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Grounding techniques for self-care

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

Have you ever caught yourself in a spiral of unhelpful thinking patterns? Perhaps it starts with a comment to yourself about something you just did or said. Perhaps it's an emotion that wells up inside of you, and gradually (but sometimes quickly) those emotions and thoughts take hold, and you go on a wild ride of remembering every word in a conversation you just had or reliving a past emotional experience and feeling those hurtful feelings all over again.

There are thinking styles that we have learned over the years, and they keep coming back. If you can catch yourself in these moments, and use some of the following grounding techniques for self-care, perhaps you can start learning to catch yourself sooner and learn to trust yourself and your capability.

The following are thinking styles that can lead us to emotional upheavals that can be hard to recover quickly. The "trick" is to catch yourself in these moments and understand that more balanced thoughts can replace negative thoughts.

Unhelpful thinking style

Balanced thought

Mental filter

Am I only noticing the negative moments around me? Am I ignoring the positive moments that are happening? Do I have "gloomy goggles" on that change what I'm seeing and experiencing? What would be a more balanced view of the current situation?

Mind reading

Have I assumed I thought what someone is thinking? Do I have tangible evidence? Those thoughts aren't theirs, they are actually mine.


Are my thinking patterns suggesting I can predict the future? How likely is this scenario likely to be?

Compare and despair

Am I comparing myself to others and despairing at my thoughts? What is a more balanced view of this situation?

Critical self talk

Am I being an internal bully? Would my close friends say that about me? Would I be that harsh to my close friends? Is this something I am really responsible for?

Shoulds and musts

Have I set up an expectation for myself that is almost impossible? What would be a more realistic, achievable outcome?


I know that judgements are how I make sense of situations, but have I judged a person or situation unfairly? Is this judgement unhelpful? Is there another perspective?


Is it helpful to think that the worst possible thing will happen? What is a more balanced view that seems more likely?

Black and white thinking

Nothing is entirely black or completely white, there are always shades of grey. Where is this situation on the spectrum?


This is only a reminder of the past, and even though this memory makes me upset its not happening right now.

If you find yourself in the situation of not catching yourself in time, and you need some self-care to calm your nervous system, the following grounding techniques can bring you into the here-and-now by directing your focus away from your thoughts and towards physical sensations.

  • Take 5 long deep breaths through the nose, and exhale through puckered lips.

  • Open your eyes and name all the objects you see.

  • Place both feet flat on the floor. Wiggle your toes.

  • Curl and uncurl your toes several times.

  • Stomp your feet on the ground several times.

  • Spend a moment noticing the sensations in your feet.

  • Clench your hands into fists, then release the tension - repeat 10 times.

  • Pick up an object and describe it in detail; colour, texture, size, weight, scent, what else do you notice.

  • Press your palms together; press harder and hold for 15 seconds.

  • Reach your hands over your head like you are reaching for the sky, then release.

  • Pay attention to the feelings in your hands and arms.

  • Describe the steps of an activity you know how to do well. For example, tying your shoelaces or preparing a favourite meal.

  • Count backwards from 100 by 7.

  • Spell your full name, and the names of three other people, backwards.

  • Name all of your family members, their ages, and one other favourite activity.

  • Read something backwards, letter-by-letter. Practice for at least a few minutes.

I hope you find the explanation of the thought styles helpful, and that these short, easy-to-try grounding techniques provide you with a toolbox of options the next time you catch yourself needing some self-care.


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