Our bodies and our minds are connected. If we feel physically or emotionally unbalanced our nervous system sends us a message; something is not right! For instance, imagine what happens when you are on an unstable surface—your body is not in balance—your brain tries to correct so that you do not fall. The same holds true with our emotions. When we feel emotionally unbalanced, our minds and bodies feel out or sorts. When we feel anxious or distressed, we may have racing or perseverative thoughts, feeling stuck in a situation or idea. Our bodies respond by becoming alert and tense, ready to respond, even if no response is necessary. We become unbalanced and reactive.
Grounding exercises for anxiety or stress
Many of us have been in situations that are frustrating and stressful. Our bodies start to tighten as we focus on what is frustrating us. As we learn to relax and ease the tension, our bodies naturally let out a big sigh. Unfortunately, our minds continue to focus on the issue that is frustrating us. (I’m so angry right now… this isn’t going to work… I am so stupid). These negative thoughts send a message back to our body that things are still not okay, we tense up, our breathing becomes fast and shallow, we stay in a state of frustration and distress.
We have the ability to control our minds and bodies during moments of stress. Our thoughts can be dismissive, negative or even catastrophic instead of focused, calm and rational. When we feel our minds and bodies responding negatively in times of stress, take pause and consider the following grounding exercises.
Soothing grounding exercises
- Try monaural beats to increase your focus, concentration or shift your mindset.
- List what brings you joy. Write out or make a mental list of the things that bring you joy in life. This can be favorite things such as foods, movies and books; favorite places; or people who lift you up.
- Speak positive reinforcement. Say aloud, or in your head, phrases that are kind and compassionate to and about yourself. “You are strong, you are passionate and you will make it through.”
Mental grounding exercises
- Use numbers or rote memory. Count backwards from 100. Recite your ABCs. Think through multiplication tables in your head.
- Think in categories. Make a mental list of items that fall into a broad category such as movies that start with the letter S, types of candy or animals you see at the zoo. Take a few minutes to list as many items in the category as you are able to.
- Develop an anchoring phrase. State the facts of who you are, where you are and what is around you. An anchoring phrase could be, “I am [name] and I live in [location]. I am [age] years old and the date is [day/date]. I am [where are you/what are you doing]. The weather outside is [describe].
Physical grounding exercises
- Touch objects around you. Consider how they feel in your hands. Are they hot or cold? Do they have a unique texture? Are they soft or hard to your touch? How would you describe their color, size or shape?
- Get moving by taking a short walk, bike ride or jog. Concentrate on the rhythm of your movements. Stay in tune with the pattern of your steps.
- Savor foods or scents. Do you have a favorite candle? A favorite flavor of tea? Use your sense of smell and taste to take moments to really connect with each scent, each bite. Think about how these smells and flavors linger; tune into the fragrances around you.
Grounding exercises help us refocus and can oftentimes distract us from anxious feelings. Using all our senses, we can move through distress and focus on other areas through these techniques.
Open our window of tolerance daily
We can override the stress response to adverse experiences. We can balance and ground our bodies. Each day, think about how this simple exercise can help us keep our window of tolerance open, giving grace to ourselves and to those around us.
Focus. Our feet securely planted on the ground or our bodies sitting in a chair. We are stable, grounded, balanced. We are okay.
Breathe. Concentrate our breathing so our bodies calm, the tension lessens, our muscles start to relax. Inhale for 3 to 4 seconds and while exhaling notice our muscles relaxing and the tension dispersing.
Positivity. Focus our mind on a positive. Instead of perseverating on the negative experience focus on what we can do to help ourselves. (Negative thought process… This is awful, I can’t do this… I give up). (Positive thought process… I can handle this…It’s okay…I can figure this out).
By grounding and steadying our bodies, calming our breathing and focusing our thoughts in a positive manner, we lower our stress response. We feel calmer and in control during times of tension.