What the Heck Are Grounding Techniques?

There’s no denying that each of us experiences daily stressors in our lives. However, sometimes it’s not just the actual events and situations but the stories we start to weave about them that tend to increase anxiety. “So much of stress is our perception of what is transpiring,” says Jessica Matthews, DBH, NBC-HWC, E-RYT500, assistant professor of integrative wellness at Point Loma Nazarene University.

One way to help combat this additional anxiety is an ancient technique called “grounding”. Practiced in Chinese medicine and by Indigenous people throughout the world, grounding has come to be used in behavioral health, during practices like yoga and meditation, and simply to connect with nature. Yet all of these have a commonality. “At the heart of these different paths, grounding not only invites us to be more present in the here and now, it is an opportunity to become more present within our own bodies,” Matthews explains.

Doing so may help manage anxiety and stress. “So often we spend a lot of time projecting and predicting the future or lingering in the past, ruminating and rehashing” what occurred, Matthews says. Whether we are looking forward or backward, we layer our own perception on top, often creating untrue narratives that only add more stress. Grounding helps you pause and come back to the present. Noticing the physical sensations in the body rather than being in our heads helps “remind us that we are here and we are safe,” Matthews explains, thus reducing anxiety.

Additionally, some practices such as diaphragmatic breathing appear to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, initiating the relaxation response. Others, such as being barefoot in a natural setting, have been shown to possibly help reduce pain and inflammation.

Ways to Ground

Whatever you choose, it’s easy to practice grounding. When you do, it’s important to be in a place where you feel safe and supported, Matthews says. Also note that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to ground yourself. Focus on your sense of feeling—rather than thinking—and “trust and lean into your sensations,” Matthews says. Simply observe; this is not a time to judge.

If you feel ready, consider the five grounding practices below.

Diaphragmatic breathing. Lie down with one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. As you inhale, feel your belly press into your bottom hand. As you exhale, feel your belly soften and fall. (The other hand on your chest should remain fairly still throughout.)

Intentional breathing. Simply be conscious of your breathing, feeling the coolness of the air as it enters your nostrils and the warmth as it exits.

Earthing. “Sometimes one of the most simplistic yet powerful grounding practices is noticing the sensations of your feet against the earth or floor,” Matthews says. You can do this in your backyard, a park, the beach, or any other natural setting. Take your shoes off and notice the sensations of your feet against the grass, dirt, or sand.

Find your feet. When you can’t take your shoes off, you can still do a twist on earthing: Ask yourself, “Where are my feet?” Again, feel the physical sensations of your feet, whether you’re in a subway, car, classroom, work environment, or your home.

Body scan. While inside or outdoors, find a comfortable position lying down. You can either start at your toes and work up to the crown of your head, or go in the opposite direction. Either way, “notice what there is to notice in your physical body,” Matthews says, as you slowly, progressively move from one body part to the next (toes, heels, ankles, calves, etc). Observe where there is tension, warmth, coolness, numbness, pulsing, and any other sensations. 

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