focus on the letters and not on the meaning of the words.
  • Use humour.  Think of something funny to jolt yourself out of your mood.
  • Count to 10 or say the alphabet, very  s   l   o   w   l   y.

Physical Grounding

  • Run cool or warm water over your hands.
  • Grab tightly onto your chair as hard as you can.
  • Touch various objects around you: a pen, keys, your clothing, the table or the walls.  Notice textures, colours, materials, weight and temperature.  Compare objects you touch: Is one colder?  Lighter?
  • Dig your heels into the floor – literally “grounding” them!  Notice the tension centred in your heels as you do this.  Remind yourself that you are connected to the ground.
  • Carry a grounding object in your pocket – a small object (a small rock, clay, a ring, a piece of cloth or yarn) that you can touch whenever you feel triggered.
  • Jump up and down.
  • Notice your body:  the weight of your body in the chair; wiggling your toes in your socks; the feel of your back against the chair.  You are connected to the world.
  • Stretch.  Extend your fingers, arms, or legs as far as you can; roll your head around.
  • Clench and release your fists.
  • Walk slowly, noticing each footstep, saying “left” or “right” with each step.
  • Eat something, describing the flavours in detail to yourself.
  • Focus on your breathing, noticing each inhale and exhale.  Repeat a pleasant word to yourself on each inhale (e.g., a favourite colour, or a soothing word such as “safe” or “easy”)

Soothing Grounding

  • Say kind statements to yourself, as if you were talking to a small child – for example, “You are a good person going through a hard time.  You’ll get through this.”
  • Think of favourites.  Think of your favourite colour, animal, season, food, time of day, TV show.
  • Picture people you care about (e.g., your children, parents, or friends), and look at photographs of them.
  • Remember the words to an inspiring song, quotation, or poem that makes you feel better (e.g., the AA Serenity Prayer).
  • Remember a safe place.  Describe a place that you find very soothing (perhaps the beach or mountains, or a favourite room); focus on everything about that place – the sounds, colours, shapes, objects, texture.
  • Say a coping statement: “I can handle this,” “This feeling will pass.” “I got this.”
  • Plan a safe treat for yourself, such as a piece of gum, a nice dinner, or a warm bath.
  • Think of things you are looking forward to in the next week – perhaps time with a friend, going to a movie or going on a hike, or another activity you enjoy.

Adapted from ‘Seeking Safety: A treatment manual for PTSD and substance abuse,’ Najavits (2002).

Practise Loving-Kindness Meditation

This is an ancient practice with Buddhist roots that focuses on compassion and gratitude. You take time to think of another person and silently repeat good thoughts for that person, such as, ‘May you be happy. May you be peaceful. May you be healthy.’ Then you expand these thoughts to include yourself, the community, and the world at large. Here is a guided loving-kindness meditation from the University of California, Berkeley Greater Good Science Centre to get you started: https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/loving_kindness_meditation 

Attitude of Gratitude 

End each day by thinking of 3 things you are grateful for or keep a gratitude journal. An attitude of gratitude releases dopamine and serotonin in our brain that make us feel lighter and happier. Shifting our focus to the big and small things we appreciate in our lives is a great way to help combat stress.

Meditation

Meditation is a practice that you can use to calm yourself or help fall asleep when your mind is racing. It does not have to take a long time and can become part of your day. Here are some free apps to guide meditation: 

Take a Break! Meditations (Apple) https://apps.apple.com/ca/app/take-a-break-meditations/id453857236

Free Meditations – Take a Break (Google Play) https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.meditationoasis.takeabreak&hl=en_CA&gl=US 

Insight Timer (website) https://insighttimer.com/en-ca 

Insight Timer – Meditation & Sleep (Apple) https://apps.apple.com/us/app/insight-timer-meditate-sleep/id337472899 

Insight Timer – Meditation App (Google Play) https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.spotlightsix.zentimerlite2&hl=en_CA&gl=US