Survivors of gender- and power-based violence often experience hyper-arousal, which can manifest as anxiety, disassociation, high irritability, difficulty concentrating, or feeling constantly on guard. Grounding techniques are helpful in reconnecting survivors back to their bodies when they experience distress or panic.  

What are grounding techniques?  

Grounding techniques involve doing activities that "ground" you or reconnect you to the earth. It guides attention away from destabilizing thoughts to present moment safety. 

Physical Grounding Techniques 

These techniques use your five senses or tangible objects — things you can touch — to help you move through distress. 

  • Breathwork 
    • Try “box” breathing: breathe in for 4 counts, pause for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts, pause for 4 counts, then repeat! 
  • Repetitive movements engaging your left and right side 
    • Lift your left middle finger, then your right middle finger. Lower your left middle finger, lower your right middle finger. Repeat with the rest of your fingers.  
  • Stretching 
    • Reach your arms above your head. With your right arm, grab your left wrist and side bend towards the right. Feel the sensation from your left hip all the way to your left fingertips. Repeat on the other side. 
  • Textile touching 
    • If it feels comfortable, close your eyes. Start to feel the textiles around you - focus on your sensations. Do they feel soft or hard? Cold or warm? Is your touch soft? If not, can you make it soft? Does it feel different if you rub in circles? What about if you press into it? Does it feel different if you press your whole hand into it? What does it feel like then? 
  • Other  
    • Try putting your hands under cold water.  
    • Pop bubble wrap.  
    • Light a scented candle. Lavender, linen, peppermint, or rain are known to be scents that soothe the mind. 
    • Listen to some nature sounds such as the ocean or rainforest 

Mental Grounding Techniques 

These grounding exercises use mental distractions to help redirect your thoughts away from distressing feelings and back to the present. 

  • Visualization  
    • Imagine your favorite place in nature to go. You are sitting there peacefully, with your eyes closed. Bring attention to the sensations you imagine you are feeling – what do you hear? See? Smell? Feel?  
  • The 54321 activity 
    • Observing the room around you, list 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can feel, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste 
  • Number games 
    • Go through your times tables (3 x 2 is…, 3 x 3 is…, etc) 
    • Say the alphabet backwards 
    • Do some challenging sums (19 x 21 = …) 
  • Item listing  
    • Set aside 2-4 minutes  
    • Select a category - Something you are fond of, or have an easy time listing off  
    • Find a piece of paper or pen, or you can imagine yourself writing in your head 
    • Start to name off all of the items you can think of for that specific category, until time runs out 
  • Day walkthrough 
    • In your head or on a piece of paper, walk through your whole day until the present moment. (I.e. I woke up, got out of bed, brushed my teeth, made breakfast, called my parents, etc.)  
  • Call a loved one  
    • Call someone you trust and ask to talk about something unrelated to the stress you are experiencing in that moment 

Tips for Grounding 

  • Find the right grounding techniques that work for YOU! 
  • Know multiple grounding techniques to have in your toolbox: what works best in one situation may not work best in another  
  • Avoid becoming too acclimated to just one grounding technique 
  • Practice consistently! 
  • Modify as needed  
  • Work with a professional if you are having difficulty finding techniques tailored to your situation 

For more information, check out the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual & Domestic Violence’s Grounding Toolkit!  

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