On this page are listed some resources that you can use if you are having a bad day, a panic attack or if you notice you are starting to feel disconnected with your body or your surroundings. The resources will help you ground yourself. These tools can assist in bringing you back to the present and with practice you can learn to stay present for longer periods of time. Combined with counselling these tools are powerful as you will be learning better ways to cope with difficult situations so staying present will not be as threatening.
For some breathing and grounding exercises may be a new experience, for others it maybe something you have used often. Whatever group you fall into, check out the grounding activities below and see if there are any new ones you could add to your own resource collection. You could experiment with them and see which ones work the best for you.
USING YOUR BREATH
Deep breathing is one of the best ways to relieve and lower stress and anxiety in the body and mind. This is because when you breathe deeply, your body sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then relays this message back to your body. Therefore the physiological symptoms of stress- accelerated heart rate, fast breathing, sweating, high blood pressure, all decrease and melt away as you start to breathe deeply and relax. The way you breathe affects your whole body, so use your breath, focus on your breath, notice it and let it bring relaxation and ease to your being. The good part about breathing exercises is that they are easy to learn and replicate no matter where you are.
Belly breathing is easy, relaxing and can be done anywhere. Remember the key is to focus on your breath!
- Sit down or lie flat in a comfortable open body position with your palms open and facing upwards.
- Place one hand on your belly, just below your ribs and the other hand on your chest. Notice your breath.
- Now, take a deep breath in through your nose and allow your belly to push your hand out. Your chest should not move. Notice how this feels.
- Breathe out through pursed lips as if you were whistling. Feel the hand on your belly go in, and use it to push all the air out. Notice how this feels.
- Repeat this breathing technique 5 to 10 times. Give yourself permission to take it easy and slow and do take your time with each breath and notice how each tiny thing feels.
- Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.
Repeat as many times as necessary.
This exercise uses belly breathing but it adds another small element for your mind to focus on. It is equally relaxing, possibly more so for some. You can do this exercise either sitting up or lying down in an open body position.
- Start by placing one hand on your belly and the other on your chest.
- Breathe in slowly and deeply while silently counting to 4 in your mind. Finish your breath on the count of 4.
- Now, hold your breath, for 7 counts. This you can do silently count in your mind.
- Let out the breath for 8 counts. In your mind you can silently count from 1-8. Try and release all the air from your lungs by the 8th
- Hold your breath as you silently count to 5.
- Repeat this 5-10 times or until you feel calmer.
Remember to focus on your breath and notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.
“If we are to nurture and heal, we must admit that the wounds exist.”
– Iyanla Vanzant
Grounding exercises are things you can do to bring yourself into contact with the present moment – the here and now. They can be quick strategies like taking three deep belly breaths or longer, more formal exercises like meditation. Grounding can help you pull away from flashbacks, unwanted memories, and negative or challenging emotions. These techniques may help divert your attention from what you’re experiencing and refocus on what’s happening in the present moment.
USING YOUR SENSES
These techniques use the five senses of touching, tasting, seeing, smelling and hearing to help you move through your distress and overwhelm.
1. TRY THE 5-4-3-2-1 METHOD
Working backward from 5, use your senses to list things you notice around you. For example, you might start by listing five things you hear, then four things you see, then three things you can touch from where you’re sitting, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
Make an effort to notice the little things you might not always pay attention to, such as the colour of the flecks in the carpet or the hum of your computer.
2. LISTEN TO YOUR SURROUNDINGS
Take a few moments to listen to the noises around you. Do you hear birds? Dogs barking? Machinery or traffic? If you hear people talking, what are they saying? Do you recognize the language? Notice the sounds around you.
3. FEEL YOUR BODY
You can do this while sitting or standing up. Focus on how your body feels from head to toe, noticing each part. Can you feel your hair on your shoulders or forehead? Glasses on your ears or nose? The weight of your shirt on your shoulders? Do your arms feel loose or stiff at your sides? Can you feel your heartbeat? Is it rapid or steady? Does your stomach feel full, or are you hungry? Are your legs crossed, or are your feet resting on the floor? Is your back straight? Curl your fingers and wiggle your toes. Are you barefoot or in shoes? How does the floor feel against your feet?
4. DESCRIBE WHAT IS AROUND YOU
Spend a few minutes taking in your surroundings and noting what you see. Use all five senses to provide as much detail as possible. “This bench is red, but the bench over there is green. It’s warm under my jeans since I’m sitting in the sun. It feels rough, but there aren’t any splinters. The grass is yellow and dry. The air smells like smoke. I hear kids having fun and two dogs barking.”
These grounding tips use mental exercises to help redirect your thoughts away from distressing feelings and back to the present. The processes used activate your cerebral cortex which is the logical reasoning part of your brain.
THINK IN CATEGORIES
Choose one or two broad categories, such as “musical instruments,” “ice cream flavours,” “mammals,” or “baseball teams.” Take a minute or two to mentally list as many things from each category as you can. Repeat this with as many categories as you need to.
Don’t be afraid of the numbers, even if you aren’t a math person, numbers can help centre and ground you. Try running through various times tables in your head or counting backwards from 100.
RECITE SOMETHING FROM MEMORY
Think of a poem, song, or book passage you know by heart. Recite it softly to yourself or in your head. If you say the words aloud, focus on the shape of each word on your lips and in your mouth. If you say the words in your head, visualize each word as you’d see it on a page.
USE AN ANCHORING PHRASE
This might be something like, “I’m Full Name. I’m X years old. I live in City, State. Today is Friday, June 3. It’s 10:04 in the morning. I’m sitting at my desk at work. There’s no one else in the room.”
You can expand on the phrase by adding details until you feel calm, such as, “It’s raining lightly, but I can still see the sun. It’s my break time. I’m thirsty, so I’m going to make a cup of tea.”
IMAGINE YOURSELF LEAVING THE PAINFUL FEELINGS BEHIND
This is an imagery activity. Picture yourself gathering up the unpleasant emotions, balling them up, and putting them into a box. Then imagine yourself walking, swimming, biking, or jogging away from the painful feelings.
“There is a crack in everything that’s how the light gets in”
– Leonard Cohen
You can use these techniques to comfort yourself in times of emotional distress. These exercises can help promote good feelings that may help the negative feelings fade or seem less overwhelming.
PICTURE THE VOICE OR FACE OF SOMEONE YOU LOVE
If you feel upset or distressed, visualize someone positive in your life. Imagine their face or think of what their voice sounds like. Imagine what they would say if you told them you were having a hard time. Imagine them encouraging you and saying you will make it through.
Repeat kind, compassionate phrases to yourself:
“You’re having a rough time, but you’ll make it through.”
“You’re strong, and you can move through this pain.”
“You’re trying hard, and you’re doing your best.”
Say it, either aloud or in your head, as many times as you need.
SIT WITH YOUR PET
If you’re at home and have a pet, spend a few moments just sitting with them. If they’re of the furry variety, pet them, focusing on how their fur feels. Focus on their markings or unique characteristics. If you have a smaller pet you can hold, concentrate on how they feel in your hand. Notice how they make you feel. And how you feel when you care for them.
Not at home? Think of the favourite things about your pet or how your pet would comfort you if they were there.
START LISTING FAVOURITES
List three favourite things in several different categories, such as foods, trees, songs, movies, books, places, and so on.
VISUALIZE YOUR SAFE OR CALM PLACE
Think of a place that makes you feel safe or calm. It could be an imaginary place or a real place or it could be a mixture of elements of both. Use all of your senses to create a mental image of this place. Think of the colours you see, sounds you hear, and sensations you feel on your skin or under your feet. Imagine yourself in this place doing something that makes you happy.
Grounding isn’t always easy and it doesn’t come naturally to some of us, especially for those of us that struggle to stay present. Dissociating has been a long standing coping mechanism and it may feel scary to stay present. Be patient with yourself and keep trying. Here are a few additional tips that might make it experience better for you.
PRACTICE – It can help to practice grounding even when you aren’t dissociating or experiencing distress. If you get used to an exercise before you need to use it, it may take less effort when you want to use it to cope in a difficult moment.
START EARLY ON – Try doing a grounding exercise when you first start to feel bad. Don’t wait for distress to reach a level that’s hard to handle. If the technique doesn’t work at first, try to stick with it for a bit before moving on to another.
AVOID ASSIGNING VALUES – For example, if you’re grounding yourself by describing your environment, concentrate on the basics of your surroundings, rather than how you feel about them.
CHECK IN WITH YOURSELF – Before and after a grounding exercise, rate your distress as a number between 1 and 10. What level is your distress when you begin? How much did it decrease after the exercise? This can help you get a better idea of whether a particular technique is working for you.
KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN – Avoid closing your eyes, since it’s often easier to remain connected to the present if you’re looking at your current environment.