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). Different strategies work for different people, and there is no “wrong” way to ground yourself. The main aim is to keep your mind and body connected and working together.
People who have experienced childhood sexual abuse or adult sexual assault can sometimes be confronted by flashbacks or intense memories of what was done, to the point that they are feel as if they are back there, re-living the abuse all over again. A flashback is an example of being in the “there and then” rather than the “here and now,” so grounding exercises can help to bring you back.
Grounding exercises are a way for you to firmly anchor yourself in the present
Grounding exercises are helpful for many situations where you find yourself becoming overwhelmed or distracted by distressing memories, thoughts or feelings. If you find yourself getting caught up in strong emotions like anxiety or anger, or if you catch yourself engaging in stressful circling thoughts, or if you experience a strong painful memory or a flashback, or if you wake up from a nightmare with a pounding heart, grounding exercises can help bring you back down to earth.
It can be helpful to have a selection of grounding exercises that you can draw upon at different times. Just like no one technique works for all people, we often find that not all techniques work at all times. One thing you can do is look over some lists of grounding exercises and write down all the ones you think might work for you. Carry your personal list with you. Then, when you find yourself needing relief, you can run your eyes down your list and pick out the strategy that will be most helpful in that situation.
Speaking of lists, we have one of our own below.
The following grounding exercises are about using our senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch – to reconnect our mind and body in the present. It is our basic human senses that remind us we are here now, and we are safe.
In working through the grounding exercises suggested here, you might find one or two that work for you. Keep in mind to only to use the exercises that you feel comfortable with.
List of grounding exercises
- Remind yourself of who you are now. Say your name. Say your age now. Say where you are now. Say what you have done today. Say what you will do next.
- “My name is ________, and I am 54 years old. I am in my living room, in my home, in Woolloongabba, in Brisbane, in Queensland. I woke up early today. I had a shower and fed my dog. I just finished my coffee and toast. Soon I am going to walk to the train station and go in to work. I am going to walk down ______ street and then turn left at the bike shop. Then I am going to….”
- Take ten slow breaths. Focus your attention fully on each breath, on the way in and on the way out. Say the number of the breath to yourself as you exhale.
- Splash some water on your face. Notice how it feels. Notice how the towel feels as you dry. Use words in your mind to describe the sensations.
- Sip a cool drink of water.
- Hold a cold can or bottle of soft drink in your hands. Feel the coldness, and the wetness on the outside. Note the bubbles and taste as you drink.
- If you wake during the night, remind yourself who you are, and where you are. Tell yourself who you are and where you are. What year is it, what age are you now? Look around the room and notice familiar objects and name them. Feel the bed you are lying on, the warmth or coolness of the air, and notice any sounds you hear.
- Turn your attention to the clothes on your body, whether your arms and legs are covered or not, and the sensation of your clothes as you move in them. Notice how your feet feel to be encased in shoes or socks, or resting on the floor.
- If you are with other people, and you feel comfortable with them, concentrate closely on what they are saying and doing, and remind yourself why you are with them.
- If you are sitting, feel the chair under you and the weight of your body and legs pressing down onto it. Notice the pressure of the chair, or floor, or table against your body and limbs.
- If you are lying down, feel the contact between your head, your body and your legs, as they touch the surface you are lying on. Starting from your head, notice how each part of your body feels, all the way down to your feet, on the soft or hard surface.
- Stop and listen. Notice and name what sounds you can hear nearby. Start with the closest or loudest sounds. Gradually move your awareness of sounds outward, so you are focusing on what you can hear in the distance.
- Hold a mug of tea in both hands and feel its warmth. Inhale its scent. Don’t rush drinking it; take small sips, and take your time tasting each mouthful.
- Look around you, notice what is front of you and to each side. Name and notice the qualities of large objects and then smaller ones.
- Pick one interesting object in your field of vision. Trace its outline with your eyes, as if you were drawing its lines.
- Get up and walk around. Take your time to notice each step as you take one, then another.
- Stamp your feet, and notice the sensation and sound as you connect with the ground.
- Clap and rub your hands together. Hear the noise and feel the sensation in your hands and arms.
- Wear an elastic band on your wrist (not tight) and flick it gently, so that you feel it spring back on your wrist.
- If you can, step outside, notice the temperature of the air and how it is different or similar to where you have just come from.
- Notice five things you can see, five things you can hear, and five things you can feel, taste, or smell.
- If you have a pet, spend some time with them. Notice what is special and different about them.
- Run your hands over something with an interesting texture. Describe it in your mind, as if you have never felt anything like it before.
- Get a sultana, a nut, or some seeds. Focus on how it looks, feels and smells. Put it in your mouth and roll it around, noticing how it feels. Chew it slowly and mindfully, before noticing how it feels to swallow.
- Put on a piece of instrumental music. Give it all of your attention.
- Another option with music is to sit with a piece of paper and a pen. Start drawing a line as the music plays, representing it in the abstract on the page. Follow the music with the pen.
- If you have a garden or some plants, tend to them for a bit. Plants, and actual soil, can be an excellent “grounder!”
Do you have other grounding exercises that work for you? Please share them in the comments below!
Comment by Janie Zarate
Janie Zarate October 24, 2015 at 10:54 am
Comment by Sonja Onthank
Sonja Onthank September 30, 2016 at 4:34 am
A very constructive tip is to force the face to SMILE and get this into a fake LAUGH (you need not have to think of a funny idea when you are taking the physical act of SMILING or LAUGHTER is fale–stay present to nothing past or real).
Comment by Maxwell
Maxwell October 20, 2016 at 9:46 pm
These is wonderful. I’ve been wondering how to master my grounding exercise and decided to google and her is it. Love it .
Comment by Linda Godwin
Linda Godwin November 3, 2016 at 3:05 am
I was looking for a meditation for one that I was “voluntold” to lead this week for staff at the Mental Health Clinic I work at.
Your meditations are quick, easy for people to follow, and will help us immensely.
Thank you so much for putting them out there.
Comment by Scott Jeffrey
Scott Jeffrey March 26, 2017 at 1:31 am
This is a great list of grounding methods. Grounding is so important — especially for those of us prone to anxiety. Another powerful method for grounding yourself is to walk or stand barefoot on the earth. I find that after about 10 or 15 minutes, my mind is calmer and I feel more rooted in my body.
Comment by Peter Doyle
Peter Doyle March 9, 2018 at 2:42 pm
I agree with Scott Jeffrey’s comment above and often suggest it to my clients. Tending a vegetable garden can be an excellent way to get grounded. Reconnecting with nature is so important!
Comment by Andrew Jones
Andrew Jones September 7, 2018 at 6:30 am
Walk barefoot on grass. Even better, run barefoot on grass!
Comment by Beth
Beth July 12, 2019 at 2:45 am
My anxiety is in my work (9-5 job) and here I am at 2:30am searching for assistance in dealing with my thoughts and emotions (fears). The grounding exercises sound helpful and I’ll certainly start trying them out. I also have something to offer. After going through a major health scare I wrote an affirmation for myself … ‘My heart be at peace, my mind be at peace, let go of stress … ‘. Feel free to say it, repeat it and own it.
Comment by Kyle Kloska
Kyle Kloska January 21, 2020 at 6:02 pm
This has been so helpful I cannot explain it I have figured out how to alot of these on my own but there’s still some things I have not thought of about how to get overwhelmed with anxiety.
Comment by Kyle
Kyle January 21, 2020 at 6:05 pm
Yes I put that backwards (previous comment) and that is an amazing example of what happens when you suffer from this crap
Comment by phyllis edwards
phyllis edwards April 27, 2020 at 12:23 am
I find helpful this quote by Tilopa
“Let go of what has passed. Let go of what may come. Let go of what is happening now. Don’t try to figure anything out. Don’t try to make anything happen. Relax, right now, and rest.”
Also, I benefit from hugging a big, strong tree while remembering it has survived many storms and seasons.
Comment by Lindsay
Lindsay July 16, 2020 at 1:03 pm
My therapist asks me to stand up and put my arms up high in the air, then I touch the ground. I do it a couple times, then I put my hands together like I’m praying, and do it again. After I cross my arms and tap my shoulder slowly. It feels like a weird thing to do.
We also do this thing called the ladder. Brown is the bottom of the ladder, where I am gone… like, not with it. Orange is the middle, where I am restless and want to run. Purple is where I am okay. She is always checking in with me to see where I am on the ladder. It’s weird but it works.
Comment by charlie
charlie August 21, 2020 at 10:10 am
Great site,, I like the the coping skills and information,, although I dislike that the site gages towards men..
Comment by Whitney
Whitney October 15, 2020 at 3:54 am
Thank you for making these practices available to those who need them. I sincerely appreciate it. Holding my warm cup of coffee and inhaling its sweet scent brings me back to the present moment everytime.
Comment by fiona scicluna
fiona scicluna November 3, 2020 at 5:58 pm