Sometimes, when you’re going about your day or facing an uncomfortable situation, you may be overcome by anxious thoughts. Those thoughts may take you back to traumatic memories from the past, cause you to worry about what may happen in the future, or make you fearful of the outcome of a situation you’re currently going through. If that happens, you might want to try using grounding techniques to bring you away from those spiraling, negative thoughts, and back into the moment.
Because most people deal with these kinds of thoughts from time to time, learning about grounding techniques is useful for anybody. Denver, Colorado-based therapist Jasmine Crane tells Bustle that grounding techniques are also critical for people experiencing certain mental health conditions like chronic anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociation, substance misuse, recurring or resurfacing traumatic memories, and self-harm urges.
“Grounding techniques are necessary coping skills for people with mental illness, because our minds are what keep us bound up,” Crane says.
Because of that, it's important to focus on what's happening in the moment, not on fears about the future. “Anxiety is a very real pain, a very real fear that’s based on something that’s not as acute or urgent as it seems.” Crane tells Bustle. With her clients, Crane likes to combine “sensory-based and mindfulness-based grounding techniques,” which she says have a lot of overlap.
Like all people, Crane herself sometimes gets anxious and when that happens, she tells Bustle she likes “to focus on the senses,” saying that she makes observations about how her senses are interacting with her environment. “When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I’ll name three things that I see, three things I hear, and three things I feel,” Crane says.
Crane says that the techniques that work for some may not work for others. “For some people, certain methods of grounding are more activating, so I recommend that people try everything to see if it works for them,” Crane says. For her, the fact that the human mind is able to push away negative thoughts through grounding activities is a beautiful thing. “Our minds are fascinating,” she tells Bustle.
If you want to learn more about grounding techniques, any mental health professional can help talk you through it and introduce you to new methods. Here are a few that might be useful.
Don’t Forget to Breathe
On the show Jane The Virgin, whenever Jane (Gina Rodriguez) is feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, she or someone else in her life reminds her to take nice, long breaths and "Inhala, exhala." That's just Spanish for "inhale, exhale."
It's such a core feature of this fast-paced show, and I love the way that it shows that the act that literally gives us life —breathing — is often the one we most forget to do, especially in moments of high-stress. Viciere says it’s typical for people to forget to try this coping strategy. “Most of the time we are walking around and not breathing properly. We have so much going on and don’t realize how tense our body can be,” Viciere tells Bustle.
If you want to try deep breathing next time you’re feeling anxious, try these steps.
- Try to get as comfortable as you can. It’s really difficult for me to do deep breathing if I’m wearing constrictive clothing, or if I’m standing. Sometimes we can’t change our surroundings in time for this exercise, though, and that’s okay.
- Breathe in through your nose until you feel your belly fill up with air.
- Then, exhala, letting the breath comes out of your nose.
- Put one of your hands on your chest and the other hand on your belly.
- Breathe in, inhala, and feel your belly rise against your hand. Breathe out, and feel your belly lower, taking your hand with it.
- Repeat this for as long as you can, or as long as you need.
Water is a powerful, calming force. The Blue Gym Initiative — launched by environmental psychologist Mathew White, among others — suggested that "blue spaces," rivers, oceans, and lakes had positive mental health benefits. But while you may not be able to go to the beach everytime you feel anxious, there are ways you can harness some of those benefits.
When I was going through a training for a sexual assault hotline, I was really overwhelmed and experienced PTSD symptoms. So, I started a little ritual. If I felt myself getting increasingly anxious during the training, I would excuse myself, go to the bathroom, and run my hands under the water. And almost every night, I went home and took a warm shower. Feeling the warm water trickle over me reminded me that I was present, in that moment, and that I was safe. The sound of the water was also soothing.
Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, try running your hands under a running faucet or hopping in the shower. Pay close attention to how the water feels on different parts of your hands or your body. Take notice of the differences in pressure and temperature. Maybe you can even play with the temperature, switching the water from warm to cold, and back again.
Do Something Repetitive With Your Hands
Whenever I get on a flight, I experience painful anxiety symptoms. In addition to other methods, I’ve recently started taking a crochet needle and some yarn onto the plane to address this. To be completely honest, I’m incapable of crocheting anything beyond a big rectangle, but the act is still very soothing for me.
Next time you’re feeling anxious, try doing a mundane, repetitive task with your hands. For Crane, washing dishes always helps. I like to do that too, and sometimes if I’m really stressed, I’ll just go ahead and clean the whole house.
These things don’t just help with your anxiety. In fact, these kinds of activities can also make your brain healthier, according to Psychology Today. Because these kinds of tasks that don’t demand too much cognitive energy, they allow the brain time to recharge and rest. Pretty cool, right?
Try Something Outside The Box
Remember when Crane said that not every grounding technique works for everyone? Well, most of the ones we’ve discussed so far are very calming, muted activities. But Crane says that some people may need to go out dancing or listen to loud music as part of their coping strategies. Don’t feel that you’re confined to a certain category of grounding, because that may not be what you need.
Be Kind To Yourself
Often, anxiety is exacerbated by the self-loathing or overly critical thoughts people have about themselves. During these moments, take the time to be soothing and kind to yourself. This may look like more commercial ideas of self-care, like putting on a face mask or getting a pedicure. But it can also look like verbally telling yourself good things. Here are some phrases you can try.
- “You’re a good person, and everything is going to be okay.”
- “You’re not doing so good at this moment, but you’re going to get through it.”
- “You’re doing your best, and I’m so proud of you.”
- “Your health is important, and it’s okay to take this time to focus on getting better.”
Take a Walk
Sitting for long periods of time makes me incredibly anxious, and sometimes I just have to get up and walk. This can be really good for addressing anxious thoughts. If you’re walking inside, try to focus on your steps. How many steps are you taking? Can you count them? How does the rhythm of your footsteps feel?
If you’re walking outside, you can focus on your steps and you can take note of all the things around you that you sense. What are the smells of nature around you, or if you’re in the city, do you smell any foods around you? Do you hear any interesting sounds? Do you see anything that calms you? If noticing these things starts to make you feel anxious, refocus on something that’s more calming.
There are so many grounding techniques you can use; this is just a handful of them. Also, don’t feel that these can only be used in crisis. says that some techniques can be used “on a daily basis.” She tells Bustle that “Giving yourself grounding routines can allow you to work on staying in that mindset throughout the day.”
Whatever grounding techniques work for you, just know that anxiety is a real, valid pain that you’re feeling. It’s okay to reach out for help, including learning about methods designed to reduce anxiety.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.