Trauma therapist

Grounding Techniques for Trauma and Anxiety

If you experience high anxiety, moments of panic, or frequent hypervigilance, it can be difficult to know what to do in these moments when it feels like your emotions have taken over. Grounding techniques can help you find some relief and a little more control in these instances. These heightened states of anxiety and physiological arousal can stem from a traumatic experience and they can sometimes be accompanied by flashbacks (i.e., reliving the memory as if you’re back there) or disassociation (i.e., detaching from reality through having an outer body experience or your mind “blacking out”). Grounding can refocus you to the present moment to help shake off these overwhelming, anxious, or debilitating moments.

Like with any coping strategies, finding the right technique that is effective for you will involve some trial and error. It’s important to try out different techniques to figure out what works best for you. So try not to get discouraged if some aren’t helpful or effective. That’s useful information to know and you can pick other ones to try the next time.

When to Put Grounding to Use

Try some grounding techniques the next time you’re:

  • Flooded with anxiety or panic (“hyperactivated”)
  • Frozen or shut down; having trouble thinking or speaking (“hypoactivated”)
  • Feeling frightened after a nightmare
  • Overwhelmed by upsetting memories or having flashbacks
  • Detached from the present moment (disassociation)
  • Feeling on edge, high alert, or hypervigilant
  • Anxious and can’t calm down
  • Feeling triggered by a trauma reminder

Grounding Techniques

Soothing Strategies:

  1. Self-Talk. You can try saying things to yourself things like, “I’m okay. I’m here and safe, in the present moment. Nothing can hurt me right now.” It can even be helpful to say your name, the city and place you’re at, and the date and time to redirect you to the here and now and remind yourself that you are safe.
  2. Meditation. Listen to a calming guided meditation. You can find many free ones on YouTube and Spotify or meditation apps like Insight Timer, Calm, Smiling Mind, etc. Again, it can take some trial and error to find ones that work for you. Try out different types of guided meditation to find the kinds that you like best. For example, some have you focus on your breathing whereas others have you engage in body scans, progressive muscle relaxation, or guided imagery and visualization.
  3. Music. Listen to music you find soothing. You can make a playlist of songs that are calming and name the playlist something to remind you to use it in these moments (e.g., I created a playlist for myself called “Breathe” that I use!)
  4. Pet. If you have a pet, sit with them and focus on how they feel to the touch. Notice their physical markings or unique characteristics. If you’re not at home with your pet, think about your favorite things about them and how they would comfort you if they were with you.
  5. Visualize. Picture somewhere that is comforting or serene to you. Think of your favorite place and imagine that you are there now. Use each of your senses – picture what you see, the noises you hear, the scents you smell.

Mental Strategies

Activate the part of your brain required for higher-level “thinking” rather than emotional instincts.

  1. Subtract 7 from 100. Try to keep going!
  2. Spell your first and last name backwards, then repeat this with a few family members’ or friends’ names. You can also include their ages and one of their favorite activities.
  3. Look around your environment to describe the objects and colors you see (e.g., “a brown wooden chair, burgundy coffee mug, landscape painting with forest green trees,  turquoise calm lake, etc.)”
  4. Watch a funny animal video, a clip of your favorite comedian, or part of your favorite TV show or movie. Anything that might draw you in or make you laugh.
  5. List 4 things that bring you joy or that you’re grateful for, imagining each in your mind briefly.

Physical Strategies

  1. Cold water. Splash cold water on your face. Put your hands in the cold water and notice how it feels on each part of your hands.
  2. Take a walk outside. Notice your surroundings – how does the air feel on your skin? What color is the sky? Try describing what you see one thing at a time.
  3. Focus on your 5 senses. Countdown a list of things you notice around you:
    • 5 things you see
    • 4 things you can touch
    • 3 things you hear
    • 2 things you can smell
    • 1 thing you can taste
  4. Savor a food or drink. Take small bites of a food or small sips of a beverage you enjoy. Let yourself fully taste and savor each bite, focusing on the smells and flavors you taste.
  5. Touch an object and describe it in detail. Describe the color, size, texture, weight, temperature, scent, and any other qualities you notice.

If I’m feeling very overwhelmed, how will I remember to use them?

When feeling flooded with anxiety, it can be really difficult to think straight. It’s recommended to pick 1 or 2 strategies ahead of time to try out the next time you’re feeling hijacked by your emotions. Even better, practice using these strategies when you’re in a calm state of mind. That will allow you to more readily recall them when you need them. Once you remember to use the strategies when you’re feeling anxious, you will build momentum and it will get easier and easier to remember to use them in the moment. Here are some other strategies to help yourself remember:

  • Set your phone background to be a photo or phrase that can help bring to mind the techniques, like a photo of somewhere you find peaceful or a mantra to use
  • Create a coping card to carry with you – it can be a note you keep in your wallet or a note in your phone that lists a few strategies to try
  • Wear a bracelet or other jewelry with a certain color or phrase to signal to you to use the skills
  • Tell your significant other or close friends and family about the techniques so they can remind you the next time you need them

Call to Talk to a Therapist Today!

Dr. Mona Khaled specializes in trauma therapy and healthy boundary setting. Give her a call at (310) 453-8788 or fill out a contact form to speak with Dr. Mona today so you can learn more about how therapy can help you have healthier relationships with yourself and others.

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