Reducing Stress Through Grounding

Our bodies can never be anywhere other than where we are in the present moment.

When our minds drift back to the past or accidentally leap into the future, we lose touch with what is happening around us. 

Most people have become experts at making up stories about what might happen tomorrow, what another person is thinking about them, and so much more. And the stories we tell ourselves have an enormous impact on our lives—not only in positive ways, but also in very unwelcome ones.  

A study by the National Science Foundation found that 80 percent of the thoughts a person has each day are negative. As stress builds in your life, so do negative thoughts. This inner self-talk can cause us to react in ways that are harmful to ourselves. 

Grounding Techniques

If you are getting caught up in strong emotions like anxiety or anger, find yourself having stressful repetitive thoughts, or are experiencing strong, painful memories or flashbacks, you can thwart this process by using a technique called “grounding.” 

Grounding is based on the idea that when you find yourself feeling overwhelmed about something you can’t control, you “ground” yourself into the present by observing your surroundings. Grounding reduces negative thoughts and feelings by shifting your focus from what’s going on in your mind back to your body. 

Below are some grounding exercises you can use—you might find one or more that works for you. Only use the ones you feel comfortable with.

Deep Breathing: One of the easiest ways to ground yourself is to focus on your breathing. Taking 10 deep breaths can be a great way to slow down and regroup when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed.

Five Senses: Check each of your five senses and recognize everything you feel. 

  • Sight: What do you see?
  • Sound: What do you hear?
  • Touch: What do you feel?
  • Smell: What do you smell?
  • Taste: What do you taste?

Immerse Yourself in Nature

Being in nature is an excellent way to ground yourself in the present moment. Hiking or camping is great, of course—especially with Palo Duro Canyon nearby. But there are other ways to be in nature, too, even if it’s just being attentive to the trees, squirrels and birds around your home. Another technique is to go for a short walk around your office or neighborhood. 

Pets

Spending time with a pet can be one of the best ways to shift your attention away from whatever is troubling you. In general, pets have a comforting and relaxing effect, and can give a sense of connection and meaning to life. Also, therapy animals are proven to improve the lives of those with anxiety disorders, mood disorders and post-traumatic stress.

Aromatherapy

Smell can be a great way to focus on pleasant feelings and reduce stress. One recent study indicated that aromatherapy can help reduce stress among nurses. The researchers found that participants felt significantly less stressed, anxious, fatigued and overwhelmed after wearing aromatherapy patches. Choose smells that you enjoy and calm you down, especially if you already have a positive association with them.

Sounds

Closing your eyes and recognizing all you hear can be a great way to ground yourself in the present. All you need to do is close your eyes and listen. Prepare for a whole world of sounds you typically don’t notice.

Music is also a great grounding tool. Research into music and stress shows that listening to music can lower heart rates and cortisol levels, reducing stress-related symptoms. 

Grounding can be a powerful tool to help you cope with distress. It can reduce anxiety and anger and help lessen the effects of painful flashbacks. If you’re having trouble using grounding techniques, a therapist may be able to assist.

If your distress is affecting your life daily, it is also important to reach out and get help from a mental health professional so you can address the root cause of your distress. 

Author

  • Jim Womack

    Jim is the chief executive officer of Family Support Services of Amarillo (FSS), a not-for-profit agency that traces its roots back to 1908, offering counseling and behavioral health services; advocacy services for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking (including Amarillo’s only Safe House for survivors), education and prevention programs for at-risk children, families and adults; and a full-service Veterans Resource Center for veterans, their family members and surviving spouses. Jim has worked in the behavioral health care field for more than 20 years, and has undergraduate and graduate degrees from WTAMU.

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