We've all had those moments when we feel out of control. Life speeds along faster than we can keep up; worries and anxiety accumulate. Before we know it, we're ready to break into tears or throw furniture… maybe both! Before getting to the breaking point, try grounding exercises to bring you back to earth.
Grounding Exercises FAQ
1. What Are Grounding Exercises?
Grounding exercises are specific techniques to reduce anxiety, manage flashbacks from past trauma, or ease symptoms of mental illness. They work by bringing your attention to your physical body and the surrounding space.
Responses to stress often have physical elements. A rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, and muscle tension are common symptoms of anxiety. Over time, our bodies can become so acclimated to these reactions we might not even realize how much we're suffering until we begin to feel like we're losing control.
2. How Can Grounding Exercises Help Me?
Grounding exercises work to override the physical responses to stress and anxiety. Most of them focus on the visualization of energy (also known as chi) in our bodies and how to distribute that energy so we regain control.
“Grounding” has two meanings in the phrase “grounding exercises.” First, it refers to the ground under our feet. The earth's ground is always under us. It has been here long before humans walked the earth. It's a constant in our lives no matter what's going on.
When we say someone is grounded, we mean that they are stable and realistic, seeing the world around them and accepting it for what it is. Taking on these attributes can help us manage stress when we feel like we're at the breaking point.
Grounding is also a metaphor. Think of grounding in electricity. A current that is grounded protects us from shock and allows us to use electrical power to our benefit rather than shocking us! Some grounding exercises build on this metaphor, asking us to visualize energy we “ground” to strengthen us against stressful events.
3. What Can I Expect from Grounding Exercises?
Grounding exercises aren't substitutes for medical care or therapy. If you're dealing with unaddressed trauma or depression, then grounding exercises should not be the primary avenue you take. However, after having these issues addressed by a professional, grounding techniques can serve as a support for your treatment.
Grounding exercises are not necessarily religious or spiritual, either. Some exercises—such as meditation and yoga—are also used in religious practices. However, hospitals, therapists, and doctors have adapted these exercises to benefit the wider population. Don't dismiss an exercise because it sounds spiritual or “new age-y” to you, and that's not your style. People from all walks of life have reported benefits from the exercises in our list below.
Don't worry about spending money on your grounding exercises, either. Many resources for exploring these techniques exist for free online. If there's a particular exercise that calls out to you in our list, search for more information about it. You might find free videos, apps, audio files, or other tools online.
3. How Can I Improve My Success with Grounding Exercises?
Grounding exercises are more beneficial the more frequently you do them. If you suffer from chronic anxiety or have a stressful work or home situation, practicing a grounding exercise at the same time every day can help you reduce your daily stress and anxiety.
After trying out a few exercises from our list, pick a favorite. Make a habit of practicing it regularly. Pick a quiet place and try to practice there every day so that your mind begins to associate that place with relaxation.
Give your mind the signal that relaxation is on its way by sipping a cup of green or herbal tea or placing essential oils on your pulse points before or after the exercise. Engaging the senses will bring your attention back to your body and enhance the experience.
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Stress causes shallow breathing; deep breathing exercises undo that response. There are many methods for deep breathing. Here's one to get you started: Sit upright in a chair or on the floor. Put your hand on your stomach. Close your eyes and take a deep breath through your nose. Feel your lungs fill with air. Next, breath out through your mouth. Feel your lungs deflate. Try to exhale as for the same time as you inhaled. Repeat three times or more.
Another deep breathing exercise designed to wake you up in the morning: stand with your feet together. Bend over at the waist so that your arms and torso hang like a rag doll. Breath in, and as you breathe in, imagine your lungs like a balloon that is lifting you up to a standing position. When you exhale, slowly lower your torso back to the bent over position. Inhale to go up, exhale to go down. Repeat about two or three times.
Meditation uses a specific point of focus to clear the mind. This focus can be something visual, or it can be something internal. Mindfulness meditation asks you to focus on the world around you and your own thoughts and reactions to that world. Other forms of meditation ask you to focus on a candle flame or mandala or walk you through a guided visualization.
There are many free meditation apps online; check out Headspace, Insight Time, or Calm. Many guided meditations are available for free on YouTube.
The primary activity of earthing is walking barefoot outdoors. Clinton Ober, a cable company manager, introduced the idea that the earth has pulsing negative electrons, while humans bodies have positive molecules. When we walk barefoot, we complete an electrical circuit that, according to Ober, brings about peace and good health. If earthing is your style, Ober offers many books and other material online.
Whether Ober's theory is true, it's hard to deny that walking barefoot in the grass feels nice. It returns us to childhood, a time of freedom when our adult anxieties weren't hanging over us.
Achieving Restful Sleep
A good night's sleep will keep your brain clear during the day. Plus, studies have shown that regular sleep aids in weight loss. Few things reduce stress more than sleep! Unfortunately, insomnia often comes with stress and anxiety.
Putting an effort into improving your sleep will pay off. Turn off your computer or put away your phone at least an hour before bedtime. Light scented candles (choose lavender or vanilla), read a book, or drink a cup of herbal tea (try chamomile or a “Sleepytime” tea); create a ritual so that your brain associates the candle, reading, or tea with bedtime.
Going for a Walk
Physical activity is a good stress-buster. Going for a walk is another simple exercise. This grounding activity differs from earthing in that the focus is on the walking rather than the ground. Walking rather than running, will provide the grounding effect here. Running or another high-impact activity produces endorphins and adrenaline that can aggravate anxiety. Walking offers the benefits of physical activity while calming the mind and body.
Standing like a Tree
While it might sound ridiculous, visualizing yourself as a tree can be one of the most powerful grounding exercises. To get started, try this variation on the “palm tree” yoga pose: stand with your feet slightly apart. Keep your back straight and lower your chin. If you can, close your eyes; if closing your eyes makes you dizzy, just stare straight ahead. Raise your arms over your head as you stretch your abdomen and chest upward. Press your palms together or hold your hands. Try to balance yourself, visualizing your body as a tree with strong roots connecting you to the earth. Imagine all of your worries traveling down your legs and out through the roots in your feet.
Another approach is the tai chi pose Zhan Zhuang. In this pose, stand with your feet a little apart. Soften your knees so that your upper body can relax. Close your eyes and listen to any sounds and activity around you. Next, pay attention to your body. You might notice that your body sways a little. You might notice that your shoulders are tight. Just observe these aspects; don't judge them. After a few minutes, open your eyes and allow yourself to adjust to the world slowly.
Connecting with Nature
Getting out into nature is a rare treat for many of us. Images of the ocean or forests have a calming effect, reminding us of the world beyond our anxious, busy lives. If you can't get out and walk or hike in a park or other natural area, integrate nature in small ways each day. Keep live plants in your office. Set out shells, smooth stones, or driftwood from a beach vacation. Listen to recordings of nature sounds, such as waves or rain. (Some good nature sound apps are White Noise or RainSound.) Set a screen saver and computer desktop to natural images of leaves, forests, or beaches.
Practicing Positive Affirmation
Positive affirmations are statements you make about yourself to reinforce your self-esteem. Most positive affirmations begin with an “I” phrase. For example, if you're stressed about a presentation, you might write an affirmation that says “I have valuable knowledge to share” or “I will speak clearly and competently.” Other affirmations could be “I am a caring father” or “My kindness comes through in my actions.” You can write the affirmations down and read them throughout the day or post them up on your computer monitor or mirror where you can see them often.
Unique Daily Affirmations is an app that will send you a new positive affirmation every day.
Tension in our lives results in tension in our muscles. Many of us work at computers throughout the day. Sitting in the same position allows that physical tension to build up. Stretching throughout the day will reduce the physical tension, allow blood to flow through the body, and refresh your mind. Here's an easy stretch to try at your desk: Put your hands together and stretch them over your head, palms up. Hold for about 10 seconds. Next, tilt to the right and hold for 10 seconds, then the left.
Eating Whole Foods
Some people are sensitive to food, not only in terms of allergies but also in terms of stress and anxiety. There's a belief that eating whole foods—unprocessed foods, such as packaged foods—will strengthen the body and keep emotions in check. In a whole food diet, whole grain flour is selected over refined flour; whole fruits and vegetables are selected over frozen or pre-packaged, and fresh meat is selected over processed meat such as hotdogs or fish sticks. For example, try switching out refined flour pasta and jarred sauce for whole wheat pasta and chopped fresh tomatoes, basil, and olive oil.
We all have days when we feel like we're going to fly off the handle. Having grounding exercises on hand can bring us back to earth. Integrating a grounding exercise into your daily routine with help cut down on your stress, anxiety, or anger and help you prepare for any challenges that come your way. Everyone will have a different approach to grounding themselves. Selecting a grounding exercise that works with your personality, schedule, and needs will help you stay on track with your practice.