Grounding Exercises for Stress

Grounding exercises are a way to stabilize strong emotions during stress, anxiety or trauma. Grounding is achieved by redirecting your attention away from what is causing your stress back to something more pleasurable and relaxing. There are infinite ways to practice grounding, but the general idea is to connect with the present moment by settling into your body through the five senses. Throw yourself into one of these grounding exercises to manage stress and improve focus. When your mind wanders back to worries or things that are outside of your control, gently ground yourself back in the present moment — even if you have to bring your attention back over and over again. With high stress, try one exercise after another until you find the one or a combination that makes you feel calm, safe, and relaxed.

  1. Sip a hot or cold beverage and focus on the feeling of the temperature on your lips, throat, and stomach.
  2. Breath in slowly counting to 4, hold for 4, and release slowly counting to 8. Repeat until calm.
  3. Tense and release each muscle group in your body, one by one, and pay attention to the sensations that linger in your body afterwards.
  4. Look around the space where you are right now and find every object that is blue… every object that is yellow… every object that is silver, green… red…. and so on…
  5. Close your eyes and imagine a very, very far-away place. Imagine every detail of the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and physical sensations of traveling there in your mind.
  6. Turn on your favorite music — LOUD — and dance to the beat. Or, turn on your favorite music softly and pay close attention to the sounds of each beat, instrument, or vocalist.
  7. Open your kitchen cabinet and smell each spice one by one. Pay attention to any thoughts or memories that are conjured with each scent. Notice if your mouth starts watering with any favorite ingredients.
  8. Hug yourself tightly and rock yourself gently, slowly, side to side, as if you were cradling a small child.
  9. Use your index finger as you would a pen and softly trace the letters of a calming word into the palm of your opposite hand, such as: P-E-A-C-E, 
    C-A-L-M, S-A-F-E, or R-E-L-A-X.
  10. Close your eyes and slowly scan neutral sensations throughout your body: feel your feet grounded on the floor, feel the support of your seat below and behind you, feel the texture of your clothing on your skin, the temperature of the air around your face, the weight of your tongue in your mouth, the very tip-top of your head, the crevices between your toes…
  11. Think of a category (eg. fruit, capital cities, words that start with M, animals….) and think of examples from that category until you can’t come up with any more.
  12. Watch videos of kittens, puppies, or other baby animals on the Internet and pay attention to the sensations that arise in your body and feel the expressions on your face when you do.
  13. Pick up any object from nature — a leaf, a twig, a rock, a flower… — and examine every detail of it — its smell, texture, color, contours… — until you have it memorized in all of your senses.
  14. Make a list of three things that have gone well today. Even teeny tiny examples count.
  15. Start this list of exercises over again until you find peace. When you feel grounded, know that you can come back to these exercises at any time.

What are your favorite grounding exercises that make you feel safe, relaxed, and calm?

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Anna Lindberg Cedar, MPA, LCSW #64284 is a Bay Area psychotherapist who specializes in burnout prevention. She is an expert practitioner of Dialectical Behavior Therapy — a counseling style that combines Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and other change-based skills with mindfulness and other acceptance-based strategies. Find out more: www.annacedar.com .

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