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By Alana Gregg, MA

Life is filled with stressful moments. Sometimes we see them coming, like a life transition such as graduating from school or having a baby. And sometimes we don’t, like an unforeseen illness or a lay-off from a job. We can become overwhelmed with fear and anxiety when life starts to get out of control. When we don’t have a way to calm ourselves down, it can feel like we are being tossed around like a leaf in the wind. 

But you don’t have to be ruled by your emotions. Our feelings are important, but they should not consume us. We need to be able to still function in day-to-day life when we are upset. One way we can do that is by learning grounding skills. 

What is grounding?

Grounding is a way to calm your body down by bringing your mind back to the present. Usually when we are overwhelmed or anxious, our minds are focused on something hard in the past or something scary that may or may not happen in the future. Bringing our mind back to the present helps our body regulate because it helps us focus on what is immediately in front of us. After all, that is all we can control anyway, right? We do this by using our senses or our breath.

This is not a quick fix! I often hear people say that they don’t think a bunch of silly exercises are going to do anything to help. It is normal to be skeptical. Keep in mind there is no magic wand we can wave to immediately make everything that feels difficult go away. Look at grounding as more of a pressure release valve. You aren’t going to all of a sudden feel like you are on a beach with a margarita but grounding can make your feelings more manageable so you are more able to function and make good choices. 

Here are some examples of grounding:

1. Name five things that are in front of you – Choose five objects that are in the room with you right now and name them (out loud or in your head). For instance, in my office I would say window, desk, lamp, chair, book. Repeat the list as many times as you need to until your body starts to feel calmer. 

2. Rub something textured – Is there something you can hold that you could focus on the feel of? Maybe wrapping yourself in a comforting blanket or rubbing the clothes you are wearing. If you are outside, you could focus on the wind or the sun on your face. 

3. Tip the temperature – Often when we are anxious or overwhelmed our body starts to sweat as our heart races. These are normal symptoms of our fight or flight response because your body is preparing to fight back or run away. Consider doing something to cool your body temperature. You could splash cold water on your face, take a shower, or hold an ice cube in your hand. 

4. Use taste – Drinking cold water or sipping on warm tea can be a great way to calm your body down. If you are able to eat slowly and mindfully, eating a healthy snack can also help. 

5. Go outside – Being in nature can be a great way to ground yourself. Look up at the trees, listen to the birds chirping, walk barefoot in the grass. Use your senses to get out of your head and focus on what’s around you.

6. Breathing – Our breath is an important part of what calms the body down. When we are anxious and those fight or flight chemicals start flowing, our sympathetic nervous system gets activated. Exhaling is the most important part of our breath. When we blow out (like blowing out a candle), it triggers our parasympathetic nervous system which helps tell our body that we are safe. Some breathing exercises I like are box breathing (trace a square in your mind and each side is a part of the breath- breath in, hold, blow out, rest) and tracing your hand (each finger is a breath- follow the same pattern as the box breathing). Adding these to some of the other grounding techniques will help make these skills more effective.


When to get help

Sometimes we need extra help learning to calm ourselves down and deal with stress. If you are struggling with anxiety or trauma, you shouldn’t have to navigate those things on your own. Consider talking to a mental health professional who can provide the support you need. Our trained counselors at Lime Tree Counseling offer anxiety therapy, trauma therapy, addiction therapy, and relationship counseling. We also have counselors that are trained in EMDR therapy. We offer in-person sessions at our Lower Gwynedd, PA office or online counseling in PA as well as online counseling in North Carolina. Please contact us to schedule a session or set up a free 15 minute phone consultation.