Adapted from Seeking Safety by Lisa M. Najavits (2001)
Grounding strategies are simple ways to help you detach from emotional pain or overwhelm.
When you are feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated, grounding serves as a distraction tool to focus on something other than difficult emotions. These strategies are a temporary way to gain control over feelings and prevent things from getting worse and can prevent unhealthy coping strategies like substance use or self-harm. Grounding can also be referred to as centering, distraction, or healthy detachment.
It is important to remember that grounding is an in-the-moment tool and should not be a substitute for counselling or other mental health care. If you are often feeling overwhelmed, anxious or overstimulated, grounding can be incredibly helpful to get you through those difficult moments, but it is ultimately a distraction. Confronting and working through difficult emotions can then be done in safer moments when you feel more centred. Talking with a trusted friend or a counsellor is the next step for expressing these emotions.
There are three different methods of grounding: physical, mental and emotional. Think body, mind, spirit. Try different strategies from different categories to see which works the best for you!
Physical Grounding - Focusing on Senses
Run your hands under very cold or warm water.
Touch various objects around you. Compare the objects you touch.
Carry a grounding object in your pocket, like a touchstone or piece of fabric.
Notice your body in the space you are in.
Stand up and stretch
Jump up and down.
Focus on your natural breathing pattern.
Mental Grounding - Focusing on Mind
Describe your environment in detail, describing objects, sounds, textures, colours, textures, smells, shapes, numbers
Play a categories game, naming as many things as you can within a category (pick something easy like names that start with A)
Describe an everyday activity in great detail
Count to 10 or say the alphabet slowly
Emotional Grounding - Talking to Yourself in a Kind Way
Say kind statements to yourself, as if talking to a friend or a small child
Think of your favourite things
Say a coping statement, like "I can handle this", or an affirmation mantra
Picture the people you care about as an inner caring community surrounding you
Think of something you are looking forward to
Grounding strategies become easier the more they are practiced. Practicing grounding as often as possible and before it is actually needed is useful so that the skills can be easily called upon when they are needed. Try out different styles of grounding and notice which method works best for you. Once you have found one that works, continue practicing this one. You are more likely to practice and remember grounding strategies if you already know they work!
Disclaimer: This blog post is for educational purposes and is not therapy or medical care.
If you are interested in working together therapeutically, book a discovery session with Elspeth.
Najavits, L. M. (2001). Seeking Safety: A Treatment Manual for PTSD and Substance Abuse. The Guilford Press.