We live in a world where very few people can honestly say that they are untouched by mental health issues. Many of us live with stress, anxiety, depression, or PTSD. Those that don’t probably know at least one person that is affected.
The good news is that the stigma around mental health trouble is disappearing, as more people come forward and share their struggles. We’re also developing more and more tools and techniques to cope with mental health issues. One of those is grounding, and we’re going to take a closer look at what it is, who it is designed to help, and whether it is something you should consider.
What Is Grounding, and Where Did It Come From?
Grounding is mental health technique that is designed to bring the practitioner back into the present by focusing on their immediate surroundings and situations. This can be used to cope with anxiety and even PTSD, when people find that they become “untethered” from their reality while coping with traumatic memories or stress.
What is interesting is that grounding itself is an ancient practice. There is evidence of these types of mental health techniques being used in ancient times, in China, and it’s a well-known practice among native American people.
How Does Grounding Help to Overcome Anxiety?
When you suffer from anxiety, or even suffer from panic attacks or more serious physical and mental effects of anxiety, the problem is largely mentally driven.
Sometimes, we suffer from anxiety as a result of past trauma, but some people are naturally just more anxious than others. Such as those who suffer from conditions like Generalised Anxiety Disorder or GAD.
Severe forms of anxiety might even include some form of flashback or dissociation, which triggers the feelings of anxiety.
If you are someone who does suffer from anxiety, in whatever form, grounding can be an important coping tool. While you would need to address the root and triggers for your anxiety in other types of therapy, it allows you to “come back” to the immediate present and reconnect with the current reality.
Focusing on the present makes it easier to put feelings of anxiety into context, and to deal with their effects.
What Kind of Grounding Techniques Are There?
Grounding techniques often focus on the five senses since they are directly connected to the present and the world immediately around us. By using the senses to reinforce the current reality, anxiety sufferers can help themselves to become calmer, and to deal with their feelings of fear and anxiety in a rational manner. Some of the techniques you might try including:
Sight is one of our most powerful senses. After all, they do say that seeing is believing! Using sight to ground yourself can have an immediate and profound effect. You might do this in several ways:
- Use your eyes to work on a puzzle. This could be a jigsaw, or something like a sudoku or crossword.
- Play a game on a computer, tablet, or phone.
- Read a book, newspaper, or magazine.
- Watch a movie or TV show that you enjoy.
- Look around you, choose and count a specific type of object.
Sound is another powerful tether to the now that we can use to bring ourselves out of anxious moments. Here are a few ways to use sound as a grounding technique:
- Call a friend or loved one.
- Listen to your favourite music or talk radio show.
- Listen to ambient sounds, like waves or the sound of rain.
- Talk or read out loud.
Smell has consistently ranked as one of our most powerful senses. It can not only invoke memories, but it can also bring you into the present when you need to. Some ways to use smell as a grounding technique include:
- Smell peppermint. It has been shown to have a clarifying and calming effect.
- Burn a scented candle or diffuse some essential oils.
- Seek out smells that you enjoy and that calm you – whether that means baking cookies, cut grass or baby products.
Touch is one of the most primal of the human senses. We’re social animals and touching and being touched can be a very soothing and grounding experience. Here’s how you can use touch to ground yourself:
- If you have a pet, stroke, or hold them. Pets themselves are a great way to deal with anxiety and touching them can be very soothing.
- Let an ice cube melt in your hand and focus on the cold sensation.
- Use fabrics with sensory appeal to ground yourself. Touch a soft blanket to your face or run your hand over a textured throw or pillow. Focus on the way the fabric feels against your skin.
- Drink a cold or warm beverage or take a warm or cold shower.
- Gently massage your temples.
- Use a fidget toy or pop some bubble wrap.
Food is one of the fundamentals of life, so taste can be a great way to bring yourself back into the moment when you find yourself in an anxious state. Some ideas to ground yourself with food are:
- Slowly melt some chocolate in your mouth. Focus on the taste, as well as how it feels in your mouth.
- Taste something sour, like a lemon or a lime, or eat a pickle.
- If you can handle hot foods, eat some hot salsa or a piece of chilli.
- Eat a peppermint.
- Chew strongly flavoured gum.
Recognise Your Triggers
Perhaps the most important thing you can do when you are learning to use grounding techniques is to recognise things that trigger you, and the feelings that build up to an anxiety episode.
Using one of these grounding techniques early on can help you to get control of your emotions earlier, and to prevent serious and debilitating feelings of anxiousness or fear.
As soon as you start to feel your mind wandering towards flashbacks or “what if” thoughts, choose one of your favourite grounding methods, and start using it. You can always try more than one too. Whatever works to keep you centred, and to cope with the feelings until they ebb and subside.