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Years ago, I wish I’d known how to stay calm.
My anger used to race at the slightest criticism.
My husband tiptoed on eggshells to avoid offending me. Mom preferred talking about cooking, a “safe” topic. Friends never spoke up.
I grew up with an overcritical father. So, the tiniest (perceived) criticism stung.
My nerves were electric.
Does your anger, sadness or fear overwhelm you?
It’s miserable when we don’t know how to stay calm. We say regrettable things, make bad decisions or fail to take action.
Finding the root causes of negative emotions helps us heal past hurts and get unstuck. But for now, perhaps you just want quick and easy ways to keep your cool.
Read on to learn how grounding techniques work. Then you can try one or all 10 grounding techniques to manage your emotions, instead of getting swept away in them.
No one taught us how to stay calm
Many people believe strong negative emotions like anger, sadness, fear, anxiety or jealousy are trouble.
We’ll do anything to avoid negative emotions: blame others, ignore our feelings, drink excessively or abuse screen time.
No one taught us how to stay calm. Emotions are icky. When we feel angry, we snap at others. Scared, we freeze up.
It’s just what we do… isn’t it?
Unfortunately, when our emotions control us, we lose control of our life. Our thoughts scatter and our focus blurs. Life becomes one emotional roller coaster and nothing works.
Then we beat ourselves up and feel like crap.
So, how can we stay calm?
Enter… grounding techniques! When you feel upset (or any strong emotion), have you noticed how most of your energy tends to be up in your head?
Maybe you even felt like your mind disconnected from your body?
We’re not centered when we:
- try to do too much
- beat ourselves up
- ruminate about the past or future
- get distracted easily
- worry excessively
Grounding techniques guide our energy or attention from our head to the rest of our body. They often focus on the five senses or our immediate surroundings to connect our mind and body to the present moment.
“The more rooted you are in your body, the less stress and anxiety you experience.” —Scott Jeffrey
Why is it so hard to stay calm?
Our inner critic often gets in the way.
It’s that voice in our head that puts us down: You’re stupid. Haven’t you learned? You’re never going to succeed.
Fear motivates the inner critic and forms the base of many negative emotions. So, the inner critic uses the fight-or-flight response to ensure our survival, but also our emotional well-being.
By criticizing us before others can, the inner critic hopes to whip us into action.
The goal? To make sure others love, accept and respect us.
However, the inner critic tends to abuse us. It doesn’t know how to stay calm when danger seems to loom at every corner.
Chronic fatigue, burnout
But we can take the inner critic’s reins. We can choose to not let fear dictate our life.
The next time your emotions overwhelm you, use a grounding technique to stop the fight-or-flight response.
While you’ll still feel strong emotions, you’ll know how to stay calm in the storm. The goal isn’t to avoid our emotions because that reinforces them. Rather, we want to be able to feel them without going crazy.
And after the emotion fizzles out, our mind naturally clears up, making room for solutions.
So, go ahead, check out these 10 grounding techniques below.
1) Let your emotions flow
When we feel strong negative emotions, we tend to ignore or repress them—or on the flip side, lash out. But by doing so, we actually reinforce the emotions, causing more stress and issues in the long run.
Instead, acknowledge how you’re feeling right now. Where do you feel tense in your body? Avoid judging yourself or rationalizing.
Identify the emotion, but don’t identify with it: I feel angry versus I’m angry. This lessens the emotion’s grip on you and allows it to pass more quickly.
Try to feel how your anger, sadness or fear circulates in your body.
2) Pay attention to your belly
Place your hands on your belly to help you focus. Pay attention to how it inflates and deflates with air.
Breathe deeply. Keep focusing on your belly until you feel calmer.
Your breath is a reliable anchor when emotions take over.
3) Breathe the emotion down to your feet
Have you ever tried a visualization?
Inhale, while imagining your breath attracting the negative emotion in your body like a magnet.
As you exhale, envision the negative emotion gliding down to your feet, where it exits your body and gets absorbed by the earth.
Repeat until you feel calmer.
4) Notice your body’s contact with the floor or chair
Notice how the chair feels against your back. Does it feel comfy or hard?
Be mindful of the floor under your feet. “Grab” the floor with your toes. Or take note of how soft your socks feel against your ankles.
Focusing on your body and its contact to objects centers you while your emotions run their course.
5) Touch and describe objects
As soon as you feel overwhelmed or ruminate, pick up any object and examine it. Then, describe the object in as much detail as possible.
List the object’s characteristics in your mind or aloud. Even if it’s just my sweater, there are plenty of details to awaken my senses (and get myself out of my head):
- white wool
- intricate cable knit stitches
- airy yet heavy
- soft, stretchy and a bit scratchy
- lavender scented (from my perfume)
You can even keep a box of unusual or fun objects (like crystals or seashells) just for this purpose. Or keep one in your pocket to do this exercise during a stressful event.
6) Stand like a tree
Imitate a tree to ground yourself in 1 to 10 minutes: first, stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your hands by your side or put them on your belly.
Imagine your body’s weight and tension sinking into the ground. Visualize roots growing out of your feet and reaching deep into the earth.
7) The 5-4-3-2-1 Technique
Take a few deep breaths to calm down a bit. Then follow these steps to bring your mind into the here and now (source):
- Name 5 things you see around you. I see a plant, pan, stove, curtain and window.
- Name 4 things you can touch around you. I can touch my t-shirt, glasses, dishtowel and the floor underneath my feet.
- Name 3 things you can hear. I hear the TV, kids playing outside and a motorcycle zooming by.
- Name 2 things you can smell. I can smell the cookies I baked and clean laundry.
- Name 1 thing you can taste. I can still taste the soup I had for lunch!
- Repeat the process as needed.
8) Tense and relax a body part
In Lori Lite’s illustrated children’s book Angry Octopus, a mermaid helps an octopus manage his anger after the destruction of his seashell garden (cute, huh?).
This grounding technique is also called Progressive Muscular Relaxation. Use it to let go of stress, anxiety and strong emotions.
Get into a comfortable position and take a few deep breaths. Then…
Next, repeat the process for your:
- hips, stomach and back
- chest, neck and shoulders
- arms, hands and fingers
- jaw, lips, nose and face
- forehead and thoughts in your head (this always makes me laugh!)
Finally, stay still for a few moments and enjoy how good it feels.
9) Do Mindful Movements
Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh developed these gentle exercises, based in yoga and tai-chi.
My favorite is “Open Like a Flower”. Imagine you’re a flower opening and closing:
- Inhale and open your arms out to the side, with your palms up.
- Exhale and touch your shoulders with your fingertips.
- Inhale and open your arms out to the side again.
- Exhale and touch your shoulders again.
Do each movement 4 times to fully benefit from each one.
10) Inhale “here”, exhale “now”
Close your eyes.
As you inhale through your nose, say in your mind, “Here.”
As you exhale through your mouth, say in your mind, “Now.”
Continue as needed.
If you lose your concentration, place your hand on your belly during this exercise.
Bonus grounding technique: EFT Tapping
My go-to grounding technique is EFT Tapping (Emotional Freedom Techniques).
When you tap on certain acupuncture points, while focusing on the cause of stress, it calms the mind, reduces anxiety and relieves pain.
The basic technique is easy to learn and apply whenever you feel anxious.
Here’s a quick tapping tip that I recommend to all my clients: Anytime you feel tense or anxious, use 4 fingers of one hand to tap on the side of the other hand.
If you’d like, observe where you feel the tension in your body. Then, focus on the tension as you tap on the side of your hand until you feel calmer.
Now that you know how to stay calm…
It’s time to put your knowledge into action!
Don’t expect your fear, sadness or anger to disappear. They’re a part of being human. (If you need support, take a look at my EFT Tapping services.)
You can always use a grounding technique to stay calm and centered as you feel your emotions. Then, see what you can learn and find solutions.
That’s how I managed my fear of criticism—and saved my relationships.
Now it’s your turn.
Which grounding technique will you try today?
P.S. Would you like some free support? Get quick stress relief in a free EFT Tapping session in exchange for a short interview. Learn more.
Annie Moussu is a certified EFT Tapping Master Practitioner helping women build confidence, set boundaries & enjoy healthy relationships. Get her free EFT meditation & guide for people-pleasing.