Grounding exercises are used to help bring us back into the present moment. These techniques can be used in many different situations, like when we’re feeling “spacey”, anxious or overwhelmed. They can be used when we are distracted by unhelpful or distressing thoughts, memories or impulses. Or if we’re experiencing difficult or strong emotions like anger, shame or sadness.
The main aim of grounding exercises are to bring an awareness to the safety of the here and now, and to encourage our body and mind to connect and work together.
There are many ways of grounding ourselves. What works varies from person to person. What works for you now, may also be different to what works for you next week. Just like many of the other techniques we chat about on this blog, it helps to approach grounding like an experiment. Try something, then try something else and just see what you notice.
Below we’ve come up with a list of things that you can do to use your mind, senses and movement to come into the present moment. Some of the things on this list might help you to feel grounded and others won’t feel like that at all. Give yourself some time to work your way through some of the ideas, and perhaps keep some notes so you can create your own modified list.
Tuning into the breath
Focusing on our breath is one of the simplest ways we can bring ourselves back into the present moment. There are a whole bunch of techniques designed to hone in on your breathing.
A simple technique is to start by simply taking a slow, deep inhale for 5 counts, and then a slow, deep exhale for 5 counts.
Or exhale deeply three times and notice how your body feels when you’re done.
You might also like to try some other breathing exercises that we have created on our website to develop a sense of what works for you:
- Abdominal breathing
- Slow breathing
- Mindfulness of breath
The beauty of the breath is it’s always available to us. Whenever we need to ground ourselves back into the present moment, our breath is always within reach as an anchor.
Re-orienting yourself in the present
Try grounding yourself in the current time and place by answering these questions:
- Where am I right now?
- What is the day today?
- What is the date?
- What is the month?
- What is the year?
- How old am I?
- What season is it?
Next, notice an object in your immediate surroundings. Notice it in detail – the shape, colour, texture and function of the object. Slowly move your focus to another object and do the same. And then another. What do you notice about your mind as you do this? How about your body? If you’re feeling pretty calm as you read this, these might seem like strange questions to ask yourself, but when we’re feeling flooded by emotions this can be a really effective way to bring yourself back into the here-and-now.
Using your senses to get grounded
- Tune into each of your senses and name one thing each that you can currently see, smell, taste, touch and hear.
- Take your shoes and socks off and find a patch of grass. Walk around and become aware of the sensation of the earth contacting your feet.
- Take a shower and be mindful of the water running over your body. Or if that’s not possible, run cool or warm water over your hands, or splash your face.
- Stop and listen to the sounds around you. Become aware of the sounds you can hear close by. Tune into the subtle sounds as well as the more obvious ones. Then gradually expand your attention outwards, so you are focusing on sounds in the distance. Again try to focus in on the less obvious sounds, as well as the more dominant noises you can hear.
- Smell your favourite perfume, scent or essential oil.
- Practice some mindful eating. Take one thing like a piece of fruit or chocolate and slowly and mindfully be aware of the taste and textures as you chew and swallow it.
- Give yourself a mini massage. You can start on your feet and move upwards to help bring yourself back into your body.
Imagining yourself somewhere safe
- Imagine yourself in a safe, soothing, calm and comfortable place. This space can be either a real or an imagined place you associate with being totally relaxed.
- Imagine this place in as much detail as you can;
- What does it look like? What is around you?
- What does it smell like?
- What are the sounds around you?
- What is the temperature? Is there a breeze on your skin? Are you sitting, standing or walking?
- Notice how it feels to be completely calm and peaceful here. How does your body and mind change when you imagine being in this place?
- You might want to name or make a mental note of this place so you can come back to it at any time.
Grounding through movement
- Take a slow stroll around the block or in a park. Tuning into the feeling of your body moving. The feeling of your legs moving as you stride, the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, your arms moving past your body. What else can you feel in your body as you walk?
- Head to the gym, go for a swim or book in for a yoga class
- Jump up and down. Notice the sound and what it feels like when your feet make contact with the ground.
- Turn some music on and move your body. If it feels right, have a dance! If you’re needing something slower or less intense, just move along to the music in whatever feels comfy.
Hopefully you’ve found a few ideas here to get you going with your own grounding practice.
A few brief tips for getting started:
- Give yourself time to get the hang of grounding. Much like learning the piano, you need to give yourself time to practice the basics before you can expect yourself to be mastering Beethoven.
- Be kind to yourself. If you try something and it doesn’t work, that’s okay. When you’re feeling overwhelmed it’s sometimes just an achievement to try anything at all.
- Jot down what works. When you’re feeling flooded or overwhelmed it’s hard to remember that there are things that help, so having a list is useful.
- Often it’ll take a few different grounding techniques back to back to really bring you back into the safety of the here and now, so don’t give up if you don’t notice a shift after one attempt.
If you’re keen to develop your grounding skills with the help of someone else, many of our psychologists are highly skilled in this area. They can work with you one on one to create a tailored plan to help you to feel more grounded when you’re faced with overwhelming emotions. Depending on your individual circumstances you might also be eligible for a Medicare rebate, which substantially reduces the cost of sessions. If you’re interested in finding out more, get in touch with our friendly Support Team here.
This blog was written by Kathryn Delaney who is one of the Support Team Managers at Inner Melbourne Clinical Psychology (IMCP). IMCP practitioners are based in our Fitzroy North and CBD locations, with another clinic conveniently located in North Melbourne.
Original text by: Inner Melbourne Health and Psychology www.innermelbpsychology.com.au