Grounding techniques are strategies that can help us to stay in the present moment. Grounding can often be used as a way to cope with flashbacks or dissociation, commonly experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
Grounding can be very useful in providing a temporary distraction from upsetting thoughts, memories, or feelings that may be overwhelming and/ or harmful to your mental health at the time.
How Grounding Works
Grounding techniques often use the five senses (sound, touch, smell, taste, and sight) to immediately connect you with the present. By allowing you the opportunity to be present, it also reduces the likelihood that you will slip into an extremely painful flashback or dissociative moment.
Here are some helpful techniques that we might provide you with in therapy. We highly recommend working with a therapist to better understand which strategies may be the most helpful and those that may be more likely to cause distress (triggering to you) based on your experiences with trauma.
- Put your feet flat on the floor. It sounds simple; however, doing this can instantly feel stabilizing in painful moments.
- Open your eyes. It may seem safer to keep your eyes closed when you feel afraid; however, it is more difficult to stay present when you do not have your eyes open.
- Change the positioning of your body. Try wiggling your fingers and toes, and/ or tapping your feet. Pay attention to the movement, and what you feel.
- Try repeating a mantra or phrase to yourself, such as “I am safe” or “this too shall pass.”
Choose something that is personal and resonates with you.
- Try counting by 3s or saying the alphabet backward, to maintain focus on something else.
- Hold a piece of ice or place an ice pack on the back of your neck or under your feet (if you are severely dissociated, we would not recommend this, as prolonged exposure to ice could damage your skin).
- Splash your face with cold water or run your hands under the tap. Notice the sensation.
- If you are prone to dissociation, set alarms in increments.
- 5-5-5 Breathing: When we get anxious our breathing is often the first thing to change, this is also true when re-experiencing traumatic memories. One way to slow down our breathing is the 5-5-5 technique. Try breathing in for 5 seconds, holding the breath in for 5 seconds and breathing out for 5 seconds. Breathing in this way slows everything down, allowing more air into the lungs. BY focusing on our breath it also re-directs our mind off of the distressing event.
- 5-4-3-2-1 Technique: Name 5 things you can see around you (a tree outside, your television), 4 things you can feel (perhaps this is a blanket beside you or your glasses on your face), 3 sounds you can hear (maybe your pet, a car outside), 2 things you can smell (freshly cut grass or coffee brewing), and finally 1 thing you can taste (maybe you just brushed your teeth and you sense a minty taste or something you just ate).
By noticing these sensations, we remove our attention from whatever distress we may have been feeling. This forces us to stay in the present and reduces the potential to get stuck in a painful moment in the past.
Written by Kennedy McLean, Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) at Balanced Mind and Wellness Inc.
To learn more about how we can support you processing and coping with your trauma, contact us at 647-961-9669, book online, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.