Medically reviewed by: Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, MSW

Reviewed On: January 31, 2023

 No matter what type of PTSD you received a PTSD diagnosis for, everyone who has PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) has to find their own way to deal with it. Grounding techniques are exercises designed to distract you from distressing thoughts and feelings and bring you back to the present moment. They’re tools that can be beneficial and effective in managing PTSD symptoms that disrupt your life, like flashbacks or panic attacks. 

If you’ve been struggling with symptoms of PTSD and are looking for help, read on to learn more about grounding exercises. You can use simple, easy-to-implement grounding exercises for PTSD to manage the condition in your daily life. Especially when combined with other things like therapy and possibly medication, grounding techniques can be very effective in coping with PTSD.

6 Mental Grounding Techniques

Mental grounding techniques are a way to use your mind or imagination to distract yourself from negative feelings or thoughts. When used correctly, they can help you focus on your current surroundings and feelings instead of events from the past. These six grounding techniques for PTSD can be effective ways to manage your symptoms. 

1. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is a highly effective grounding exercise that focuses on making you aware of what’s happening in the present. Studies show mindfulness-based treatment such as mindful breathing exercises for anxiety can ease many PTSD symptoms, including avoidance and negative feelings about traumatic events.

2. Create a list of things you love

Use your mind to create a list of some of your favorite things. For example, you could make a list of your favorite foods or list some of your favorite movies. As you create your list, take the time to visualize each thing you add. 

3. Visualize leaving your painful feelings behind 

A traumatic experience can leave you with many painful feelings. Visualization can help you let go of the pain:

  1. Try picturing yourself collecting all your negative emotions and hurt
  2. Visualize yourself walking away from the strong emotion and moving on to something better
  3. Repeat this grounding exercise often

Over time, you’ll find that you’re distancing yourself from the trauma.

4. Recite something from memory

Remember one of your favorite poems or the lyrics to a song you love. Then, in your head, recite the words to yourself. As you do this, try to visualize each word as if it were printed on a page. 

5. Focus on self-compassion

Recite positive affirmations that remind you of your worth. For example, you could tell yourself that you’re powerful and strong or that you’re getting better every day. If it helps, write your favorite affirmations down and tape them to places you’ll regularly see. For example, you could try placing them on the bathroom mirror where you get ready every day, in your car, or on the nightstand by your bed. 

6. Picture a place you love

Draw your thoughts toward your favorite place, whether it’s somewhere fictional or a place in the real world. Try visualizing and imagining what you would do if you were there. Focus intensely on the sights, the sounds, the smells, or anything sensory you’d experience if you were actually in your special place.

12 Physical Grounding Techniques

All five of your senses can be used in grounding for PTSD techniques. When a physical grounding practice engages the eyes, nose, sense of touch, hear, or taste, it can help you focus on something other than your PTSD symptoms. While these grounding exercises for PTSD may require more preparation than mental techniques, they’re known for being very effective coping mechanisms. 


1. Focus on the objects around you

Take inventory of all the objects around you. Look for things with certain features, such as red or green items. Then try counting any objects with these characteristics that you can see from where you are. 

2. Watch a movie or a show

Watching a funny or uplifting show or movie might help take your mind off stress. To avoid potential triggers, try to watch things you’ve seen before. 

3. Try coloring

While coloring books are popular with kids, studies show that coloring activities can also reduce adult stress and anxiety. Coloring is an enjoyable activity that can redirect and focus your mind if you feel anxious. 


4. Apply a scented lotion

If you’re not sensitive to fragrance, put on a scented lotion. As you rub the lotion into your hands, take the time to appreciate the scent. Our sense of smell is strongly linked to our memory, and certain scents can bring back positive memories. 

5. Use calming scents

Some smells, like lavender and chamomile, are known to have a calming effect. Smelling essential oils or burning scented candles can help you relax if you’re feeling overwhelmed. 


6. Appreciate your favorite foods

Take the time to savor a few bites of food you love. If you have a sweet tooth, indulge in a piece of chocolate or suck on a hard candy. Focus all your attention on the sensations you experience while enjoying what you’re eating. 

7. Shock your senses with something spicy

When you eat spicy foods that contain capsaicin, it triggers pain receptors in the body. This can cause your brain to release feel-good chemicals called endorphins. These chemicals elevate mood and reduce feelings of distress. 


8. Grab a piece of ice

The sensation of an ice cube can steer your body away from a stress response. Cold temperatures can also trigger pain receptors, releasing endorphins. So, the next time you feel panic coming on, grab an ice cube and hold it in your hand until you start to calm down. 

9. Place your hands under running water

Turn a faucet on and put one of your hands in the stream of water. Focus on the differences between the hand that’s touching the water and the dry one. 

10. Spend time with your pet 

Pets can positively impact mental health, which is why including your pet in grounding techniques for PTSD can be beneficial. First, spend a few moments petting or cuddling with your pet. Even if you’re not physically with your furry friend, you can picture them and think about the physical sensations you feel when you’re near them. 


11. Play your favorite song

Start playing a song you love. As the music plays, think back to how you felt when you heard the song for the first time. Pay close attention to the lyrics or the song’s melody. 

12. Read out loud

Try reading something out loud if you’re alone or with someone you trust. It could be a passage from a book, a blog post, a poem, or a funny joke. As you read, pay close attention to the sounds of each word. 

When Grounding Isn’t Enough

While grounding for PTSD can be extremely effective, you may need to combine it with other resources to manage your symptoms. Many people find they can reduce the severity of symptoms with medication for PTSD. Some medications can also treat other symptoms that might accompany PTSD, like anxiety and depression. 

Therapy can help you change the associations you have with traumatic events. It can give you better ways to cope with symptoms and help you process the trauma that caused your PTSD. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT for PTSD, is a type of therapy focused on changing thoughts and behavior patterns, and is frequently recommended for PTSD. 

“When the grounding opportunities listed do not provide relief, it’s important for the individual to seek out additional help or resources like therapy.”

Talkspace therapist Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW

Get Professional PTSD Treatment with Talkspace

All these grounding techniques for PTSD can help you manage your PTSD symptoms, but you may see better results if you seek therapy in addition to the self-help tactics you’re using. Talkspace can connect you with an online therapist to help you cope with your PTSD. You don’t have to continue living with the fear and anxiety your PTSD causes you. Help is out there, and Talkspace can help you get it.