In addition to hosting Earth Day, April is also Stress Awareness Month, and a wonderful way to honor both is through a stress-relieving technique called “grounding.” Combatting the internal and environmental noise and frenetic mayhem that defines daily life, grounding practices—also called “earthing” practices—can mindfully build awareness and connection to the present through the senses. Dr. Dan Siegel of the Mindsight Institute describes grounding practices as mental and emotional anchors that tie us to the present by paying close attention to what we see, hear, feel, taste, smell, and touch. Grounding is especially helpful when experiencing stress and anxiety about the past, the future, or something outside of their control.
While grounding can be done both indoors and out, there will likely be more stimuli for your senses outside—and it’s a great excuse to kick off your shoes and enjoy nature. Regardless of whether your location is a beach, park, patio, or living room—grounding practices begin with an intentional awareness of all the ways you are occupying the space around you—from what is happening inside your body, to how you’re experiencing the world around you. Once you’re settled and prepared to shift your focus away from the mental noise, here are some simple grounding steps to get you started.
- Focus on breathing. Start with a few deep breaths and then settle into your natural breathing rhythm, paying attention to the sensations you experience in your mouth, nose, and chest. When we focus on our breathing, we become aware of something directly within our control and can begin to regulate it. This makes room for sensory curiosity, which is what grounding is all about.
- Notice your surroundings, including the things around you that normally escape your attention. If sitting, what are you sitting on? A park bench? A mossy rock? A log? Sand? Grass? Notice the texture, its softness or hardness, or dampness. Is a breeze blowing? From what direction? How is the wind or sun meeting each part of your body?
- Engage your senses, one at a time. Close your eyes. What do you hear? Try to pinpoint each sound, what or who could be making it, and its orientation (direction and distance) from you. Now focus solely on smells. Can you decipher types of smells – such as ocean or rain, versus smells from things that grow, such as blossoms or leaves or freshly cut grass? Now open your eyes and try to take in everything you experience in your visual field—shapes, light, shadow, color, and movement.
- Explore your surroundings with physical touch. Whether you choose to go barefoot, or use your hands, start with your immediate surroundings. Explore the surface of what is next to you: trees, grass, flowers, stones, sand, etc. Then move from where you’re sitting or standing and expand your physical exploration of touch to a wider perimeter of your surroundings.
- Combine the messages of all your senses. Together, what feelings are your five senses invoking? The aggregated effect created by all of these sensory experiences can help us to feel more alive and present in the current moment, despite whatever else might be happening outside that space.
Just like an electric current needs grounding for stability, we can rely on simple grounding practices to anchor us in the here and now and prevent us from being overwhelmed by things that are outside of our control or anxiety-causing. Remember that grounding is a practice that can be done anytime, anywhere, and with anyone. By regularly engaging in these simple practices, you can build a deeper connection to yourself, others, and the world around you. So go ahead, take off your shoes, breathe in the fresh air, and ground yourself in the present.
Happy Earth Day!
The Lincoln Center for Family and Youth (TLC) is a social enterprise company serving the Greater Philadelphia Area. Among its five divisions, TLC offers School-based Staffing Solutions, Mobile Coaching and Counseling, and Heather’s Hope: A Center for Victims of Crime. These major programs are united under TLC’s mission to promote positive choices and cultivate meaningful connections through education, counseling, coaching, and consulting.
About the Author
MaryJo Burchard (Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership) is co-founder and principal of Concord Solutions, a Virginia-based consultancy firm focused on helping leaders and organizations thrive while facing major disruption. Concord Solutions offers consulting, coaching, training, research, and keynote speaking surrounding trauma-informed leadership and assessing and building change readiness, trust, and belonging.