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Grounding and Why It’s Important

If you have a patient who is often overwhelmed by anxieties or they tend to dissociate, then it’s best to talk to them about Grounding and why this particular therapeutic exercise can help them calm down, if only for a little while.

By Wynona Jugueta on Jun 16, 2024.

Fact Checked by Ericka Pingol.

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Grounding Therapy

Hello! If you have stumbled upon this guide, you are either a mental health therapist (or an adjacent healthcare professional) or just someone looking for ways to better regulate their feelings during times of emotional distress. This guide will tell you all the general things you need to know about Grounding, which is a type of therapeutic exercise that helps people practice self-soothing.

This is one of a series of mini-guides on our platform related to grounding. This one will be a general overview of the matter. We have others that go into specifics, like our Grounding Techniques guide, which will discuss various grounding techniques you can teach patients or do for yourself. We also have a guide that is specifically about Grounding Techniques for Anxiety. Read those guides if you want to know about specific techniques. But if you want to slowly ease yourself into the subject, keep reading this nifty guide!

What is Grounding?

If you are a newly-minted healthcare professional focusing on therapy, or if you are a non-professional just looking for ways to help yourself in terms of your mental health, one type of skill that you might want to learn is Grounding!

Now, you are probably wondering, “What in the world is that?” Rest assured, this has nothing to do with being grounded because you are imposing some kind of punishment or restriction on yourself, nor does it have anything to do with electricity. What is meant by Grounding in the context of therapy is to help anchor a person in the present moment.

When you are experiencing anxiety, depression, or dissociation, your mind will wander, and you will focus on things that are, more often than not, negative, which, in turn, causes you emotional distress. It’s like an out-of-body experience, but not exactly a pleasant one. Grounding is a skill that will help you plant your two figurative feet back into the ground and help you focus on yourself, on what you can physically feel, your surroundings, and your emotions.

If you're overwhelmed by anxiety, depression, or dissociation, your mind is technically all over the place. Through Grounding, you can reframe your mind, yourself, into the present, into the now. By focusing on the present moment, on what you can see, hear, touch, and smell, you are keeping yourself from being dragged all over the place by what plagues your mind and your emotions.

If used correctly and effectively, Grounding is a wonderful way to help you manage your emotions and thoughts to help you cope with your bouts of anxiety, depression, or dissociation in non-self-destructive and healthy ways. It’s even used in practices like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Mindfulness, and even when treating those dealing with PTSD.

What is Grounding based on?

Grounding draws from numerous theories and practices, three of which we mentioned earlier!

One of the problems that Grounding can help with is Dissociation, which is something that patients with PTSD experience from time to time. Dissociation involves the state of being disconnected from yourself and your surroundings. More often than not, those who experience dissociation often feel like they have a warped sense of time and space, they physically and emotionally feel numb, their surroundings are foggy or blurred, and they feel like they are in a dream or that nothing seems real. Grounding aims to help people who experience dissociation to snap back to reality.

Snapping back to reality is the focus of Mindfulness. Grounding takes after this, given that the goal of Mindfulness is to help those who practice it to focus on the present moment, to just allow their thoughts to flow one by one, and to accept their experiences, all without judging or criticizing themselves. Like Mindfulness, Grounding aims to help patients reframe themselves in a way that anchors them to the present.

Grounding is also based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. By focusing on the present through Grounding, patients will be more aware of themselves, their surroundings, and even their feelings.

You are probably wondering, “But aren’t some of their feelings the reason why they feel distressed?” Yes, you are right, but through Grounding, they can create a sense of distance between themselves and their feelings. They will be aware of them (and maybe even accept them), and by doing so, they will have the opportunity to reframe their negative thoughts and feelings based on evidence. They can also work to interrupt patterns of negative thinking through actionable steps that will lead them to more positive thoughts and emotions.

What are the types of Grounding?

Given that Grounding draws from different theories/practices like the ones we discussed in the previous section, it comes in different forms to suit the needs of the patient you aim to help. Here are some of the types of Grounding that you should know about:

  1. Physical Grounding

This particular type of Grounding is all about having your patient focus on all the physical sensations they are currently feeling, like their hands resting on the arms of a chair, their two feet planted on the floor, the slight itches on their face, the aches in their joints and muscles, etc.

By becoming more aware of their physical sensations, they can become aware of what is causing them. Anxiety, stress, and panic can have physical effects on people, like suddenly feeling cold, having shortness of breath, and having migraines. Becoming more aware of these physical sensations will let them realize what exactly happens to them when they are distressed. Knowing is half the battle, so by becoming aware, they can find opportunities to manage their experiences with anxiety, stress, and panic.

  1. Mental and Emotional Grounding

This is similar to Physical Grounding in that patients are encouraged to focus on their emotions and feelings. By becoming more aware of their negative emotions, they will have the opportunity to identify what is triggering these. By knowing the triggers, they will have chances to manage their negative emotions and cope with anxiety or depression in healthy ways. The things they can do to practice this type of Grounding include giving themselves positive affirmations and self-compassion, singing a song they love, and even reciting a poem they have memorized or reading one aloud.

If you ask, “But isn’t that just running away from the problem,” the answer is no. You can’t really run away from the things plaguing your mind. You learn to live with it, and learning to live with it means you can manage it without hurting yourself. Techniques that fall under this type are methods of curbing them for as long as possible.

  1. Sensory Grounding

This is a type of Grounding where people practice techniques that take advantage of our five senses. By focusing on what we can feel based on our five senses, we can focus on the present moment, which is the core principle of Grounding. The techniques that fall under this are as simple as touching grass, smelling flowers, and listening to ambient noise like the chirping of birds and the honking of cars.

  1. Social and Spiritual Grounding

Something that everyone wants to have while dealing with their trials and tribulations is a support system or someone/something to lean onto. For this particular Grounding type, people are encouraged to practice social or spiritual-related activities.

For social-related activities, it can be as simple as talking to loved ones or friends, partaking in engaging activities with loved ones or friends, and even joining a community-led effort for something good. Such techniques are there to help combat feelings of loneliness and isolation.

As for spiritual-related activities, these can simply be acts of faith like prayer or meditation, or for the secular people, a simple reflection on what they value and cherish the most. Grounding exercises of this type are a good way of providing people with a northern star to follow and focus on during times of distress.

How does Grounding even work?

Whenever a person experiences emotional distress, anxiety, panic, depression, and stress, their Sympathetic Nervous System is activated. This is the part of our nervous system that carries signals related to our fight-or-flight responses throughout our body. If the person is panicking, then the sympathetic nervous system will activate and may cause symptoms such as their skin feeling cold, palpitations, increased heart rate, etc.

Grounding works by activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System. This nervous system is responsible for our “rest and digest” responses. This means that this system counteracts the Sympathetic Nervous System and makes us feel more relaxed and at peace. Grounding is a good way to activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System, and it’ll help combat and curb the negative symptoms that arise due to the Sympathetic Nervous System.

We will discuss the different kinds of Grounding techniques/exercises that people can do in another guide, but practicing them will help people become more aware of what they think about and how they feel and why they think those thoughts and have those feelings. By becoming more aware of themselves, they will have opportunities to take control over their experiences in positive ways, thus leading to self-empowerment, increased self-worth, and increased emotional resilience.

What are the benefits of practicing Grounding?

Grounding can help teach people how to focus better.

Since Grounding is a way for people to bring themselves back into the present moment, it can help them sift through all the negative thoughts bothering them and bring them back to a state where they are focused on the present. If they need to do something of great importance but something is troubling their mental health, they can practice Grounding to help them concentrate and ward off their negative thoughts, if not forever, then at least for the time being.

It can help combat anxiety and stress.

Speaking of doing things of great importance, whether work or a passion project, anxiety and stress are problems that keep people from doing what they need to do. Sometimes, such experiences can render them unable to move at all. Through Grounding techniques, people can redirect their thoughts to the physical sensations that they feel as well as by taking in the immediate environment they are in. By keeping them anchored to the present, Grounding can help them interrupt patterns of negative thinking and shield them from negative thoughts and emotions, even if only for a while.

It can help improve emotional regulation.

Some Grounding exercises can help people combat symptoms of depression. Like what we discussed earlier, the Social and Spiritual Grounding Type encompasses techniques/exercises that help people feel connected to people to combat feelings of loneliness and isolation, plus, there are those that help them find a sense of purpose and reaffirm their values and beliefs. Grounding can help remind them or help them discover what they like/love about themselves and can encourage goal setting.

How can Carepatron help with Grounding-related therapy?

Carepatron’s mission is to help make healthcare accessible to everyone. Part of that is to help healthcare professionals by providing support in terms of streamlining their workflows and giving them resources, especially the latter. Think of Carepatron as a repository of resources.

You can read guides covering numerous topics, such as this mini-guide about Grounding in general and other Grounding-related topics. Not only that, you can download worksheets, assessments, surveys, general treatment plans, and a whole lot more that can help you expand your work and cover more ground.

Since Grounding is related to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, you’ll be glad to know that we have worksheets like the Decatastrophizing Worksheet that can instill the drive in patients to practice Grounding. So download as much as you need and want for free!

Not only do we have guides and clinical resources that you can take advantage of, but we also have a nifty storage system where you can store all your important files in a HIPAA-compliant manner! Let’s say you downloaded mental health-related worksheets and assessments from us. You can store fully accomplished versions of those resources and secure them with access permissions! Storing them through us will essentially create digital backups, so just in case you lose your physical copies, you have digital copies to re-download and print.

Not only will Carepatron help you streamline your workflow, but we can also help preserve your work by securing them!

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Commonly asked questions

Are all types of Grounding and Grounding techniques 100% effective?

That depends on the person. Each person has their own set of problems and needs, so you can’t expect all Grounding techniques or Grounding, generally, to always work. If a particular technique doesn’t work, try another one. If Grounding doesn’t work, perhaps a different kind of therapeutic skill might serve you better. It’s best to consult with a professional to have a better idea.

Where can I practice Grounding and how often should I practice it?

You can practice Grounding anywhere, though some techniques may require certain settings depending on what type it falls under. You can practice this in most places since a good number of grounding techniques involve touching objects and engaging with the environment, but if you do something that requires you to, let’s say, practice deep breathing, then you might want to do that in an area that isn’t crowded.

As for how often you should practice Grounding, that depends on what you need and what your preferences are, or how often your therapist said you should. Some people practice daily, while some only need to practice it when they are in distress.

I’m not seeing a therapist. Can I still practice Grounding on my own?

By all means, you can definitely practice Grounding if you think it’ll benefit you. However, please don’t ever think that it’s a substitute for therapy. If it’s not working, then Grounding might not be the best skill to use, or maybe you are not practicing certain techniques/exercises properly. Given that, it’s best to see a therapist to get a good opinion on what needs to be done.

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