Dissociation is a powerful coping mechanism. It’s our brain’s way of saying “Hey, this is too intense, so I’m gonna check out for a bit.” Unfortunately, that inner distance also detaches us from our life—leading us to feel miserable, depressed, and like we’re living in a dream. This where grounding techniques come into play.
They can bring us close to feelings and experiences in a safe, supportive way. Dissociation will dissolve.
Your body and mind are processing the trauma you went through, so high emotions are likely something frequent. That’s why dissociation still kicks in, because healing from trauma is nearly as hard as when you were living with it.
Right now, you’re in a safe place to start re-experiencing the emotions from your past. You’re no longer in the throws of your abuser. You’re free from them.
Now’s the time to embark on healing.
Why should you use grounding techniques?
Dissociation is helpful and protective, but it also denies you the pleasant experiences of life. When you dissociate from physical pain, you also won’t be able to feel comforting or pleasurable sensations. If your brain pulls away from fear and hurt, you also won’t be able to feel joy or love.
Learning grounding techniques will help you tame that dissociation on your terms.
It will still kick in, like a trusty sidekick, when something is too intense. If you decide “I can handle this right now,” then you’ll have the tools to push that dissociation to the side and take the reigns on your life.
But where to start? Well, give these four grounding techniques a try.
Grounding technique #1: 5 Observations for 5 Senses
This practice is a super simple and highly effective way to reduce dissociation. Anything that engages your senses will ground you. Dissociation is when your mind detaches from your body and its experiences. So something that focuses on the senses brings you back into your body.
To do this exercise, go through each of your five senses: touch, taste, smell, sight, hearing. (Or all the senses you have.) Observe five stimuli for each sense.
So, you’ll start by looking for five things you see. Take note of them and study each one for around 10 seconds. Really notice the details of what you’re looking at.
Then listen for five things, also focusing intently on each distinct sound.
Then taste five things. There are many lingering tastes in your mouth, so you likely won’t need to even get any food or drink! But you totally can if you want to deepen this exercise.
Do the same with touch (feeling clothes, your own caressing, pressure on your feet, etc.) and smell.
If you still are dissociated after, pick a sense to repeat with and keep going until you start to feel yourself becoming more grounded and calm.
Grounding technique #2: Explore Textures
This directly focuses on one sense—touch.
Reach for anything near you and feel what the texture is. How different does the zipper on your jacket feel from the fabric? What about your skin versus your nails? Your head hair versus your eyebrows? The pressure on your seat versus your feet touching the ground?
Examine each texture or sensation for at least ten seconds before moving on to a new one.
You can also modify this to include temperatures—like holding a warm (but not burning) cup of tea and then running your hands under very cold water. Stark sensations like this can be great for grounding. Sort of like splashing yourself in the face to wake up in the morning!
Grounding Technique #3: Ujjayi breathing
Surprisingly, something as simple as your breath can be incredibly grounding. Especially when you focus on a specific breathing technique, like the yoga practice of Ujjayi breathing.
This is a breathing exercise that’s accessible to almost everyone. It doesn’t involve holding your breath and running the risk of making you dizzy. It’s really just a different way of exhaling that makes a small noise and sensation in your throat. When you focus on it, it’s incredibly grounding.
The process of this breathing technique is simple.
First, inhale through your nose. Fill your belly, chest, and upper chest/throat with air.
Then exhale, breathing out slowly but normally…with one small twist. Pretend like you’re fogging a mirror (complete with that little huffing sound) but do it with your mouth closed.
Simply repeat this, going at whatever pace works best for you! Make the ocean sound as quietly or loudly as you want and need to ground yourself.
If you’re in a panic attack, you can also try to slow your breathing rate with this technique too.
I’d recommend doing this breathing for at least 30 seconds, then checking in and seeing if you feel any less dissociated. If you want to ground even more, do it for another 30 seconds.
Here’s a great video I found demonstrating how to do this, btw!
Grounding technique #4: Music meditation
If you’re new to grounding techniques or you’re really dissociated and can’t focus well at all, this is a great strategy to try.
Pick a music playlist of literally anything that you enjoy—sad, upbeat, instrumental, lyrical, video game soundtracks, whatever. Plug in some headphones and play the music at a fair enough volume that it’s the dominant sound in your environment. You should feel like it’s enveloping you without blasting your ears to oblivion.
You can do this without headphones, by the way, but it’s usually easiest with them.
Now, focus on individual components of the music.
What is the lowest pitched sound? Focus on that for a verse. Now, notice the singer’s breathing (if there is a singer). What is a repeating background melody? What is the main melody? Isolate each instrument and follow the sounds it alone makes.
Basically, the principle is to focus on individual components of the music. This will not only help you feel more grounded (by using the sense of hearing), but also it will be a good distraction if you have a racing mind. Music is engaging and centering.
Creating your own grounding techniques:
Grounding exercises are easy to develop for yourself too! You can make ones for different situations or emotional intensities or states of dissociation.
The only thing you need to design your own grounding technique is that it needs to focus on some sensation. Whether it’s a feeling, sound, taste, smell, or sight, you need to activate your body.
Remember, dissociation is when the mind pulls away from the experiences of the body. So, if you bring yourself back to those experiences, you’ll resolve dissociation.
Here’s a bunch of other exercises that can work as grounding techniques—so be sure to check these out too!
What’s your favorite grounding technique to use? Comment below!