Grounding techniques are great for stress management

During this COVID-19 pandemic, you may find it useful to add these grounding techniques to your ‘bag of tricks’ for stress management. They can bring you into the present moment when you are feeling overwhelmed, really stressed or in distress. The percentage of Canadians who report having very good or excellent mental health has gone down from 54% to 48% from March to this May. We all know what happened during this time period!

When we are feeling worried, anxious, stressed or overwhelmed, we are often not grounded or centred in our bodies.  Our minds and bodies are in the past or the future.  There are grounding techniques which can bring us or “ground ourselves” into the present moment.  These techniques are helpful for the continuum of our mental health, from restlessness to mild but disruptive worrying and anxiety to post-traumatic stress disorder and experiencing flashbacks and overwhelming feelings and body sensations from being “triggered”.

When to use grounding techniques

Grounding techniques are anything that brings our attention to the present. Grounding is a technique that moves our attention away from ‘stress triggers’ or overwhelming feelings and body sensations. When overwhelmed, we are less able to think clearly and problem solve. Grounding techniques help switch off the “fight, flight or freeze” part of our brain that is a stress response to perceived danger. Said differently, grounding interrupts the overwhelm and gives us some space/distance to regroup and not be ruled by our feelings and body sensations.

Grounding can be done any place, any time and no one has to know.

Find the one or ones that work for you and practice often. Ideally, you practice this grounding when you don’t need it as this helps create neural pathways that are easier to access when you do need it.

Physical grounding: using our five senses (sound, touch, smell, taste, and sight)

Physical grounding techniques use our five senses or concrete objects.  It’s quite straightforward. Doing something that focuses our senses on the here and now, rather than the past or future, brings us into the present. Keep your eyes OPEN and:

  • Handle something that is familiar and comforting (touch it, hold it, rub it). Describe it out loud.
  • Sit in a chair. Focus on where your body makes contact with the chair or floor. Feel the weight of your body and legs pressing down into the chair.
  • Rub your hands under the faucet and describe how it feels.
  • Grip a piece of ice.
  • Bite into something that has a strong taste. Lemon? Garlic? Onion?
  • Savour a favourite scent. This might be a cup of coffee, tea, favourite soap, a herb or an essential oil. Inhale the fragrance slowly and deeply and describe its qualities (sweet, citrusy, spicy, and so on).
  • Clap and rub your hands together. Hear the sounds and feel the sensations in your hands.
  • Clench and release your fists slowly, allowing yourself to feel the sensations.
  • Stop and listen. Notice and name what sounds you can hear, starting with the closest and then move outwards to as far in the distance as possible.
  • Pet an animal and describe how it feels.
  • Name 5 things you can see, taste, feel, smell and hear.
  • Move your body. Do a stretch or jump up and down or start walking. Pay attention to how your body feels with each movement.
  • Take ten slow breaths. Focus completely on each breath, breathing in through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. Say the number of the breath as you exhale.

Mental grounding: interrupting your mind/thoughts

  • Give yourself a break from the emotional intensity by doing something that requires your concentration, such as doing a crossword puzzle or gardening (watching tv and reading don’t work so well because our mind can and often does wander).
  • Listen to a piece of instrumental music. Really focus on it.
  • Have a funny video saved and watch it.
  • Play a ‘categories’ game with yourself. Try to think of “types of dogs/plants/music/camping equipment/ etc.
  • Count backwards by 7…100, 93, 86 etc.
  • Go through each letter of the alphabet and identify an animal for each letter.
  • Describe a daily task in detail, such as making coffee, meal, or washing dishes.

Again, it is best to practice these grounding techniques when you are not feeling overwhelmed or in distress.  When you really do need them, they will then be easier to do.

We would love to hear about your experiences with these grounding techniques.



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