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Feeling overwhelmed? Grounding skills can help.

There are a number of tools / techniques that I typically go over with clients in the first session or two of therapy. I do this with almost everyone because I find that practicing and developing these skills is one of the important foundations for self-soothing and anxiety / stress management, something that everyone can benefit from... But you don't have to book a session to learn and incorporate these tools in your toolbox.

Why do grounding skills help?

When we're feeling overwhelmed, it's usually because our thoughts have gone into a tail-spin. These downward mental spirals tend to build on themselves as we get more and more upset and our thoughts get darker, more catastrophic, and more hopeless.

While it's not a universal solution, one that I find to be helpful (especially if we learn to catch ourselves and recognize we're spiraling before we've gone deep into the under-dark) is to use mindfulness through grounding tools as a healthy distraction.

Our spiraling thoughts are usually focused on anxiety / fear of the future, or ruminating on the problems of the past. Sometimes these are valid thoughts and emotions, sometimes they aren't. Ether way, they aren't helpful when they're overwhelming our ability to process and function. So... we bring ourselves out of the mental spiral and into the present moment using our senses. In this case, our ability to see and analyze the space around us.

I Spy Grounding

Yup, this awesome, incredibly useful tool is so simple that I named it after a children's game. There are only two steps.

#1 - Pick a random color. #2 - Look around the room or environment you're in, and try and find every instance of this color, no matter how small, that is present around you. Don't rush through this - take you're time, you may find the longer you look the more you start to see. This process should take 1-2 minutes or longer. If there aren't enough things to identify of a particular color, maybe pick another and start again. The point is to engage your mind in this simple, straightforward activity based in the present moment and the room around you.

That's it! When you feel confident you have found ALL the instances of a color in your environment, take a deep breath and check in with how you're feeling. Chances are good you've calmed down (even just a little bit), and may feel capable of taking more steps to care for yourself, or if you have the support to do so, engage in healthy emotional release / processing (say, with a therapist or friend).

This technique is one of many options you can use if you're feeling anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed. If you're struggling with these feelings regularly, and continue to have a hard time refocusing or managing your anxiety or stress, please reach out to me or another mental health professional for more support.


The information offered in this post is not intended to be used as a solution to a mental health crisis. If you are in need of crisis or emergency mental health services, please call 911, or your local crisis center. If you are in the state of Colorado, you can reach the 24/7 Colorado Crisis Services by calling1-844-493-8255 or texting “TALK” to 38255.

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