8 Grounding Techniques for PTSD

8 Grounding Techniques for PTSD

Grounding is a helpful technique for those experiencing flashbacks and finding themselves losing touch with the present moment. Not only is it terrifying to have this symptom of PTSD but can also be scary for family and friends. Grounding techniques teach victims to stop losing touch with the present moment by focusing and concentrating on the present.

Flashbacks are one of the ways our brain works to process trauma so the experience can be laid out as a past memory. By allowing flashbacks to happen, we can help this process. We can cope with these flashbacks by getting our heads out of the trauma (past) and into safety (the present), by using grounding exercises.  

Grounding techniques for PTSD

What are Grounding Techniques?

Grounding techniques are a set of simple exercises that can help you focus on the present moment and to detach from painful emotions. So it can help people to return to the here and now which is important and helpful especially when someone is experiencing intense or overwhelming emotions such as stress, anxiety, or even trauma. Grounding exercises are often used with post-traumatic stress disorder in order to help the individual come back to the present moment and not focus on the trauma. The exercise allows you to be in the moment, to calm down, and to regain control over your feelings.

What are Grounding Techniques in Psychotherapy?

Often, those who have experienced trauma find it hard to stay in the present moment. Grounding techniques in psychotherapy can be cognitive or perceptual/sensory and are a vital treatment method for trauma therapists. Cognitive grounding techniques allow a victim to reassure themselves they are safe now while sensory/perceptual techniques use the power of the senses to ground an individual’s attention in the present moment.

What is Sensory Grounding?

Sensory grounding involves filling one’s awareness with the sensory experience. It could be noticing details, noticing your surroundings, looking around the room, or keeping your eyes open.

How Could You Use CBT to Treat PTSD?

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on the relationship among behaviors, feelings, and thoughts, and notes how any changes in one domain can improve the functioning in another domain. Some techniques used by therapists when employing CBT to treat PTSD patients include: 

  • Altering cognitive distortions (such as having negative expectations or overgeneralizing bad situations) and developing a more beneficial and balanced way of thinking.
  • Also, therapists expose patients to reminders of the trauma to enable them to confront their distress.
  • Educating patients on how to plan for a potential crisis, common trauma reactions, and teaching them to promote relaxation and manage stress.

These techniques are meant to help the patient gain an objective understanding of their traumatic experience, return their sense of self-confidence and control, and reduce avoidance behaviors and improve their ability to cope.

8 Grounding Techniques for PTSD

  1. Square Breathing

This grounding technique is called square breathing. Square breathing can be helpful for a couple of reasons: one because our breath is connected to both the part of our nervous system that we can control and the part of our nervous system that is automatic, so it helps us access that calming part of our brain through the back door. The other thing about square breathing is if you practice it with varying lengths of breaths, then you can practice putting yourself into a slightly anxiety-provoking situation, which is being out of breath.

But you’re doing it intentionally in such a way that something that would normally be anxiety-provoking or uncomfortable becomes something that you can handle with willingness. So you are basically converting something that might have been stressful into something that is very comfortable and that trains your brain to believe that you can convert something that’s stressful into something that’s beneficial for you.

So with square breathing, you imagine yourself breathing along a square so you imagine yourself starting at the top right corner of the square and you imagine yourself breathing in for four seconds and then you imagine yourself holding that breath for four seconds and then you imagine yourself breathing out. So exhaling for four seconds and then holding that air out for four seconds and you’re back to the top of the square and you repeat that four times. 

2. Gaining Focus

This is a very simple grounding technique. First, find a comfortable place to sit down. Relax your body and slow your breathing. Note how you’re feeling, this means noting all the sensations in your body and noting everything around you. Be sure to uncross your legs and put your feet flat on the floor. Find a good place for your hands and arms to rest. Ideally, you can take off your shoes so you get that sensory experience from your feet being directly on the floor and note how your feet feel on the floor. Notice how your body feels resting against a surface.

Take a deep breath and allow your shoulders to drop and relax. Continue to focus on your breath and allow your body to relax while keeping your mind in the present moment. You can visualize energy that’s pulling your body and your feet deeper toward the ground. Let your body feel heavy and grounded. You can scan the room and notice your surroundings. You’ll take note of things you see in the room - colors, material, and anything in the room. Notice how the room feels for you - the air and the temperature.

Continue to breathe, focusing on your breath. Now take this moment to be very present in the moment. You can begin to gently move around as you finish this exercise. This very simple grounding technique can be done at any time, any place, and for however long you find helpful. This is about gaining focus on yourself, your surroundings, and your experience in order to better contain your emotional state. To get some of the benefits of grounding throughout the day have a look at grounding shoes.

3. Use Numbers and Maths

Even if you are not a math person, numbers can be helpful for relieving post-traumatic traumas. You can try running through a multiplication table in your head or counting from 100 backward. You can also choose a number and think of 5 ways you can make the number. For instance, 7 + 12 = 19, 21 – 2 = 19, 9 x 2 + 1 = 19, etc.)

4. Creating a Safe Place

This grounding technique can be helpful for anyone who has experienced trauma or flashbacks. So start this activity with your feet on the ground. Try to get yourself into a comfortable position. Get in touch with your body and quickly scan your body for any areas of tension. If you feel an area that’s especially tense, you can try to relax that area. So as you scan your body, feel your head, your neck, and your shoulders, your chest, and your stomach. Check each of these areas for tension, feel your arms and your hands. Check your pelvis and your thighs and your hamstrings for tension.

Scan down your legs into your feet and then bring that scan back up right to your heart. Feel yourself, breathe, imagine that air coming in as bringing a relaxing and a warm sensation into your body. Choose whether you want to keep your eyes open or closed in this activity.

Now think of a time and a place where you were feeling confident, safe and calm. It may be outdoors, it might be at home, or it might even be an imaginary place. What matters is that you bring this place to your mind in as much detail as possible? So when you have decided on your safe place, go ahead and imagine this place. Imagine that you are there. What do you see around you? Describe the little details in your mind, take time to absorb what it looks like, what does it sound like, what do you hear when you’re in your safe place, what does it smell like, what else do you notice while you’re there?

Just thinking about it will help you feel more calm and confident. Remain in your safe space for five more seconds. Then prepare yourself to re-enter the room that you are in at the present moment. Open your eyes, stretch yourself, do whatever you need to get re-centered in this present moment. Now remember you can take your safe space with you, you carry it in your mind and bringing it to the front of your mind can help you feel safe and confident and trigger that calming physiological response.

We create imaginary danger by remembering dangerous things that have happened to us and we can counteract that imaginary danger by bringing to mind memories, thoughts, and visions of safety. So practice this activity frequently to create those neural pathways in your brain that safety exists, and it’s a real thing in the present moment. By bringing to mind our safe place we create actual safety in our present moment, which is actually safe. 

5. Move Your Body

Do a few stretches or exercises. You can try jogging in place, jumping rope, jumping up and down, jumping jacks, or stretching your muscle groups. Be aware of how your body feels as you perform these exercises and when your feet or hands move through the air or touch the floor. 

6. The Quick Coherence Technique 

This technique is pretty easy, and it’s just three steps.

Step one is called heart focus. So start by bringing your attention down to the area of the heart right in the center of the chest. Sometimes it helps to imagine that you’re going down an elevator from your head down to your heart. So just bring your attention to the center of your chest right above the sternum and focus on the heart.

Now we’ll move on to step number two which is called heart-focused breathing. So while maintaining your attention in this area of the heart, pretend like the air is flowing in and out through the center of your chest. Imagine air flowing in straight into the heart and as you exhale, the air is flowing out straight out of the heart. Just do that for a few breaths.

And now we’ll move on to step number three which is called heart feeling. So while maintaining your attention on the area of the heart and continuing to imagine the air flowing in and out through the heart, try to evoke a positive heartfelt emotion. You can think of a time when you felt good inside, maybe think of a beloved pet, think of a memory that you are really fond of, or think of a place you’ve been where you felt really good. If you can’t think of anything in particular, just try to have an attitude of gratitude. Try to feel some compassion for others all the while maintaining your attention on the area of the heart and imagining the air flowing in and out straight through the heart.

7. Play a Memory Game

This technique involves looking at a detailed picture or photograph (like a busy scene or cityscape) for five to ten seconds. Then, turn the picture facedown, so you can recreate the picture in your mind. Or you can list everything you remember from the photograph mentally.

8. Recite Something

Think of a book passage, song, or poem you know by heart. Try reciting it in your head or quietly to yourself. If you are saying the words in your head, try visualizing the words as you would see it on a page. If you are saying the words aloud, try focusing on the shape of the words in your mouth and on your lips.