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Grounding Techniques and THE FLATSHARE by Beth O'Leary

Grounding techniques help refocus your brain to the present moment when you’re faced with overwhelming or distressing feelings. These skills can be used at any time, but they are particularly helpful during anxiety, flashbacks, panic attacks and dissociation.

Cover of the book The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary, used as a teaching example for grounding techniques

All grounding techniques serve a similar purpose – redirecting your thoughts from distress to the present moment. There are three types of grounding techniques

  • Physical: Uses your five senses or objects

  • Mental: Uses mental distractions distraction

  • Soothing: Uses comfort or other positive feelings

Examples of Physical Grounding Techniques:

Hold Ice: Pay attention to how the ice feels in your hand. Notice how the sensations change as the ice melts.

Energy Burst: Set a timer for 1 minute. During that time, do a burst of movement (i.e., jumping jacks, marching in place, jumping rope). Notice how your body feels as it moves through the air and touches the ground. Listen to the sounds as your body interacts with the surrounding environment.

5-4-3-2-1 Method: Ground yourself in the details of your immediate environment. List 5 things you can hear, 4 things you can see, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. **In my practice, I suggest noticing 5 of each category because people sometimes say remembering the order is stressful.

Mental Grounding

List in Categories: List as many things as possible within a given category. If that’s too easy to provide a healthy distraction, increase the difficulty by making the following word start with the last letter of the previous word. For example, if the category states, you could list Missouri, Idaho, Ohio, Oklahoma, Arizona, Arkansas, etc.

Use Math: Pick a number and think of five different ways you could make the number (for example, if the number is 30, you could say 23+7, 38-8, 15x2, 6x5, and 90/3.

Describe a Task: Choose an activity you do frequently and describe it step-by-step, as if teaching it to someone else. For example, if the task was setting the table, walking to the silverware drawer, opening it, taking out forks, knives, and spoons, bringing it to the table, folding napkins, etc.

Soothing Grounding

List Favorites: List three favorite things in at least three different categories. For example, Foods (ice cream, strawberries, and bagels), activities (reading, talking with friends, hiking), etc.

Listen to Music: Pick songs that will help you feel settled and grounded, and try to focus on the lyrics and instruments.

Visualize A Loving Face: Pick someone you love and try to picture them in detail. Once you can see the person, visualize them saying (in their way) that everything will be okay.

Teaching Example: THE FLATSHARE by Beth O'Leary

Until recently, Tiffy was in an emotionally abusive relationship. She’s trying to rebuild her ability to trust others and create a healthier life for herself. But, as Tiffy separates from the relationship, she experiences detailed flashbacks and moments of panic.

Applying the Skills

When Tiffy feels flooded and overwhelmed, she could apply grounding skills.

First, Tiffy might try physical grounding with the 5-4-3-2-1 Method. Sitting in the flat, she could: (1) hear the buzz of the fridge, strangers talking outside, rain, a neighbor exercising, and her phone vibrating with a text; (2) see Leon’s scarves, crafting books, a beanbag chair and laundry drying; (3) touch her soft comforter, the pillows of the couch and the hard countertop; (4) smell mushroom stroganoff and assorted candles; and (5) taste freshly baked cookies.

Next, Tiffy could try mental grounding by listing categories, like types of crafting activities and baked things. Finally, Tiffy could visualize her calming friend Mo and the quiet way he tells her that she can get through everything or her funny friend Rachel and her fierce loyalty.


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