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Mental Health Awareness Month: Grounding Techniques

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and in recognition we’d like to share some grounding techniques that may be helpful. Experiencing sexual violence can cause trauma symptoms that can last for years, even decades after the assault, and this is normal. It is important for survivors to have grounding practices in their toolkit to help cope with trauma.  

Physical Grounding Techniques

  1. Pick up or touch items near you: focus on the texture and color of each item. Challenge yourself to examine the sensations you feel as you pick up each item. 
  2. Breathe deeply: slowly inhale and exhale, noting how it feels to fill your lungs and push the air back out. 
  3. Put your hands in water: focus on how the water feels on your fingertips, then your palms, then the back of your hands. Notice the temperature of the water. Try warm water first, then switch to cold. 
  4. Take a short walk: concentrate on your steps. Count your steps if that helps you concentrate on the moment.  
  5. Move your body: this could mean doing a few jumping jacks, running in place, or doing stretches. Notice how your body feels with each movement. 
  6. Feel your body: this exercise can be done sitting or standing. Focus on your body from head to toe, concentrating on each part of your body. Can you feel the hair on your head? What about your glasses on your ears or nose, or maybe some earrings? Can you feel the weight of your shirt? Can you feel your heartbeat? Are your legs crossed, or are your feet both touching the ground?  
  7. 5-4-3-2-1: Use your senses to notice your surroundings. You can start by listing 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch from your position, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. Take note or the things that you may not always pay attention to, like the swirls of wood grain on a desk. 

Mental Grounding Techniques

  1. Memory game: look at a detailed picture for a few seconds. Then, look away or close your eyes and recreate the picture in your mind, focusing on remembering as many details as possible. You can also mentally list the things you remember about the picture. 
  2. Think in categories: choose a broad topic and mentally list as many things from that category that you can. Categories could include sea creatures, instruments, ice cream flavors, or even words that begin with a particular letter. 
  3. Using numbers: numbers can help center you, even if math isn’t your strong suit. Try counting backwards from 100, or running a times table in your head.  
  4. Make yourself laugh: watch a clip or soundbite from something that always makes you laugh—a funny animal video, a clip from a comedian or tv show, anything you know always makes you smile. 
  5. Anchoring phrase: this can be a statement like: “My name is ____. I live in City, State. I am X years old.  I am sitting at my kitchen table at home. There is no one else home.” You can continue expanding on these statements into more details.  
  6. Visualize a daily task you don’t mind doing: if you like doing the dishes, think about how it feels to scrub the dish in the warm water, and the texture of the towel you use to dry it off. Run through the process of this task. 
  7. Imagine separating yourself from your pain: picture yourself gathering up your emotions, balling them up, and putting them in a box, or imagine your thoughts as a song or program on the TV, turning down the volume or changing the channel- knowing they’re there, but acknowledging you don’t have to give them your attention.  

Calming Grounding Techniques

  1. Picture the face or voice of someone you love: if you are feeling overwhelmed, bring the face or voice of a loved one to mind. Focus on them telling you that the moment is tough, but that you can get through it. 
  2. State kind statements to yourself: repeat statements that are kind and compassionate about yourself, like: “You’re having a rough time right now, but you can make it though.” Or “You are steady and strong.” Or “You are doing the best that you can in this situation” 
  3. Sit with your pet: if you are a pet owner, sit with your pet. If they are furry, pet them and focus on how their fur feels on your hands. If they are smaller, hold them and concentrate on how their size and weight feels in your hand. If you aren’t near them, think about your pet and how they would comfort you if they were there. 
  4. List your favorite things: list three things in different categories. Food, trees, movies, restaurants, stores, songs, etc. 
  5. Plan an activity: this can be something you could do alone or with a loved one. Think about the details of planning this event—what you’ll wear, how you’ll get there, where you’ll go.  
  6. Visualize your favorite place: this can be the home of a loved one, or a place you love visiting. Think of all the things that could be associated with this place—the  colors, the sounds, the smells. Think and remember the last time you were there. Who were you with? What did you do? 
  7. Touch something that brings you comfort: a blanket, a soft t-shirt, a smooth cold stone, a thick carpet, anything that feels good to touch. Think about this feeling on your skin.  
  8. Listen to music: put on a favorite song, but focus on different aspects of the song that stand out to you, even pretend that you’re hearing the song for the first time.  

Tips for Grounding Techniques 

You can practice grounding exercises even when you are not particularly in distress. It may be helpful to know what tools work for you before you need them to cope in the moment. You should start to use a grounding exercise when you start to feel bad—don’t wait until you’re in extreme distress. Stick with a grounding exercise for a while before moving on to a new one. Check in with yourself as you move through the exercise.  

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