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Top Grounding Techniques to Calm Distressing Thoughts

All of us have experienced some strong or negative emotions from time to time. It might be flashbacks to a traumatic event in our life, or it can even be an anxiety attack. Grounding techniques are unique strategies that can help you manage such types of traumatic memories or negative emotions. Grounding techniques help you pull away from unwanted memories, flashbacks, and challenging or negative emotions. These strategies can help reduce the intensity of a person’s trauma or intense feelings by distracting them, generally by using the five senses. Focusing on what to observe on in the current environment or situation can help you detach from a traumatic past.

Here are some top physical, mental and soothing grounding techniques to calm distressing thoughts.

Top Grounding Techniques to Calm Distressing Thoughts

What are Grounding Techniques?

Grounding techniques are types of exercises that help you refocus on the present moment in an attempt to distract yourself from the anxious or depressing feelings you are experiencing. Grounding techniques can be used by anyone to help make space for distressing feelings, no matter what the situation is. Grounding techniques have been found to be especially useful for improving the following: (1, 2, 3, 4)

The basic purpose of these techniques is to enable a person to step away from the negative thoughts or flashbacks of a traumatic or adverse situation. Such techniques can reduce the intensity of your feelings or trauma as it distracts you, usually by using the five senses. Focusing on what is going on in the current environment can help anyone detach from the past.

Top Physical Grounding Techniques to Calm Distressing Thoughts

These physical grounding techniques make use of your five senses or tangible objects that you can touch to help you get past the distressing thoughts or feelings. Here are some top grounding techniques to calm distressing thoughts.

  • Dip Your Hands In Water: Put your hands in water and focus on the temperature of the water and how it feels against your palms, fingertips, and the backs of your hands. Does the water feel the same against each part of the hand? You should ideally dip your hands in warm water first and then try the same with cold water. In the next round, try it with cold water first and then with warm water. How does it feel? Does it feel any different to switch from cold to warm water, and how does it feel to change from warm to cold water?
  • Touch or Pick Up Items Near You: Pick up or touch items near you. Focus on the things. Are they soft or hard to handle? Do they feel heavy or light? Cool or warm? Pay attention to the texture and color of each item you touch or pick up. Don’t just come up with simple colors. Challenge yourself to think up of unique colors, including burgundy, turquoise, indigo, or crimson, instead of just calling them blue or red.
  • Take a Deep Breath: Slowly inhale and exhale. If you have trouble focusing on it, you can think or say in and out with each breath. Focus on feeling every breath filling up your lungs and experience how it feels when you breathe back out.
  • Enjoy Any Drink Or Food: Take small sips or a beverage or bites of a food item that you like. Allow yourself to fully taste every bite. Focus on how it smells, tastes, and how the flavors feel on your tongue.
  • Hold a Piece Of Ice: How does it feel to hold a piece of ice? How long does it take before the ice starts to melt? And do you feel any different when the ice begins to melt?
  • Go for a Short Walk: When you are feeling down, it can help to take a short walk but while focusing on your steps. You can even count your steps if that helps. Pay attention to the rhythm of your footsteps and how you feel when you put one foot on the ground, and then again lift it up.
  • Importance of Exercising: Try doing a few stretches or exercises, such as:(6, 7, 8)
  • Jogging in place
  • Jumping up and down
  • Jumping rope
  • Stretching different muscles one by one
  • Jumping jacks

While doing these movements, concentrate on how your body feels with each movement and how your feet or hands feel when they move through the air or touch the floor. For example, how does the floor feel against your hands and feet? If you are jumping rope, focus on the sound of the rope in the air and the thud noise it makes as it hits the ground.

  • Take in Your Favorite Scent: If there is a fragrance that you like, try to savor the scent. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the smell of a perfume. It can be the scent of a cup of tea, a favorite soap, or even a scented candle. Inhale the fragrance deeply and slowly, and try to focus on the qualities of the smell. Does it smell spicy, citrusy, sweet, fruity, or something else altogether? Some smells can also be associated with positive memories, so try to recall those.(9, 10)
  • Catch the Noises Around You: Take some time to listen to your surroundings. Do you hear dogs barking? Birds chirping? Traffic or machinery at work? Can you hear people talking? If so, can you listen to what they are saying? Let the sounds take over your being and remind you where you are and push back the negative thoughts or flashbacks to the back of your mind.
  • Get a Feel Of Your Body: This is an easy grounding technique that can be done either sitting or standing. The purpose of doing this is to focus on how your body feels from head to toe while paying attention to each body part. Some of the things to consider include:
  • How does the weight of your shirt or top feel on your shoulders?
  • Is your hair falling on your forehead or shoulders? What does that feel like? Does your forehead itch due to this?
  • Do your arms feel stiff or loose at your sides?
  • How is your heart beating? Is it steady or rapid?
  • Do you feel hungry? Or does your stomach feel full?
  • Are your legs crossed, or are your feet resting on the floor? Have they gone to sleep? How does the floor feel against your feet?

To mix it up, you can try to wiggle your toes and curl your fingers and think about how it feels.

  • Practice the 5-4-3-2-1 Technique: This is a popular grounding technique that involves counting backward from 5 and using your senses to list all the things you can notice around you. For example, you can list out five things you see, four things you can hear, three things you can smell, two things you can touch from where you are sitting, and one thing you can taste. Take into account the small things around you that you may not always notice. For example, the color of the design in the carpet or even the humming noise your computer makes.(11)

Top Mental Grounding Techniques to Calm Distressing Thoughts

While physical grounding techniques involve your five senses or physically touching things around you to calm any distressing thoughts, mental grounding exercises use mental distractions to help take your focus away from your present thoughts and bring it back to the present. Some of these mental grounding techniques include:

  • Play a Memory Game: Look at a detailed photograph or any picture in a magazine for just five to ten seconds. Then, put the photograph face down and try to recreate the image in your mind, filling in as many details as possible. Or you can try to mentally list all the things that you remember from the photograph.
  • Think About Categories: Come up with one or two broad categories, such as ice cream flavors or musical instruments. Then take a minute or two to mentally list as many things as you can from each category.
  • Recite Anything That Appeals To You: Think of your favorite song or poem or even a book passage that you know by heart. Now recite it quietly to yourself, or you can even recite it in your head. If you speak the words out loud, you can focus on the shape of each word as it comes out of your lips and in your mouth. If you are saying the words in your head, try to visualize each word as it would appear on the page.
  • Come Up With A Joke: Making yourself laugh is an important grounding technique. Laughter is an essential tool to feel good about yourself.(12) You can make up a joke, watch a funny animal video, or your favorite standup comedian, basically, anything that makes you laugh can help your mind distract itself from negative thoughts.
  • Try Coming Up With An Anchoring Phrase: Using an anchoring phrase can help. This may be something like, “I am XYZ (insert your full name). I am X years old. I live in this City and State. Today is (insert the date). The time is (insert time).” You can continue to expand on this phrase by adding whatever details you feel will help calm you down.
  • Visualize Some Tasks That You Enjoy Doing: For example, if you feel calm while doing laundry or while folding away your clothes, think about the exact feeling when the clothes come out all warm and toasty from the dryer. Imagine yourself folding the clothes one by one. Or, if you feel relaxed while ironing, you can imagine the smell that comes out of the clothes when you are ironing them. These visualization techniques can help bring you back to the present.(13, 14, 15)
  • Describe The Steps Involved In Doing Some Daily Mundane Task: Thinking of an activity that you do every day or often or can do very well. It can be something as regular as making a cup of coffee, locking up your home before leaving for work, tuning your guitar, etc. Now go through the entire process step by step. Pretend like you are giving someone else instructions on how to do the same activity clearly.
  • Describe What You See Around Yourself: Take a few minutes to look around your surroundings and make a mental note of what you see. Use all your five senses to fill in as many details as you possibly can. Now close your eyes and try to list out the things you saw, and focus on how many things you can recall.

Top Soothing Grounding Techniques to Calm Distressing Thoughts

Now that you know about physical and mental grounding techniques, here are some soothing techniques to comfort yourself when you feel emotionally distressed. These techniques can help promote positive feelings that help the negative emotions feel less overwhelming.

  • Imagine The Face Or Voice Of Your Loved One: When you feel distressed or upset, imagine someone who has a positive impact on your life. Imagine what their voice sounds like or how their face looks like. Imagine them telling you that even though this moment is difficult, you will get through it.
  • Spend Time With Your Pet: If you are at home and you have a pet, spending a few minutes with them can make you come out of the hostile place you are in. If you have a furry pet, focus on how their fur feels when you run your hands through it. If you have a smaller pet that you can hold, focus on how they feel in your arms. And even if you are not at home, you can still think about how you love a particular habit of your pet and how you would cuddle with them if they were with you.
  • Think Of Your Favorite Place: Visualize your favorite spot. It can be your home or even your favorite tourist destination. Use each of your senses to imagine the noises you would hear, the scents you can smell, and the objects you can see. Try to remember the last time you went there and how you felt at that time.
  • Plan Some Activity: Plan an activity with a friend or loved one. Plan out what you will do and when you will get together. Maybe take a walk on the beach, go to dinner, catch a movie, or even visit a museum. Focus on the details such as when you will go, where you will go, what you will wear, and how you will reach the place.
  • Touch Your Favorite Things Or Something That Is Comforting: This can be your favorite T-shirt, a favorite blanket, or even a smooth paperweight. It can be anything that feels good to touch. Focus on how it feels in your hand or against your fingers. If you have a favorite scarf, sweater, or any other piece of clothing, put them on and spend some time thinking about how the fabric feels against your skin.
  • Listen to Music: Whenever you are feeling distressed, put on your favorite song, but act like you are listening to the song for the very first time. Focus on the lyrics and the melody. Think about how the song makes you feel. Pay attention to the parts of the song that appeals the most to you.(16)

How Do Grounding Techniques Work to Make You Feel Better?

There is a lack of in-depth research that explains precisely how grounding techniques work. These techniques represent a popular strategy that is used to manage anxiety, PTSD, and depression. Grounding techniques make use of various tools such as visualization and senses, including hearing, sight, taste, and smell, to distract you from a wide variety of thoughts and feelings that might not always be positive.

When a person has a panic attack or traumatic flashback, their emotions tend to take over their thoughts and even their physical responses. And focusing on the present moment through the help of grounding techniques can help disrupt the body’s response and also return the brain and feelings to a place where you feel safe.(17, 18, 19)

When Should You Use These Grounding Techniques?

These grounding techniques can help you manage feelings like the following:

  • Traumatic flashbacks
  • Distress
  • Nightmares
  • Anxiety
  • Painful emotions like anger or sadness

It is best to try practicing a grounding technique when you start to feel bad. Don’t wait for your emotions to spiral out of control or for your distress to reach a level that is challenging to handle. If you find that the grounding exercise does not work at first, don’t just abandon it immediately. Try to stick with it for some time before moving on to another grounding technique.


Grounding yourself and coming back to the present might not always be easy. It may also take some time to find the strategies that work the best for you in difficult situations. Some additional tips that can help you get the most out of these grounding techniques include:

  • Regular Practice: It helps to practice grounding techniques even when you are not especially distressed or dissociating. If you get used to a particular technique before you feel the need to use it, you will find that it takes less effort when you actually want to use it to cope with anxiety at the moment.
  • Do Not Assign Any Value: If you are trying to ground yourself by describing your surroundings, focus only on the basics of the surroundings instead of how you feel about the environment. Keep your personal likes and dislikes out of these types of groundings techniques to gain maximum benefit.
  • Rate Your Distress: Before and after practicing a grounding exercise, try to rate your distress level from a number between 1 to 10. Focus on what levels of distress you were at when you began and how much did it decrease after doing the grounding exercise. This can help give you a better idea of whether a particular grounding exercise is working for you or not.

Grounding techniques like these can be powerful tools to help a person deal with distressing thoughts. However, if you are having trouble using these grounding techniques correctly, you may benefit from consulting a therapist. It is also essential to get help from a therapist if you find this happening regularly so that the root cause of your distress can be addressed.


  1. Riyanto, D., Sulistiowati, N.M.D. and Imelisa, R., 2021, December. THE EFFECT OF GROUNDING TECHNIQUE THERAPY TOWARDS Reducing THE Anxiety LEVEL OF STUDENTS IN THE FINAL LEVEL OF MASTER OF NURSING JENDERAL ACHMAD YANI UNIVERSITY CIMAHI. In International Seminar on Global Health (Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 27-40).
  2. Chevalier, G. and Sinatra, S.T., 2011. Emotional stress, heart rate variability, grounding, and improved autonomic tone: clinical applications. Integrative Medicine, 10(3), pp.16-21.
  3. Zantow, J., Linneman, L., Begossa, Z., Daul, L. and Stevens, M., 2021. Limiting Stress through Grounding and Breathing Techniques.
  5. Williams, M.B. and Poijula, S., 2016. The PTSD workbook: Simple, effective techniques for overcoming traumatic stress symptoms. New Harbinger Publications.
  6. Vina, J., Sanchis‐Gomar, F., Martinez‐Bello, V. and Gomez‐Cabrera, M.C., 2012. Exercise acts as a drug; the pharmacological benefits of exercise. British journal of pharmacology, 167(1), pp.1-12.
  7. Ruegsegger, G.N. and Booth, F.W., 2018. Health benefits of exercise. Cold Spring Harbor perspectives in medicine, 8(7), p.a029694.
  8. Ruby, M.B., Dunn, E.W., Perrino, A., Gillis, R. and Viel, S., 2011. The invisible benefits of exercise. Health Psychology, 30(1), p.67.
  9. Leret, S.C. and Visch, V., 2017. From smells to stories: The design and evaluation of the smell memory kit. International Journal of Design, 11(1), pp.65-77.
  10. Bentley, P.R., Fisher, J.C., Dallimer, M., Fish, R.D., Austen, G.E., Irvine, K.N. and Davies, Z.G., 2022. Nature, smells, and human wellbeing. Ambio, pp.1-14.
  11. Insight Timer Blog. 2022. The 54321 Grounding Technique For Anxiety – Insight Timer Blog. [online] Available at: <https://insighttimer.com/blog/54321-grounding-technique/> [Accessed 31 July 2022].
  12. Health, N., 2022. The Importance of Laughter. [online] NRC Health. Available at: <https://nrchealth.com/the-importance-of-laughter/> [Accessed 31 July 2022].
  13. Ayres, J. and Hopf, T., 1992. Visualization: Reducing speech anxiety and enhancing performance. Communication Reports, 5(1), pp.1-10.
  14. Ayres, J. and Hopf, T.S., 1985. Visualization: A means of reducing speech anxiety. Communication Education, 34(4), pp.318-323.
  15. Manzoni, G.M., Pagnini, F., Castelnuovo, G. and Molinari, E., 2008. Relaxation training for anxiety: a ten-years systematic review with meta-analysis. BMC psychiatry, 8(1), pp.1-12.
  16. Finds, S., 2022. Listening to music really does chill people out, reduces anxiety. [online] Study Finds. Available at: <https://www.studyfinds.org/listening-to-music-anxiety/> [Accessed 31 July 2022].
  17. Asmundson, G.J., Taylor, S., Bovell, C.V. and Collimore, K., 2006. Strategies for managing symptoms of anxiety. Expert review of neurotherapeutics, 6(2), pp.213-222.
  18. Bernardy, N.C. and Friedman, M.J., 2015. Psychopharmacological strategies in the management of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD): what have we learned?. Current Psychiatry Reports, 17(4), pp.1-10.
  19. Daviu, N., Bruchas, M.R., Moghaddam, B., Sandi, C. and Beyeler, A., 2019. Neurobiological links between stress and anxiety. Neurobiology of stress, 11, p.100191.
Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 15, 2022

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