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How to ground yourself: 14 techniques you need to try

December 9, 2021 - 19 min read

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Physical techniques

Mental techniques

Emotional self-care techniques

Try it: Ground yourself

“My mind was full of so many thoughts that I couldn’t focus on what I needed to do next.”

“Before I speak in public, I feel like my heart is going to beat right out of my chest.”

“At certain points in my day, I seem to be spinning two dozen plates —and I’m not sure how I’m going to keep them all going.”

Do any of these sound familiar?  If so, you’re not alone. It's not uncommon to have distressing thoughts or emotional stress — we live in busy times. It’s easy at any point to feel ungrounded and overwhelmed. 

The feeling of being ungrounded can stem from:

  • Trying to accomplish too many things at the same time
  • Operating at different levels throughout the course of the day (like shifting from a detail-oriented activity to something more strategic)
  • Being “flooded” by emotions or thoughts
  • Finding yourself in a situation that doesn’t align with your values, goals, or purpose

The good news is that it’s also relatively easy to know how to ground yourself.  Like any good practice, the more you use your learned tools and behaviors, the easier it will be to gain that sense of calm to live in the present moment. 

While there are many grounding methods, these grounding techniques tend to fall into one of three key categories: 

    • Physical: grounding techniques that create calm within your body or relate to your physical well-being
    • Mental: mindset shifts and ways to reframe your cycle of thinking to avoid overwhelming your nervous system
    • Emotional self-care: approaches to nurture compassion for yourself that are grounded in connection

Physical techniques 

Physical grounding techniques allow you to tap into your physical body,  your senses, and your overall health and well-being. Let’s walk through some techniques so you can try it out for yourself. Pay attention to your nervous system as you go through these exercises — and take note of how your body feels.

Breathe

A lot has been said about the benefits of breathing. Conscious and attentive breathing works wonders in a moment of overwhelm. As you begin any breathing exercise, spend some time noticing your connection to the earth, to the floor beneath you, or to the chair or supporting you.

It can be helpful to audibly name the sensory feelings you’re experiencing, like, “I can feel that I’m connected to the ground,” or “I can feel the support of my chair.”  A simple phrase can instantly create a grounding moment where you remind yourself that the earth beneath you is solid, and not shifting sands like your mind might want you to believe. 

There are a number of breathing exercises and types of breathing to help in grounding yourself:

All of these help you focus on your breath rather than your spiraling thoughts.  

Christelle, a manager, described a scenario which is likely common for many people.

“My team was working on a big product launch and at the final hour, we were still pulling the pieces together. One core team member was out sick, another was being pulled into different calls, and I had dozens of notifications pinging in different channels. I felt like I’d been hit by a huge wave of white noise. I needed to stop and ground myself before I could carry on. What helped me most was to start with some mindful breathing. After two short minutes, my mind was more clear. I felt more in charge rather than reactive. I then asked myself, What’s the first next step I need to take? From there, I could move forward having given myself a bit of clarity, space, and focus.”  

how to ground yourself_two people with prayer heads to forward

Prioritize your physical wellness through sleep, nutrition, and exercise 

When life gets busy and time feels precious, it can be tempting to cut corners to save time. For many people, sleep is an easy sacrifice for more time in their day. On the contrary, it’s during these times of stress and overwhelm when our bodies  need good sleep the most for rest and recovery. Stick to consistent bedtimes and wake times so your body’s regulated on a normal, even routine.

Similar to sleep, it’s important to maintain consistency with good, nutritious food. Make sure you’re not only nourishing yourself but also keeping an eye on maintaining consistent blood sugar levels.  Rather than a sugary pick-me-up, grab a piece of fruit and peanut butter or a herbal tea.

Keep in mind too that stress can get stuck in the body, even when the distressing thoughts gone. Emily and Amelia Nagoski describe in their book, Burnout, that movement is necessary to ensure our bodies are completing the stress cycle. Otherwise, stress can get “stuck” in our bodies. Move your body in a way that feel good for you to help release that stress and complete the stress cycle.  

Get out in nature 

There’s very little that's more grounding than the outdoors — and sometimes, we need that earthing sensation underneath us. Stepping outside, looking up at the sky, and realizing that you’re a very small part of an incredibly large universe is one of the easiest and most rewarding grounding techniques.

If you can, kick off your shoes and socks and go barefoot to feel the sensations of the earth below.  Notice how the ground feels — is it rough, smooth, damp, ticklish? What about the temperature? What textures do you see on that tree in your backyard? What do you notice about the leaves as the wind blows? Absorbing and appreciating nature — whether you’re in a bustling city or quiet suburb — is a great way to get grounded.  

Find magic in music 

For many, music can be centering. You can change your energy by putting on your favorite song and dancing. Neurologically, you’ll generate positive chemicals such as dopamine that can change your body’s physiology.  If, though, you’re feeling over-stimulated, put on a softer song instead. Hopefully, you'll find it releases that anxious buildup you may feel inside your body.

how to ground yourself_hands holding plants

Do something soothing and tactile 

Use your hands to engage a different part of your brain responsible for self-soothing and relaxation. There are plenty of tactile activities that can help bring your brain fully attentive and grounded to the task at hand, like knitting, gardening, washing the dishes, stroking a pet, painting, chopping vegetables, or throwing a ball. Find what works for you. 

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Mental techniques 

Mental techniques, or cognitive mindset shifts, can take some practice and work. By putting mindfulness into practice, you can make that mental shift in the moment. When you need grounding most, you have a mental toolbox on hand that'll pay dividends for your mental health. Here are a few common grounding exercises that’ll help to keep you grounded in the present day.   

Avoid catastrophizing 

Often if we’re feeling absent or ungrounded, it can be because we’re letting our worst fears overcome us with emotion. For some of us, we may let our brains spiral to that worst case scenario, no matter how feasible it may be. To avoid catastrophizing, try to bring a sense of self-awareness to your body and mind. These steps can help guide you through this state of mindfulness:  

  1. Take some long, deep breaths to calm your sympathetic nervous system. Make sure that the breaths are full and go deeply into your belly.
  2. After a minute of breathing, then name what you’re feeling.  I’m noticing that my hands are sweaty.  I notice that I feel ice cold.  I can sense my heart racing. By noticing and naming what is happening, you are providing a bit of distance from the experience. 
  3. Then ask yourself a few questions. Is this story a true reflection of what I know to be true, or am I telling myself something that might not be true? What might some other explanations be? What are the facts of the matter? Am I just experiencing flashbacks? How can I bring this back to the facts? 

Jai, who was new in his role, shared this story: “A co-worker sent me an instant message asking if he could have five minutes to talk. Fear immediately rippled through my nervou system. Had I forgotten to do something? What’s gone wrong? What is the bad message I’m about to receive?  Those were essentially the rapid-fire string of questions I asked myself after seeing his message.” 

Having this reaction could indicate you’re in the middle of an amygdala hijack, where the limbic, reactive, part of your brain has kicked into action because it feels some sort of threat. Although the threat isn’t real, the body is reacting as if it is, and so you might experience symptoms like a racing heart, sweaty palms, or a hollow or sinking sensation in your gut.  

As it turns out, Jai’s co-worker wanted to ask for his help to facilitate an upcoming meeting, so in fact he was being asked for his expertise, rather than there being a problem. “I was worried about nothing,” said Jai. “I need to remember that for next time.”

Get a different perspective 

Keiko was preparing for a huge presentation and wasn’t happy with the way her speech was coming together. She also had other deadlines looming and felt like she wasn’t giving enough time and attention to the speech.In talking with her coach, she realized she was putting an incredible amount of pressure on herself, pressure that was inhibiting her ability to be creative. With this perspective, she was able to focus on giving a solid speech rather than a perfect one. Keiko asked herself: How important will this be in one month? In one year? In 30 years?  

Keiko shared this conclusion after getting a different perspective. “By answering those questions, I was able to see that this was one moment in the course of lots of other moments in my month, my year, and my lifetime. Even looking ahead one month, I could see that there was nothing that was “make or break” about this particular speech, apart from my wanting to represent the strength of our business. By releasing the vice grip of perfection, I delivered something that felt more natural. I could focus on the needs of the audience and got great feedback that they related to our solution.”

Identify your circle of control 

In moments when we feel ungrounded, many aspects of our lives feel out of control. There are so many things in life that we can’t control — like the weather, the employment climate, or even the way other people respond. The circle of control helps you identify what is in your control and what isn’t.

Create a list of everything that you have control over, including your thoughts, your emotional reaction, aspects of your life which are certain, secure, and reassuring.  In a different list, write down everything that is outside of your control and then throw away this list in a symbolic act of release. By going through this exercise, you can identify what’s in your control and what isn’t. Ultimately, you can liberate yourself from everything that isn’t in your control — and simply let it go

how to ground yourself_person suspended on slack line above the sea

Take small steps 

The complexity of problems today can be overwhelming. There aren’t many “simple” answers to the challenges we all face in our work, communities, and daily lives. In order to move on from the analysis paralysis that occurs with an ungrounded state, allow yourself to take one single small step to move forward. If you’re struggling to focus, set a timer and use the Pomodoro Technique, just to get started. You might find that by simply beginning, you generate positive momentum that gets you unstuck.

Do something you're good at 

Becoming ungrounded can be a sign that we’re out of our depth in terms of our capability, so taking on an activity that you know you’ll succeed at can be a great way to regain confidence. Especially if it’s something that you can do relatively quickly, you can re-establish a sense of equilibrium and tip the balance of positivity in your favor.

When we accomplish something, no matter how small, our brain receives a boost of dopamine, the chemical responsible for motivation. You'll actually experience the positive health benefits of mindfulness. In achieving something that comes from your strengths, you’ll feel good about yourself.

Emotional self-care techniques 

Find support in connection 

If you feel overwhelmed, are experiencing a panic attack, or feel a sense of isolation, you may feel even more ungrounded. It’s so important in these times to connect with a supportive loved one. Who is a friend or colleague who is a calm and attentive listener? Get in touch and share how you’re feeling. Having a supportive ear from someone who is likely to encourage you will help release you from that potential spiral of shame you may be feeling.

Make friends with your inner critic 

One of the reasons we might feel ungrounded is if we’re trying to achieve too much in the amount of time we have, especially if we’re aiming for perfection. In reality, if your goals and targets are not achievable based on your time, ability, or things outside your control, you’ve set yourself up for failure.  In these moments, an “inner critic” voice may pipe up, one that might be overly critical or judgmental. 

Several ways of working with the inner critic include:

  • Ignoring it: “I appreciate your input but am choosing not to listen at this time.”
  • Appreciating it: “Thank you for your thoughts. I’ll consider them once I’ve completed this next activity,” 
  • Engaging with it from a place of curiosity: “What are you most worried about on my behalf?” 

Usually it’s a protective measure, and by surfacing the fears of your inner critic, you can then choose to operate from a different mindset, a place of strength, calm, and stability. 

Root to your purpose

During those times when you feel most like you’re doing a lot of plate-spinning, pause to see what’s led to the situation.  It’s usually saying “yes” to too many commitments, helping when you might not have had the time or resources to do so, or overstepping and breaking agreements with yourself about your boundaries.

If this happens, ask yourself which activities link best to your purpose — and which will have the most impact.  It’s a useful lens to filter out some of the noise, and you’ll be in a better position to either let some things go, ask for help, or defer to a later time.  

Remember everything is temporary 

My mother’s favorite saying is “This, too, shall pass.” It’s a helpful reminder that all things are temporary.  We, and the world we live in, are in a constant process of changing. This is particularly true of our emotional landscapes.  When you’re feeling particularly ungrounded, out of kilter, and untethered from your core, remind yourself that this, too, shall pass.  

Ground yourself 

If you do find that you’re having problems focusing, struggling to get a good night’s sleep, or your day-to-day is regularly disrupted by your levels of worry or anxiety, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor or medical practitioner to get advice or guidance. 

In general, the feeling of being ungrounded is one that happens to us all from time-to-time. By implementing even just one or two of these techniques slowly over time, you can feel empowered and in control of your mindset, your reactions, your emotions, and your life. And soon, you’ll find more calm, clarity, and ease. 

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Published December 9, 2021

Meg Lyons, PCC

BetterUp Fellow Coach, PCC

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