Published Dec 10, 2018
Author Valérie

Grounding: A tool to help you stay in the present (5-4-3-2-1)

Grounding is a technique that could help you stay in the present. My name is Valérie, and I am a social worker. Today’s article will be about grounding, and how it can help you during crisis. I’ve always been fascinated with crisis myself, in fact I wanted to be a surgeon! I liked watching medical shows when I was child, and I loved the idea of helping people through tough times. Then I figured surgeons didn’t have time to actually talk to people, so here I am! I hope this article helps you all feel a little bit more at ease!

What is grounding?

Grounding is a coping strategy to bring you back into the present moment. It can be a distraction, or even a way to make sense of what is happening around you. Grounding is particularly useful to people who have anxiety and those who have lived through trauma, though anyone can use them.

When does grounding come into play?

Any type of crisis usually causes pain because we feel we don’t have control over ourselves or the situation. We’re like a little boat stuck on a stormy ocean at the sea’s mercy. Now obviously, we have as much control over the weather as we have over random bad situations in our lives, but that doesn’t mean we can’t regain some of our agency. This is where grounding techniques come in. When crisis takes you away into your mind, this technique brings you back, and gives you control of the boat.

What exactly is the technique?

The 5-4-3-2-1 technique is one of my favorites, and the method I professionally recommend. It’s easy to do, anywhere, and at any time. The only thing this technique requires is your mind and your senses.

Start by taking a couple of deep, big breaths. In and out, and feel free to close your eyes. Once you have a good, slow rhythm going, take a look around the room and list five things you see. You can do this out loud, list them to yourself or a friend, text them, or even do so mentally. Then, list four things that you feel. Next, list three things that you hear. If you want, list two things that you smell. Finally, list one thing that you taste.

I usually recommend that if you want to or need to do all five of your senses, carry a piece of your favorite candy or gum, as well as a favorite scent, like a hand cream or perfume with you.

How is this helping?

The slow scan of your senses tells you that it’s okay, that you’re safe, that you’re in a good place, and that nothing bad is currently happening. You might be in an environment that doesn’t feel safe to you. This could be a crowded area. In those moments, it’s important to notice the positive things around you rather than what overwhelms you. For instance, if you’re not great in crowds and you keep hearing all the hustle and bustle, wear headphones and try to zero in on some music or relaxing noises. If you’re afraid of needles but have no other choice, squeeze someone’s hand, or bring something pleasant to touch, smell, or taste. It can work to focus your mind on the present, or distract from the situation.