Create a Coping Toolbox: Grounding Skills Using Your Five Senses

Create a Coping Toolbox: Grounding Skills Using Your Five Senses

Grounding skills are used to help you connect to the present moment and are very important skills that help regulate intense emotions. Grounding skills help bring down the intensity of emotions when you’re feeling too much (e.g., very high anxiety, intense anger, impulsive urges) and will help you be more present when you’re feeling too little (e.g., numbness).

It is often difficult to remember what coping strategies to use in moments when you’re feeling overwhelmed. This is why creating a coping toolbox can be helpful. This is simply a container that contains reminders and items needed to help you cope in the moment. You may enjoy being creative with this process and create a container out of materials that are soothing, aesthetically pleasing, and/or meaningful to you.

Part 1 of this series is about incorporating physical grounding strategies – your breath and your five senses – in your coping repertoire. You can begin to practice these immediately and place reminders in your coping toolbox for future use.

As you read through each of these strategies, think about what reminder or item you might place in your coping toolbox that will be ready when you need it.

1. Grounding Using Your Breath

Place your feet firmly on the ground, align your spine, and breath. Inhale slowly for 4 counts, pause for 2 counts, exhale slowly for 4 counts, pause for two counts and repeat 10 times.

2. Grounding Using Sound
  • Play loud music to help you connect to the present moment.
  • Play the soundtrack of calming sounds of nature or soothing music you enjoy – Find a comfortable position to sit or lie down and pay attention to what you hear – name the instruments, name the various sounds of nature.
  • Pause and name 5 sounds you hear – This will orient you to the here and now.
  • Listen to mindfulness meditation audio, which you can find online and stream on your computer or download an app to your phone. Explore tracks, find your favourites, and practice daily.
3. Grounding Using Your Sense of Touch
  • Hold something cold – An ice pack, an ice cube, a cold can of pop. Notice the sensation of coolness on your skin.
  • Splash water on your face – Remove yourself from the emotionally triggering situation, go to the bathroom and splash water on your face. Pay attention to the sensation and temperature of the water on your skin.
  • Take a shower or bath – Notice the sensation of water on your skin.
  • Walk outside (even when it’s cold out!) – Notice the sensation and temperature of the air on your skin.
  • Squeeze a stress ball – Actively focus on the pressure in your hands as you squeeze.
  • Put on a soft piece of clothing or wrap yourself in a soft blanket – This could be your favourite sweater, track pants, pyjamas, or slippers. Notice the sensation of the soft fabric against your skin.
  • Walk barefoot on the grass or sand – Pay attention to the sensations in your feet
  • Massage your hands with your favourite hand cream.
  • Hold a small stone – Feel its texture and notice its shape using your hands.
  • Hold a cup of tea or coffee – Pay attention to the warmth of the cup in your hands.
4. Grounding Using Your Sense of Smell
  • Sniff a strong scent – Try essential oils like peppermint or eucalyptus. Strong scents effectively bring you back into the present.
  • Take in the smell of your cup of tea or coffee as it is brewing and immediately before you drink it.
  • Use scented hand lotion
  • Light a scented candle
5. Grounding Using Your Sense of Sight

Take a look at your surroundings and name them – Start by naming 5 things that you see. Describe those items in more detail, including their colour, shape, apparent texture, etc.

Look at soothing objects in your environment – Maybe it’s a painting, a lamp, your sleeping pet. Describe those objects in detail.

6. Grounding Use Your Sense of Taste

Eat something sour – This taste is sure to bring you back to the present. Try sour candies or even biting into a slice of lemon or lime. Notice the sensations that arise in your mouth and how this brings you back to the here and now.

Slowly sip and savour a cup of tea or coffee – Be mindful of the sensations that arise with each sip.

Eat a strong mint – Notice the sensations in your mouth and airways.

7. Grounding Using All Five Senses

Take a few deep breaths, Pay attention to your immediate surroundings and say out loud 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can feel, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.

General Grounding Tips

Practice, practice, practice! These are skills that take time to master, so daily practice is essential.

If you are having trouble grounding due to intense feelings, be patient, and give yourself more time to practice. Listen to a 10-30 minute guided mindfulness audio.

Know anyone that might benefit from learning grounding skills to regulate their feelings?

Share these tips with friends and family who you think might benefit from them. Hold each other accountable to create a coping toolbox and to practice. Discuss what worked and what didn’t. If you need additional support and feel ready to pursue the possibility of therapy, Contact Us – You don’t have to do this alone.

Dr. Dina Buttu

Dr. Dina Buttu is a Clinical and Counselling Psychologist in Ontario. She provides culturally-responsive, trauma-informed and anti-oppressive psychological services. Dr. Buttu is especially interested in helping second generation Canadians find a sense of wholeness and authenticity by making sense of inner conflict and confusion related to their multiple identities. She is the founder of Integrative Psychology Centre.
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