By: Bridgette W. Gottwald, LPC, NCC

During 2020, all of us have quickly learned that feeling unbalanced has become the new normal. All of our plans have been disrupted and destroyed, schedules have changed immensely, and things that used to be fairly simple have become more difficult. Particularly after traumas, it’s completely normal to experience flashbacks, anxiety, and symptoms that bring about discomfort. These grounding techniques serve people positively in that they help to control symptoms by turning attention away from the negative thoughts, memories, worries, and re-focusing the mind on the present moment. Amidst these trying times, grounding techniques are more important now than ever! Although they are simple, these grounding techniques can help individuals keep their cool when triggered or upset. Below are some that I have discussed with my clients that have proven to be highly effective! 

5-4-3-2-1 Technique: In using this technique, you will intentionally take in the details of your surroundings by utilizing your senses (smell, taste, sight, hearing). In taking note of these small details, you will be paying attention to minor things that you normally subconsciously tune out.  You can do this by asking yourself these questions: 

  • What are five things you can see? Try to look for details like patterns, light reflection, or something that you had not noticed beforehand. 
  • What are four things you can feel? Take note of the way clothing feels against your body, or the chill of a breeze against your skin, or the feeling of your body weight sitting in a chair. Feel free to explore in picking up objects, examining their weight, texture, and other physical attributes.
  • What are three things you can hear? Try to take note of the sounds that your mind usually tunes out (ex: ticking clock, traffic noises, or the rustle of trees blowing in the wind). 
  • What are two things you can smell? In gearing your attention towards smell, attempt to notice smells that are currently around you. You can also search for something nearby that has a specific scent, like a flower or a candle. 
  • What is one thing you can taste? Having a small snack for this step is handy. Put something in your mouth (chips, gum, candy) and focus closely on the flavors it presents. 

Categories: Check out the list of categories below, and choose at least three of them. Then name as many items as you can in each one, jotting down whatever first comes to mind. Give each category a few minutes so that you are able to come up with as many as possible.  

Movies, Sports Teams, Animals, Countries, Colors, Cities, Books, Cars, TV Shows, Cereals, Fruits & Vegetables, Famous People, etc. 

If you are interested in doing another variation of this activity, attempt to name the items within each category alphabetically. So, for the fruits and vegetables category, it would look like this: “apple, banana, carrot.” 

Body Awareness: This body awareness technique will help to bring you into the present moment by channeling your focus to sensations in the body. Make sure that you are attentive to the physical sensations that arise as you do this. 

  • Take 5 long, deep breaths through your nose, and exhale through your mouth. 
  • Place both feet flat on the floor. Wiggle your toes. Curl and uncurl your toes several times.
  • Stomp your feet on the ground several times. Pay attention to the sensations in your feet and legs as you make contact with the ground.
  • Clench your hands into fists, then release the tension. Repeat this 10 times.
  • Press your palms together. Press them harder and hold this pose for 15 seconds. Pay attention to the feeling of tension in your hands and arms.
  • Rub your palms together briskly. Notice the sound and the feeling of warmth. 
  • Reach your hands over your head like you’re trying to reach the sky. Stretch like this for 5 seconds. Bring your arms down and let them relax at your sides.
  • Take 5 more deep breaths and notice the feeling of calm in your body.

Mental Exercises: When you are experiencing uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, using these mental exercises may be helpful. Fortunately, you are able to use these almost any time and place, given that they are discreet and easy to utilize. Try different ones in effort to figure out what works best for you. 

  • Name all the objects and items you see around you.
  • Describe the steps in performing an activity you know how to do well. For example, you could describe how to prepare a meal or tie your shoe.  
  • Count from 100 by 7 backwards
  • Pick up an object and describe it in specific detail. Notice qualities like color, texture, size, weight, scent, etc.
  • Spell your full name, and the names of three other people, backwards.
  • Name all of your family members, their ages, and one of their favorite activities. 
  • Read something backwards, letter-by-letter. Practice for at least a few minutes.
  • Think of an object and “draw” it in your mind, or in the air with your finger. 

Firmly Anchor Yourself to the Present 

In exploring all of these different techniques, make sure that you are patient with yourself. Not all techniques will work for everyone, and different ones might work at different times or in various situations. The purpose of these grounding exercises is to bring yourself into contact with the present moment – the here and now. Your main goal should be to keep the mind and body connected and working together. Next time you are presented with memories that revolve around the “there and then” (flashbacks, bad memories, traumas, nightmares), hopefully these grounding techniques are helpful in bringing you back to the here and now. Doing this will aid you in terminating living in the past and waiting for the future to happen. Being able to live within the present moment is a crucial part to mental wellness, and I hope you find these grounding techniques beneficial. Good luck everyone! If you would like to meet with one of our Chicago counselors, please contact Symmetry Counseling today. We offer both in-person therapy sessions and online counseling services to help you.

References: 

Therapist Aid. (2018). Grounding techniques. Retrieved from: therapistaid.com

Grounding Exercises. (n.d.). Living Well. Retrieved from: https://www.livingwell.org.au/well-being/mental-health/grounding-exercises/