Articles

Grounding 101
by Lesli Musicar, M.Ed., R.P.

Being grounded means living in one’s body in the “here and now.” It is the ideal way to live in the world because it allows us to live our lives fully. In a grounded state we take in information simultaneously from both the world around us and the world within.

The wisdom of the body is most available to us when we are in a grounded state. The body provides sensory cues for taking care of our physical needs, such as hunger, thirst and fatigue. It also provides instinctual cues to monitor our physical safety. And finally, it offers emotional cues to guide us in our interactions with others. So, when grounded, we are in the optimum state to take the best care of ourselves possible.

Loss of Grounding

Loss of grounding happens through overwhelming events or the spontaneous recall of overwhelming events. These may be episodic, like the death of a loved one, a hurricane, a car accident, or a mugging. Or they may occur as a series of on-going uncontrollable incidents in one’s environment. These would include harassment at work, or an abusive relationship at home. In such cases, one would be more attuned to the external environment—on the look out for trouble—than to one’s own body. And this would result in sacrificing groundedness for the sake of safety.

Unlike adults, children are easily ungrounded. This is because they have relatively fragile egos and no real power or control in the world. So it takes much less to overwhelm a child. When the home environment is fraught with unpredictability, say, due to an alcoholic parent, marital strife, or some other chronic critical factor, it is bound to feel unsafe. With nowhere to go, children may escape into a fantasy world. Reading books or watching television can provide a similar refuge. Like adults, children trapped in a dangerous situation also become hyper-alert to their surroundings.

If one stays distracted or hyper-vigilant long enough, it begins to feel normal. So much so, that groundedness may then feel foreign. In fact, groundedness might even start to feel unsafe. This is because one has to let go of focusing outward (come off guard duty) in order to get grounded. As a child, hyper-vigilance may have been the only protection one had. Being able to “read” the adult’s mood, would afford the opportunity to take protective measures. However, in a hyper-alert or distracted state, one is not tuned in to the body and therefore cannot be grounded. While this may be okay for a child (children are not responsible for themselves), it really is not effective or convenient for an adult.

Grounding Yourself

There are many strategies for grounding. In order to present them in an organized manner, this section will be divided into grounding categories: thinking, sensing, and doing. However, you will probably notice quite soon that the categories cross over into one another. This is because humans are multidimensional beings, and grounding is an organic process.

Thinking

Our minds are powerful tools and we can use them to promote grounding. The following is a thinking strategy involving self-talk. I was first introduced to it by Clarissa Chandler, a pioneer in the field of trauma:

  1. Remind yourself to breathe (breathing tends to bring us back into our bodies, which promotes groundedness).


  2. Tell yourself what is happening to you (for example, "I am ungrounded right now" or "I am in a childlike state right now" or some other words that makes sense to you).


  3. Remind yourself of who you are and how old you are (in other words, anchor yourself in the here and now as much as possible).


  4. Look around you and orient yourself to your surroundings (again, bringing yourself into the present) by telling yourself where you are and what you see there (for example, "This is my living room, there is my favourite picture, the green chair…").

Sensing

This is where we go through our 5 senses and identify grounding strategies for each one. Often, these will also be nurturing and provide safety. The idea is to treat yourself as though you were an overwhelmed child—in other words, to be a good parent to yourself. So the strategies must be appropriate for you, who you are, what feels good to you. They are meant as suggestions, only:

A. Sight: Think of what you could look at that would remind you of the present, particularly of things that are positive or comforting, such as:

  1. Photos of good friends or supportive family members (reminding you of positive connections in the here and now)


  2. An old photo of yourself (to help you separate the present from the past)


  3. Objects that have meaning, e.g. a diploma, a gift from someone special, a souvenir from a significant trip (to remind you of your adult competence and value to others)


  4. Scenes of nature (often have association with safety and serenity)

B. Sound: Think of what sounds are soothing to you, help you to feel safe, nurtured and connected to the here and now, such as:
  1. Music or a favourite song that has meaning for you (perhaps reminding you of a special time or person in your adult life).


  2. Voices of those who support and care for you. You can call people. You can also listen to personal reassuring messages compiled on tape, disc, or answering machine for times like this (a reminder you are not alone in the present).


  3. Sounds of nature, either actual or recorded (reminding you of a place where it feels safe to let down your guard).


  4. Relaxation tapes (to help reconnect to the body)

C. Smell: Certain fragrances or aromas can have a powerful grounding affect on us. Often, they can be portable and discreet. Try applying a bit of scent to a hanky and keeping it in your bag or pocket. These can include:
  1. A perfume or cologne (that reminds you of your connection to a loved one).


  2. An essential oil, like frankincense, rose, mint, citrus, etc.


  3. A scent like pine or cedar (associated with a safe environment).


  4. An aroma or scent associated with a positive event or happy holiday.

D. Taste: Certain foods and beverages can be soothing and nurturing and can help us reconnect with our bodies. If food has been misused as a means of coping, it would be best to stick with beverages. Similarly, if alcohol has been misused, it would be best to avoid it altogether. Otherwise, here are some ideas:
  1. Comfort foods, like popcorn or chocolate, can have positive associations and be soothing. Keep them on hand.


  2. Warm beverages like tea or hot chocolate can also be comforting and calming (avoiding caffeine if it tends to agitate you).


  3. A hard candy, like a peppermint, can have a grounding affect and is portable.


  4. A food that reminds you of a safe place and/or time.


E. Touch: Making contact with an object that has texture, temperature, and/or density, can bring both comfort and grounding. Here the range is extensive and can include:
  1. Certain clothes that may feel like old friends for their history or comfort.


  2. Petting the dog or cat can quickly bring us back into the here and now.


  3. Touching a significant object (like a special piece of jewelry) that reminds us of our connection to another person or an adult accomplishment.


  4. Grasping a solid object, like a small stone, can be anchoring.

Doing

There are many activities that will help bring one back into one’s body in the here and now. Only you know what might feel good to you. But it is always worth exploring new options—you never know when something might click for you. Here are a few ideas:
  1. Deep breathing is one of the most effective grounding tools because it can bring you back into your body quickly.
  2. Creative expression involves the body, whether it is writing, painting, sculpting, singing, dancing, etc. And it can provide a welcome release for intense feelings.


  3. Exercise promotes breathing and can help us reconnect with our bodies.


  4. Taking a warm bath or shower (if this feels safe) can be comforting and grounding.


  5. Going some place that feels safe (and actually is safe), for example: a public library, a friend’s house, the hospital, etc).


  6. Reaching out for support from those you can trust (including crisis lines) to remind you of what is real and true in the present. This is perhaps the most crucial and effective grounding act of all.

 

Conclusion

To conclude, grounding is a practical skill for everyday living.   And it is also a powerful healing tool.  Grounding makes it possible to take good care of ourselves when we are at our most vulnerable.  In this way, it has the potential to undo damage sustained earlier in our lives.  Being able to anchor ourselves in the “here and now,” connects us with our adult resources and capabilities.  So when we use grounding we play an active role in our own healing.  The more we use it, the easier it becomes.  It begins as a deliberate conscious effort.  But over time, grounding transforms us.  We learn a healthy new way of being in the world.  And that is called being grounded.

 

 
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