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Medically Reviewed by
Cimone Safilian-Hanif, PhD in International Psychology, on February 5, 2024

Introduction

The goal of grounding techniques is to help you get in the here and now, and shift your focus away from distressing thoughts, emotions, or sensations. When you are overwhelmed with emotions, you often stop being present in the moment and drift off into an inner world of thoughts, or you start re-visiting the past or thinking about the future. One way to deal with those emotions is to ground yourself back in the present moment. If you did the mindfulness exercises from the first module, you'll notice that these techniques have some similarities.

Before we start with the instructions, we must mention that the key to using these grounding techniques is to identify that our thoughts have drifted off and that we are not present in the current moment. When we have noticed that we are trying to avoid the reality, because it is perhaps too painful, we can choose to do these grounding techniques.

Distress Tolerance: Grounding
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Instructions

Use these Grounding techniques to reconnect with the present when you start to feel overwhelming emotions associated with the past or the future.

Step One: Describe What You See

First, we will focus on what we can see in the visual field around us. Look around you and start observing the objects that you see. What is their color? What is their shape? Start describing the things quietly. Observe whether the room is light or dark, whether it is spacious or small. Stay with each object long enough to observe what it looks like, and then move to the next. Spend about 10 minutes on this step.

Example: "I can see my white wallet lying on the desk. It has a rectangular shape and there is a sunray touching it. I can see my black notebook, smooth on the covers, and also a little light from the sunrays. On my right, I have a glass of water, translucent, with a form of a cylinder. The water moves a little inside the glass because of my movements..."

Step Two: Breathing

Spend about five minutes focusing on your breath. Become mindful of how your body fills with air as you breathe in and how it relaxes as you breathe out. Start counting your breaths from one to five on the exhale. First, breathe deeply and slowly, then settle into your normal rhythm of breathing.

Step Three: Mindfulness of the Body

Next, start observing your body. Notice how your body makes contact with the chair that you're sitting on? Feel the weight of your legs pressing on the chair, and your back touching the back of the chair. Observe whether you feel tension in certain parts of your body. Do you feel pain in any part of the body or are you comfortable? Notice how your feet make contact with the floor. Feel the contact of your soles on the floor beneath you. Observe how your arms rest in your lap or on the chair. Feel their weight. Spend about 5 minutes on this step.

Step Four: Observing With the Other Senses

Last but not least, engage your other senses. Can you notice a certain smell in the room? Or is it scentless? Try to be observant. Then, become mindful of the sounds around you. What sounds can you hear? Try to notice the distant sounds from the street. Maybe there are more immediate sounds around you that you can easily hear. Be open to whatever you might hear. Spend about five minutes on this step.

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Worksheet

Use the worksheet for a summary of the Grounding technique and to practice applying the skill.

DBT Distress Tolerance: Grounding

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FAQs

How is this exercise different from the mindfulness exercises we did?

These grounding techniques are meant to help you in more immediate situations. When you get swept away by intense emotions, this technique helps you cope by shifting your attention away from distressing thoughts, emotions, or sensations. The goal of grounding techniques is to create a sense of stability, safety, and connection with your immediate environment.

The mindfulness exercises that we practiced are like a muscle that we gradually work on, every day, little by little. The mindfulness skills help us with being more present and non-judgmentally identifying what we feel, think, or the ways that we behave. The goal of mindfulness is to develop a state of open curiosity, increased self-awareness, and acceptance of one’s thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations.

I can't notice when I'm avoiding the reality around me, therefore I can't do the exercise in the right time (instead I remember later that this skill would've been useful).

Try doing more of the mindfulness exercises from the first module. If you started reading the distress tolerance exercises first, it's a good idea to get good leverage by doing the mindfulness exercises first. They will help you with being more aware of everything that's happening inside you and in your environment (emotions, thoughts, behaviors). Then you will start noticing more easily when you have emotions that you feel you can't cope with. You will be more ready to do the grounding techniques then.

I think it will be difficult to do the grounding technique when I'm in the middle of an emotional crisis.

It is true that when you are in the midst of drifting off from the things around you, at the beginning you might find it difficult, you might even feel resistant to the idea of bringing yourself back to the here and now. Just remember, that this skill is a useful coping technique that can improve the quality of your everyday functioning. Try to see the benefits and be open to how this exercise can alleviate your emotional distress.

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Disclaimer

If you have any behavioral health questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare or mental health care provider. This article is supported by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from behavioral health societies and governmental agencies. However, it is not a substitute for professional behavioral health advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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Comments About Grounding

  1. I avoided going to therapy and taking medication for Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar 2 for many years. However, I actively self-diagnose and naturally self-treat my ailments, and I have finally found a free at-home Dialectical Behavior Therapy that works for me! ***Thank You SO Much!!***

  2. Thank you so much for this website, the resource’s and the fact they are not behind a paywall or requiring signing up, it is incredibly kind.
    One question I have though is why is the STOP skill not covered in your DT module? Thanks again!

  3. life changer! I struggle with the depression and anxiety before I did this course.do it!

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