Grounding Techniques to get to the Here and Now

Part of mindfulness is to help bring you into the present, the “here and now.” This is important because people struggling with mental health issues often get stuck living in the past or worrying about the future. For example, those with anxiety tend to fear the future, those with depression or PTSD find themselves to be stuck in the past, and ,those with ADHD will let their mind wander and find it difficult to be present in the now. Laura Meyers explains, “Depression and anxiety also share an essential psychological component — namely, pushing people away from living in the present moment.” In general, we all can work at returning to the “here and now” by using grounding techniques to effectively deal with stressors.

Jon Kabat-Zinn noted that, “one can immediately decide to live in the present moment, with the promise of reduced anxiety and depression and heightened performance and life satisfaction.” The idea is that by using these grounding techniques to get us into the present moment, we can improve our life satisfaction.

By taking into account that there are thoughts that we have that lead us away from the “here and now” and cause us to be focused on the past or future, means there are things that we can do to help us return to the here and now. These grounding techniques that I will be sharing can be used to return us to the present and help us avoid those anxious or depressive thoughts that take us away.

  1. 5-4-3-2-1 mindfulness
    A simple technique to engage the senses that are used in the “here and now.” Before starting this exercise, take a deep breath to help center and calm you. Once you find your breath, move through the following steps:

    • Identify FIVE things that you can see (that you like).

    • Identify FOUR things you can feel such as your feet on the ground or the shirt on your back.

    • Identify THREE things you can hear.

    • Identify TWO things that you can smell.

    • Identify ONE thing you can taste

    Throughout this exercise, the important thing is to engage the senses to bring your attention back to the current moment, not necessarily worry about getting the right order with the right count. Throughout this exercise, the important thing is to engage the senses to bring your attention back to the current moment, not necessarily worry about getting the right order with the right count.

  2. 3-Minute breathing space
    This exercise is one you can do in the middle of your busy day. It has you close your eyes and check in with your thoughts.

    • Attend to what is: What are you thinking about? How are you feeling emotionally? What is your body feeling right now? Check on any tenseness or areas that feel different than they should.

    • Focus on your breath: The next step is to focus on your breathing and the present. If your mind wanders, bring your attention back to your breath.

    • Attend to the body: The last step is to expand outward with our senses. What do you smell, feel with touch, or hear around you? Continue to be aware of how you are feeling as you expand your attention.

    There are many variations of this, but the idea remains the same in each variation. Here is a more in-depth look by Zindal Segal.

  3. Count backwards from 200 by 9

    This is a quick exercise that has you focus on something that you can do in the moment. This is a bit of a distraction, but it engages you to think and focus. If you like this exercise, you have to vary it a bit over time so it does not become routine and begin to loose its effectiveness. For example, change the starting number or the number that you are counting down by, but don’t go by 1, 2, 5, or 10. These tend to be too basic.

These are just a few of the grounding techniques that I teach to my clients to engage them in practices that will help them focus on the “here and now”, move away from depressive thoughts, control their anxiety, and be more mindful of their habits.

If you or someone you know is struggling with symptoms of ADHD, anxiety, depression or PTSD, contact Pathways Psychology Services at 630-293-9860. We can help.

By Zach Meers, LCPC, NCC

Kabat‐Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness‐Based Interventions in Context: Past, Present, and Future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(2), 144–156. doi: 10.1093/clipsy.bpg016

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