Grounding techniques, exercises and skills for anxiety and PTSD

Grounding Techniques for Anxiety, Social Anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The techniques listed here are quick ways to relieve anxiety by either distracting you from your negative thoughts (or stopping the flashback in case of PTSD) or bringing you back (grounding) you in the present. Some of these techniques are mental while some are quite physical. This reflects on the two types of grounding that they provide. Sensory grounding techniques will bring you back ‘in the moment’ through focusing your senses on the immediate environment, while the mental ones will do the same only through doing some light mental gymnastics. Different things work on different people so feel free to try them and decide which ones would work best for you.

  1. Notice your toes, wiggle them and feel the texture of the floor/shoe beneath them.
  2. Make yourself aware of your breathing. Anxiety and stress cause us to take shallow breaths. Take a few deep breaths with your stomach, breathing in for 4 seconds, holding your breath for one and then exhaling for another 4.
  3. Get up and flex. While you’re flexing try and feel every muscle that moves.
  4. Make a facial expression, preferably a smile or a happy one if you’re able to. Notice all the facial muscles that are involved.
  5. Make a list of all the furniture in a room and give it to your friend. When you are feeling anxiousness build up, give them a call and let them read the list to you. Describe each object to them.
  6. Notice your posture, sit down and feel the chair behind your back and the floor beneath your feet. Lift them up and put them back down on the floor. Notice the pressure change.
  7. Try and concentrate on the sounds you hear (tapping of the keyboard, background music, chair/floor squeaking, traffic outside, other people walking or talking)
  8. Backtrack your day to the beginning. Remember the exact sequence of events that led to this moment of the day.
  9. Pick any task that you know how to do (cook a meal, repair something, plant a tree or even passing a level in a game you play) and imagine and describe every single step needed for the task to be completed. Make sure you go in greatest detail possible.
  10. Look at your immediate environment and notice the colors that surround you. Try and think of at least one other object of the same color.
  11. If you are in public, look at the people around you. Try and guess what kind of a day they are having and what burdens them or makes them happy.
  12. With your finger touch any part of your body. Notice how it feels on both the finger and the place that you are touching yourself.
  13. Take an object in your hands (cold and hot objects work best). Notice the temperature, if you have taken it out of the fridge notice the moistness. Close your eyes and rely on touch only.
  14. Remember what time it is, what day of the week it is, what date it is. Try and calculate what week of the year it is.
  15. Create a game for yourself. eg. Count to 100 (or more) aloud and change every number that is a multiple of 5 with ‘white’ and every number that is a multiple of 6 with ‘black’ – so 1, 2, 3, 4, white, black, 7, 8 .. etc)
  1. Go to the fridge and notice all the products that you have. Try and guess the country of origin of every single product. If you need more mental tasks, guess the calories or ingredients of each of the products.
  2. Meditate, if you are able to. Start by focusing on your breathing. The train of thoughts will try to take over your consciousness but always drive it back your breathing. Breathe deep from the stomach. Soothing music and peaceful environment will also help.
  3. Look around you and try and find patterns on object surfaces.
  4. Think of a category of objects and try and name every object that will fall into that category. Refrain yourself from categorizing personal experience, stick just to objective generalized memories (eg. table will include – dinner table, night stand, living room table etc.)
  5. Read some non-disturbing news concerning current events
  6. If you are outside, look up to the sky. Find shapes in the clouds or if it’s night, find patterns in the stars. Is it windy? Determine the direction of the wind
  7. Try and figure out which side of the world are you facing to. What is the nearest city, state or place of interest in that direction?
  8. Go to the mirror. Move your legs or arms while looking at the reflections. If you have a small mirror, move different parts of your face (lips, eyebrows ..) and notice what muscles you use to execute the action
  9. Slowly run your hand through your hair and along your scalp. Notice how it feels on your palm and on your head.
  10. Go to the bathroom and wash slowly wash your hands and your face. Pay attention how water feels against your skin. Feel it’s wetness and temperature. Alternatively, take a shower.
  11. If you have been playing or training any sports try and mentally recreate the exact movements required to complete an action and then gently flex every muscle involved (e.g. knees bending, elbow tucking in, looking at the hoop and wrist flexing when shooting a basketball)
  12. Make a mental map as to where other places are in relation to where you are right now. Guess the distance between those places and you.
  13. Imagine yourself as another person would see you. Move to a different position and try to adjust the mental image you have of yourself to reflect your new position.
  14. Look around you and take notice of the objects in your visual field. Group them in similar categories according to shape (spherical, cubical etc .. )
  15. Get a half full bottle of water (a transparent lighter with some lighter fluid will work as well). Slowly turn it upside down and observe the liquid. Observe how your actions affect the fluid. Try to even it out without putting it on a flat surface
  16. Get yourself a safe grounding object, something small enough to carry around but still of personal value and carry it around with you. Whenever you are getting anxious grab the object with your hands and feel the familiar texture/smell.
  17. If you are in a dark room first notice all of the objects around you then turn on the lights. Try and figure out what objects weren’t visible before and notice to which degree has the level of detail has changed on the ones that were.
  18. Stretch the palm of your hand as much as you can and feel all the muscles involved. Crack your knuckles (it doesn’t cause arthritis)
  19. Write random words on a piece of paper and analyze your hand movements in writing each letter. Read the letters of the words one by one.
  20. If you think you can calm yourself down enough try and Meditate. Otherwise distract yourself with TV/games/reading enough to break the negative thought cycle.

Follow us on the next page where we discuss some well-known Grounding Exercises for Anxiety and PTSD

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