What is grounding and how can it improve your mental health?

Do you ever feel stressed or overwhelmed and struggle to bring yourself back to a sense of calm or normalcy? Jacquelyn Van Zile, a licensed professional clinical counselor (LPCC) with ProMedica Physicians Behavioral Health – Sylvania, shares how grounding techniques might be able to help.

What is grounding?

Grounding is a set of simple techniques that help you bring yourself down from an extreme, emotional experience. Emotional experiences may be triggered by stress, anger, sadness, anxiety, substance cravings, trauma or flashbacks. “Grounding can help you self-regulate and get yourself to a more stable condition,” Van Zile shares.

Grounding Techniques

There are three main categories of grounding techniques: mental, physical and soothing. Depending on the situation, you may find it helpful to use one or more from each category.

Mental

Mental grounding techniques help you redirect your thoughts from negative, overwhelming or stressful feelings. Examples of mental grounding techniques include:

  • Categories: Play a game of categories with yourself. Choose a specific category and name everything that you can think of that falls within that category. For example, if the category was “colors” you would name every color that you could think of until you couldn’t think of anymore.
  • Describe your environment: Look around the space you are in and describe it in detail, like you are describing it to someone over the phone. Be sure to use only facts and not emotion when practicing this. For example, you would say, “the walls are brown,” not, “the walls are an ugly brown.”

Physical

Physical grounding techniques redirect your focus to something tangible or a bodily sensation. Examples of physical grounding techniques include:

  • Use your senses: Find a strong smell such as mint, citrus, or even a bad smell to sniff. Or taste something with a strong flavor, such as a lemon, and describe the flavors that you are tasting.
  • Listen to music: Listening to music can be a great way to ground yourself – just be sure to choose music that you don’t have an emotional connection to.

Soothing

Soothing grounding techniques direct your focus to the things that you like to help you remind yourself of who you are. Examples of soothing grounding techniques include:

  • Favorites: Think of your favorite color, animal, season, etc. and focus on all the aspects that you like about that favorite item.
  • Photos: Keep photos of your favorite things close by to look at. Maybe it’s a photo of your favorite vacation spot, your family or your friends.

Sometimes having someone practice these techniques with you can be helpful. The simple fact of having someone else present and hearing their voice can help ground you in and of itself.

Why They Work

Grounding techniques work because they distract our brain and allow our emotional processes to settle. “The lifespan of an emotion is about a minute and a half. If you stop yourself from thinking into the emotion, it will pass faster than if you feed it by thinking into it too much,” Van Zile shares.

“The more techniques that you have in your back pocket the better. You may need to go through a few to be able to effectively calm yourself,” shares Van Zile. “Practice when you don’t need it so that when you do need it you have the tools available.”

Don’t allow negative feelings to take hold – try grounding techniques next time you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed.

Jacquelyn Van Zile,  MA, LPCC, CDCA, is a licensed professional clinical counselor (LPCC) with ProMedica Physicians Behavioral Health – Sylvania and has worked in the mental health field for the past 8 years. She uses strength-based, cognitive behavioral, motivational interviewing, solution-focused and mindfulness/grounding techniques to help empower individuals to reach their goals and achieve a sense of balance and wellness in their lives.