How to ground yourself in times of stress (or all the time. All the time is good.)

May 12, 2016

The term “grounding” may be foreign to some and very dear and familiar to others.  In brief, in this context it is a means for reducing stress in the body and mind, for returning to a calm state, to better handle whatever is happening with us in our lives..


Let’s take a journey to the dictionary first, a great place of curiosity and learning and opening.



  • Noun:  the solid surface of the earth; firm or dry land; earth or soil; often, grounds: the foundation or basis on which a belief or action rests: reason or cause; subject for discussion, topic; rational or factual support for one's position or attitude, as in a debate or argument.
  • Adjective:  situated on or at, or adjacent to, the surface of the earth; pertaining to the ground.
  • Verb (used with object):  to lay or set on the ground; to place on a foundation; fix firmly; settle or establish; found; to instruct in elements or first principles; to furnish with a ground or background, as on decorative work; electricity: to establish a ground.
  • Verb (used without object): to come to or strike the ground.
  • Verb phrases:
    • Break ground: to plow; to begin excavation for a construction project; to begin upon or take preparatory measures for any undertaking.
    • Give ground: to yield to force or forceful argument; retreat:
    • Hold / stand one's ground, to maintain one's position; be steadfast.
  • The origin of “ground”, from the Old English and German “grund”, from the Dutch “grond”:  to set on a foundation, establish.  There are more parts to the definition, but these are enough to give us a foundation, sense, and yes, a common ground, about “grounding” as it relates to stress.  


When we’re stressed, our body’s sympathetic nervous system kicks in with what we experience as a “fight, flight, or freeze” response. This is in contrast and compliment to our body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which stimulates the body to "rest and digest."


We experience a variety of bodily sensations and thinking when we’re stressed:  They can be very different for different people, and even the same person will experience stress differently depending on the cause of the stress, their age, their surroundings, their current state of health, their security or lack thereof in the world, and more:

  • Shallow or rapid breathing
  • Sweating or feeling colder
  • Darting eyes, nervous body movements
  • Knots or butterflies in your stomach
  • Tense shoulders, neck, jaw, a general contraction of the body inward
  • Run-on thoughts, usually negative and fearful, or self-shaming or blaming
  • Anger, clenching teeth, pacing
  • Feeling immobilized, unable to move or think or feel
  • Thoughts of worthlessness, hopelessness, disconnection from self and others
  • It’s a long list and there's more, but that’s enough, lest it produce more stress…


Let’s go back to some of the words used in the definitions above to help us look more deeply at grounding for stress reduction, and prepare for the how-tos that are next.  Read slowly, and think about each, imagining how they might apply to you when you are stressedL

  • The solid Earth and soil
  • The foundation or basis on which a belief or action rests
  • To lay on, to lie on, to come to the ground
  • To instruct in elements or first principles
  • Settle or establish a ground
  • To begin or take preparatory measures for any undertaking (or to return to them when the undertaking doesn’t go as planned.
  • To yield, retreat
  • To maintain, retain or return to one's position; be steadfast.

Here is a list of grounding actions I highly recommend when stressed, and really, in general/at all times, to be and feel our best...


(Don’t let the list overwhelm you, find the one or two that feels right, easiest to implement, best for your body and emotions, and start there.)

  • If you’re able, put your feet, hands, whole self directly on the Earth.  There’s growing scientific evidence that this simple act makes us healthier and happier. It doesn’t take science to figure this out, however:  experts and healers of all kinds tell us to get out in nature regularly as a way to restore ourselves. Experiment with this, do this as often as you can, see how it makes you feel.
  • Deep breathing:  Whether it’s one big inhale and exhale or several, it is re-oxygenating to our bodies, which simply helps everything calm down. Set a reminder or an alert and take 30 seconds every hour to take three deep breaths.  If possible, close your eyes, go outdoors, and go inward for reconnecting to yourself.  
  • Rest.  Whether for a few minutes or a couple hours, find time to rest your eyes, your thinking, your whole body.  Find quiet space to ‘rest’ your ears/stop the constant auditory stimulus around you. Rest is far underrated in our society, yet it’s a main pillar in the foundation for good health and wellbeing.
  • Avoid or completely abstain from toxic things:  Food, chemicals, air, people, thinking, imagery and media… it all adds up and actually multiplies our stress over time.  
  • Examine your thinking more closely:  What story are you telling yourself?  Often we tell ourselves stories that only make us miserable and keep us stuck. How can you retell your story that makes you feel empowered rather than victimized?  If you keep saying negative things about yourself, you’re also telling yourself a story.  Flip it around - might that opposite statement be more true to your heart and soul, and feel better in your body?  
  • List 25 things for which you’re grateful:  This reminds us of our values, what matters to us most, what brings us joy and fulfillment, and much more.  As you list them, spend time in them, experiencing them with all your senses, feel each thing fully to appreciate it completely. Doing this interrupts the spirals of negative or fearful thinking we can get stuck in.  It relaxes us.  It returns us to us.  It helps us focus.  It restores us.
  • Send love to yourself, and the situation, the people, the things that are causing you to feel stress. What energy are you swimming in, what energy do you bring to the situation?  Loving energy calms and grounds us quickly.   
  • Put your hand(s) on your heart and repeat a soothing phrase:
    • I am safe.
    • It will be okay.
    • I am loved.
    • I am peaceful.
    • This will pass.
    • I am enough as I am.
    • I am worthy of love and connection (thank you, Brene Brown).
    • I love and accept myself no matter what (thank you, Christiane Northrup).
  • Decide that a calm state is your best foundation, the place to retreat to, the most important state for you, a principle of living effectively to adhere to (to ground into your routine), and return there by whatever means grounds you into that feeling in your mind and body.  Intention is everything, and a daily practice, too.

Grounding is most effective as a continual practice, not a once and done or occasional thing, although it is exactly what will help when you are stressed out.  You will find it feels like your natural state the more you do it.  You will notice stress, anxiety and fear more quickly, not letting it build up, and be able to ground yourself more quickly the more you practice.  You can ground under the worst conditions once you’re in the practice of it.  


How did I used to manage stress?  Unfortunately, through overeating, avoiding, hiding, more overeating, getting stuck in unhealthy spinning of negative stories about myself, disconnecting from what was important to me because I 'didn't have time.'  All that did was produce a lot more stress.  A Lot More Stress.


I now can get grounded on a crowded city bus, in line at TSA, stuck in traffic, in a challenging conversation, in meetings I'd rather not be in, and when I catch myself beating myself up, in a matter of seconds.  It took a while to accomplish this, but there’s no other way for me now as I navigate my day, my emotions, my fears, and my dreams.


From a grounded place, we can hear our wisdom, find clarity, establish a safe place for ourselves, better problem solve, and give our bodies, minds and souls the break we need from the busyness, worry, stress we get caught in.    



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