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What Is Grounding_ A Comprehensive Guide for Veterans

Over 46% of adults experience mental health issues at some point during their lifetimes. Are you or a loved one one of those adults?

It’s important to learn helpful coping mechanisms (in combination with getting mental health support) so you can heal. One of those coping mechanisms is grounding.

But what is grounding, and how can you do it? We’re here to talk about it. Read on to learn all about it in this brief grounding guide.

First: What Is Grounding?

“Grounding” is a self-soothing skill. It’s something you can do when you’re experiencing distress. Many people who struggle with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or other mental health concerns use grounding to calm themselves during “episodes.”

Grounding helps people become more mindful and bring themselves “back to reality.” It gets them in touch with the world around them rather than being stuck “in their head.”

When you ground yourself, you improve and solidify your relationship to the world around you.

Techniques to Ground Yourself

There are many grounding techniques you can use in your day-to-day life that don’t require any special tools or preparation. While having some objects on-hand can be helpful, you can ground yourself with only your thoughts.

Grounding techniques are helpful because you can use them whenever you need them. If you’re experiencing a distressing situation, you can take your power back by grounding yourself.

Here are a few popular grounding techniques that anyone can try.

The “54321” Method

This is the most popular grounding technique. Anyone can do it and you can do it wherever you are without having to use any extra items or materials. It only takes a few seconds.

For this technique, you’re going to get in touch with your senses. You’re going to identify:

  • Five things you can see near you
  • Four things you can feel
  • Three things you can hear
  • Two things you can smell
  • One thing you can taste

The “taste” one can be tricky. If you struggle with it, keeping candy or gum on-hand can be helpful so you always have something you can taste.

The Color Game

The color game is another popular and easy grounding method you can use almost anywhere. For this one, you’re going to identify things nearby for every color of the rainbow.

Find something nearby that’s:

  • Red
  • Orange
  • Yellow
  • Green
  • Blue
  • Indigo
  • Violet

You may not even have to get through the entire list to feel more grounded. This is a fun challenge that forces you to get in touch with your surroundings.

Using Sensory Objects

Use your senses to ground yourself. If the 54321 method doesn’t work well for you, keep sensory objects in your car, bag, or pocket that you can use when you need to ground yourself. Sensory objects can be normal day-to-day objects, so you don’t need to buy anything special if you don’t want to.

When you’re experiencing distress, use your sensory object to bring you back to reality. By activating your senses, you’ll ground yourself. But what do these sensory objects look like?

Anything that triggers your senses can be a sensory object. Consider some of the following objects:

  • A cold drink
  • An ice cube to hold in your hand or mouth
  • Bubble wrap
  • Headphones and music
  • Soft fabric
  • A smooth or rough rock
  • A piece of gum
  • An air freshener or essential oil

In short, anything that you can “sense” can be used as a sensory object in this context. It forces your brain to focus on your senses rather than your distress.

Becoming “Present” With Self-Talk

Self-talk is great for when you need to ground yourself in a space that doesn’t have enough sensory information for the other techniques. It’s also great for when you wake up at night after a nightmare or flashback.

For this technique, you’re going to say things out loud that you know about yourself. It’s helpful to have the same set of things to say every time so it becomes a routine.

For example, your self-talk could be something like: “My name is ____. I am _ years old. I live in ____.

Today is (date) and it is (time).”

You can add extra things to it, like the weather, what you’re doing at the moment and a sensation that you’re feeling. You’re bringing yourself back to reality.

Deep Breathing

Deep breathing exercises are excellent for grounding and self-soothing. There are many deep breathing exercises you can try, but here’s one that’s very effective.

Press one nostril with your finger so no air can get through. Breathe in deeply through the available nostril. Switch the nostril that you’re closing and breathe out through the other one.

Repeat this until you’re feeling calm again. The unique breathing sensation should ground you.

Moving Your Body

Moving your body can be a good grounding technique. If you have the ability to get up and move, do so.

When you’re feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or triggered, see if you’re able to do a quick round of exercises. Good exercises to try include:

  • 10 jumping jacks
  • 10 push-ups
  • 10 squats
  • 10 toe touches

In short, you want to pick a simple exercise that you can do without any extra equipment.


If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try listing things. Pick a category and think of as many things as possible that fit into that category. Don’t stop listing until you’re feeling calm again.

Pick a category that has plenty of potential things to list. Keep it simple. Good categories include:

  • Types of animals
  • Television shows
  • Movies with a specific actor or actress
  • Types of cars

Try Grounding When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

So what is grounding? It’s a self-soothing technique that you can try whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious, triggered, or otherwise out of touch with reality.

Grounding is safe, easy, and effective.

At Operation Red Wings Foundation, we understand the importance of mental health support for Veterans. Learn more about our retreats and what we do today.