Grounding is a practice that can help you pull away from flashbacks, unwanted memories, and negative or challenging emotions.
These techniques may help distract you from what you’re experiencing and refocus on what’s happening in the present moment.
You can use grounding techniques to help create space from distressing feelings in nearly any situation, but they’re especially helpful if you’re dealing with:
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- self-harm urges
- traumatic memories
- substance use disorder
These techniques use your five senses or tangible objects — things you can touch — to help you move through distress.
1. Put your hands in water
Focus on the water’s temperature and how it feels on your fingertips, palms, and the backs of your hands. Does it feel the same in each part of your hand?
Use warm water first, then cold. Next, try cold water first, then warm. Does it feel different to switch from cold to warm water versus warm to cold?
2. Pick up or touch items near you
Are the things you touch soft or hard? Heavy or light? Warm or cool? Focus on the texture and color of each item. Challenge yourself to think of specific colors, such as crimson, burgundy, indigo, or turquoise, instead of simply red or blue.
3. Breathe deeply
Slowly inhale, then exhale. If it helps, you can say or think “in” and “out” with each breath. Feel each breath filling your lungs and note how it feels to push it back out.
4. Savor a food or drink
Take small bites or sips of a food or beverage you enjoy, letting yourself fully taste each bite. Think about how it tastes and smells and the flavors that linger on your tongue.
5. Take a short walk
Concentrate on your steps — you can even count them. Notice the rhythm of your footsteps and how it feels to put your foot on the ground and then lift it again.
6. Hold a piece of ice
What does it feel like at first? How long does it take to start melting? How does the sensation change when the ice begins to melt?
7. Savor a scent
Is there a fragrance that appeals to you? This might be a cup of tea, an herb or spice, a favorite soap, or a scented candle. Inhale the fragrance slowly and deeply and try to note its qualities (sweet, spicy, sharp, citrusy, and so on).
8. Move your body
Do a few exercises or stretches. You could try jumping jacks, jumping up and down, jumping rope, jogging in place, or stretching different muscle groups one by one.
Pay attention to how your body feels with each movement and when your hands or feet touch the floor or move through the air. How does the floor feel against your feet and hands? If you jump rope, listen to the sound of the rope in the air and when it hits the ground.
9. Listen to your surroundings
Take a few moments to listen to the noises around you. Do you hear birds? Dogs barking? Machinery or traffic? If you hear people talking, what are they saying? Do you recognize the language? Let the sounds wash over you and remind you where you are.
10. Feel your body
You can do this sitting or standing. Focus on how your body feels from head to toe, noticing each part.
Can you feel your hair on your shoulders or forehead? Glasses on your ears or nose? The weight of your shirt on your shoulders? Do your arms feel loose or stiff at your sides? Can you feel your heartbeat? Is it rapid or steady? Does your stomach feel full, or are you hungry? Are your legs crossed, or are your feet resting on the floor? Is your back straight?
Curl your fingers and wiggle your toes. Are you barefoot or in shoes? How does the floor feel against your feet?
11. Try the 5-4-3-2-1 method
Working backward from 5, use your senses to list things you notice around you. For example, you might start by listing five things you hear, then four things you see, then three things you can touch from where you’re sitting, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
Make an effort to notice the little things you might not always pay attention to, such as the color of the flecks in the carpet or the hum of your computer.