“No feeling is final.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

There is no such thing as an inherently “bad” emotion. The ability to experience a broad range of emotions is a natural, healthy part of being human. However, most of us know that plenty of emotions may feel incredibly uncomfortable, while many other emotions seem universally desirable. It’s also natural to be fearful of emotions at times. Consider that part of your ability to truly experience the richness of joy and love are inexplicably linked to your ability to experience the depths of despair and sadness.

In many ways, it is both the desirable and aversive natures of these powerful emotions that make them two sides of the same coin. Whenever we experience too much intensity at either end of an emotional spectrum, it can dull either the positive or negative qualities. Consider what it might be like to feel intense sadness for so long that it becomes “normal,” or to feel extreme joy for so long that you take it for granted. Either way, it would be understandable to no longer see the big picture in terms of the natural peaks and valleys of human emotions. Grounding exercises can help to bring us back to the balanced present moment with a greater sense of calm and ease.

The Mindfulness Skill of Grounding

Learning to use the skill of grounding to calm yourself is an incredibly useful way to regain a sense of emotional balance, or equilibrium. It means employing an attitude of mindfulness, as you intentionally shift your focus from the internal towards the external. By looking outside of ourselves during times of emotional intensity, we can begin to regain a sense of calm and centeredness. By becoming grounded in the present moment, we are also less likely to act impulsively on our emotions, and instead act mindfully from the integration of emotion with reason… wise mind.

Mental Grounding:

  • Describe your external environment in detail (e.g., “The walls are blue. There is a brown wooden table with four chairs”)
  • Mentally categorize items in your mind (e.g., colors, songs, books, movies)
  • Describe an everyday activity or task in detail (e.g., “When I get ready for bed, first I turn on the water to take a bath”)

Physical Grounding:

  • Splash cool water on your face to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS)
  • Press your feet solidly into the floor and notice the physical pressure
  • Carry a small grounding object in your pocket that you can touch whenever you feel emotionally off-balance or triggered

Emotional Grounding:

  • Practice self-compassion and self-forgiveness by repeating a soothing statement in your mind or out loud
  • Speak kindly to yourself as if you were talking to a small child who was feeling distressed
  • Picture people you care about and imagine them offering you love, compassion, and support

Consider what aspects of grounding may be particularly useful to you, given your own set of circumstances, experiences, and tendencies. You know yourself best. By beginning to pay attention to times when you feel off-balance, you can gradually learn to become more attuned to the times when practicing a grounding exercise would be especially helpful.

Najavits, L.M. (2019). Finding your best self: Recovery from addiction, trauma, or both. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Featured image: Balance by Richard Petrosino / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.

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