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Read This if You Have Strong Feelings: Grounding Skills

Life is full of big, overwhelming feelings. We get in fights with our romantic partners. We get stuck behind terribly slow drivers. We fail tests and get passed over for promotions and have nightmares. Sometimes, we lose someone or something that we loved deeply. If we let them, strong feelings can take over our minds and bodies and it can seem impossible to stay calm and clear-headed enough to continue on with our daily lives. Grounding skills are tools that help you to focus on the present moment and experience your feelings without them overwhelming you. Here are five of my favorite easy-to-learn and use grounding skills:

1. 5-4-3-2-1

Take a deep breath. Look around you. Find five things you can see. Name them to yourself slowly. Next, close your eyes and identify four things you hear. Try to isolate each of the sounds. Open your eyes and pay attention to the sensations in your body. Identify three things you can feel. Take another deep breath and try to find two different scents in the air. Finally, find one thing you can taste.

2. Categories

This is a good mental grounding exercise for when you feel overwhelmed with emotion-charged thoughts. Pick a category of things. Really, anything. It could be types of vehicles or TV shows you’ve seen or musical instruments or Taylor Swift songs. Take 1-3 minutes and list as many items in that category as you can. Practice uni-focusing (the opposite of multitasking) and don’t let yourself think about anything else. If you find your mind wandering (which is totally normal!), just bring it gently back to your category of choice.

3. Take some deep breaths

Our breath has a lot of control over our nervous system. Calm breathing, especially when your exhale is longer than your inhale, helps to turn off the flight-to-fight system and reduce your adrenaline. To calm yourself down, take a deep breath through your nose for four seconds, hold it for four seconds, and then breathe out through your mouth for six seconds. 4-4-6. Focus on making your exhale a little longer than your inhale. Repeat for as long as you need.

4. Something cold

Temperature also impacts our nervous system. Try finding something cold like an ice cube, a cold drink, or just run your hands under cold water. Pay attention to each aspect of the sensation. How does it feel on your hands? Does it feel the same way on each part of your hands and fingers? Where does the cold feeling start and stop on your body? If you’re running water, you can turn the water to warm and observe the sensation of the temperature changing.

5. Progressive relaxation

Clench your toes as tightly as you can. Hold it and squeeze for several seconds. Then, relax your toes. Notice the different feelings of tension and relaxation in your feet. Next, tense your legs. Squeeze every muscle in your legs as hard as you can. Relax. Notice how your legs feel now. Move up your body to your glutes, stomach, hands, arms, and face. Squeeze the muscles as tightly as you can for several seconds before relaxing that muscle group completely. When you finish, try to tense and then relax your whole body at once. How do you feel now? Observe the different sensations in your body.

Practicing these skills regularly will make it easier for you to use them when you have overwhelming feelings. For most people, using grounding skills makes a significant impact in their emotional experience. However, if you find that you cannot manage your feelings on your own, you may need to reach out for professional help. If you are not sure what that would look like, here is a helpful resource.

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