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Grounding Techniques

After a trauma, it’s normal to experience flashbacks, anxiety, and other uncomfortable symptoms. Grounding techniques help control these symptoms by turning attention away from thoughts, memories, or worries, and refocusing on the present moment. In this article, you will learn four powerful grounding techniques for managing the symptoms of trauma.

For a printable or audio version of grounding techniques, see the following resources:

5-4-3-2-1 Technique

Using the 5-4-3-2-1 technique, you will purposefully take in the details of your surroundings using each of your senses. Strive to notice small details that your mind would usually tune out, such as distant sounds, or the texture of an ordinary object.

eye What are 5 things you can see? Look for small details such as a pattern on the ceiling, the way light reflects off a surface, or an object you never noticed.
hand What are 4 things you can feel? Notice the sensation of clothing on your body, the sun on your skin, or the feeling of the chair you are sitting in. Pick up an object and examine its weight, texture, and other physical qualities.
ear What are 3 things you can hear? Pay special attention to the sounds your mind has tuned out, such as a ticking clock, distant traffic, or trees blowing in the wind.
nose What are 2 things you can smell? Try to notice smells in the air around you, like an air freshener or freshly mowed grass. You may also look around for something that has a scent, such as a flower or an unlit candle.
lips What is 1 thing you can taste? Carry gum, candy, or small snacks for this step. Pop one in your mouth and focus your attention closely on the flavors.

Categories

Choose at least three of the categories below and name as many items as you can in each one. Spend a few minutes on each category to come up with as many items as possible.

Movies Countires Books
Cereals Sports Teams Colors
Cars Fruits & Vegetables Animals
Cities TV Shows Famous People

For a variation on this activity, try naming items in a category alphabetically. For example, for the fruits & vegetables category, say “apple, banana, carrot,” and so on.

Body Awareness

The body awareness technique will bring you into the here-and-now by directing your focus to sensations in the body. Pay special attention to the physical sensations created by each step.

  1. Take 5 long, deep breaths through your nose, and exhale through puckered lips.
  2. Place both feet flat on the floor. Wiggle your toes. Curl and uncurl your toes several times. Spend a moment noticing the sensations in your feet.
  3. Stomp your feet on the ground several times. Pay attention to the sensations in your feet and legs as you make contact with the ground.
  4. Clench your hands into fists, then release the tension. Repeat this 10 times.
  5. Press your palms together. Press them harder and hold this pose for 15 seconds. Pay attention to the feeling of tension in your hands and arms.
  6. Rub your palms together briskly. Notice and sound and the feeling of warmth.
  7. Reach your hands over your head like you’re trying to reach the sky. Stretch like this for 5 seconds. Bring your arms down and let them relax at your sides.
  8. Take 5 more deep breaths and notice the feeling of calm in your body.

Mental Exercises

Use mental exercises to take your mind off uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. They are discreet and easy to use at nearly any time or place. Experiment to see which work best for you.

  • Name all the objects you see.
  • Describe the steps in performing an activity you know how to do well. For example, how to shoot a basketball, prepare your favorite meal, or tie a knot.
  • Count backwards from 100 by 7.
  • Pick up an object and describe it in detail. Describe its color, texture, size, weight, scent, and any other qualities you notice.
  • Spell your full name, and the names of three other people, backwards.
  • Name all your family members, their ages, and one of their favorite activities.
  • Read something backwards, letter-by-letter. Practice for at least a few minutes.
  • Think of an object and “draw” it in your mind, or in the air with your finger. Try drawing your home, a vehicle, or an animal.

1. Najavits, L. (2002). Seeking safety: A treatment manual for PTSD and substance abuse. Guilford Publications.

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