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Feeling anxious or distressed? Try some grounding techniques

An introduction to grounding:

‘Grounding’ techniques are simple tools or strategies that can help you when you’re feeling anxious or distressed. Perhaps a memory has resurfaced and unsettled you or you’ve got a difficult meeting to attend.

Grounding allows you to return to the “here and now” by distracting you from negative thoughts.

There are lots of grounding techniques available – and it’s worth noting that as we’re all different, you need to find the right one for you. It’s a good idea to try a few out and see which one(s) work for you. We think it’s worth having a few in your metaphorical ‘toolbox’ as you might find some work best when you’re alone, or at home, and others you can do in public, without anyone noticing.

Types of grounding:

Grounding techniques are often grouped into different types:

Physical / sensory: Many grounding techniques are sensory in nature and involve using your five senses to help connect you to the present moment.

Mental: Some grounding techniques are mental in nature and help by shifting attention away from distressing thoughts and feelings.

Soothing: Soothing techniques involve a range of activities to calm yourself and help you return to feeling safe.

Where should I start:

You can find lots of information on grounding techniques online. Having a read about them will give you a chance to try out different types, and find the right ones for you.  However, we’ve selected five of our staff’s favourites here.

5, 4, 3, 2,1: A popular physical and sensory grounding technique, it asks you to:

  • Find five things you can see
  • Focus on four things you can feel (the chair you’re sat on, the table-top…)
  • Name three things you can hear around you.
  • Notice two things you can smell.
  • Taste one thing (even if you don’t have something to eat, can you taste the toothpaste from that morning for example?)

Categories / listing: This is a mental game you can play with yourself – and no one needs to know you’re doing it. List everything red you can see, or the names of songs you remember, cities that begin with a certain letter… Whatever works for you. The aim of this activity is to distract your attention from intrusive thoughts.

Counting: This might sound simple, but the aim is to give yourself a challenge. For example, count backwards from 100 in 7s. This mental grounding exercise can be performed quickly and, in your head, allowing you to refocus your thoughts.

Self-soothe object: This simple tool asks you to carry with you a small object that you can feel to help ground you. It might be a smooth pebble, a small object or piece of jewellery that brings back positive memories, or a piece of cloth. The aim is to keep it with you (in an easy location like a pocket) and hold it when you need grounding. Focus on the sensation of touching it, the memories attached to it and describe in your mind the feeling of each part of the object.

Positive affirmations: The opposite of negative self-talk, positive affirmations are coping statements you can say to yourself to help you. Examples might be “this too shall pass”, “I am strong”, “I can handle this…” Positive affirmations need practicing so make sure to try them out when you’re not feeling anxious.

“I am strong”, “I can handle this…”

Hints and tips

  1. Practice, practice and practice again! Like most things, for grounding to be successful, you need to work at it and get used to it.
  2. Try them out when you’re not feeling anxious or distressed, so it becomes habitual.
  3. If the first one(s) you try don’t work for you, try out others. You might find that you prefer one type of grounding – physical, mental or soothing.

Try to use them early in a negative thought – start before the anxiety, panic or distress becomes overwhelming.

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