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The 54321 Grounding Technique

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What is a grounding technique?

A grounding technique is a coping skill that is used to keep somebody ‘grounded’ in the present. Not being in the present is any time that your head isn’t focusing on the here and now and is instead spiraling in to past or future thoughts or feelings. In simple terms it can help bring you back down to earth. There are multiple different skills all under the grounding exercise umbrella but I’ll be talking about the 54321 skill that utilises the senses to help you focus on what is going on right now in this moment.

Who is it useful to?

There are many situations in which grounding can be a useful technique. While I use it mostly for that mind racing, intrusive thoughts and overwhelming feelings it can also be useful for flashbacks, waking from nightmares, or really any time that somebody is struggling to stay in the present with their mental health.

Why does it work?

So I’m going to try to explain this without being too sciency (yes, that’s the technical term!) about it. There’s a part of our brain that is responsible for our fear responses called the Amygdala, this is the part of your brain crying ‘emergency!‘ when we’re in these cycles of intrusive thoughts and feelings. The problem with this response is that is causes changes in the body to prepare you to fight, freeze or flight. When we’re anxious people, or people with any mental health issues really, we can interpret these physical responses as more danger and thus get stuck going round and round. Grounding techniques help stop this by bringing your focus back away from these thoughts and feelings.

How do I practice the 54321 skill?

Right, let’s get to it then. This is a simple skill that only grows in effectiveness the more we practice it. We’ll go over how to below in simple bullet points.

  • Look around and outloud name five things that you can see in the room eg. A television, a pillow, a window, a mirror, a vivarium.
  • Name four things that you can feel eg. I can feel the soft pillow against my back, I can feel the hard ground against my feet.
  • Name three things that you can hear right now eg. I can hear birds chirping outside the window, I can hear cars driving along the road.
  • Name two things that you can smell e.g. I can smell the coffee in my cup, I can smell the toast that I made.
  • Name one thing that you can taste e.g. I can taste toothpaste from brushing my teeth.

If you can’t get all of the things, just remember something instead. So, for example, if you can’t taste anything, think about something you really love the taste of.

This is a skill that I have found particularly useful for those racing thoughts and the feeling of pure panic. The more you practice this, the easier it is to use in the moments that you need it. I hope that this explained it for those that didn’t know what grounding was, and that you find it helpful for managing your mental health. Remember that we can never have too many skills at our disposal when dealing with mental health difficulties, so why not give it a go for five minutes today!

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