Barbie Atkinson is a Licensed Professional Counselor with 15 years of experience working with children and adults through their mental and emotional challenges. She is the owner of Catalyst Counseling in Houston, TX and is an Expert on the SocialMama app.
What does it mean to "ground" yourself? I explain it as the opposite of "floatyness" (yes, I made this up). It is simply a type of tool within the CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) framework used to help someone learn to ‘ground’ him/herself and, in doing so, they may be better able to stay in the present. I have heard clients say that not being in the present as feeling numb, or in a dream, or having "lost touch" with the present environment.
While we can work over a longer period of time to help people examine and restructure their thoughts, we need to also give them the tools to interrupt those thoughts in the moment! Therein lies the goal of grounding - to calm the emotional and irrational part of our brain so that we can begin to think more logically about what is going on.
1. Think of Grounding Images
Examples of grounding images include imagining oneself walking along a quiet beach, watching the waves, or walking through a peaceful garden. In addition, while experiencing these images (and real life), each of a person’s five senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell) may also help one stay in the present such as smelling a flower, chewing gum, listening to birds singing or the sound of the wind, walking barefoot on grass or stroking a pet.
For kids, good ol' 5...4...3....2...1... is my first go-to because all you need are your senses! Go through this exercise with them and see how it aids their calming:
5 things you see
4 things you hear
3 things you smell
2 things you can touch
1 thing you taste
2. Power Hugs
Firm pressure is great for grounding, along with an affirming statement to use for this exercise. It could be something like, “I am in control,” or “I am safe in this moment", "I am safe today", or "I am strong and will overcome today." Practice placing the left hand on the right shoulder for a tap and then the right hand on the left shoulder for another tap. Then squeeze into a hug and say the affirmation. Tap, tap, squeeze, affirm. Tap, tap, squeeze, affirm. Repeat this as many times as needed!
3. "I am Here" Hand Trace
For this exercise that I recommend for kids, you’ll need paper and a pencil, marker, or crayon. Kids will trace a hand on the paper. You can take this a few different directions. Children can simply press the hand into the space on the paper and feel the connection between hand and table. Or they can use the space inside the hand to write things they see or describe the room.
Here are some more specific examples of grounding techniques, but you can make up your own as well. These can be modified for kids as well.
Run cool water over your hands. Hold onto ice cubes if the urge is intense.
Clench and release your fists.
Walk slowly; notice each footstep, saying “left or “right”… in detail to yourself.
Count to 10 or say the alphabet. Very s…… l….. o….. w….. .l…… y..
Describe your environment in detail, using all your senses. For example, “The walls are blue, there are five green chairs, there is a wooden bookshelf against the wall." Describe objects, sounds, textures, colors, smells, shapes, numbers and temperature. You can do this anywhere.
Jump up and down.
Grounding techniques can seem very simple to do, but it can be difficult to do in the moment, so practicing the skills can be helpful. Try it for yourself in front of your children so that they can see you doing it. This is different than relaxation or meditation because grounding is an “active” technique where it actively focuses your mind on things surrounding you. When you finish grounding you should feel more calm and in control.
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About the Contributor:
Barbie Atkinson is a bilingual psychotherapist and licensed professional counselor. Her philosophy is inspiring change in honoring autonomy while enhancing strengths. She founded Catalyst Counseling to offer men and women a chance to really feel seen, heard and ask them questions they hadn't considered before. She is not your Mama’s therapist! Her One-Size-Can't-Possibly-Fit-All approach is refreshingly human and personal. Women navigating life transitions, including the wild new world of momming, is a passion of hers and of her therapists. She is also available 24/7 as an Expert on SocialMama!