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Grounding techniques to manage anxiety

Updated: Aug 16, 2022

Learn how to manage anxiety with 8 simple and effective grounding techniques


Grounding techniques are strategies that help bring us back to the present moment when we are overwhelmed with tricky emotions, images or memories. Continue reading to find out about grounding techniques and how they can help us better manage anxiety.


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Photo of person meditating in a post about grounding techniques and yoga on the BAM Therapy Exeter blog

What is grounding?

Grounding techniques are ways of detaching from emotional pain and reconnecting to the present moment. In this way, grounding strategies overlap with mindfulness approaches in that we are learning to notice our emotions as they arise and then re-direct our attention to something neutral and helpful, not harmful, to us. Grounding techniques are simple, brief and active interventions that involve shifting our focus.


How can grounding be useful?

Grounding techniques often form the basis of the first stage of psychological therapy for trauma where the aim is to support stabilisation. They are also frequently used in therapeutic interventions for managing impulses and addictions. However, grounding techniques can also be very helpful to us in managing overwhelming and extreme emotions such as anxiety and fear, anger and sadness. This is because when we learn to detach from our emotions using grounding, the intensity of the emotional experience is reduced, and we develop a greater sense of control over our experiences. The distraction provides a temporary relief from painful or upsetting things and gives us the space to decide on a healthy, compassionate and supportive next step.


In grounding, we are aiming to find the right balance between feeling too much and feeling too little. We are not trying to avoid, repress or dismiss any of our emotions – rather, we are trying to have conscious awareness of our emotions and learn the skills needed to tolerate them skilfully.


How to practice grounding techniques

Here are some guidelines for how to use grounding:

  • Focus on the present moment (not the past, not the future)

  • Stay neutral (avoid judgements of “good” or “bad”, use factual descriptions rather than opinion statements)

  • Keep your eyes open (this helps to support present-moment awareness)

  • Focus on one thing (do one thing at a time, concentrate your attention as best as you can)

  • Rate your mood before and after (this will help you to monitor the effectiveness of each grounding strategy and learn what works best for you. This can include a simple 1-10 rating scale to score the intensity of emotional distress where 1 means no distress and 10 means very intense distress)


Remember that everyone is different in their responses to therapeutic techniques, and we all have unique and individual experiences. What works well for one person might not work so well for someone else and that’s okay. Experiment with each of the techniques: try them out at different times and in different situations to learn what works best for you.


Photo of plants on  BAM Therapy blog post about grounding techniques in anxiety

8 grounding techniques to try

Below I’ve listed some essential grounding techniques with brief instructions of how to practice them. This is not an exhaustive list; there are more strategies that aren’t detailed here. The ones I’ve provided are based on my observations on what has worked well during psychological therapy and client feedback on the techniques that have been experienced as helpful and most easily adapted.


  1. Describe your environment in detail: incorporate all of your senses and label what you can see around you in your environment by saying this aloud. For example, “the walls are pale grey, there are four wooden chairs, there is a black table with a green coffee mug on it…” Describe objects, sounds, textures, colours, smells, shapes, numbers. Focus on the smaller details. This technique can be used anywhere.

  2. Play a categories game: try to think of things that belong to the same category, for example types of dog breeds, make of cars, sports people, types of flower or trees, sports played at the Olympics. You can extend this grounding technique by writing it down or practicing it with someone else and taking it in turns.

  3. Say an affirming statement: develop a sentence that’s an affirmation of present-day reality and supports your coping. For example, “my name is X and I am located in X and the date is X. Everything that is happening right now will pass and I can cope with this experience”.

  4. Focus on your breathing: start to gently control your breathing and make your inbreaths equal to your outbreaths. You might like to count your inhale for a slow count of “1, 2, 3” softly pause for a moment and then count your exhale as you breath out for a count of “1, 2, 3” and briefly pause before repeating a few times. It might also be helpful to say a soothing word on the outbreath such as “calm”, “soften” or “relax”.

  5. Use your five senses: ask yourself or say to yourself, “what can I see? What can I hear? What can I feel? What can I smell? What can I taste?” A variation of this technique is to deliberately incorporate soothing sensations such as having a hot or cold drink, running your hands under cool or warm water, and focusing on the textures of a neutral object.

  6. Focus on your heels and feet: deliberately press your heels into the floor, feel the weight of your feet on the ground beneath you. Notice the sensations of your feet in your shoes or the contact between your feet and socks. Apply gentle pressure from your feet to the ground and remind yourself that you are connected to the ground.

  7. Think of favourites: think and imagine your favourite colour, animal, season, food, TV show. Picture this in your mind as best as you can and describe it to yourself. You can extend this technique by putting together a “favourites box” where you place reminders and photos of pleasant and soothing things in one place or create a visual board on your phone.

  8. Remember a safe place: think about and imagine a place that gives you a sense of safeness and soothing. Think about and visualise the different sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touch sensations. As you picture the place in your mind, allow the place to be welcoming and supportive to you.


 

BAM Therapy hopes that you have found this article helpful.


However if we struggle to use these self-help strategies by ourselves, it might be that we need some extra support and guidance from a professional. Contact us here to get in touch about accessing psychological therapy on offer.


 

References

  • Najavits, L. M. (2002). Seeking Safety: A Treatment Manual for PTSD and Substance Abuse. New York: Guildford Press.

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