Ways of grounding
Three major ways of grounding are described below—mental, physical, and soothing. “Mental” means focusing your mind; “physical” means focusing on your senses (e.g., touch, hearing); and “soothing” means talking to yourself in a very kind way. You may find that one type works better for you, or all types may be helpful.
• Describe your environment in detail, using all your senses. For example, “The walls are white; there are five pink chairs; there is a wooden bookshelf against the wall …” Describe objects, sounds, textures, colors, smells, shapes, numbers, and temperature. You can do this anywhere. For example, on the bus: “I’m on the bus. I’ll see the river soon. Those are the windows. This is the bench. The bar is silver.”
• Play a “categories” game with yourself. Try to think of “types of dogs,” “jazz musicians,” “states that begin with A,” “cars,” “TV shows,” “sports,” or “cities.”
• Do an age progression. If you have regressed to a younger age (e.g., 8 years old), you can slowly work your way back up (e.g., I’m now 9; I’m now 10…) until you are back to your current age.
• Describe an everyday activity in great detail. For example, describe a meal that you cook (“First I peel the potatoes and cut them into quarters; then I boil the water; then I make an herb marinade of basil, garlic, and olive oil …”).
• Imagine. Use an image: Glide along on skates away from your pain; change the TV channel to get to a better show; think of a wall as a buffer between you and your pain.
• Say a safety statement. “My name is… I am safe right now. I am in the present, not the past. I am located in ; the date is .”
• Read something, saying each word to yourself. Or reach each letter backward so that you focus on the letters and not on the meaning of words.
• Use humor. Think of something funny to jolt yourself out of your mood.
• Count to 10 or say the alphabet, very s…l…o…w…l…y.
• Run cool or warm water over your hands.
• Grab tightly onto your chair as hard as you can.
• Touch various objects around you: a pen, keys, your clothing, the table, and the walls. Notice textures, colors, materials, weight, and temperature. Compare objects you touch: is one colder? Lighter?
• Dig your heels into the floor—literally “grounding” them! Notice the tension centered in your heels as you do this. Remind yourself that you are connected to the ground.
• Carry a grounding object in your pocket (a small rock, clay, a ring, a piece of cloth or yarn) that you can touch whenever you feel triggered.
• Jump up and down.
• Notice your body: the weight of your body in the chair; wiggling your toes in your socks; the feel of your back against the chair. You are connected to the world.
• Stretch. Extend your fingers, arms, or legs as far as you can; roll your head around.
• Clench and release your fists.
• Walk slowly, noticing each footstep, saying “left” or “right” with each step.
• Eat something, describing the flavors in detail to yourself.
• Focus on your breathing, noticing each inhale and exhale. Repeat a pleasant word to yourself on each inhale (e.g. a favorite color, or a soothing word such as “safe“ or “easy.”
• Say kind statements, as if you were talking to a small child—for example, “You are a good person going through a hard time. You’ll get through this.”
• Think of favorites. Think of your favorite color, animal, season, food, time of day, or TV show.
• Picture people you care about (e.g., your children) and look at photographs of them.
• Remember the words to an inspiring song, quotation, or poem that makes you feel better (e.g., the AA Serenity Prayer).
• Remember a safe place. Describe a place that you find very soothing (perhaps the beach or mountains, or a favorite room); focus on everything about that place—the sounds, colors, shapes, objects, and textures.
• Say a coping statement: “I can handle this,” “This feeling will pass.”
• Plan a safe treat for yourself, such as a piece of candy, a nice dinner, or a warm bath.
What if grounding does not work?
Grounding does work! Like other skills, you need to practice to make it as powerful as possible. Below are some suggestions to help make it work for you.
• Practice as often as possible, even when you don’t need it so that you’ll know it by heart.
• Practice faster. Speeding up the pace gets you focused on the outside world quickly.
• Try grounding for a long time (20- 30 minutes). And repeat, repeat, repeat.
• Try to notice which methods you like best— physical, mental, or soothing grounding method or some combination.
• Create your own methods of grounding. Any method you make up may be worth much more than those you read here because it is yours.
• Start grounding early in a negative mood cycle. Start when a substance craving just starts or when you have just started having a flashback. Start before anger gets out of control.
• Make up an index card on which you list your best grounding methods and how long to use them.
• Have others assist you in grounding. Teach friends or family about grounding so that they can help guide you with it if you become overwhelmed.
From Seeking Safety by Lisa M. Najavits (2002) NLCMHA 2020