What is grounding?


Grounding is a set of simple strategies to detach from emotional pain (e.g., craving, anger, sadness). Distraction works by focusing outward on the external world, rather than inward toward the self. You can

also think of it as “distraction,” “centering,” “a safe place,” “looking outward,” or “healthy detachment.”


When you are overwhelmed with emotional pain, you need a way to detach so that you can gain control over your feelings and stay safe. Grounding “anchors” you to the present and to reality. Many people with PTSD or those people who are struggling with feeling overwhelming emotions and memories or those feeling numb with dissociation, benefit from grounding. In grounding, you attain a balance between the two: conscious of reality and able to tolerate it. Remember that pain is a feeling; it is not who you are. When you get caught up in it, it feels like you are your pain, and that is all that exists. But it is only one part of your experience-the others are just hidden and can be found again through grounding.


  • Grounding can be done any time, any place, anywhere, and no one has to know.
  • Use grounding when you are faced with a trigger, enraged, dissociating, having a craving, or whenever your emotional pain goes above 6 (on a 0-10 scale). Grounding puts healthy distance between you and these negative feelings.
  • Keep your eyes open, scan the room, and turn the light on to stay in touch with the present.
  • Rate your mood before and after grounding, to test whether it worked. Before grounding, rate your level of emotional pain (0-10, where 10 means “extreme pain”). Then re-rate it afterwards. Has it gone down?
  • No talking about negative feelings or journal writing-you want to distract away from negative feelings, not get in touch with them.
  • Stay neutral-avoid judgments of “good” and “bad.” For example, instead of “The walls are blue; I dislike blue because it reminds me of depression,” simply say “The walls are blue” and move on.
  • Focus on the present, not the past or future.
  • Note the grounding is not the same as relaxation training. Grounding is much more active, focuses on distraction strategies, and is intended to help extreme negative feelings. It is believed to be more effective than relaxation training for PTSD.

Belly Breathing Exercise

  1. Place one hand just above your belt line, and the other on your chest, right over the breastbone.
  2. You can use your hands as a simple biofeedback device. Your hands will tell you what part of your
  3. body, and what muscles, you are using to breathe
  4. Open your mouth and gently sigh, as if someone had just told you something really annoying. As
  5. you do, let your shoulders and the muscles of your upper body relax, down, with the exhale. The
  6. point of the sigh is not to completely empty your lungs. It’s just to relax the muscles of your upper
  7. body.
  8. Close your mouth and pause for a few seconds,
  9. Keep your mouth closed and inhale slowly through your nose by pushing your stomach out. The
  10. movement of your stomach precedes the inhalation by just the tiniest fraction of a second, because
  11. it’s this motion which is pulling the air in. When you’ve inhaled as much air as you can comfortably
  12. (without throwing your upper body into it), just stop. You’re finished with that inhale.
  13. Pause. How long? You decide. I’m not going to give you a specific count, because everybody counts at a different rate, and everybody has different size lungs. Pause briefly for whatever time feels comfortable. However, be aware that when you breathe this way, you are taking larger breaths than you’re used to. For this reason, it’s necessary to breathe more slowly than you’re used to.
  14. If you breathe at the same rate you use with your small, shallow breaths, you will probably feel a little lightheaded from over breathing, and it might make you yawn. Neither is harmful. They’re just signals to slow down. Follow them!
  15. Open your mouth. Exhale through your mouth by pulling your belly in.
  16. Pause.

Continue with Steps 4-7

If you’ve been struggling with panic for a while, it’s probably the opposite of how you usually breathe. That’s because you’ve become a chest breather. You can live that way, but it will make it harder to overcome panic.

Go ahead and practice the breathing exercise for a few minutes.

You may find it awkward at first, because it’s very different than your present habit.

%d bloggers like this: