Unlock the Power of Grounding: Effective Techniques to Reduce Anxiety and Stress

grounding to reduce anxiety and stress

Written by Dr. Paul Kelly, C.Psych.              June 11, 2024

How Will This Article Help You?

  1. Learn how to overcome emotional storm and strong cravings.
  2. Grounding techniques can help you steady yourself, so you don’t do or say hurtful things.
  3. These techniques are practical. You can regain control.


Table of Contents


What is Grounding?

Grounding is a self-care technique. You can use it to detach from anxiety, emotional pain, urges and cravings. When you detach, you are free to make safe and healthy choices for yourself.

When you ground yourself, you take control of your attention. You direct it outward, to your surroundings and away from how you feel on the inside. This shift is called “anchoring in the present”, “centering”, “taking a reality check”, or “stabilizing.”


Why Do Grounding?

When you feel emotional pain or a strong urge or craving, do you say or do things that you later regret? Do you lash out at people, hurt yourself, or take drugs? Grounding will help you to respond mindfully rather than react impulsively.

Grounding techniques anchor you in the present. Then your feelings and craving do not control your actions. You can detach or defuse from them. While you are grounding, you can protect yourself and won’t get caught up in emotional spirals. You won’t cut or hurt yourself or abuse drugs and alcohol. You can stay steady until the emotional pain softens, or until the urges and craving go away.


Stories About Grounding Techniques

Grounding Techniques can help when you feel overwhelmed or triggered. Here are some examples. (Names changed to protect privacy.)

Lisa: “When I feel overwhelmed by emotions or thoughts in my head, grounding stops me from really losing it.”

Amita: Panic attacks and fear used to take over everything. Now I used my grounding method to steady myself.”

Silas: “When I get triggered, I want to drink until I pass out. Grounding blocks my addiction.”

Arlene: “When I get triggered, I dissociate, space out and disconnect from myself and my surroundings. Grounding brings me back.”

Mateo: Everyday stress creeps up on me until I get a headache. Now I can reset with my grounding method.”

Grounding techniques can help you regain control when you feel emotionally overwhelmed or unsafe. You can learn to regain control and stay safe when an emotional storm hits you.

If you have a history of trauma, anxiety, PTSD or addiction, Grounding Techniques can be help you to center and create a safe place in yourself.


Grounding Basics – 6 Tips for Success

Here are some tips to keep in mind when you try the grounding techniques.

  1. Grounding is not a relaxation technique. Grounding is not a sedative. It is not a relaxation technique. When you have intense emotions or urges it is better to control your mind. Do this by directing your attention. Grounding is something you do. You are active, not passive. You can regain control of what you do and say.
  2. Focus on the Here and Now. When your mind is stuck in thoughts and feelings about the past or future, use grounding to come back to the present moment. You are here-now. Pay attention to that.
  3. Keep Your Eyes and Ears Open. What do you see and hear? Look at your surroundings. Get out of you head by focusing on your room or surroundings.
  4. Be a Neutral Observer. Our minds often add commentary like “this is good” or “this is bad.”  This kind of judgement doesn’t help. It stirs things up further. Drop the commentary. Just notice what you see, hear, and feel.
  5. Practice with Small Triggers. Grounding is a skill. You will need to practice it to get good at it. Start with a situation where you are triggered a bit, but not a lot.  (Your emotional distress is 2-4 on a 1-10 scale.) Run through one of the grounding techniques in the next section. That way you can learn and rehearse the steps.
  6. Use Grounding for a Big Reaction. When your emotional pain goes above 6 (on a 0-10 scale), or when you feel a strong craving, use a grounding technique. Grounding will help you to put a healthy distance between you and your distress or craving.


3 Ways of Grounding

Here are three ways of grounding – Physical focus, Mental focus, and Soothing focus. Physical means that you notice sensations or do something to stimulate body awareness. Mental means that you focus your mind with an exercise, name things, or count things. Soothing means that you do or say something to feel compassion, support or soothing for yourself.

physical grounding technique


Try some of the techniques. See which ones feel most natural and right for you.

1. Physical Grounding Techniques: 6 Easy Choices

Bring your attention to sensations. You can move your body or stimulate it to make it easier to feel and stay with sensations. The key is to focus your attention on something physical. When you get caught up in feelings, thoughts, or memories, just shift your attention back to something physical – to a sensation.

Here are some useful strategies:

Warm or Cool Facecloth

Place a wet facecloth on your face. Breath in the moisture. Move the facecloth to the back of your neck, then rub your hands and arms. Repeat.

Stand and Stretch

Stand up. Stretch out your arm and hands. Bend your torso left and right. Raise your knees, point your toes. Use slow gentle movements. Feel the sensations in your joints as you move.

Jump or Run on the Spot

Move your body by jumping or running on the spot. Feel the movement of your knees. Listen for the sound of your feet touching the ground. Try to move with ease. Release any tension.

Tighten and Release

You can do this by making a fist and releasing it. Or, gripping your chair and then releasing your grip. Don’t hurt yourself by gripping too tight. Feel the change of muscle tension in your hands and arms. Tighten and release.

Touch your Talisman

A talisman is a “lucky charm”. It can be any small object that has special meaning for you – a stone from home, a squeeze toy, a key, ring, or piece of cloth. It can also be any ordinary small object – anything that you can use to focus your attention on how it feels in your hand. The point is to shift your attention away from distressing emotions, thoughts or urges.

Feel You Feet

You could push your heels into the ground while you are sitting, or feel your feet touching the ground as you walk slowly. Say “I am on the ground” as you feel you heels or feet.


2. Mental Grounding Techniques: 4 Easy Choices

You can use mental techniques like naming, describing, or counting to ground yourself. When you are paying attention to a mental exercise, your attention will free itself from strong emotions or urges.  These exercises help you shift you focus away from distressing feelings or urges. The feeling and urges are still there, but you do not have to do what they say when you use a grounding technique. Try the 5-4-3-2-1 Exercise. It is a favourite for lots of my clients.

5-4-3-2-1 Exercise

The 5-4-3-2-1 exercise is a grounding technique commonly used to help manage anxiety, stress, and panic attacks. It is designed to bring you back to the present moment and engage your senses. Here’s how it works:

  • 5 Things You Can See. Look around and identify five things you can see. It could be anything in your immediate environment, like a clock on the wall, a book on a table, or a tree outside the window. Say the name of each thing when you focus on it.
  • 4 Things You Can Touch. Focus on four things you can touch and describe how they feel. This could be the texture of your clothing, the feeling of a chair, or the sensation of the ground beneath your feet. Talk out loud if you are alone. Or, talk to yourself if there are other people in the area.
  • 3 Things You Can Hear. Listen carefully and identify three sounds you can hear. This might include the hum of a computer, the sound of birds chirping, or the distant noise of traffic.
  • 2 Things You Can Smell. Find two things you can smell. This could be the scent of your coffee, the smell of a candle, or fresh air if you’re outside. Name the smells.
  • 1 Thing You Can Taste. Focus on one thing you can taste. If you have a drink or some food nearby, take a moment to savor the taste. If not, think about the taste of something you like.

Use Numbers

Numbers are great for mental grounding. Count backwards from 100. Do simple addition, such as 3 plus 3 is 6, 6 plus 3 is 9, 9 plus 3 is 12, and keep going to 100.

Recite a Song or Nursery Rhyme

Think of a song, nursery rhyme or poem that you know. Repeat it out loud or quietly to yourself. If you attention goes back to strong feelings or cravings, just refocus on the words. Maybe visualize them as you say them – like you were writing them down or typing them.

State the Safe Facts

You can say an anchoring statement, something like: “I am First Name, Last Name. I am X years old and I am in City. I am standing, sitting, walking. It is Day of Week, Time. I am in a safe place. There is no danger here.


3. Soothing Grounding Techniques: 3 Easy Choices

Focus your mind on kind statements or something safe that is comforting and soothing. This works in two ways. You shift your attention away from emotional pain or craving. And, you feed your soul and heart with kind attention.

Self Massage

Notice where your body is tense. Rub or stroke the area gently with small, slow movements. Say something like “It is okay. This will pass. I can handle it” as you massage yourself.

Picture Your Support Person

Call to mind someone who cares about you. Perhaps a friend, grandmother, teacher, or therapist. Imagine that they are talking to you. Here them say your name with a kind message: Something like: “Your Name. You can stay steady. This will pass. I know you can do it.”

Talk to Your Inner Child

Feel your body as a big person. Then talk to your inner child in a quiet steady voice. Say “I will take care of you. Look around. You are safe here. No one will hurt you.”

A male person holding ice cube


Practice Makes Perfect: 8 Tips

Grounding techniques work! But you need to practice them to get the benefit.  Here are some tips that will help you become a Master Grounder.

Tip 1. Daily Practice

Do a grounding exercise three times a day. Set reminder on your phone so you don’t forget. Practice when you feel neutral or only slightly upset. Then you will know what to do when you really need to do some grounding.

Tip 2. Repeat for 20 Minutes

Set a timer and stay with a grounding technique for 20 minutes. It can take 20 minutes to settle yourself, if you are feeling an emotional storm or strong craving. You will be ready for the storm if you are used to practicing for 20 minutes.

Tip 3. Pick your Favourite

Try several grounding techniques. Which one feel most helpful and natural for you? Is it something physical, mental, or kindness-based?  Claim it as your own.

Tip 4. Be Creative.

Make up your own grounding technique. You might think up something to do that I have not mentioned. Perhaps focus on an adult coloring book or mental puzzle like Sudoku or Word Search. What else could work for you?

Tip 5. Prepare Your Emergency Kit.

It can be hard to remember what to do when you are feeling strong pain or urges. So, set up some reminders and aids for yourself. Record the grounding steps to your phone so you can play back the message. Put a card in your purse or wallet with a ‘how to’ for your favourite grounding technique. Keep some lotion or essential oil handy.

Tip 6. Use Your Grounding Buddy.

Prepare ahead. Tell a friend or family member about grounding. When you need support, text or phone them. Ask them to remind you or guide you about what to do.

Tip 7. Start As Soon As Possible.

Start a grounding technique as soon as you realize that you are in an emotional wave or urge. Your distress may still build for a while. But, the grounding techniques will help you stay safe.

Tip 8. A Setback is Not a Failure.

It can take up to 6 weeks to develop new habits. Trust yourself and keep practicing if you have a setback. You can learn to regain control. Keep trying.


A Personal Note

I use grounding techniques to help me stay steady. When I first learned them, it took a lot of effort. Now they are old friends, and it is easier to use them.

You deserve to regain control of your emotions and your actions.

I hope that some of these techniques will become your friends.



It is important to me that you find practical and trustworthy information. That is why I personally selected and reviewed all the sources for this article. My advice is also based on my own experience with grounding techniques and my decades of experience. I have treated thousands of clients and trained and mentored hundreds of therapists and psychologists. The grounding techniques that I recommend are used at my Clinic. We track progress, so I know that the techniques can help.

  • Najavits, L.M. Seeking Safety: A treatment manual for PTSD and substance abuse. Guilford Press, 2002.
  • Najavits, L.M. Finding Your Best Self: Recovery from Addiction, Trauma, or Both, Guilford Press, 2019.
  • Barlow, D.H. et al. Unified Protocol for Transdiagnostic Treatment of Emotional Disorders, Workbook. Oxford University Press, 2018.
  • Barlow, D.H. (Editor). Clinical Handbook of Psychological Disorders: A Step-by-Step Treatment Manual, (sixth edition). The Guilford Press, 2021.
  • National Institute of Mental Health. Anxiety Disorders (April, 2023). Retrieved from: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders.