Grounded, ungrounded. To be present, or to be untethered.
For many of us, the world feels increasingly large, frightening, and impossibly difficult, forcing us to shrink into personal bubbles to protect ourselves from the madness going on outside.
And this feeling of being unhooked or drifting around without meaning or purpose?
This is known as being ungrounded, and it can be a devastating reality for those who live with it for years, if not decades.
The good news?
There are many grounding techniques that we can learn to help us focus on our bodies and surroundings, and most importantly, on the present moment.
The main focus of the grounding exercises I’ll cover in this guide will be to:
– Calm your emotions
– Clear your mind
– Stop overthinking
– Live in the present moment without judgment
Grounding exercises may be particularly helpful to anyone who feels stressed, anxious, or who constantly mind wander.
I’ve been practicing grounding techniques for over 5 years now, and they’ve helped me a great deal with anxiety and panic attacks. (You can read more about my story here)
I have a huge amount of experience trialing many grounding techniques and in this guide, I’m going to go through all the ones that have worked for me.
I hope they can do the same for you.
[Before I start, I want to let you know about my new eBook The No-Nonsense Guide to Buddhism and Eastern Philosophy. This is Hack Spirit’s #1 selling book and is a highly practical, down-to-earth introduction to essential Buddhist teachings. No confusing jargon. No fancy chanting. No strange lifestyle changes. Just an easy-to-follow guide for improving your health and happiness through eastern philosophy. Check it out here].
What Does it Mean to be Grounded or Ungrounded?
If you asked for one word to explain the struggle between being grounded and being ungrounded, it would be presence.
Being grounded means being present in all three aspects: physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Physical: You give authority to all of your physical sensations – taste, smell, sight, hearing, and touch.
Mental: You allow your mind the space and the time to properly dissect every new thought, question, and idea you encounter.
Spiritual: You allow yourself to feel all your emotions, and give yourself the freedom to dissect and reshape your beliefs.
To be grounded means living inside of yourself, from your head to your fingers to your gut to your heart, and experiencing your world actively, through present sensations rather than memories and fillers.
To be grounded is to feel the world around you as it happens.
To be ungrounded is to be untethered, as if you are renting a temporary space in your mind and body instead of owning it.
It is the feeling of living as if your life is a stream that you are passively watching, rather than living with intent and activity.
Ideally, we all start in a state of “groundedness”.
As children, our levels of attachment and connection with the world around us are at their peak – we experience every laugh, fight, taste, smell, and thought to its absolute.
It can be easy to confuse groundedness with intensity, but being grounded doesn’t mean being outwardly and obviously intense; it means stretching every moment and sensation out as far as it can go before moving onto the next.
Even the quietest and shy people can be (and usually are) the most grounded ones out there.
Becoming Ungrounded: How?
However, some of us slowly lose our groundedness, becoming ungrounded over time. And we can attribute this to the defense mechanism of dissociation.
We train ourselves to live outside of our realities, to mentally dissociate from our anxieties, problems, and fears.
It is a form of escapism, further exacerbated by a world that allows you endless distractions and avenues to escape and run away from the real world.
It is fear that leads to ungroundedness, and only through the bravery to admit it and work against it can you return to a grounded state.
Do You Need Grounding Techniques?
The most important question you have to ask yourself is, will grounding techniques work for you?
When first approached with this idea, many are reluctant to admit that they can benefit from grounding.
I’ll admit that I was firmly in that camp. I believed that grounding techniques were only for the spiritual types, and they surely wouldn’t work for anyone experiencing serious issues.
But the truth is, grounding can help all of us.
You don’t need to have an officially-diagnosed mental breakdown or condition to find relief in certain grounding methods.
As discussed above, there are many parts of the modern lifestyle that have made it difficult for people to live in a pure, unburdened, grounded manner.
Some would say that we all experience thoughts, ideas, and feelings related to being ungrounded at some point in our lifetime, and whether you find your way back on your feet or not is a matter of how much you realize that you are experiencing your reality through an ungrounded filter.
Signs That You Are Ungrounded
It can be difficult to realize when you are in a state of ungroundedness.
It’s like the analogy of a frog and a pot of boiling water: if you toss a frog in a pot of boiling water, they will notice right away and try to jump out.
But if you place a frog in a pot of room-temperature water and then slowly boil the water with the frog inside, they won’t notice the change until it’s too late and their whole body has become boiled.
Becoming ungrounded is usually a similar experience.
The differences in how we perceive and interact with the world around us are so subtly shifted, piece by piece, that we become adjusted to our ungrounded thoughts slowly over time, until they start to feel normal.
For some people who have been trapped in long-term ungroundedness, they only realize their condition when they experience something big or revelatory.
This is when we usually say that someone has “hit rock bottom”.
So what are some subtle signs that you might be ungrounded?
1) Stepping on things: Most of the time, we have a good subconscious sense of the little things on the floor, whether it’s a piece of clothing or a Lego. But lately you might have experienced an inability to notice things on the floor or change in elevation, such as small steps, and you end up stepping or tripping over things several times per day.
2) Extra sensitivity to cold: You are having trouble withstanding lower temperatures that you wouldn’t even notice in the past. You find yourself needing jackets or blankets more often than before due to the cold, particularly in your extremities (fingers and toes)
3) Clumsiness: You have become incredibly clumsy. You walk into doors and walls, you bump your elbows on cabinets and drawers, you knock over items and drop things without realizing it, and your coordination has become unreliable.
1) Spacing out: Hours can go by like minutes, days can go by like hours. You have recently looked at the calendar and stared in disbelief at the date, wondering: where did all those days go?
The days are starting to blend together, with no discernable or recognizable events separating them.
2) You can’t follow conversations: You seem to have lost the ability to prepare to communicate, as both the speaker and the receiver.
You find that people often don’t seem to understand what you are saying, even if you think you are explaining your mind perfectly; they claim that your sentences don’t make sense or your ideas don’t link together.
And you have trouble understanding the true thoughts and emotions of other people, and consequently, don’t know how to participate as expected in a conversation.
3) You get distracted from bigger plans or goals: You can’t seem to focus on a single objective, whether it’s a school or work project or even just a movie.
Other thoughts, worries, and anxieties pop up in your mind, making it impossible to concentrate, even though you can’t do anything about your other issues at the moment.
Spiritual or Emotional Signs
1) Extra sensitivity to interactions: You feel agitated being around people, and you can’t stand the thought of spending more time than necessary interacting even with your closest confidants.
An interaction that would mean nothing to you a few months ago can now make you shut down for the rest of the day, in tears or anxiety.
2) Heightened fear: You are more afraid than you have ever been before. Scary movies are unbearable to you now, and maybe even turning off the lights in your room at night is too much to handle. You are also more aware of your own mortality and have become afraid of activities that might hurt or injure you.
3) Excessive daydreaming: On top of spacing out, you also find yourself constantly entering other worlds and realities in your mind.
You have lost hours or entire days just staring at a blank screen, window, or wall, passively dreaming up the unreal.
You can spend so much time doing this because you no longer care so much about your real-world goals and desires.
The good thing is that being untethered isn’t a permanent state of being. In fact, internalizing your ungroundedness is the first step to reclaiming control.
It’s a signal for your brain, body, and soul that you’re ready to pay attention again, to experience things in their purest form, without taking them for granted.
In the following sections, I am going to break down tried-and-tested grounding techniques that you (or your loved ones) could follow.
Because “groundedness” is a tri-faceted condition, I’ve included physical, mental, and spiritual techniques that will help you zoom in on the facet you feel is the weakest.
Whether you only have one lacking area or you need a complete recalibration, these techniques can help put things back into focus.
Physical Grounding Techniques
The Goal: The five physical senses are a reminder of the present. Every sensation you experience right now translates into your existence in this very point in time.
It’s an opportunity to engage with your surroundings and pick apart their tangible qualities, and use those to anchor your own state of being.
Picking apart the qualities of a certain object or phenomenon, and registering these through the senses, allows the brain to understand facts for what they are.
As an exercise, it keeps your mind from wandering off outside the present and teaches you to focus on what is right in front of you.
1. Main Technique: Five Senses Meditation
Anxiety can evolve quickly from harmless worry to complete desolation. At one point you’re worrying about your job, the next you’re questioning years’ worth of life’s choices.
This turns into a snowball effect, and before you know it you are feeling insecure about your current path in life.
When left alone, this anxiety can easily translate to frustration towards yourself and others, impacting your quality of life.
The five senses meditation takes your mind off things you can’t control and brings you back to things that you can.
The idea behind five senses medication is to focus on one thing or phenomenon and experience it vividly through the five senses.
Let’s say you’re taking a shower. No doubt it’s a normal part of your day, so much so that you’re on autopilot when you’re doing it.
During the meditation, pay close attention to the water prattling on your skin. Is it warm? Is it cold?
Next, listen to the water droplets fall onto the bathroom floor. Try and distinguish each fall from one another. Lather yourself with shampoo – what does it smell like? Watch as the bubbles form from mere liquid.
Finally, brush your teeth as you have many times before – what does your toothpaste taste like? Are you getting all mint, perhaps some fruit undertones?
Doing this exercise whenever you’re feeling a little untethered will keep you from floating away completely.
By focusing on the here and now, you are training your mind to stay relaxed, calm, and aware.
If you’re looking to learn more techniques like this, then check out my eBook: The No-Nonsense Guide to Using Buddhism for a Better Life.
In this eBook, you’ll find plenty of meditation techniques that allow you to ground yourself, connect with your senses, and calm your mind.
You’ll also learn how to apply Buddhist concepts like non-attachment and mindfulness in your daily life.
Other physical grounding techniques
2. Eat really hot and really cold foods
Dive into the extremes of both senses so you experience extreme heat, cold, and everything in between
3. Go on a walk meditation
Walk for 15 minutes and have complete mind-muscle connection with your legs for every step you take
4. Take deep breaths
A tried-and-tested method designed to make you aware of your breathing, and therefore intentional about it
5. Place your hands in water
Be mindful of the gradual changes in temperature.
6. Hold a piece of ice
How does it feel like? How long does it take to start melting? What does it look like? How does the sensation change when the ice begins to melt?
7. Savor a scent
Do you know of a smell that appeals to you? A cup of tea? A spice? A soap? Inhale the fragrance deeply and slowly and bask in its qualities.
8. Move your body
Moving your body is a great way to get your mind in tune with your senses. Do some exercises or stretches. Try jumping up and down, jumping jacks, or simply jogging in space. Stretching is another great way to feel the sensations in your body. Pay attention to how your body feels with each movement. How does each muscle feel? How does it feel when your hands or feet touch the floor?
9. Listen to your surroundings
Listen to the noises around you. Can you hear the traffic? Birds chirping? Dogs barking? Just listen to the sounds by judging them or labeling them. Take it in fully and let the sounds wash over you.
10. Feel your body
How does your body feel from head to toe? Notice each body part, and try to release the tension. Take your time and fully take in how each body part is feeling.
11. Try the 5-4-3-2-1 method
Working backward from 5, use your senses to list things around you. For example, you could start with 5 things you see, then 4 things you hear, then 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell and one thing you can taste.
Mental Grounding Techniques
The Goal: When your mental state is compromised, you find it harder to focus on even the simplest tasks. Everyday things like driving and cooking can suddenly become confusing.
You find yourself becoming less and less capable of doing your work because of your inability to focus. As a result, you stop being proactive and innovative and assume a state of stagnation.
Mental grounding techniques aim to chip away at these mental blocks in order to release your creativity.
By performing non-demanding mental exercises, you can begin sharpening your mind again without subjecting it into a further state of burnout.
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12. Main Technique: Daily Declarations
It’s easy to be lost in a flurry of responsibilities and obligations.
When the brain reaches a breaking point, it’s becoming more challenging to keep track of what’s happening around you.
Start your day with daily declarations. These are phrases like: “This is my name. I live in this city. I am this year of age. This is what I am doing right now, and this is why I am doing it. I seek to understand my purpose, and ground myself back in my reality.”
These are also known as anchoring phrases, which can further help situate your mind into your present state.
Further details such as the weather, the temperature, what your body is feeling, can help to cement the effectiveness of this technique.
13. Keep a journal
Writing down your thoughts, ideas, and emotions will help you translate your repressed emotions into actionable concepts. Read your thoughts back to yourself the next day, and map out your own mental state.
14. Memorize and recite something
A poem, a passage, a favorite speech from a movie; anything. Accomplish a small memorization and recitation task and speak and feel out every word as it comes from your lips. Spending just 15 minutes training your mind to visualize words that mean something to you is enough to knock yourself back on the ground.
15. Think in categories
Choose one or two categories, such as “cars” or “clothes” and take a minute or two to list as many things from each topic as you can.
16. Use math and numbers
Look, maths might not be for everyone, but it can be an excellent way to center yourself. Try running through time tables in your head, or counting backward from 1000.
17. Visualize a task you enjoy
If you like writing, for example, think about what you’re going to write next. Think about the aim of what you’re writing, how you’ll go about it, and how it will affect the reader.
18. Make yourself laugh
Laughing facilitates feel-good emotions and relaxation, and it is an excellent way to pull your mind back into the present moment.
Think about something you’ve found funny recently. A TV comedy show. A Youtube video. Look at your surroundings with humor. Try not to take things so seriously. Even smiling can help you get into a better mood.
19. Describe the process of a task you’re good at
Think of an activity you do often and you’re good at, such as writing or making coffee, then go through the process step-by-step. Pretend you’re giving someone else instructions on how to do it.
20. Describe your surroundings
This is a great technique to use your five senses and describe what you see and feel. Spend a few minutes and note everything you notice, using all of your senses.
21. Picture someone you love
This is a great grounding technique if you feel anxious or stressed. Imagine someone you love. See their face. Think of their voice. Imagine them telling you that everything will be okay.
22. Sit with your dog or cat
If you have a pet, spend a few moments and sit with them. Pet them, and notice how they fur feels. Focus on their characteristics and be curious.
If you’re not at home, picture them and list your favorite things about your pet.
23. List your favorite things
List three favorite things in different categories, such as books or movies.
24. Think about your favorite place
Everyone has a favorite place. Whether it’s a holiday destination or even your home. Try to use all your senses to create a mental image of that place. Remember the last time you were there. Who were you with? What were you feeling?
25. Plan an activity
It could be by yourself or with a friend or loved one. Think about what you’ll do and when. Maybe you’ll go to dinner, take a walk at a park, get a coffee. Focus on the details.
26. Visualize a task that you like
If you enjoy playing an instrument, reading a book, or working out, then it helps for you to sit down and think about it.
Let your mind hover over the moments that are bound together in this activity; let yourself appreciate your favorite tasks by the seconds that make them up.
27. Imagine walking away from your problems
Sit down and imagine yourself in a certain situation where you can walk or turn away from your problems. Maybe your problems can be visualized as a bad movie on the television that you can turn off; maybe your problems can be placed in a box and buried underground. Visualize your problems disappearing.
Spiritual Grounding Techniques
The Goal: You must learn to be kind and to be gentle. In today’s world it can be easy to forget that self-care is more than just a day at the spa or a trip to the beach.
It means loving yourself intimately and forgiving yourself for the wrongs you have done instead of spiraling into a state where you can’t even stand to look at yourself in the mirror.
For many of us, a behavior of repeated wrongdoings is caused by just making one mistake and never holding ourselves accountable for it.
We fail to forgive ourselves, so we see us as bad people who do bad things.
We become disconnected from the idea of the self, and only continue down the path that we think we deserve.
28. Main Technique: Earthing
What’s interesting about the earthing technique is that it is a mix of the physical and the mental, because only through the mind-body connection can you truly cleanse your soul.
But what does earthing mean? Simple: take off your shoes and walk barefoot in the nature around you.
Whether that means driving to a nearby park or just going out to your backyard, it is important for you to touch the world.
Because ask yourself: when was the last time you were actually surrounded by the living earth? We spend all our lives in concrete jungles, so much so that we forget that our world is a place with life all around us.
Remove your socks, your shoes, and all the uncomfortable and tight clothing separating you from your environment. Then walk outside and feel the soil, the grass, the plants between your toes; the wind on your skin.
It has been found that people who regularly walk barefoot on the earth report higher levels of happiness and good health, and the science is quite simple: it is important to stay connected to the world, to remember that we live on a living planet, not a dead one.
One that exists beyond our own petty little faults and concerns, one that is much, much bigger than what our single life will ever be.
Sweat. Exercise. Work out. Push your body in a way that you haven’t in years. Exercise and running around comes naturally to us as children, but for many adults, exercise becomes a thing of the past.
We lose touch with our body, and thus the mind becomes isolated. There is nothing more important than revitalizing that bond, and remembering that “we” exist just as much in the muscles and bones in our body as we do in our mind.
30. Be kind to yourself
You might have recently failed something or screwed up, or even disappointed a boss, a friend, or a lover.
Don’t be cruel to yourself; like anyone else, you need the acknowledgment that the most important person in your life has forgiven you, and that person is you.
Take the time to pull yourself aside and ask yourself: have you forgiven yourself for all the wrong you have done? Only after forgiveness can you truly move on.
(To learn more techniques to forgive yourself and practice self-love, check out my ultimate guide on how to love yourself here)
31. Plan something fun
Think of something new. A small adventure to a beach you’ve never seen, a nice dinner at a new restaurant you want to try, or a movie or museum or water park or anything else.
Imagine what you will wear on the day, imagine what your itinerary might be, and imagine who would go with you. Plan every little detail, even if you don’t think it will ever happen. See yourself as a part of your physical world, and remember the way the world can stimulate your mind and soul.
32. Touch something comforting
Whatever feels good to touch, go ahead and touch it! Think about how it feels as it touches your hand. It could be a blanket, a t-shirt, a pillow, or even the heat of a heater.
33. List things you are grateful for
Write a list of 4 or 5 things you are grateful for in our life, or that bring you joy.
34. Listen to music
Put on your favorite song, and bask in the beauty of it. Pay attention to the parts of the song that you love the most.
35. Focus on others
This is perhaps the biggest tip of all when it comes to grounding yourself. It sounds counter-intuitive to focus on other people when it comes to grounding yourself.
But by shifting your focus from your own problems to helping others, you’ll begin to feel better about yourself and more grounded.
Mahatma Gandhi says it best when he said that “the best way to find yourself is to love yourself in the service to others.”
Sometimes when you focus so much on yourself and all your problems, you lose perspective. You tend to blow things out of proportion and become neurotic.
I know because I’m naturally like this. But when I choose to focus on others and not myself, it reduces my natural self-critical voice.
You realize that you’re not the center of the universe. There’s a beautiful world out there for you to explore and experience. You’re missing out if you’re focusing on yourself so much.
Grounding: The Bravery to be Present, Mindful, and Here
We’ve listed quite a few grounding techniques you can try; find one that works for you and stick with it.
But remember: the most important thing as you attempt these techniques is for you to be brave.
These techniques will be difficult. For some people, they might even feel impossible. Your mind will initially tell you that what you are doing is a waste of time, and none of these techniques will make you feel better.
But there is a reason why you have become ungrounded. You have dissociated yourself from your mind and body, and you have become accustomed to the defense mechanism of leaving the sincerity of your presence when the going gets tough.
You have to work against the internal habits that led to your ungrounding, and it will take time.
It will also be frightening. You might feel anxious, embarrassed, ashamed. You will feel a number of things as your mind and body reject your attempts to return to an entirely present self.
But only through this training can you once again become grounded, and learn to live as a truly whole person.
How this one Buddhist teaching turned my life around
My lowest ebb was around 6 years ago.
I was a guy in my mid-20s who was lifting boxes all day in a warehouse. I had few satisfying relationships – with friends or women – and a monkey mind that wouldn’t shut itself off.
During that time, I lived with anxiety, insomnia and way too much useless thinking going on in my head.
My life seemed to be going nowhere. I was a ridiculously average guy and deeply unhappy to boot.
The turning point for me was when I discovered Buddhism.
By reading everything I could about Buddhism and other eastern philosophies, I finally learned how to let things go that were weighing me down, including my seemingly hopeless career prospects and disappointing personal relationships.
In many ways, Buddhism is all about letting things go. Letting go helps us break away from negative thoughts and behaviors that do not serve us, as well as loosening the grip on all our attachments.
Fast forward 6 years and I’m now the founder of Hack Spirit, one of the leading self-improvement blogs on the internet.
Just to be clear: I’m not a Buddhist. I have no spiritual inclinations at all. I’m just a regular guy who turned his life around by adopting some amazing teachings from eastern philosophy.
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