Mindfulness and Grounding

Often, when we become stressed, angry, anxious, depressed (or experience any strong emotion); we can find it difficult to act and react from a calm, rational minded perspective. Typically in anxiety we get stuck in the “what if’s” or stresses anticipated in the future; whereas in depression we are triggered into negative emotion by regrets or memories from the past. Neither of these states of mind are helpful – or pleasant! We are certainly affected by the past; and the choices we make today will affect our future – however, if we get stuck in the future or the past in our thinking, it makes us less aware of and less able to regulate what happens in our every moment day to day.

The following techniques can help us learn to move out of the “what if’s” and “what was” into the now. When we are grounded in the present, we are more able to think clearly about our options in any given situation – no matter how stressful. We are fully present in the moment to make a powerful choice.

When we are triggered into an anxiety or fear response, our body also reacts in what is called the Flight / Fight / Freeze Adrenaline Response. This reaction is designed to get ourselves out of trouble if we need to. Unfortunately, when we have unresolved hurts (that negatively affect the way we interpret a situation) or are in a repetitively stressful environment, our body can automatically go into this adrenalin state when we are not actually in any danger. (Kind of like an over-sensitive smoke alarm going off every time you use the toaster). We can experience symptoms such as: pain in the chest, difficulty breathing or breathing too fast, confusion, nausea, dizziness, tingling in nose, hands or feet etc. When we are in this state it is physically difficult to think clearly and react well. Mindfulness techniques help us relax our bodies and diminish the adrenalin response so we do have the ability to make wise choices.

Mindfulness means learning to give:

M – Moment to moment attention

I – In the here-and-now, with a

N – Non-Judgmental Attitude, learning to

D – Detach from unhelpful thoughts. Learning to

F – Forgive and be thankful in any circumstance. To accept

U – Unconditional positive regard for yourself and others, and to

L – Learn new things with excitement and humility..

Being Mindful Teaches you to PAUSE

In each situation we find within ourselves an opportunity for change. Many of us have ways of thinking feeling and acting that cause us trouble in our lives. When we learn to slow ourselves down and be mindful, we learn that in every situation there is a pause. This pause is the moment of opportunity for each of us to choose a different path. Often the space between a strong feeling and a negative action can seem non-existent – but it is there! If we can slow ourselves down, pause and breathe, we can then learn to think and act in a different way!


This means that you learn to take a step back and just describe the event / thing and what happened / why they stood out to you. You do not go into what you think it means or the feelings that may be attached. For example: I see a blue car – it stood out because of the way the sun hit the paint. Instead of: I see a blue car – it reminds me of my friend that had a blue car, and it makes me sad because I miss her. When you make a judgement on something because of a feeling attached to it (good or bad), you draw on your thoughts / rules / beliefs from the past. The issue with this is that if we have an unhealthy thinking patterns or a negative and untrue belief in our subconscious, the judgement that we put on something may not be accurate. For example: If I feel angry when she didn’t say hi to me the feeling may be attached to a deeper belief that says “I’m unlovable” or “I’m unworthy.” We have put our judgement onto a situation and the result for us is a feeling of hurt or anger. If we step back and look non-judgmentally we may see other alternatives: She may not have seen me, she may be having a bad day etc

The following paragraphs contain different techniques that you can try throughout your counselling journey. You certainly don’t have to use all of these techniques – rather, try them out and see which ones work well for you.

Be Aware – as with anything new, these techniques will not normally be “Instantly Brilliant.” You will need to regularly practice for them to become effective. Doing them once in a while isn’t going to achieve much! 

A good way of measuring how effective these techniques are is to record your mood and level of emotions or physical sensations before and after your technique. Over time you will be able to see the difference in your baseline mood as well as your ability to ground and calm yourself. 

E.g.:     Date:                           Time:

            Before: Mood = Anger = 8/10     After: Anger = 5/10

Before: Physical = dizzy, sweaty, nauseous 9/10 After: much calmer, no    nausea, not dizzy any more.

Another fun thing to try is getting yourself to balance on one leg (first with your eyes open and then with them shut) before and after doing a mindfulness technique. See how much better your balance is afterwards!

The Five Senses

Focusing on sensory stimuli is a great way to ground yourself. When we attend to what we are touching, tasting, smelling, seeing and hearing we are instantly pulled into the present moment.

Find yourself an out of the way spot where you can sit or stand, pause, and breathe for a while. Relax your shoulders and breathe deeply using your whole diaphragm for a few minutes.

Look around and find five things that you can describe non-judgmentally. Look for details that you otherwise would have missed. 

Close your eyes and list five things that you can hear. (Listen for sound beneath the sound. You’ll hear the obvious things first – but soon you’ll hear other sounds that you otherwise wouldn't have).

With your eyes still closed, name five feelings that you can feel. (Note: these are not emotions. These are physical feelings that you are experiencing. E.g. I feel the wind on the side of my face, I feel the chair pressing against my upper back, and I feel the grass, soft and cool under my feet). 


Letting Intruding Thoughts Go...

With any mindfulness technique you will experience thoughts intruding in the process: “this is stupid,” “I really should be doing…..” “this reminds me of….” “I feel so…..” etc. The trick is to catch these thoughts before you start to dwell on them and lead you off into a long daydream. You do not have to be angry or condemn yourself for being distracted (this will just distract you further). Rather, just observe the thought and let it slide on out of your consciousness. For example, imagine you are sitting beside a beautiful stream. Imagine the thoughts that come into your mind are small twigs or leaves floating by in the middle of the stream. You can observe them and watch them float on by out of your vision. You do not, however, have to wade into the stream, get all wet and grab the thought! As you notice an intruding thought, observe it, affirm it as legitimate and important; and then let it slide on down the stream! Gently and kindly bring your focus back to the moment and the sensory experiences around you.

Other sensory techniques to try:                                                    

  • Take your shoes off and stand outside. (Walk on different surfaces – grass, mud, sand, stones, puddles etc.). Focus on and describe to yourself all the sensory feelings you experience.

  • Pick up a handful of grass, sand, stones, mud etc. Focus on and describe to yourself all the sensory feelings you experience.

  • Observe (or cuddle) an animal (dog, cat, bird, horse – anything that’s around – wild or tame). Watch how they interact with their environment. See how they are so mindful of the things going on around them! If you get to hold or touch the animal, engage all your senses to experience the moment.

There is an old saying: “God is in the details.” This is certainly true with mindfulness. If we can slow down our world and look at the intricate details of the earth around us – we can experience and see details that we would otherwise rush on by and miss! Our anxiety and sadness keeps us blind to the constant beauty around us. It is in the moment that we are fully able to experience life and joy! This is a Dual Awareness. Yes, part of this moment is painful, uncomfortable and difficult. But there is also beauty and a peace if I choose to let myself experience it. Yes, the moment can be difficult but I am actually ok in this moment. I don’t have to let my emotions overwhelm me. I am ok and I can make a good choice.

Body Scan

When we are triggered by a person, event or memory, it doesn’t just affect one part of us – it affects us wholly. Therefore, what we think affects how we feel both physically and emotionally. This in turn affects how we act. Often, looking at our physical body is a great way to discern if there is something going on in the rest of our lives. Many of us ignore our physical bodies and push on through all sorts of pain or discomfort. If we would just pause and “listen” to what our body is telling us, we could save ourselves a lot of unnecessary pain! For example, often people hold their stress in their back, neck and shoulders. If you notice yourself tight in the shoulders or getting frequent tension headaches, you can ask yourself “what’s going on to get me stressed; and “what can I do to help myself feel better?”

This is a simple routine you can do anywhere or any time of the day. It’s a quick “check in” of how you are doing physically.

Find a comfortable position – sitting or standing.

Start by closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths.

Begin with your head. Examine the feelings you find there. Is there any pain or tension anywhere? Is your jaw tense and tight – or loose and relaxed?

Notice your hearing – what sounds are you aware of around you?

Move down to your neck and shoulders. Are they relaxed and pain free – or is there tension there? Gently move them; lift your shoulders up and circle them back and forwards.

Notice your arms, hand and fingers – are they loose and relaxed, or are your fists clenched and tight?

Let yourself become aware of your breathing. Where are you breathing from – your chest or your stomach? How fast are you breathing?

Try to slow down your breathing, relax your shoulders; and start breathing from your stomach if you are not already.

Slowly move your attention to your stomach and lower back. Is there any tension or pain anywhere here? How about your hips and thighs?

Continue to breathe those deep, slow belly breaths as you focus on your calves and ankles and feet. Do all your joints feel loose and free – or is there pain or inflammation there?

How do your feet feel? If you don’t have your feet on the floor, move slowly until you can place them there. Feel the ground under your feet and know that you are grounded here, in this place, in this time, and for this purpose.

 Slowly open your eyes.


The above are just a few mindfulness and grounding techniques that I find useful. There are hundreds more online – all you have to do is look and find one or two that suit you – and then use them!

These notes are for personal use only. Please don't replicate without permission from freedom counselling: info@freedom.ac.nz