Grounding is a tool I often use with patients. In CBT it is usually used to help people who have been through a traumatic experience, for example to ground someone back in the present moment if they are experiencing a flashback.
However, in my opinion, you don’t have to have been through a trauma to benefit from this simple yet powerful technique.
What is grounding?
Grounding is a technique that can be used immediately in the moment when you feel your emotions are at a high level to help to bring them down to a more manageable level.
The aim of grounding is to re-connect with the present moment by using your senses.
In this way, it is similar to mindfulness.
An example might be to literally stamp your feet and feel the contact of your feet on the ground.
Other examples might be:
- Rubbing your hands quickly together and feeling the heat you can generate.
- Deliberately spotting all the green objects you can see around you.
- Listening for the next 5 sounds you can hear around you.
- Smelling essential oils/your perfume/your coffee.
When to use it
Crucially, the aim of grounding is not to get rid of emotions.
Emotions are there to help you to make sense of your situation.
However, if the emotion is very distressing, unmanageable or overwhelming, then grounding can help to bring the emotion down to a point that you can cope with it and allow it to pass.
Emotional first aid
I like to think of grounding as emotional first aid.
We all know that from time to time, we might cut ourselves and bleed.
If the cut is small, we don’t need to do anything. We can leave it alone and it will heal itself.
This is the same with most of our emotions.
We will all feel difficult emotions from time to time but if they are at a manageable level, they will pass by without any need for us to intervene.
At this level, we don’t need to use a grounding technique to manage our emotions but we could choose to use relaxation techniques, meditation or mindfulness practices to boost our overall wellbeing.
If we cut ourselves a little deeper, we may need to cover it with a plaster so that we can get on with our day.
The cut is still healing itself underneath the plaster and it wouldn’t necessarily harm us if the plaster wasn’t there.
The plaster is helpful in that it is stopping the cut from bleeding all over the place and preventing it from getting caught on things that could hurt it or slow down the healing process.
At this point, we might think of the emotional level as being difficult or distressing but not completely unmanageable.
Grounding could be helpful at this point to help to re-group (i.e. not spill all over the place).
Just as the plaster helps to prevent a cut from getting caught on things that could hurt and slow down the healing process – grounding yourself in the present can help to reduce dwelling, worrying, and over-thinking that could exacerbate the difficult emotion.
This is where I believe many of us could benefit from grounding.
However, from time to time we might be unlucky enough to sustain a serious wound that needs pressure applying to it until medical attention can be sought.
This could be the emotional equivalent of flashbacks, nightmares or ‘zoning out’ following a traumatic event.
Here, grounding can be used to manage severe distress until you can receive help from a therapist or mental health professional.
Just as you would go to A&E with a serious wound, if you are experiencing these kinds of symptoms, it is important to seek appropriate support.
Your GP or your local Improving Access to Psychological Therapies service may be a good place to start.
Want to know more about grounding or building your emotional resources?
You can learn more about grounding at my upcoming Emotional Resource Building Workshop. Details of workshops and events can be found on my Facebook page here: Lemon Squeezy Wellbeing Facebook Page
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