Grounding is a coping skill you can easily learn and practice anywhere at any time. I use it just about every day. Grounding is a simple exercise that instantly jerks your mind out of the chaos of your head and back into the present moment. When you calm your mind, you calm your brain and body.

The First Step: Calm Your Breath

With any practice intended to calm you down, it’s important to remember to first control and slow your breathing. Taking long, deep breaths counters the amygdala alarm, slows your heart rate, and activates your calming parasympathetic nervous system. The basic steps of controlled breathing can vary slightly with different philosophies and get very involved or stay really simple. Most teachings include three basic steps:

  1. With a closed mouth, inhale deeply through your nose for a count (usually three to six), making sure your abdomen expands.
  2. At the top of the inhalation, hold your breath for a certain number of counts (usually two to four).
  3. Exhale completely through your mouth or nose for a count longer than the inhalation.

Grounding is a form of mindfulness

Grounding is a  practice. While I couldn’t find any specific studies conducted on grounding, the scientific evidence for mindfulness helping calm your brain and body is overwhelming. There is an ensemble of neural networks, called the default mode network (DFM), which is your brain’s go-to state when it’s at rest, not doing anything in particular. Science discovered the DFM using functional MRI studies where people were asked to lay in the scanner with no specific thinking assignment. The scans showed that their mindless mental activity was mostly repetitive ruminative thoughts.

In mindfulness, by intentionally directing attention inward and cultivating awareness of your breath or something else, you are becoming aware of what your DFM is up to and exerting control over it. Guiding your DFM is a skill that you practice and develop just like learning to play the piano. You are training your brain to break free of negative thought loops and to orient itself in the present moment.

How to ground yourself

Slow your breathing first and continue by moving through the grounding exercises below. In this grounding exercise, you direct your attention to each of your senses which brings your focus into your physical environment at the moment. The idea is to avert your attention away from your thoughts.

5: Acknowledge five things you see around you in your immediate surroundings. Maybe it’s a book, a pen, or a spot on the wall.

4: Acknowledge four things you can feel. This could be your bottom sitting on the chair, your feet resting on the floor, or glasses sitting on your nose.

3: Acknowledge three things you hear. Remember, you want to turn your focus away from your thoughts. So, the sounds need to be external. For example, maybe you hear traffic in the background or a bird chirping.

2Acknowledge two things you can smell. Does the air have a particular scent? Can you smell your shampoo or deodorant? If you can’t pick out a smell, you may want to go find one, like some scented soap or a piece of fruit.

1: Acknowledge one thing you can taste. What does the inside of your mouth taste like? It might be Coffee or lunch.