3 Effective Grounding Techniques for Anxiety

April 3, 2021

Times are uncertain right now, and if you’re looking for a way to restore some inner peace, you may be interesting in trying out some grounding techniques for anxiety.

Shown to help with anxiety, PTSD, traumatic memories, and more, grounding is a therapeutic technique that has far-reaching benefits. In fact, it’s also been shown to help improve sleep and even reduce pain!

Intrigued? I know I was—so I did a little more research on how it works. After all, I believe stress is at the root of many of our modern health concerns, so I want to know as much as possible about all the ways we can support the body’s stress response.

Keep reading to discover what I learned about grounding overall along with some great grounding techniques for anxiety and stress.


Get Grounded

Even though things seem to be trending in the right direction, the truth of the matter is that most of the world has been experiencing record high amounts of anxiety due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Couple that with our typical daily demands and you’ll see that there’s never been a better time to learn new ways to help manage stress and anxiety.

If you haven’t heard of grounding exercises for anxiety, you aren’t alone. Though they’re a common technique used in therapy, many still aren’t familiar with them. So, what is grounding and how do the exercises work?

Simply put, grounding exercises are quick techniques designed to reduce stress and anxiety by making you more aware of your surroundings in the present moment. Sounds amazing, right?


Grounding techniques for anxiety - Dr. Pingel


How incredible would it be to momentarily escape present stressors and relieve anxiety? That’s exactly what grounding does!

So, how does it work?

Basically, whenever someone is overwhelmed by strong negative emotions, flashbacks, or undesired memories, they focus on physical elements around them to bring them into the present moment and minimize the anxiety they may be feeling over past events. [1]

Scientifically speaking, grounding is also known as earthing, which includes examples such as walking barefoot outside or sitting in the grass, to better connect with the Earth and be in the here and now. [2]

Many scientists and therapists describe the effect of grounding exercises for anxiety much like that of exiting a movie theater.

During a flashback or episode of anxiety due to negative memories, the affected person feels as if they’re in a darkened room and watching a movie in his or her mind. Just as in a theater, the person’s focus is solely on the movie and everything else is blocked out.

Grounding exercises help the person to exit the theater and step out into the daylight, so to speak, and re-enter the present moment. [3]

Now that you know the goal of grounding exercises, let’s take a look at some of the most useful techniques to help fight anxiety.

3 grounding techniques for anxiety

Here are three helpful grounding techniques for anxiety that you can use almost anytime or anywhere.

1. Deep breathing

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of deep breathing. Here’s why: Studies have shown it’s incredibly effective for decreasing both stress and anxiety. As a result, it’s one of the top grounding techniques for anxiety.

According to a 2017 study, 40 participants were randomly assigned to either a breathing intervention group, who received 20 deep breathing sessions during a period of eight weeks, or a control group. [4]

The result? The intervention group showed a significant decrease in negative affect (a scientific term for negative emotions, which include  anger, contempt, disgust, guilt, fear, and nervousness). [5]

They also showed significant improvement in sustained attention as well as lower cortisol levels. As you may recall, cortisol is known as the “stress hormone,” since it rises during times of increased stress.

If you’d like to try deep breathing exercises, check out my article that walks you through how to do four different deep breathing exercises that are specifically designed to relieve both stress and anxiety.

2. Making tight fists

There are many grounding techniques for anxiety, but some are a little more involved than others. I loved the simplicity of this technique, which is why I ranked it as my second preferred exercise.

According to the publication Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services, the simple act of clenching your fists can help ground you and provide relief from reliving a traumatic memory or upsetting emotion. [6]

The idea is that by clinching your fists and focusing on that physical feeling, you’re moving the energy from an emotion into your fists, which you can then release by relaxing your hands.

It makes sense, right? You’re basically using a physical stimulant to distract yourself form a mental one. And that’s actually a great segue into the next technique I want to discuss: using distractions ….

3. Using distractions

Whether it’s focusing on your to-do list for the day or counting things around you, distracting yourself with your current environment or present action items is one of the most effective grounding techniques or anxiety.

In fact, one of the most studied and preferred methods of distraction is known as the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique. This method is simple and effective for helping you to regain control of your mind by grounding you into the present moment.

It works by incorporating all five of your senses to keep you in your present surroundings, which is incredibly effective for fighting anxiety. The best part? It only takes one minute of your time!

Here’s how it works: [7]

5—Sight: Take a deep breath and look around you to recognize five different things. Say each thing out loud, such as, “I see a clock,” or “I see the leaves on the tree.”

4—Feel: Recognize four things you can feel the texture of. Say each thing out loud, such as, “I feel the carpet beneath my feet,” or “I feel the fabric of my shirt.” Take a few seconds to actually touch each of these textures.

3—Hear: Listen for three separate and distinctive sounds around you. Say each sound out loud, such as, “I hear the birds chirping,” or “I hear the clock ticking.” Take a few seconds to really listen to each sound.

2—Smell: Breathe in and out a few times and name two distinct smells you encounter. Say each smell out loud, such as, “I smell the scent of my perfume,” or “I smell the flowers blooming nearby.”

If you can’t smell anything, remember the smell of your favorite scents and recall them out loud.

1—Taste: If you have food in front of you, take a bite and name the taste out loud. If not, see if you can pick up on an aftertaste in your mouth. Alternatively, you can recall the taste of a favorite food.  Say it out loud.

Once you’re done with the last exercise here, breathe in deeply for five seconds, hold it for five seconds, and then breathe out for five seconds. At the end of this exercise, you should be in the present moment.


Key Takeaways

  • Times are uncertain right now, and if you’re looking for a way to restore some inner peace, you may be interesting in trying out some grounding techniques for anxiety.
  • Shown to help with anxiety, PTSD, traumatic memories, and more, grounding is a therapeutic technique that has far-reaching benefits.
  • Three of the top grounding techniques for anxiety include: deep breathing, making tight fists, and using distractions, such as the 5-4-3-2-1 method.
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