Grounding techniques for PTSD (A brief guide)

Grounding techniques for PTSD

In this guide, we will discuss “grounding techniques for PTSD” and how to cope with it.

Grounding techniques for PTSD

Some grounding techniques for PTSD include, but are not limited to:

  • Holding an ice cube and let it melt in your hand.
  • Putting your hands under running water.
  • Take a hot or cold shower.
  • Grab a piece of clothing (e.g. blanket, towel, etc.) and hold it against your cheek.
  • Rub your hand against a piece of furniture, curtains or the carpet noting its texture.

There are several grounding techniques for PTSD, but all of them may not be effective in every case, you need to find the one that fits.

However, before we start naming and listing the techniques, it is important to understand where the concept “grounding” comes from and what it means.

Grounding techniques for PTSD (A brief guide)

This concept was developed by Alexander Lowen and it is based on the interaction of the body and mind.

The term grounding is related to the word “ground” which is literally defined by the Oxford Dictionaries as “the solid surface of the earth”.

Following this concept, Lowen proposes that we are “physically, emotionally and energetically grounded to the earth” where all energy seems to find a way back into the earth. 

Grounding is used as a way of helping to cope with flashbacks (traumatic events are relived) and dissociation when having post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD by having its focus on being in the present moment, the reason why it is considered by many as a variant of mindfulness. 

In particular, dissociation disrupts 4 areas of personal functioning such as Identity (dissociative identity), Memory, Consciousness and Self-awareness/awareness of surroundings.

Symptoms of PTSD (dissociation)

If you have been diagnosed with PTSD you may be familiar with the feeling of “disconnection” from yourself.

If so, then you may have experienced flashbacks associated with traumatic events, feeling that you temporarily lose touch with reality or your surroundings and“blanking out” or not being able to remember anything for a brief period of time. 

Our brain processes trauma as flashbacks, where ideally we should let them happen instead of fighting them to start a healing process.

We can develop coping skills by “getting our heads out of the past (trauma) and into the present (safety), by using grounding techniques.”  

Even though they can be very distressing and upsetting, they do not tend to last long. 

How does grounding work?

“Grounding techniques often use the five senses—sound, touch, smell, taste, and sight—to immediately connect you with the here and now. For example, singing a song, rubbing lotion on your hands, or sucking on some sour candy are all grounding techniques that produce sensations that are difficult to ignore or distract you from what’s going on in your mind. This helps you directly and instantaneously connect with the present moment (Tull, 2019).”

Subsequently, reducing the probability of having a flashback or dissociation. 

Grounding techniques for PTSD (A brief guide)

Grounding techniques guidelines

According to Rigoni from Mhanational.org, here are some guidelines:

  • Grounding can be done at 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). 
  • 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 from 0 to 10. Then re-rate it afterward. 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. 

Grounding techniques for PTSD (examples)

Connecting to the here and now requires focusing your attention to the present moment, being consciously aware of your surroundings and what is happening now.

It is recommended to keep your eyer open while you are using any of the grounding techniques for PTSD so you are fully aware of what is going on. 

Grounding techniques or exercises are simple things you can implement to bring yourself into contact with your present time or “the here and now”.

They are considered very useful strategies you can adapt where there is no “right or wrong” way to ground yourself, you need to find those that actually benefit you and work for you.

Grounding techniques for PTSD (A brief guide)
  1. Sound techniques
  • Put your favorite song and turn up the music.
  • Talk to yourself, considerably loud so you can hear, a description of what you see or what you are doing at that moment.
  • Call someone you love or care about.
  • Read out loud a chapter or a fragment of a book/article/blog you like or you are currently reading.
  1. Touch techniques
  • Put your hands in water and focus on the temperature and how it feels on your fingertips, palms, etc. Try playing with the temperature meaning you can start with cold water and then try warm water. 
  • Write a note to someone, or even to yourself. Feel the pen or pencil, how it grazes against the paper, notice the color of the page, the texture, the smell, etc.
  • Petting your dog/cat (if you have a pet). Feel the fur/hair, how it makes you feel, what your pet represents, all their details and features, etc. 
  1. Breathing technique

It sounds very simple in theory, but not in reality. However, you do not need any equipment or gadget to use this incredibly effective technique, as long as you practice.

Before you start practicing, find a comfortable place where you can sit down, feet touching the floor and keep your back straight. 

Now you are ready to inhale through your nose for 3 to 4 counts, hold the air inside your lungs for 2 counts and then exhale through your nose for another 3 to 4 counts.

You will probably feel a bit dizzy while doing this but it is completely normal since we are not used to breathing like this.

For depression, it is recommended to do longer inhales and shorter exhales.

Grounding techniques for PTSD (A brief guide)
  1. The 5-4-3-2-1 method

This method engages your senses to list things you are able to perceive or notice around you.

For instance, you may start by listing five things you can hear, then four you see, three you can touch, two you can smell, and one you can taste.

This will force yourself to notice all the details that you will not pay attention to consciously. 

  1. Mental techniques
  • Playing a memory game such as looking at a picture for 5 to 10 seconds and describing as much information and details you can remember.
  • Think in categories, name them. For instance, name in a min or two brands of cars, animals that live underwater or fruits that are red.  
  • Remember a funny anecdote, a joke or something funny that can make you laugh. 
  1. Creating a grounding statement

You can also try using and saying a safety statement such as “My name is….; I feel safe right now. I am living in the present and not in the past.” Let’s dive deeper into it.

When we are in the middle of having those repetitive thoughts, we find ourselves going back to moments that have a very powerful emotional component or traumatic experience.

By using a grounding statement, you can bring yourself to the present moment. 

When writing a grounding statement, remember to consider the following according to The Transition House :

  • The place you are in, the date and the time.
  • Tell yourself you are safe in that present moment.
  • What is the difference between now and the past?
  • End your grounding statement with words of affirmation. 

Why is grounding important?

It has been suggested that grounding techniques are incredibly useful for anyone that suffers from Post-traumatic stress disorder or dissociative disorder however, not all of them may be effective for you.

Living in the present and being aware of the here and now is extremely necessary to guarantee someone’s physical and mental health. 

 “While it may not always be comfortable to be grounded, and can sometimes even be downright agonizing (particularly when one is experiencing intense or upsetting emotions, physical pain, or any unpleasant life circumstance), it is the only way to ensure basic safety as well as prevent additional psychological symptoms (beautyafterbruises.org).”

Why is this blog about grounding techniques for PTSD important?

Grounding techniques for PTSD are very helpful, as we have discussed, to bring you back to the present moment and pull you away from persistent or intrusive thoughts, traumatic memories, and painful emotions.

They have the ability to distract you from what you are thinking and feeling and refocus your attention on what is happening now. 

There are plenty of examples and techniques, even though we mentioned just a few, but remember to find those that you feel do work and practice them whenever possible.

They are not only useful for depression but also anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociation, self-harm urges, traumatic memories, substance use disorder, to name a few.

Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about grounding techniques for PTSD

What are grounding techniques for anxiety?

Grounding techniques for anxiety are intended to help you cope and manage your anxiety.

You could start by sitting down comfortably where your feet reach the floor.

Close your eyes and focus on your breathing.

Start breathing slowly for the count of three, then out slowly. 

This will bring your mind some clarity and will let you focus on your body.

What are the 17 symptoms of PTSD?

The 17 symptoms of PTSD can range from flashbacks to nightmares, Panic attacks to eating disorders and Cognitive delays to lowered verbal capacity.

In addition, many trauma survivors may also have substance abuse issues, as they attempt to self-medicate to get rid of the symptoms.

How do you calm someone with PTSD?

You can help calm someone with PTSD by implementing the following:

– Do not pressure them to talk, they will do it on their own or when they feel comfortable.

– Assure them you are there for them.

– Avoid freaking out or running away. 

How do you deal with PTSD flashbacks?

To deal with PTSD flashbacks you could try the following:

– Tell yourself you are currently experiencing a flashback.

– Remind yourself the worst is over.

– Use a grounding technique to bring yourself back to the present moment.

– Take deep breaths.

– Get support if you are feeling too overwhelmed.

– Take some time for yourself, to recover.

What are some grounding techniques?

Grounding techniques as the word “grounding” makes reference to a particular type of coping strategy that is designed to “ground” you in or connect you with the present moment and time.

It has been suggested that grounding is often used as a way of coping with flashbacks or dissociation are characteristics of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Recommended reading

  • Operation: T.I.P.P. Trauma Informed Program Plus!: Tipping the scales in your favor against trauma!
  • Grounding Techniques (Individual Therapy Worksheet Book 1)
  •  Audible SampleAudible Sample Heal Your PTSD: Dynamic Strategies That Work
  • Calming The Distress Within a guided journal: Self-soothing techniques, exercises, and worksheets to soothe stress, manage fear and anxiety, build … watercolor wash with wavy lines (Self-Care)
  • Overcoming CPTSD: Guide to help you survive Complex post traumatic disorders

References

Rigoni, M. (n.d.) Grounding Techniques Explained. Retrieved from mhanational.org.

Tull, M. (2019, Nov.) Grounding Techniques for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Retrieved from Verywellmind.com.

Getselfhelp.co.uk: Grounding Techniques for coping with flashbacks and distress. 

Beautyafterbruises.org (2016. Dec.) 101 Grounding techniques.

Raypole, C. (2019, May.) 30 Grounding Techniques to Quiet Distressing Thoughts. Retrieved from Healthline.com. 

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Grounding techniques for PTSD (A brief guide)

Daniela Paez

Daniela Paez is a Clinical Psychologist with an MSc. In Clinical Neuropsychology from Bangor University. She has vast experience in working with children with disabilities, adolescents and their families, in extreme conditions of poverty and vulnerability. Additionally, she owns a private practice where she provides neuropsychological evaluation for children and adults, and treatment for mood disorders, anxiety, couple therapy, among other conditions.