The Grounding Technique for Dealing With Trauma

There are moments when your mind, trapped by painful memories, needs to connect with the present, with the here and now. There are some really effective techniques with which you can regain control and feel calmer. In this article, we mention some particularly useful examples.
The Grounding Technique for Dealing With Trauma
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 07 February, 2023

The human mind is like a ball that’s constantly bouncing from one place to another. In fact, it never stops. Moreover, it particularly likes to bounce up against the window of your past, especially when it’s a painful one. It’s then when the pain, flashbacks, and suffering paralyze you. Indeed, there are few experiences more complicated than continually evoking the anguish of yesterday.

People who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder are all too aware of this fact. That’s because traumas are like wounds that haven’t healed and to which the mind often boomerangs back and forth. Although it’s true that there are some extremely effective therapeutic approaches for addressing this type of condition, there are also some useful daily strategies.

Mindfulness provides certain resources that are really valid tools for calming internal disturbances and focusing the mind on the here and now. It’s a space where the past has no place and the future hasn’t yet happened. It’s a sunnier place, where you have a greater sense of control over yourself.

“Always work with the present moment, not against it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously transform your whole life.” 

-Eckhart Tolle-

woman thinking about learning the technique of Grounding
The technique of grounding makes it easier to control flashbacks and even moments of dissociation in people suffering from trauma.

The grounding technique

The grounding technique is a coping strategy that aims to allow you to ground or anchor yourself and focus on the present moment. It’s an approach based on mindfulness. It permits you to reduce obsessive or anxious thoughts and the pain of traumatic memories. In fact, it can even prevent the appearance of a panic attack.

This therapeutic concept was first developed by Alexander Lowen, the renowned body therapist. His intention was to develop a physical technique to calm the mind and achieve emotional harmony. Today, his resource is widely accepted and seen as a reliable tool.

An investigation conducted by the University of Haifa (Israel) states that grounding is a simple, valid, and effective strategy for people who are going through periods of great anxiety or who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

How grounding works

One way to calm your mind is by activating your senses. It’s like leaving your interior to caress your exterior through touch, hearing, sight, and smell. In fact, being in the here and now means embracing what surrounds you and escaping the mental jail of suffering.

The grounding technique works through bodily and sensory activation. Its goal is for you to experience pleasant sensations that make you feel alive, relaxed, and connected with significant stimuli to calm your mind.

How it can help with trauma

Trauma survivors live with a wide range of symptoms associated with their adverse experiences. Their neurological impact is immense. It’s also common for sufferers to experience flashbacks accompanied by uncomfortable sensations. For example, they might suffer paralyzing fear, panic attacks, and even dissociation experiences (the mind disconnects from the present moment).

The ways in which grounding techniques can help are both varied and interesting.

  • They allow the sufferer to block ideas loaded with negativity and catastrophizing.
  • They’re effective in blocking self- harm oriented thoughts.
  • They divert the sufferer’s attention from their traumatic memories.
  • They reduce the intensity of anxiety that threatens to overwhelm them.
  • They’re useful if the sufferer feels overwhelmed and as if their world has collapsed.
  • They divert their attention if they come into contact with a trigger for anxiety or traumatic memories.

To carry out grounding when you’re gripped by anxiety or painful memories, you should devise exercises that stimulate your senses. They distract your mind back to the present moment.

woman in the field applying the Grounding technique
The grounding technique reduces the symptoms associated with trauma. However, it’s not a substitute for psychological therapy.

Grounding techniques to reduce emotional suffering

As we mentioned earlier, the grounding technique requires you to develop activities that activate your senses. Therefore, you could either carry out activities that you enjoy or those that define this therapeutic approach. In any case, the objective is always the same: to focus your mind on the present through your five senses.

Here are some examples:

1. Vision: a window to the beauty of the world

Vision is your window to the world and a way of appreciating it, something you often forget. So, don’t hesitate in practicing any of these activities:

  • Stroll through a natural setting. For example, a forest, or a beach.
  • Watch movies or series that make you happy or stimulate you.
  • Read. Escape from your thoughts by taking your mind to other literary worlds.
  • Visit museums. Allow yourself to be stimulated by the immense world of art.
  • Watch the people you love or your pets. They make you happy.

2. Listening: stimulation for the brain

One way of putting your feet on the ground and avoiding painful memories is to listen to something uplifting. Today, there are many interesting podcasts available to entertain and teach you. You can also:

  • Listen to the sounds of nature.
  • Talk to a loved one, a friend, a family member, or your partner.
  • Read or recite a poem out loud. Or, if you prefer, sing.

3. Smell: a caress for the brain

Have you ever tried an essential oil diffuser? Find your favorite scent and let yourself be enveloped by the world of fragrance. Or, light a scented candle. Mint and lavender are powerful and stimulating scents that help you focus on the present.

4. Taste: the most intense pleasure

Some flavors place you in the here and now and provide you with a tremendous rush of endorphins. Have a coffee, a relaxing infusion, or even a piece of chocolate cake. However, if you want to instantly escape painful memories, be daring and bite into a lemon.

5. Touch: the world in your hands

What can be more powerful than a hug to help you hold on to what really matters? So, don’t hesitate in hugging your loved ones or embracing your pets. 

Also, try massaging your temples, or take an ice cube and rub it over your skin. Touch stimulating textures. Indeed, there are many ways to focus on your sense of touch that’ll cause you to shiver with pleasure.

One final point. The grounding technique can’t replace psychological therapy. It’s a complementary tool for daily use. Therefore, if you’re suffering from the weight of a painful memory, a situation of stress, or persistent anxiety, don’t hesitate to seek professional help.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Bräuninger, I. (2014a). Dance movement therapy with the elderly: an international Internet-based survey undertaken with practitioners. Body Mov. Dance Psychother. 9, 138–153. doi: 10.1080/17432979.2014.914977
  • Figueras, T. (2013). Grounding: concepto y usos en danza movimiento terapia (DMT)
  • Shuper Engelhard E, Pitluk M, Elboim-Gabyzon M. Grounding the Connection Between Psyche and Soma: Creating a Reliable Observation Tool for Grounding Assessment in an Adult Population. Front Psychol. 2021 Mar 8;12:621958. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.621958. PMID: 33762998; PMCID: PMC7982724.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.