Grounding techniques are strategies that can help a person manage their traumatic memories or strong emotions. Examples include breathing exercises and focusing on the five senses.

The purpose of grounding techniques is to allow a person to step away from negative thoughts or flashbacks. Techniques such as these can decrease the intensity of a person’s feelings or trauma by distracting them using the five senses.

Focusing on what they observe in the present environment can help a person detach from the past.

This article explores some different types of grounding techniques.

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Grounding techniques can help a person manage their traumatic memories.

Different experts suggest different grounding techniques. The following sections describe how to do these.

Health service providers can guide people through grounding techniques, or a person can direct themselves through the practice.

Step-by-step guide

A publication from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration outlines one approach on how to use grounding techniques.

Although this approach is suitable for medical practitioners to conduct for patients, a person can also use this technique on themselves or with another person.

To follow this grounding technique, a person should:

  1. Place the feet firmly on the ground.
  2. State the date and time.
  3. Take slow, deep breaths.
  4. State what they can observe in their present environment.
  5. Remind themselves that they are in a safe place right now.
  6. Observe their immediate surroundings and describe items in the room or environment.

To decrease the intensity of their feelings, a person can use visualization exercises or sensory diffusers. Some techniques include:

  • visualizing turning down an emotional dial
  • clenching their fist to hold on to the feelings, then letting them go when they release their fist
  • visualizing a safe place through guided imagery
  • distracting themselves

Achieving distraction from memories of the past may include trying different strategies. Some examples include:

  • focusing on recent or future events, such as a to-do list for the day
  • reminding oneself of their current safety
  • touching a chair or wiggling the toes to remind oneself of the current reality
  • counting or reciting something to return focus to the present

The five senses

When practicing grounding techniques, people can focus on the five senses: sight, touch, hearing, taste, and smell.

One useful grounding technique reported by people with bipolar disorder is the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. Some people suggest that this technique can help them through a panic attack.

The technique uses the five senses. A person should:

  • search for five things they can see
  • search for four things they can touch
  • search for three things they can hear
  • search for two things they can smell
  • search for one thing they can taste

Other sensory grounding techniques may include:

  • smelling food or flowers
  • holding an object, such as a rock or a leaf, in the hands
  • listening to music or the noise of traffic outside

Some people may prefer practicing grounding techniques outside, since there is more to see, hear, touch, and smell outdoors. There is also more freedom to move around than indoors.

Breathing exercises

Focusing on breathing, by consciously inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth, is an effective strategy for returning to the present.

A person can enhance the focus of these breathing exercises by placing their hands on their abdomen and watching them move up and down with the breath.

Some people may require a combination of grounding strategies to return to the present, particularly if their thoughts and feelings are very intense.

Mental health resources

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Experts suggest that grounding techniques are useful for people experiencing panic or trauma flashbacks. Behavioral health service providers can use these techniques to help calm a person down.

Grounding techniques are particularly useful for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dissociation, panic attacks, or anxiety.

Some experts call grounding techniques “earthing.” Earthing, like grounding techniques, can help bring the body and mind back into contact with the earth.

One study in the journal Psychological Reports assessed whether or not earthing could affect mood.

The researchers worked with 40 participants who were either grounded or ungrounded. All participants sat in a comfortable recliner chair for 1 hour.

The grounded participants had a conductive pillow, mat, and patches to connect them to the earth. In the ungrounded group, the participants were not connected to the earth.

In this small study, the researchers observed that the grounded participants experienced an improvement in their mood compared with the ungrounded participants. However, further research is required to confirm the effectiveness of earthing.

People who experience trauma from past events may require medical attention. Some people may also require medication. This is because traumatic memories can affect a person’s daily activities and relationships.

Grounding techniques may work for some people, but validated treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy may be more effective for others.

People should avoid self-diagnosing and self-treating mental health conditions. If a person thinks that they have a mental health condition, they should seek medical attention for diagnosis. With the help of a doctor, a person can explore the most effective treatment plan to help manage their mental health.

Grounding techniques may help people with anxiety or PTSD. The purpose of grounding techniques is to return the person to reality during a panic attack or traumatic flashback. By focusing on the present surroundings, a person can become more aware of their safe reality and start to feel calmer.

Grounding techniques tend to involve using the five senses to become aware of the present surroundings. For example, listening to traffic sounds or touching a plant can help people connect with the environment and disconnect from upsetting memories or emotions.

Although grounding techniques may work for some people, doctors have not established a clear guideline for their use.

People should seek medical attention if they believe that they have a mental health condition. Together with a doctor, a person can develop an effective treatment plan.