Grounding techniques are an important tool to learn in early sobriety. When I first got sober, I battled thoughts of drinking, and social anxiety. Those early days were not easy, especially when I was trying to learn how to live life on life’s terms. Thanks to IOP treatment, I learned grounding techniques, and how to apply them in my life. When thoughts of a drink would pop up, or my anxiety was through the roof, grounding techniques brought me back to the present moment. They took away that urge to drink, and lessened my anxiety.
There are many different forms of grounding techniques. Some take a bit of work, and others are simple. Those techniques are as follows:
Breathing exercises are a simple way to ground yourself, and bring your thoughts back to the present moment. This technique is simple to use, and can be used anywhere, anytime. To this day, breathing exercises are my number one grounding technique because they are simple, and effective.
There are many different breathing exercises available, but the two exercises I use today are:
Deep breathing: Take a deep breath in through your nostrils, and hold it for 3-5 seconds. Then, slowly let it out through your mouth. Repeat until you feel that you are back in the present moment, and the racing thoughts have passed. I would like to advise caution with this technique however. When you do this technique, sit while you do it because you may become dizzy. If you feel yourself becoming lightheaded, stop the exercise, and resume when the feeling passes.
Light/ Dark Breathing: Close your eyes, and take a deep breath in through your nostrils. As you breathe in, imagine a golden light flowing into your body (positive energy). Hold the breath for a few seconds, and imagine this golden light filling your whole body, from your head to your toes. As you exhale through your mouth, imagine a dark, soot-like substance flowing out (negative energy). Repeat as many times as you need, until you feel yourself becoming calm. Again, I advise caution with this technique. Sit while doing this exercise in case you become dizzy.
Stress balls are handy for grounding because it gives you something to focus on, and squeeze. Something physical to hold and focus your energy on. One way to use a stress ball is, hold it in your hand, and picture your anxiety, or negative energy, flowing out of your hand into the ball with each squeeze. By visualizing the negative energy flowing out of you, and into the ball, you are releasing the energy onto something else.
Another object I used was a hacky sack. It was small, and malleable enough, to fit in my hand and roll. I would hold my hacky sack when I felt anxious, and focus my attention on keeping it in my hand while rolling it. By focusing my attention on rolling the hacky sack, I was releasing the negative energy into this object.
Flipping is another tool I used in early sobriety. After I got my 30-day medallion, I used it as my grounding tool. The way I did this was, I would hold the medallion in my hand, and flip it. This technique came in handy when my counselor became annoyed with the noise my hacky sack was making. My medallion was small enough to fit in my hand, unnoticed, but heavy enough that it didn’t fall on the floor.
Visualization is a technique that can be used anywhere, anytime. What you do is, find an object, like a pen, and describe it:
What does it look like: Round, square?
What does it feel like: Smooth, rough?
What color is the barrel: Blue, red?
What color is the ink: Blue, black?
By visualizing an object, you are taking the focus off your anxiety, or thought of a drink, and pulling yourself back to the present moment. This technique can be done verbally, to yourself in your mind, or you can write down the characteristics of the object. It is also a good technique because generally there will always be an object around you, and can be applied immediately.
Grounding literally means you are physically grounding your body into something. To apply this technique, sit in a chair with your feet on the floor. Hold your back straight, shoulders back, eyes forward, and push your feet flat to the floor. If you feel comfortable, take your shoes off and note the feeling of your feet on the floor. Is the floor cool or warm under your feet? Is the surface rough, or smooth?
By pushing your feet flat to the floor, you are literally grounding yourself to the floor or ground, and bringing your mind back to the present moment. This is another technique that is easy to use anywhere, anytime.
The 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique is a bit more complex, but still useful if you find yourself overwhelmed with anxiety, or thoughts of drinking. To employ this technique, start by taking 5 deep breaths. When you feel yourself calming down:
Acknowledge 5 things you see around you. For example, 5 things around me now are: a cat, coffee table, TV, sewing machine, and DVD’s.
Acknowledge 4 things you can touch around you. For example, 4 things I can touch around me now are: a blanket, couch, remote, and my hair.
Acknowledge 3 things you hear. These 3 things need to be external because you are trying to take the focus off your thoughts. For example, 3 things I hear now are: the keys on my keyboard clicking, my clock ticking, traffic outside.
Acknowledge 2 things you can smell. If you are not around anything you can smell, take a moment to walk to a place where you can find something. You can walk outside, to your bathroom, or to the coffee pot if you work in an office setting. For example, 2 things I can smell now are: the shampoo in my hair, the stinky litter box.
Acknowledge 1 thing you can taste. If there is food around you, take a bite and note how it tastes. If you are chewing gum, what flavor is it? For example, 1 thing I can taste is: the coffee I drank this morning.
By using this technique, you are again grounding your physical body to the present moment. You are also giving your brain a way to focus on something other than your racing thoughts.
Grounding techniques are useful whether you are newly sober, or have been around a while. But, the results won’t come overnight. Practice makes perfect. Start small by trying one or two techniques out at a time, and see which ones work best for you. Consider it a trial run. If you find a certain technique works for you, write it down on a piece of paper, and carry it with you. When your anxiety is overwhelming, or thoughts of a drink pop up, pull out your list of grounding techniques and pick one to practice.
And don’t worry if none of these techniques work for you. There are many other grounding techniques available online. A good place to start is a blog post by Holly from Hip Sobriety, which can be found here.
As always, take what you like, and leave the rest. Thanks for reading!
Originally published March 1, 2017 – medium.com