After experiencing a traumatic event, our bodies and minds can continue to feel like we are still in danger, even when there is no real threat. Although this natural reaction is our body’s way of protecting us, it is also what causes symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, such as flashbacks, hypervigilance and dissociation.
Part of healing from traumatic stress is being able to feel safe again. Once you are able to feel safe when you are indeed safe, you can process the past trauma while remaining safely in the present. Being able to re-establish safety and be in the present can also help to manage day-to-day activities that become more difficult when you are feeling on edge, disconnected or experiencing intrusive thoughts and flashbacks.
Grounding techniques are a set of tools that can help bring you back to the present to feel both calm and alert. They can help when you are in a hypo-aroused state (low energy, flat affect, numbing) and when you are in a hyper-aroused state (emotional reactivity, hypervigilance).
There are 3 types of grounding techniques: mental, physical and soothing. There are many different ways to practice this grounding, and below are a few specific strategies that most people find very effective:
- Describe your surroundings in great detail
- State your name, where you are and today’s date
- Count down slowly from 100
- Dig your feet into the floor and focus on the sensation
- Wash your hands and/or face with cold water
- Carry around with you a grounding object (keys, jewelry, a stone) and hold it
- Visualize your safe place
- Think about your favorite things
- Practice a deep breathing exercise
Another grounding technique you can try focuses on the 5 senses:
- Name 5 things you can see
- Name 4 things you can touch
- Name 3 things you can hear
- Name 2 things you can smell
- Name 1 thing you can taste
Just like other skills, grounding gets easier and more helpful with practice! Use the examples above as inspiration, and find ways to personalize them to best fit you!
Debra received her Masters degree from New York University and is a Registered Psychotherapist. She specializes in the treatment of post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, and interpersonal relationships.