Grounding Techniques

What it is

Grounding Techniques are a very important set of skills which are helpful in being able to put yourself back in the present moment. There are times when our thoughts will be racing and our emotions will become too overwhelming or intense. These skills are quick ways to help slow your mind down and to decrease the intensity of your emotions. They are helpful in us being able to get out of our heads and come to an emotional place where we can think more clearly.

How it works

One important thing about understanding why grounding techniques work is understanding why our brain acts the way it does. Our brain as an organ is biologically wired to take in information about what can keep us alive as well as what can threaten or kill us. It then categorizes this information and when a dangerous situation arises our brain sets an alarm and puts us into a fight, flight, or freeze response. This is to kick us into action quickly and puts us into a survival mode to help keep us alive. While this can be helpful in a variety of situations, it can be debilitating in others. Often the fight, flight, or freeze response manifests itself in a variety of ways such as intense anger and anxiety, or shutting down. What can happen is that our brain can have this same response even when we are not in any sort of danger or threat. Sometimes a small reminder (or trigger) of a previous intense scenario in our past, can cause the brain to go into survival mode. And when we are worried about an upcoming event or scenario it can send us into a flight or fight response.

Grounding techniques work because they are different tools which help bring us back to the present moment. When we are connected to the present moment we are able to better evaluate our current situation, and we will be able to not panic as much as our brain wants us to. It helps put us on solid ground where we don’t feel like we are drowning, and we can then find emotional security for that moment. This then gives us the ability to act the way we want, rather than reacting the way our brain wants.

When to use

Grounding tools are best used in the moments when we are in or notice we are about to go in fight or flight mode. This fight or flight mode reveals itself through panic or panic attacks, intense anxiety, anger, shutting down or dissociating, trauma responses or flashbacks, nightmares. Anytime our brains start “future tripping” or we get stuck in the past, grounding will help you get back into the moment. Like discussed in the processing section, after you feel emotionally safe and your brain isn’t revved up, then it can be helpful to use a process tool to identify why you had a specific reaction, and then if you are feeling overwhelmed, it could be helpful to implement a self-care tool at this point to fill you up. But grounding is the first step in being able to get back into the present moment.

Specific Tools

  • Connecting to 5 Senses (5,4,3,2,1)

  • Deep Breathing

  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation

  • Putting cold water on your face or on your hands

  • Imagine you are currently at your “happy place” (somewhere that brings you peace).

  • A quick exercise, cardio or stretching.

  • Listing off categories, (cars, ice cream flavors, states, etc…)

  • STOP skill


Tool that gets you in touch with your 5 senses and the present moment.

  • What are 5 things you can see?

  • What are 4 things you can hear?

  • What are 3 things you can touch or feel?

  • What are 2 things you can smell?

  • What is 1 thing you can taste?

Deep Breathing

  • Let out all the air in your lungs and then breath in slowly and count 5 seconds in your head.

  • Hold your breath for 5 seconds

  • Let your breath out slowly for 5 seconds.

  • After letting your breath out hold your breath for 5 more seconds

  • Breath in again for 5 seconds.

  • Continuously repeat these steps for 2 - 3 minutes or until you feel your more relaxed.

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