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  1. Blog
  2. Mental Health
  3. March 30, 2021

4 Grounding Techniques to Keep You Calm

Refocus, recenter, relax

Woman closing her eyes and smiling slightly
Photo courtesy of Eye for Ebony

Staying grounded is easier said than done. Stress, frustration, anger, and a dozen other emotions can appear unexpectedly. A cancelled plan, an added work assignment, talking to a family member, listening to your kid scream, or reading a news story can make you instantly anxious.

If you experience anxiety disorder, panic attacks, PTSD, or another mental health condition, grounding techniques can be really beneficial, but everyone can benefit from them. Grounding is a coping strategy that can be used to reduce the intensity of emotions and bring you back to the present moment. 

The goal of grounding is to reconnect your brain with your body. While there are many different techniques, Brittany Bate, PhD, founder of Be BOLD Psychology and Consulting, says these simple ones can be used any time, anywhere. 

Read more: How to Cope with Constantly Being Overwhelmed

Try the 5-4-3-2-1 practice

This grounding technique can help you manage and cope with anxiety. By noticing the sensory details of your surroundings, you inevitably turn away from the painful or uncomfortable thoughts or worries. 

Here’s what Bate suggests:

  • Acknowledge five things you can see. Look for small details such as a pattern on the floor, carpet, or carpet, or intricacies of the light fixtures, or an object in the space around you. 

  • Acknowledge four things you can feel. Notice the way your clothing feels on your body or the warmth of the sun on your skin. Pick up an object and examine it, paying attention to its weight, texture, and other physical qualities. 

  • Acknowledge three things you can hear. Notice the sounds around you, like the sound of the A/C clicking on or off, the whirring of the fan, a ticking clock, or the birds chirping. 

  • Acknowledge two things you can smell. You might smell an air freshener, candle, or freshly mowed grass.

  • Acknowledge one thing you can taste. If you have gum, mints, or small snacks on hand, utilize them for this exercise. Notice the flavors and textures.

Try to be purposeful when doing this. Even if you’re in a room surrounded by people, you can use this technique to really hone in on your senses. Try to notice small details that you might not notice otherwise, such as distant sounds, or the texture of an ordinary object, says Bate.

Read more: 6 Steps to Feeling Less Lost Right Now

Hold a piece of ice

Go to the freezer and get a piece of ice. Simply hold it in your hand and pay close attention to the various sensations you feel.

Bate recommends asking yourself the following questions:

  • What does it feel like? 

  • How long does it take to start melting? 

  • What does it feel like when it begins to melt?

When you're feeling intense emotions, you need to find ways to self-soothe. It might seem silly to hold a piece of ice, but try it first. Let the ice melt slowly or quickly into your hand and concentrate on the feeling of the cool liquid as it drips down your skin. 

Read more: Rest, Curated: 18 Playlists & Apps to Help You Chill Out

Change your thoughts with categories

If you’re having trouble settling your mind, try using categories to change your thoughts. By shifting your thinking entirely, you inevitably calm those emotions.

Bate recommends choosing two or three categories, such as “fruit,” or “TV shows” and thinking of—or writing down—as many items as you can. You can take this a step further, too, and name the items alphabetically. 

Some categories to consider, according to Bate:

  • Animals 

  • Books

  • Cars

  • Countries

  • Colors

  • Cereals

  • Celebrities

  • Ice cream flavors

  • Musical instruments

Choose a category that makes sense for you. Keep listing items until you can’t think of any more. By focusing solely on the task at hand, you’re shifting your brain away from those anxious feelings and grounding yourself into the chair, couch, floor, or ground where you sit.

Read more: Ask a Recruiter: I Want to Support My Employees’ Mental Health. How Do I Do That Inclusively?

Reconnect with your body

If you want to reduce mental or physical stress, body awareness techniques can help. Yoga, meditation, or massage can increase body awareness, but these aren’t always practical options, especially during a busy week or in a crowded space.

In less than 10 minutes, you can do the following body awareness exercise that Bate recommends to minimize the feelings:

  • Take five long, deep breaths through your nose, exhaling through puckered lips. 

  • Place both feet flat on the floor. Wiggle your toes. Curl and uncurl your toes several times. Notice the sensations in your feet as you do this.

  • Stomp your feet on the ground several times, noticing the feeling in your feet and legs.

  • Clench your hands into fists and squeeze, then release the tension. Repeat this 10 times. 

  • Press your palms together. Push them and hold this pose for 15 seconds. 

  • Rub your palms together briskly. How does this sound and feel?

  • Reach your hands over your head, as if reaching for the sky. Maintain this stretch for at least 5 seconds, and then bring your arms back down. Let them relax at your sides. 

  • Take five deep breaths and notice the feeling of calm in your body. 

Mindful breathing can help calm you down when your emotions are heightened. You can try all—or just part—of this exercise, depending on where you’re at. 

Read more: Use These 5 Thoughtful Tactics to Manage Team Burnout

Practice a mental health exercise

Sometimes, the thoughts just run endlessly through your mind. Maybe you’re struggling to shake off the emotions, or concentrate, stay positive, finish the task at hand, or fall asleep. 

Mental health exercises can help take your mind off the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, Bate says. Try one or all:

  • Name all of the objects you see. 

  • Outline the steps required to complete a common task or activity that you know well (example: how to shoot a basketball, prepare your favorite meal, or tie a knot).

  • Count backward from 100 by multiples of seven.

  • Think of an object and “draw” it in your mind or in the air with your finger. Objects could include your home, a vehicle, or an animal. 

  • Consider your three favorite things in several different categories, such as: foods, trees, songs, movies, books, and places.

Read more: 14 Healthy Coping Mechanisms for Stressful Times

Grounding techniques don’t have to be complicated. Simply closing your eyes and taking deep breaths can help when your emotions are running hot. Just be deliberate in these actions and take 5 seconds or 15 minutes to really concentrate on what you’re doing. If you don’t, then they won’t be as effective or useful.

“In order to use a skill effectively, it takes practice,” says Bate. “You have to practice, or rehearse, with regularity so that you can effectively utilize these skills when you need them.”

Bate recommends practicing a grounding skill at least three to 5 minutes every day. You can do these exercises while brushing your teeth, washing dishes, or doing another routine habit. 

Grounding should be a regular part of your life, she says. 

With enough practice, these exercises will be available to you when you truly need them. 

About our source

Brittany Bate, Ph.D., has a doctorate in Clinical Psychology, with an emphasis in forensic psychology and assessment, from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. Dr. Bate has significant experience providing court-ordered assessment and therapeutic services at the state and federal level and is comfortable in the provision of expert testimony. At present, Dr. Bate is the Founder/Owner of Be BOLD Psychology and Consulting, offering clinical and forensic services throughout North Carolina via a telehealth platform. Dr. Bate works with folx of all ages, and provides individual, group, family, and relationship therapy. Dr. Bate enjoys working with folx from the gender-diverse and/or queer communities and specializes in providing treatment for trauma, grief, loss, and addiction. You can learn more about Dr. Bate at https://beboldpsychnc.com.

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Sarah Sheppard

Contributor

Sarah Sheppard is an account manager at a feminist communications firm. She earned an MFA in creative writing from Lesley University and contributes regularly to Verywell Mind. She writes on mental health, women's issues, and redefining success.

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