Grounding usually evokes images of kids sent to their rooms having lost a long list of privileges from screens to socializing for some challenging behavior. Generally, it’s something our kids strive to avoid and it’s a punishment that we reserve for significant infractions. Grounding, a tool from mindfulness, in a different incarnation can help our kids (and ourselves) deal with stress and worry.

Anxiety is no fun. If it was, we wouldn’t be looking to avoid it or figuring out how to treat it. No one enjoys the myriad of physical sensations that accompany it from the racing heartbeat to the lump you feel in your stomach. Our minds become filled with seemingly irrational thoughts that we can’t escape. We’re stuck in flight, flight, or freeze mode as our amygdala prepares us to deal with a threat that may or not be there.

What Is Grounding

The practice of mindfulness encourages us to connect with the present and grounding is a powerful tool to help us. At its core, grounding puts us in touch with our physical experiences and helps shift our thoughts away from the “what-ifs” running through our brains.

It’s important to note that grounding as a skill doesn’t solve anxiety. The underlying thoughts and concerns still need to be addressed. The goal is to shift away from the “stuck” feeling that anxiety creates and allow problem-solving to start to take place. In other words, grounding can be used to jumpstart the rational mind.

How to Get Grounded

My preferred method for grounding that I frequently use with patients employs the five major senses. The goal is to notice something with each sense: see, touch, hear, smell, and taste. We begin with a series of deep breaths and then move from sense to sense. Since it is easier to notice things with some senses than others, I usually use the following pattern:

5 things you can see

4 things you can feel

3 things you can hear

2 things you can smell

1 thing you can taste

Graphic lists instructions for grounding. See text of webpage.

The last two can be tricky, so I’ll encourage them to think of a favorite smell or taste if nothing is noticed right away.

We close with a few more deep breaths.

I love this strategy because it is simple to do and can be done anywhere. Slowing down to notice your senses can distract you from the anxious thoughts running through your head.

Other grounding strategies include:

  • Exploring an object in your hand, like a fidget or stone
  • Mindfully eating – use your senses to experience a food or drink like you’ve never had it before.
  • Shift your position – notice the changes in your body as you settle into a couch or chair
  • Call a friend – push yourself to be fully present in the conversation. The topic doesn’t matter.
  • Exercise – quick movements like jumping jacks or squats can push us to be present.

So, the next time you or your child are feeling anxious, it might be time to get grounded.