There are many ways to ground when you’re triggered, and everybody is going to have their own solutions and it will look different for each individual. Here we will give you a few places to start in a variety of ‘genres’ of grounding strategies so you have a jumping off point to find what might work for you.
Remember that not every technique is going to work for everybody. If you’re getting frustrated, hearing people talk all the time about so many grounding and calming techniques for when they’re triggered but those just never work for you… There’s nothing wrong with you. Those strategies – while wonderful for many – just aren’t the right ones for you, and you might simply need more active techniques to help you when you’re triggered, which is why we’re going to provide you with multiple categories here to try out.
Active Techniques (Focus, Distraction, Logic)
These are often the ‘less talked about’ strategies for grounding. This doesn’t make them any less valid or helpful in a crisis. Sometimes these might be ideal for your first ‘line of fire’ defenses, and then once you’ve gotten through the beginning of the crisis and ensured you’re not going to go into a panic attack, you can move on to one of the calming grounding techniques below this section.
If the situation you’re in involves a problem that could be solved, break it down into small and manageable steps. Create a plan to tackle each one. It can be difficult to focus that way when you’re triggered and not to get overwhelmed and catastrophize, but it’s important to remember that you do have power and you can take action to do what you need to keep yourself safe. Taking steps towards problem solving this trigger can also help you greatly to feel like you’re actively working towards a solution and doing something good for yourself.
Write a log about what you’re experiencing
I used the word “write” instead of “journal” because I think often we can see the word “journal” and sort of roll our eyes and move on just due to hearing it so often as a suggestion for grounding/mental health. In this circumstance, I’m talking about a very specific and productive type of ‘journaling’. Writing about exactly what triggered you, how it triggered you, what your response in your body is in this very moment and how you’re feeling, what you’ve done about it so far, what you’ve done so far, what you are thinking about doing to try and help it get better, and what you could potentially do in the future to mitigate that trigger from impacting you as intensely. This type of journaling can be very important for tracking your progress with specific triggers over time, and can also help you feel productive while you’re in a triggered space and give you something to focus on. Feeling like you’re doing something ‘good’ or ‘right’ – like you’re doing your therapy homework essentially when you’re in a triggered space and focusing on your body and those individual details rather than getting overwhelmed by the overarching ‘feeling’ will likely help you ground.
Reframe the Perspective
If possible, do what you can to reframe the perspective. Think about if this trigger has come up in the past and how its affected you then vs. how it’s affecting you now and how you’ve grown. Think about how while you might be triggered right now, that’s simply a reaction to a stimulus, and not an actual physical danger. If you were in danger in the past, you aren’t anymore. Think about how your situation has improved and how you’ve done the work to heal already and are on a path of progress.
Grounding Techniques (Calming, Mindfulness)
Scent can be an excellent way to ground and an incredibly convenient tool you can carry with you. An essential oil in your pocket or bag is simple and easy. Lighting incense or a scented candle can also help calm your space. Combining smells with taste can also be very helpful. For example, you could open a mandarin orange, smell the peel, and taste it.
Feeling different textures can help with grounding. Fuzzy things, bumpy things, scratchy things… All of them can help you ground back to your body and away from wherever your mind is going.
Try putting an ice cube on your body as a shock to your system – if you don’t have access to ice, even running your hands under cold water can work.
Take a look around you for a repeating pattern. Find blinds over a window, tiles on a floor, or something along those lines. Begin counting. See how far you can get before you lose count. Once you lose count, start over. Keep going, test yourself, and make it a game to see how far you can get before losing count. It will distract your brain and help you ground.
The 54321 technique combines several methods and asks you to identify the following:
- 5 things you can see
- 4 things you can touch
- 3 things you can hear
- 2 things you can smell
- 1 thing you can taste
Repeat as needed.
Literally Find the Ground
Take off your shoes, go somewhere you can safely and comfortably get close to the physical earth, sink your body into the ground, and relax. Physically grounding yourself can be surprisingly impactful to your body and can help you find calm.