Grounding techniques for depression (A brief guide)

In this guide, we will discuss what grounding techniques for depression are, what grounding means, and some helpful tips. 

Grounding techniques for depression

There are several grounding techniques for depression, but all of them may not be effective in every case, you need to find the one that fits.

However, before we start naming and listing the techniques, it is important to understand where the concept “grounding” comes from and what it means.

This concept was developed by Alexander Lowen and it is based on the interaction of the body and mind.

The term grounding is related to the word “ground” which is literally defined by the Oxford Dictionaries as “the solid surface of the earth”.

Following this concept, Lowen proposes that we are “physically, emotionally and energetically grounded to the earth” where all energy seems to find a way back into the earth. 

It makes sense then, that the expression “has his/her feet on the ground” would refer in this case to being balanced, psychologically and emotionally mature to be “in touch with reality”.

Subsequently, Lowen considers that “the practice of grounding…starts with the work of feet and legs that foster support, balance and rooting to the earth” (De Tord & Bräuninger, 2015).

Grounding techniques guidelines

According to Rigoni from Mhanational.org, here are some guidelines:

  • Grounding can be done at any time, any place, anywhere and no one has to know.
  • Use grounding when you are faced with a trigger, enraged, dissociating, having a craving, or whenever your emotional pain goes above 6 (on a 0-10 scale). 
  • Keep your eyes open, scan the room and turn the light on to stay in touch with the present.
  • Rate your mood before and after grounding, to test whether it worked. Before grounding, rate your level of emotional pain from 0 to 10. Then re-rate it afterward. Has it gone down?
  • No talking about negative feelings or journal writing-you want to distract away from negative feelings, not get in touch with them. 

Grounding theory and mindfulness

Mindfulness is a term that has been gaining popularity recently and just as the term grounding, it describes how important it is the “act of being present in the here and now”.

Jennifer Dellasanta from The transition house explains how “Mindfulness practices include meditation and yoga, but can also include coping methods such as identifying your feelings, acknowledging your emotions without judgment, and, generally speaking, practising kindness for yourself and how you feel.”

But How can grounding techniques or mindfulness help with depression?

Well, one of the symptoms of depression is rumination or thinking constantly about our past or future, where it is easy to become fixated over a thought or feeling increasing our depression.

This is when mindfulness and grounding techniques become very useful.

Grounding techniques for depression (examples) 

Grounding techniques or exercises are simple things you can implement to bring yourself into contact with your present time or “the here and now”.

They are considered very useful strategies you can adapt where there is no “right or wrong” way to ground yourself, you need to find those that actually benefit you and work for you.

The exercises are considered helpful for many situations where we find ourselves too overwhelmed by distressing events or memories that we know we can’t change or just simply when we feel about to give up. 

Depression can go away on its own, but if you see that this techniques are not working you must see a mental health professional.

Let us think about the following, you are just managing to go through your day, all filled up with thoughts when a specific intrusive memory about something traumatic that happened to you comes to mind.

You start experiencing a very intense anxiety attack, the vicious cycle of anxiety begins and then you go back to baseline.  

Then, you feel lost, not really knowing what to do about it until you remember about the grounding techniques.

As Pam Davis suggests, “grounding techniques, like the ones below, will give you a healthy way to deal with anxiety, depression, PTSD, or any other negative symptom that is distracting you from living to your full capacity.

You’ll be able to break the anxiety cycle.”

  1. Breathing technique

It sounds very simple in theory, but not in reality. However, you do not need any equipment or gadget to use this incredibly effective technique, as long as you practice.

Before you start practicing, find a comfortable place where you can sit down, feet touching the floor and keep your back straight. 

Now you are ready to inhale through your nose for 3 to 4 counts, hold the air inside your lungs for 2 counts and then exhale through your nose for another 3 to 4 counts.

You will probably feel a bit dizzy while doing this but it is completely normal since we are not used to breathing like this.

For depression, it is recommended to do longer inhales and shorter exhales.

  1. Mindfulness

As we have discussed, you can benefit from mindfulness since it can allow you to stay grounded in the present moment.

In addition, it can help you learn how to regulate your emotions. Depression will make you live in the past or the future and mindfulness can help to bring you back to the present.

Here is one way to practice mindfulness according to Pam Davis:

  • Notice your surroundings.
  • Go through all of your senses, focusing on each one for as long as you can.
  • Don’t forget to breathe.  
  1. Mental grounding

This type of technique involves describing your scenery in detail, using all your senses.

For instance, you say “The walls are white, there is a black coffee table, there are two blue sofas, there is a painting hanging on the wall about…”

The idea is to be as detailed as possible with the objects, sounds, textures, colors, smells, shaped, etc. 

In addition, you could also try to play a “categories” game with yourself. For instance, think of brands of cars, fruits, animals that live under water, etc. 

  1. Creating a grounding statement

You can also try using and saying a safety statement such as “My name is….; I feel safe right now. I am living in the present and not in the past.” Let’s dive deeper into it.

When we are in the middle of having those repetitive thoughts, we find ourselves going back to moments that have a very powerful emotional component or traumatic experience.

By using a grounding statement, you can bring yourself to the present moment. 

When writing a grounding statement, remember to consider the following according to The Transition House :

  • The place you are in, the date and the time.
  • Tell yourself you are safe in that present moment.
  • What is the difference between now and the past?
  • End your grounding statement with words of affirmation. 
  1. The 5-4-3-2-1 method

This method engages your senses to list things you are able to perceive or notice around you.

For instance, you may start by listing five things you can hear, then four you see, three you can touch, two you can smell, and one you can taste.

This will force yourself to notice all the details that you will not pay attention to consciously. 

  1. Sit with your pet

Yes, many people don’t actually know or are not fully aware but having a pet can also be considered a grounding technique.

Just spending a few moments sitting with them, petting them, focusing on the texture of their fur or hair.

If you happen to have a small dog, you can try holding it, concentrating on how they actually feel in your hand(s). 

Subsequently, you can notice how therapeutic and relaxing it can be. 

Why is this blog about grounding techniques for depression important?

Grounding techniques for depression are very helpful, as we have discussed, to bring you back to the present moment and pull you away from persistent or intrusive thoughts, traumatic memories, and painful emotions.

They have the ability to distract you from what you are thinking and feeling and refocus your attention on what is happening now. 

There are plenty of examples and techniques, even though we mentioned just a few, but remember to find those that you feel do work and practice them whenever possible.

They are not only useful for depression but also anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociation, self-harm urges, traumatic memories, substance use disorder, to name a few.

Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!

Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about grounding techniques for depression

What are grounding techniques?

Grounding techniques as the word “grounding” makes reference to a particular type of coping strategy that is designed to “ground” you in or connect you with the present moment and time.

It has been suggested that grounding is often used as a way of coping with flashbacks or dissociation are characteristics of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

How do you mentally ground yourself?

If you want to mentally ground yourself, using the following grounding exercises may mentally distract you from distressing thoughts and feelings bringing you back to the present moment according to health line:

– Play a memory game

– Think in categories

– Use maths and numbers

– Recite a poem or the lyric of a song

– Make yourself laugh with a funny anecdote you remember

– Use an anchoring phrase

– Visualize yourself doing a daily task you enjoy

What are grounding techniques for anxiety?

Grounding techniques for anxiety are intended to help you cope and manage your anxiety.

You could start by sitting down comfortably where your feet reach the floor.

Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Start breathing slowly for the count of three, then out slowly. 

This will bring your mind some clarity and will let you focus on your body.

What is the 54321 method?

The 54321 method or game is a grounding exercise that brings sensory awareness and can help you relax or get through difficult moments.

Attempt to use this technique in different contexts and situations and if you have insomnia, anxiety, cravings when trying to quit smoking or just because you are feeling tense, you may find it very useful.

What is the 333 rule for anxiety?

The 333 rule for anxiety consists of looking around and name three things you can see.

Then, name three of the sounds you can hear and finally, move three parts of your body such as your ankle, arm, and fingers.

Whenever you feel anxiety rushing in and overwhelming you, this method will bring you back to the present moment.

Recommended reading

  • Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions
  • Hardcore Self Help: F**k Depression
  • Overcoming Depression and Low Mood: A Five Areas Approach
  • The Depression Cure: The Six-Step Programme to Beat Depression Without Drugs
  • Depression: The Way Out of Your Prison 

What we recommend for depression

Professional counselling

If you are suffering from depression then ongoing professional counselling may be your ideal first point of call. Counselling will utilize theories such as Cognitive behavioural therapy which will help you live a more fulfilling life.

References

De Tord, P. & Bräuninger, I. (2015) Grounding: Theoretical application and practice in dance movement therapy. Science Direct, The Arts in Psychothreapy, p. 16-22.

Dellasanta, J. (2017, Jun.) 3 mindfulness exercises for depression and anxiety. Retrieved from Thetransitionhouse.org.

Davis, P. (n.d.) 4 Grounding Techniques to Combat Anxiety and Depression Caused by Trauma. Retrieved from youniquefoundation.org. 

Rigoni, M. (n.d.) Grounding Techniques Explained. Retrieved from mhanational.org.

Raypole, C. (2019, May.) 30 Grounding Techniques to Quiet Distressing Thoughts. Retrieved from Healthline.com. 

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