Grounding Techniques to Relieve Stress and Anxiety

4 min read
Evidence based
Dainius Jakucionis, MD
By Dainius Jakucionis, MD Updated on 2024 Jan 23
girl using a grounding technique to connect with nature

Have you ever heard of grounding techniques that can bring your senses forward and reduce anxious thoughts? 

Based on mindfulness and cognitive-behavioral therapy, grounding techniques have the ability to reduce stress, tension, or intense emotions and bring inner peace. 

The goal of grounding is to help the person focus on their physical sensations, thoughts, and emotions and become more aware of the present moment. 

Grounding techniques don’t require any equipment and can be done at any time of the day, so it’s an excellent way to improve your mood and regulate emotions. 

If you have never tried grounding, here are some simple yet effective methods to incorporate this practice into your routine.

1. 5-4-3-2-1 Exercise

When anxious, people tend to focus on their fears – what could go wrong, how others perceive them, or even start to catastrophize the situation.

To bring yourself back on track, you can try the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique, which helps you get in touch with your senses and focus on the present moment.

Here’s how: Start naming

  • 5 things you see,
  • 4 things you can touch,
  • 3 things you can hear,
  • 2 things you can smell,
  • 1 thing you can taste.

2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation

If you notice tension from stress or want a simple way to wind down, this grounding technique can be a great way to get in tune with your body and senses. 

Here’s how: Choose a quiet space and sit or lie down on your back with your body comfortably stretched. Tense each muscle group for 15 seconds and slowly relax them while counting to 30:

  • Forehead
  • Jaw
  • Neck and shoulders
  • Arms and hands
  • Hips and buttocks
  • Legs
  • Feet

Tense and relax each muscle group in your body, starting from your feet and working up to your head or vice versa. Throughout this exercise, you want to breathe slowly and evenly.

3. Sensory Input Exercise

We are constantly surrounded by information that’s not only visible but also audible or tactile. However, our brains block them out. This grounding exercise helps you get immersed in your senses.

Here’s how:

  • Drink a cold glass of water.
  • Put your hands or feet in cold water or hold a piece of ice.
  • Try to describe what you see and hear around you.
  • Find an object that smells lovely.
  • Savor the scent. 

You can think of other ways to engage with your senses, but remember to experience them fully.

4. Visualize Your Favorite Place

There is something comforting about home or places that hold dear memories – use that relief if you’re stressed out. This grounding exercise engages your imagination and soothes you.

Here’s how: Think about a place that you love. It could be your childhood home, your favorite vacation spot, or a place you often visit with friends.

Can you remember the last time you visited this place? How did you feel then? Who did you meet? Can you describe what it looked like?

Let yourself get surrounded by the good memories of your favorite place.

5. Practice Affirmations

Affirmations, or positive statements that a person repeats for themselves, gained some popularity in recent years. Some people think that affirmations are silly and have no real impact on their well-being, and others feel uncomfortable saying nice things about themselves. 

However, studies have found that affirmations can help increase self-esteem, while research has shown that they can effectively reduce negative thoughts and improve problem-solving skills.

Here’s how: Repeat positive self-talk or affirmations, such as “I am calm,” “I am beautiful,” or “I am in control.”  

Typically, affirmations are an “I am” statement, but you can improvise and create any phrase that fits your current situation.

Try standing in front of a mirror or filming yourself – looking into your own eyes and hearing the positive talk can have a tremendous impact. Understandably, that can be uncomfortable at first, so writing affirmations down or saying them out loud with your eyes closed works just as well.

6. Think in Categories

With so much information around, it’s easy to get lost and mentally devastated. To reprogram your thoughts and redirect your attention, try thinking in categories.

Here’s how: Pick any category you enjoy, and list words that fit into this category for a couple of minutes. 

A category can be as easy or as difficult as you like from “words starting with the letter A” or “fruits” to “historical movies from the 80s” and “the moons in our solar system.”

Try not to consult with Google or your peers – engage your mind in the activity and find comfort in the repeating patterns.

Getting Down to Earth with Grounding Techniques 

As people, we tend to spend a lot of our time in our heads – our ideas, memories, and feelings exist there. However, the mind is connected to the body, and there is a lot you can learn about yourself if you learn to read external signals.

That’s the secret behind grounding exercises – by getting in touch with our bodies, we feel more collected and present; we can feel and take care of emotions physically if our bodies and minds work as one.

Many other grounding exercises focus on relaxation, soothing, and relieving anxiety – you can find plenty in the Sensa app. However, these are quick and easy to master if you’re starting out.

Dainius Jakucionis, MD

Dainius is a renowned psychotherapist, holding a Master’s Degree in Medicine and additional training in Cognitive and Behavioural Therapy.