MNTL Team | Feb 18, 2019 | 0
50 Highly-Effective Grounding Techniques
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No matter who you are or what you do, we all have it our daily lives:
…But some of us find that the normal, “usual” amount of stress we feel can turn into something that’s a lot harder to deal with:
Racing heartbeat. Difficulty breathing. Excessive sweating. Lightheaded. Dizziness. Panic.
Does that sound familiar?
I know from personal experience how horrible anxiety can be. I also know that it can feel like anxiety controls your life… like you’re helpless to do anything about it.
Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet for anxiety… nothing exists that will completely and permanently take away your anxiety.
…But if you’re serious about reducing your anxiety, there are a number of powerful techniques that can help. These techniques can help to dramatically shorten the time you suffer from attacks of anxiety, and speed up mental recovery time after anxiety.
One of the most widely used techniques, that many find to be extremely effective… grounding techniques. And in this guide, I’m going to teach you everything you need to know about grounding (aka earthing): the science behind it, how exactly it helps you combat anxiety, and 50 of the most powerful grounding techniques for anxiety out there.
I highly suggest you read the first two sections (I use them to explain the most powerful grounding technique… the one that’s helped me (by far) the most)… but if you want to skip to a specific section, use the table of contents below:
Have you ever heard of the fight-or-flight response?
It’s your body’s natural response to environmental threats. Basically… your brain senses a present danger, and immediately wants to fight the danger, or run from it. source
The fight-or-flight response is a normal, extremely helpful survival response. Our ancestors would have died out without it.
Think about it: if their brains didn’t tell them to fight or run when they met a mountain lion, they would have been eaten, right?
When you feel anxiety/panic, it’s just the fight-or-flight response… but the problem is, nothing is putting you in danger. Your brain thinks it needs to fight or run, but there’s no real reason to do so. source
Your brain might do this for several reasons: source
- There’s a history of panic attacks in your family
- Your brain has trouble regulating causes and effects
- There’s a history of substance abuse
- You have major, continued life stress
- You have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
And while those things are very real issues, they don’t create a life-threatening danger to you.
Here’s the bottom line:
Anxiety is a natural response to a traumatic event (real or perceived, past or present)… and, if you have it, it does not mean you’re weak, crazy, or out of control. It’s normal.
…And guys, this is exactly where these grounding exercises become so important. They can help you respond to this anxiety (overactive fight-or-flight response) with calmness, and can help reduce the unnecessary panic in your life.
Pretty much nothing is more grounded than a tree, right? It’s steady. Firm. Unshakable.
…And this is how most men want to feel when they’re anxious (even if they’ve never consciously thought about a tree). If you’re as grounded as a tree, it’s much harder for the fight-or-flight response to shake you.
So… the question becomes:
How do you actually ‘ground’ yourself like a tree? How can you stop an unnecessary fight-or-flight response?
Most people try desperately calming down (fighting it) or ignoring it (running from it).
But fundamentally those methods can’t work… because think about it:
If your brain is flooded with the desire to fight or run, and you respond by fighting the anxiety or running away from it, you’re actually encouraging the response to continue because you’re still fighting/running.
Make sense, right?
That’s why the best grounding techniques are so powerful. They aren’t fighting or ignoring anxiety… they’re redirecting it.
This redirection of your brain’s sudden extra energy (to something else) helps you escape fight-or-flight… helping to dramatically reduce your anxious discomfort.
There are 2 forms of grounding we’re going to discuss:
- Adding calming grounding meditation into your daily routine. By lowering your day-to-day stress levels, you’re less likely to be tense… which means less likely to get anxious.
- Redirecting the energy from the fight or flight response as it’s happening. These are physical, actionable steps for when you start to fill up with anxiety.
I highly suggest you read both sets of techniques… both of them help to beat back your anxiety.
Grounding Techniques to Add to Your Daily Routine
These grounding exercises are calming practices to implement in your everyday life.
Let’s use the tree analogy again:
If a tree roots itself deeply during good weather, it’s much harder for a storm to uproot that tree. If it doesn’t, a storm can easily tear it out of the ground.
These grounding techniques are rooting yourself during good weather. You’re not in the middle of a storm (anxiety) yet… so you’re grounding yourself before the storm hits.
They’ll help you accomplish this by educating yourself about your anxiety, and practicing calming routines.
#1. Understand that a panic attack is your body’s natural response to danger
I can’t stress enough how important this exact technique is. If you can remember that anxiety is just your brain’s overreaction to danger, you’ve taken a big step to managing the root of anxiety.
Your body might still display some symptoms of anxiety, but if you truly understand what’s happening, you won’t feel as confused, weak, or out of control.
To put it another way:
You’re taking all the power away from the anxiety, and giving it back to yourself. That’s why this is the most important first step to take in grounding.
#2. Know the symptoms and the science behind what’s happening
You already know that anxiety symptoms are just misfired signals from your brain, and that it doesn’t mean that your mind is ‘losing it’.
If you know what your personal anxiety symptoms are, you know what indicators your body sends you that you might have a panic attack.
Since you’ll know it’s coming on, you’re better prepared to face them with some of the actionable grounding techniques below.
#3. Label a sketch of your fingers with each of the 5 senses, and attach a good memory to each one
Trace the outline of your hand (in between your fingers) on a piece of paper. Assign each of your 5 fingers to 1 of the 5 senses (thumb is sight, pointer finger is smell, etc.)
Attach a positive memory to each sense, and write down on the sketch what the memory is. For me, my thumb would represent the sight of green, sunny mountains in Tennessee. My pointer finger would represent the smell of apple pie (and so on with each finger).
Put your sketch somewhere you’ll see it, and be able to memorize over time.
When you do need grounding, you can touch each finger on your corresponding hand and vividly remember what each one represents, breaking focus from the anxiety and bringing yourself back to the present.
#4. Practice Thought-replacement
You might have noticed common themes or triggers that make you the most anxious.
Thought replacement is examining those triggers, and the negative thoughts that go with them, and then turning them into positive thoughts.
Turn ‘you’re a failure’ into ‘you’re really good at ________’.
And turn ‘no one understands you’ into ‘I’m not alone in feeling this way’.
Practice thought replacement when you’re feeling calm (not anxious), and then when you are anxious/need grounding, you already have a series of positive thoughts ready.
This is probably one of the most popular grounding techniques for anxiety (and it’s proven to be effective in reducing it). source
Meditation gets your body used to slowing down… and anxiety often results from the brain jumping too fast to the conclusion that you’re in danger.
Meditation makes you breathe/think slowly, and focus intensely on the moment (what’s real) and not the fight or flight signals that your brain throws out.
Here’s a great meditation guide for beginners.
#6. Don’t drink too much caffeine
If you love a good energy drink/espresso as a pick-me-up, I get it: I used to drink 3-4 espressos every day in college.
I was shocked when my therapist told me that caffeine actually causes your brain to release the fight or flight hormone into your blood. source
Crazy, right? Caffeine isn’t the root of all stress in your life… but if you’re suffering from particularly bad anxiety, caffeine certainly makes it worse.
If you find yourself in need of grounding more and more, try cutting back on caffeine.
#7. Do things that make you happy, and less anxious
Don’t you find yourself more stressed/depressed/anxious when all you do is work, study, and push yourself?
Don’t put your brain under the pressure to always be working/performing perfectly. Give yourself a break.
Giving your brain a break from stress reduces the chances that you’ll be anxious, and you’ll need grounding meditation less and less.
Do one activity a day that you really enjoy, or pick up a great manly hobby just for yourself.
#8. Have a confidant
A confidant is a therapist, girlfriend, or friend that understands that use grounding every once in a while, and accepts (and supports) that about you.
You don’t have to call this person every time you feel anxious… but just knowing that someone is aware of what you go through can help ground you.
It can be incredibly soothing just to feel understood (and not alone) in moments of panic.
#9. Repeat the positive things in your life each morning and night
Even if you’re under a lot of daily stress, you still have so many things to be grateful for.
Every day, wake up and remember some of your blessings: relationships, goals, health, etc. that you have going for you.
Remind yourself that you’re defined as a man by these good things, not by anxiety.
#10. Keep busy
Anxiety often creeps in when your mind isn’t active enough, and when you have nothing to do but worry.
You should try to keep your mind busy every day… but like I mentioned above, keep busy doing things you enjoy, not things that make you stressed.
Find hobbies to practice, relationships to pursue, or sports you like to play… do anything that keeps your mind too happy and busy to let anxiety in.
#11. List, out loud, things that make you happy
If you get used to starting and ending your day with happy thoughts, you may not feel as anxious throughout the day.
In contrast, starting the day lying in bed and remembering all the things you have to worry about sets you up to have an overwhelmingly stressful day.
Get in the habit of being happy in the morning (even if you’re not a morning person). Remember simple things that make you happy… like you get to get up and eat breakfast (which is what gets me out of bed every morning).
Start your day happily, and you’re less likely to need further grounding throughout the day.
Techniques for When You Start to Panic
When you feel a panic attack coming on, it’s natural to tense up and fight it… or throw yourself into distraction, hoping to run away from it.
These things are just prolonging the heightened fight or flight response. Trying to fix anxiety like that only makes it worse.
You should acknowledge that your anxiety is real, but deal with it in a calming way.
The following techniques will help you do that by:
- Using your 5 senses to break your brain’s focus on anxiety, and focus on the moment
- Remember who/where you are by distancing yourself from bad memories of the past and/or worries about the future
- Redirecting the rush of energy you feel (in the fight or flight state) to something positive
These are all short, simple grounding techniques to do as you feel yourself get anxious.
#12. Remind yourself that if a panic attack happens, you will stay grounded
A large part of the anxiety of a panic attack is knowing that you’re about to lose control (losing control is horribly scary for a lot of men).
But like I mentioned above, fighting the anxiety can only make it worse, because you’re encouraging your body to fight instead of to just be calm.
If you feel overly anxious, take a moment and ground yourself in the reality that you’re about to panic. And that’s ok.
Anxiety has never killed you, and it’s not going to this time. Calmly accept that your body has more fight or flight response than usual, and that in a few minutes, it will stop.
#13. Notice your triggers
Another powerful way to ground yourself in reality is to distance yourself mentally from your anxiety. Observe it, instead of fighting it.
Take on a researcher role of your anxiety, instead of a victim role. Imagine that you’re simply researching a symptom, not being ‘attacked’. Redirect the panicked energy you feel into researching.
When you start to feel anxious, notice what the cause seems to be. Write it down. This technique is incredibly powerful because you can then avoid those causes that make you the most anxious.
#14. Time it
This is another way to see yourself as a researcher, not as a victim.
When you feel that you might start to panic, set a timer. Focus on the amount of time you feel panicked/out of control. This breaks your focus away from feeling panicked, and redirects it to something you can control: researching your anxiety.
#15. Tell yourself you’ll worry later
Sometimes you need grounding when you’re at work, under a deadline, or in a social setting. It can be very overwhelming to feel like you’re going to lose control when you have other, important things to do.
In those moments, try this technique that has been extremely helpful for me: acknowledge your anxiety, and then tell yourself to worry about it later. Think “I’ll think this entire situation through right when I get home. That’s my time to worry about this.”
This establishes boundaries between you and your anxiety, and reminds you that you have the power to calmly deal with it.
#16. Play the 54321 game
Name 5 things you see. Name 4 things you feel. Name 3 things you hear. Name 2 things you smell (or like to smell). Name 1 good thing about this day.
This is a highly actionable grounding technique for anxiety that helps you break the focus on anxiety, and redirect that energy to something else… in this case, noticing your surroundings.
#17. Walk mindfully
Take a walk, and be mindful of every sensation you feel, starting with your feet:
- Where your shoes rub your feet
- How the muscles in your legs tense and release as you step
- Your arms swinging
- The wind in your hair, and on your skin
- Your breaths filling up your lungs and getting pushed out again
Noticing everything that’s happening this moment breaks your brain’s focus on sending you fight or flight signals, and makes it focus on your surroundings.
#18. Write down what’s going on around you
Write down everything that’s happening around you: a squirrel is sitting on a tree outside, a coworker is on the phone with a client, your coffee is making a ring on your desk, your knee is itching, etc.
This technique grounds you in the moment, not in the bad memories of the past or the worries of the future.
Plus, writing things down makes your brain slow down (you write much slower than you think, right?) and further focus on the moment.
#19. Carry a grounding object
A grounding object is a small stone, pen, chess piece, or any small thing that you can carry with you and touch often.
When you need grounding, touch your object and memorize its details. What does it feel like? How big is it? What color?
Grounding objects are even more powerful when they’re a gift from someone you love… when you touch it, remember how much you care about that person. Remember that the feelings of love and safety, not anxiety, is the most real thing in the world.
If you don’t have your grounding object with you when you feel anxious, remember every detail about it you can. Focus intently on recreating it in your mind, breaking your focus from the anxiety.
#20. If you can get outside, try to determine what color the clouds are
Now, I know what you’re thinking:
The clouds are white.
But use this technique to make yourself slow down and truly notice something amazing:
Your brain tells you they’re white, but what your eyes see as white is really all colors. White light is made of all the other color light, right? Try to separate white into the different colors when you look at the clouds, and see what color they really are.
#21. Count 5 things in the room with you that are red, then yellow, then green, then blue
This is another powerful technique to use your observations to redirect your focus.
You may have to really look for different colored things, and actively redirect your focus to the hunt, instead of towards whatever is making you panic.
#22. Listen intently to someone around you talking
Eavesdropping is usually frowned upon… but if you’re in a public place and need to be grounded, try listening intently to a stranger’s conversation.
Instead of turning all your focus inward, toward fighting the panic, turn it outward, and notice what’s going on with other people.
#23. Separate the sounds you hear in your mind
Right now, I hear my fingers on the keyboard, a bird outside, a car passing occasionally, and water flowing through the pipes next door.
Now, here’s the thing:
I had to listen for about 2 minutes before I even noticed the water.
Hearing it made me think that my neighbor must be taking a shower, and that he must be home for lunch… and before I knew it, my focus was completely on that, instead of on myself.
If you need grounding, noticing what’s going on around you (in this case, through sound) breaks your brain’s focus from panic and into the reality of what’s happening right now.
#24. Use your voice
Repeat a mantra/motto, say what you did today, or read something out loud.
Hearing your own voice actively gets you out of your own head. Repeating a soothing motto powerfully grounds you in reality, by reminding you what’s most important to you.
Read our post about choosing a life motto… it can help you ground yourself.
#25. Describe what you feel out loud
You might feel a little crazy, but trust me and try this one.
Speaking out loud slows you down. Your mind moves much faster than your mouth can, so speaking your feelings redirects your focus onto saying words instead of racing through your thoughts.
#26. Say your name, the date, your age, where you are, what you did today, what you’ll do tomorrow
This technique is especially powerful for men who are experiencing a flashback, and need to ground their mind in reality.
Like I mentioned above, speaking forces your mind to slow down (since you speak slower than you think), and powerfully reminds you that you’re not experiencing what’s happening in the flashback…
…you’re safe, in the present.
#27. Smell something you like
Smell is the sense most strongly related to memory source… and smelling something powerfully positive can immediately calm you down.
I like the smell of grass. If I feel anxious I go outside, breathe deep, and think about how much I like that smell. You can do this with the smell of a flower, a food, a perfume or cologne, leather, rubber, etc.
Concentrate on the good smell of what you like, instead of inward on your anxiety.
#28. Try Aromatherapy
There’s growing evidence that aromatherapy can calm an anxious mind. source
This grounding technique is as simple as lighting candles/incense with these calming scents: lavender, pine, vanilla, or jasmine.
#29. Think hard about what flavor you’re craving
Think about a flavor you’re craving, and let the craving fill your mind.
Imagine the texture of the food, the scent, and the taste of it on your tongue.
Direct all your focus on how good it would feel to eat what you’re craving… and move your focus away from your anxiety.
#30. Notice your contact with the earth
This is a personal favorite grounding technique of mine… because it doesn’t require you to actually do anything (and sometimes you’re not in a position where you can move/leave when anxiety strikes).
Here’s how it’s done:
Notice all the places your body is pulled by gravity (this is literal ‘grounding’). Feel the soles of your feet on the floor, the back of your arm resting on the desk, or your back pressing into your bed.
Remind yourself that gravity, the most secure force on the Earth, is safely grounding you right here. You’re grounded, not losing control.
#31. Eat/drink something
This is similar to the technique above, except you get to actually enjoy a food/drink.
When you taste the food/drink, notice all the flavor components. Do you taste salt? Sweetness? Butter? Cinnamon?
Just like above, this technique directs all your energy into the present moment.
#32. Rub your arms and legs, and warm the skin
Just like you would on a cold winter day, rub your skin enough to make it warm. Concentrate on the sensation, and how good it feels.
Touching your own body can remind you that you’re whole, in one piece, and you’re ok. You’re not falling apart.
This technique is really helpful to men who feel like they might lose control and have a full-blown panic attack.
#33. Feel a sharp sensation
This is a very common grounding technique: gently flick a rubber band on your wrist, or lightly pinch your arm.
When you do it:
Notice where on your skin you felt it, if it hurt, etc. This can help bring you back to here and now if you feel that you’re losing touch with reality.
#34. Take a shower
Heat increases blood flow and slows your heart rate, calming you down gently.
I’ve personally found this technique to be highly effective. The heat and water pressure from a good, hot shower can always ground me… bringing me back to a safe reality.
#35. Remember what you ate for lunch every day for the last week
This is a different twist on some of the techniques above.
Again, you’re recalling something that’s not easy to recall. You’ll have to think about it deeply for a moment, breaking your brain’s focus on the fight or flight response.
#36. Move, especially if you feel trapped
Sometimes, you need a reminder that you’re in control of your body. Simply shifting position or stretching tense muscles can remind you that you’re not losing control.
This technique is perfect if you’re at work, or somewhere that you can’t move vigorously (see below).
#37. Move vigorously
Sprint, do jumping jacks, do pushups, or climb stairs.
No matter what you do, moving vigorously is an outlet for the rush of energy you get from anxiety.
Another powerful twist on this technique is to imagine yourself running towards your anxiety (not fleeing from it), and proving you’re not afraid of it.
#38. Breathe from your diaphragm
This technique slows your racing mind down by grounding your breath.
How it works is crazy:
Breathing through your diaphragm relaxes muscles in your chest that could tighten during a panic attack… which is what can give you the sensation that you’re suffocating. source
By breathing deeply through your diaphragm, you loosen those muscles, and force yourself to take deeper, slower breaths (than you normally do with your chest).
#39. Breathe out fear and worry, breathe in comfort
This is a technique to combine with the diaphragm breathing technique above, when you need additional grounding.
Imagine that fear and worry are gases (like oxygen) and that you’re forcefully pushing them out of your lungs when you breathe out.
Imagine that comfort is a different gas, and you’re pulling it in with each breath. This technique puts you in control of your mind… you’re telling your mind what to feel, instead of your mind telling you to feel anxious.
#40. Name all the animals you can think of
You don’t have to use animals: use trees, pizza chains, or your old high school classmates.
Recalling a list of something that’s not immediately top of mind (something that you have to think about, that you’re not constantly aware of) breaks the focus from anxiety.
#41. Go do one of your “good” habits
When you feel that you need grounding, start doing something that’s really good for you.
Floss your teeth. Clean out the refrigerator. Do pushups.
Not only are you redirecting your sudden rush of energy into something positive… you’re giving yourself a feeling of accomplishment for doing something beneficial for your body/mind.
#42. Write a note/text to your girlfriend/wife
Write a nice text to your girlfriend/wife that she’ll really enjoy reading.
This puts all your focus on someone else.
…And if you’re focusing on her, you’re not focusing on fighting or fleeing your anxiety.
#43. If you’ve ever studied another language, translate objects around you, or your sentences, into that language
This technique is hard if you are only partially fluent in another language… and that’s good.
It makes your brain focus on an entirely different sort of task (translation) than fighting or fleeing your anxiety.
#44. Make true, positive statements
Say things out loud that you know are true (this especially helps if you’re losing touch with reality).
My name is ____.
I am ___ years old.
I’m good at ______.
I deal with anxiety frequently, and it has never beaten me.
Re-informing yourself of what you know to be true grounds you in reality. Remind yourself that the anxiety you feel doesn’t define you… the truths you just told yourself do.
#45. Imagine yourself as a tree
This is another grounding technique you can do while sitting completely still (at work, or in a movie, or social setting that you can’t leave).
So if you’re outside, touch a tree, or just think about how deep the roots of the tree are.
Above, I mentioned that a tree is one of the most grounded things there is, and that is the feeling most men crave when anxiety strikes. Envision yourself as a strongly grounded tree, and you can feel more grounded.
Break focus entirely from your anxiety, and try focusing on something else.
Acknowledge that your anxiety is still there (don’t ignore/run away from it), but that reading is more important right now.
#47. After feeling anxious, take a break
After you experience anxiety, and have used your grounding techniques, try not to work, study, or exercise for a few minutes.
Since you’re usually much calmer after grounding yourself, encourage your brain to stay calm by doing something you find relaxing (walking, sleeping, reading, etc.)
#48. If you’re awakened by anxiety or flashback, write it down, then get up and relax with TV or music
It’s much harder to use grounding meditation when you’re woken up by flashbacks or anxiety… your mind isn’t always awake enough to remember to ground yourself. But it doesn’t have to ruin your night.
After it’s over, write down the experience (taking on a researcher role again), and then get up for a while and do something relaxing.
#49. Look up, not down
When you panic, your natural inclination is to look down, at the floor.
Sometimes it’s to stop other people from noticing you, or sometimes it’s because you feel like the weight of anxiety is crushing you downward.
But simply looking upward can powerfully remind you that nothing is pushing you down. You’re free to move. You also breathe easier when your throat and lungs are lifted, so take long, deep breaths with your face tilted upward.
#50. Touch/hold something cold
Cold temperatures can bring you back to the present if you feel you’re losing reality.
Holding a cold can of soda, or splashing cold water on your face, can powerfully break your brain’s focus from anxiety and redirect your energy to the present moment.
Anxiety is hard to deal with, but with the right techniques, you can significantly reduce its negative symptoms.
Use grounding and these grounding techniques to feel more in control of yourself, and not ‘run’ by your anxiety.