4 Grounding Skills You Can Do Right Now with Your Teen
When depression and anxiety hit it can feel like you’ve been transported to another world or dimension where everything is skewed and you aren’t present with your surroundings. You may feel numb, overwhelmed, checked out, or like you’re just floating through life with little sense of what is going on around you. When we and our teens are struggling with mental wellness it is difficult to tune into the present moment, but that is exactly what we need to do in order to get back in tune with our body and our surroundings. Anxiety and depression take the present moment away from us and force us to dwell in the past, think extensively and unhelpfully about the future, or focus on what we do not have at the present time.
What are grounding skills and how can they help?
Grounding skills are focused on mindfulness and can be classified as any activity that brings you out of your head and your thoughts and into the present moment through your physical body or through your surroundings. They are intentionally focused on body sensations and noting what is around you, versus general mindfulness activities that could include hyper-focusing into a specific activity such as coloring or exercising. Grounding skills are designed to bring you into the present moment and stop your brain from throwing piles of unhelpful thoughts at you. Of course, you may still have intrusive thoughts come into the picture when you are practicing grounding techniques. When this happens, we simply acknowledge the thoughts, let them pass by, and refocus on what we were previously doing. Just like working on mindfulness, these tools are a skill that will get better with practice.
Below are four grounding skills that you can try right now that are simple and easy to engage others in. You can make games out of them or use them in creative ways as you practice them more.
- Label out loud 10 things you can see in the room you’re in right now
This one can seem silly when you first try it because all you have to do is verbalize what you see directly around you with as much or as little detail as you would like. For example: Chair. Heater. Skateboard. Red blanket. Cartoon globe. White stand-up fan. That is all there is to it. You can do this in your head, but it can be more effective to use your voice so that it takes you out of your thoughts and you are then able to hear what you are speaking and be more in the present moment by getting more senses involved. Get your teen involved by having a race to see who can name ten objects first or play it “I Spy” style and have them look around to try and find the objects that you see.
- Find one of each color of the rainbow in the area you’re in
This is similar to the previous exercise, except you are looking for colors. Go through the rainbow and find one of each color in the room or space that you are in. Do the same thing while looking outside. Doing this forces you to search for new colors and objects in your environment that you may not see on a day-to-day run through your routine. Switch this up by increasing the number of objects of each color that you need to find (e.g. three of each color, or five red objects). Other variations of this could include finding a certain number of things (e.g. five red cars or three yellow flowers) or keeping a tally of the number of things that you see in specific categories. Ask your teen to notice all of the shades of green that are outside in the trees, grass, and weeds. Notice how the light outside hits each object in a different way and makes different shading. Try and find one new thing in your surroundings that you have not noticed before.
- Go through the five senses
This exercise involves isolating each of the five senses in a step-by-step way in order to come into the present moment. This starts by identifying five things and moves down through each sense until you get to one; it is alternatively named “5, 4, 3, 2, 1.” You will start by identifying five things you can see around you, similar to the first exercise in this list. Then identify four things you can feel. This can include emotions and physical sensations. Does your stomach hurt? Can you feel your hair on your forehead or your neck? Your clothes on your body? Are you cold or warm? You will then identify three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
This exercise goes through each sense to tune you into what your body is experiencing in the present moment. For those of us that have difficulty identifying distinct smells or tastes there is a positive twist you can put on this exercise. Go through the five things you can see, four things you can feel, and three things you can hear. After these three, identify two things that make you happy and one thing that is great about you. List views of both options are below.
|• 5 things you can see||• 5 things you can see|
|• 4 things you can feel||• 4 things you can feel|
|• 3 things you can hear||• 3 things you can hear|
|• 2 things you can smell||• 2 things that make you happy|
|• 1 thing you can taste||• 1 thing that is great about you|
- Textures and temperatures
This exercise tunes into our sense of touch and can be a great immediate grounding skill. This simply involves noticing what we can feel and having the person we are working with describe the object. You can lead with questions: “what texture does this feel like,” “how does the carpet feel on your fingers,” “how are these two blankets similar and different from each other in texture?” You can use this skill with anything you have available to you ranging from carpets, blankets, and towels, to countertops, leather seats, and rocks. Anything you can feel with your hands and describe can tune you into this sense.
Another great grounding skill in the area of touch is tuning into temperature. A common Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) skill that can at times shock your system is seeking out different temperatures. Examples of this can be taking a cold shower, holding ice cubes in your hands, touching warm cement, sitting outside for several minutes and then moving inside to a different temperature, etc. The important thing to keep in mind with this is keeping it within manageable and reasonable limits. Holding ice cubes in your hand is bearable for a minute or two, and then taking a break from it is okay. We don’t want to put ourselves or anyone else at risk while pursuing grounding through this technique.
When to use these skills
You can use these skills at any time, and they get stronger with practice. It is encouraged to practice these skills when you or your teen are calm, so that when they are needed during a panic attack or high anxiety moment, they are practiced skills that are ready to go. These skills are easy to use on your own and easy to instruct a child or teen to use if they are feeling emotionally unbalanced. You can work them into your bedtime routine for practice or use them when someone is heading towards or in the middle of a panic attack. Not all of these skills will work equally for everyone, and it is important to try a variety of grounding skills as well as coping skills to find the best ones for you. You can combine these skills in different and unique ways and figure out what works best for you and your family.