Post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder are just a few mental illnesses that can remove someone’s mindset from the present moment. Anxiety, in any form, includes racing thoughts that can drag people through reliving past events or anticipating the future and the fear of the unknown that accompanies it. Regardless of diagnosis with an anxiety disorder, everyone experiences stress and racing thoughts from time to time. Whether it be about an upcoming test, a recent fight with a loved one, or just looming fears about the future, anxiety can consume your thoughts and remove you from your surroundings.
Grounding is a strategy that can be used to refocus on the current moment and relieve anxiety. There are different ways to apply these techniques. On the one hand, it can be used to connect yourself to your body and your surroundings. Others refer to grounding as a way to connect to the Earth. Both of these techniques can effectively bring you to the present moment and allow solace from the spiraling anxious thoughts about the past or future.
There are many different ways to help ground yourself, I will just name a few. The great thing about this technique is it can be applied in almost any setting. It requires little movement or disruption, so you can ground yourself in class, at work, or wherever you have a spike in anxiety.
You can ground yourself by taking notice of what your five senses are experiencing in the current moment. What do you hear? Is there a heater buzzing? What do you smell? Maybe someone is wearing strong perfume or a food scent is circulating the air. What do you see? How many people? What are the decorations on the wall? What do you taste? Is the taste of your coffee still in your mouth? What do you feel? Is the seat cold? Is the room stuffy? Some people like to go through the five senses in their head while others find it more helpful to list what they’re experiencing with each sense. Either way, by forcing yourself to take careful notice of your surroundings and bodily experiences, you allow yourself to be grounded in the current moment.
Similarly to the sensory technique, this technique is also about taking notice of your surroundings. In this case, you pick a color. Then, try to find as many items in the room that are this color. This can be repeated as many times as you like (and the room colors permit). Again, taking note of what situation you are currently in can focus your mind.
This technique is particularly useful for post-traumatic stress disorder. I used this when doing exposure therapy. This is when you slowly re-expose yourself to a situation that has previously been associated with trauma. This can lead to flashbacks or high anxiety, so grounding is important and can reduce these feelings. Instead of just taking note of what your senses are experiencing, this technique suggests that you should stimulate a sense. For example, if you choose to focus on taste, you can eat something sour or bitter. Or maybe you focus on touch with a stress-ball. Either way, the idea is to make this sense something different and attention-grabbing. This way, you ground yourself in your current experience.
Grounding is by no means a cure for anxiety. However, managing feelings is about applying different coping mechanisms and seeing what works. These are just a few skills for grounding, there are many more out there. I encourage you to try grounding yourself in the moment, your body, and to the Earth next time you are consumed by racing thoughts. If you like them, look online, there are many resources with several other grounding techniques to try.
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