If ever there were a time to know how to stay grounded, it’s now. In the midst of pandemic, and the economic upheaval brought on by extreme social distancing, the world seems to have turned upside down. Around the globe, people’s minds are buzzing with uncertainty. How many will be lost to this virus? Will we, or someone we love, be infected? How long will it last?
We have no way of knowing what the future holds. And with many people losing their jobs, or facing the possibility of losing their businesses, it feels like the ground’s being ripped out from under the whole world economy. Knowing how to stay grounded in times like these – during any crisis, really – can keep us calm, collected, and capable of making wise decisions at precisely the time we need it most.
The What-If Queen
I grew up in the eighties. Back then, the threat of nuclear annihilation loomed heavy over our heads. We had the duck-and-cover drills, where loud sirens would blast through the city, and all of us kids would drop our pencils to crawl under our desks. I don’t recall if I thought my desk would actually save me from a nuclear bomb, but I do know those drills instilled fear in me.
My mother used to call me the what-if queen, because I was always coming to her with what-if scenarios. Many of them had to do with the bomb. I wanted to know anything I could know, because knowing felt like the only measure of safety I could offer myself. The bombs, and the people who might launch them, lay far beyond my control.
Today, I’m no longer the what-if queen. In fact, I’d say I’m the opposite of that now. Somewhere along the way, I learned what-ifs don’t deliver on their promise to make me feel safer. If anything, they leave me feeling less safe. There’s a lot of what-ifs out there, and contemplating them just tends to accentuate my powerlessness.
In times of crisis and chaos, like right now, so much lies beyond our control. But we always have control over at least one thing. That is, our own reaction to what’s happening. When we choose to find our grounding in the midst of crisis and chaos, we empower ourselves. We free up mental space, so we can think more clearly. This enables us to act in alignment with our inner strength and wisdom, so we can make the best possible decisions for ourselves and our loved ones. And, no less important, staying grounded minimizes our suffering. Because let’s face it, feeling anxious, scared, and completely out of control is agonizing.
What Does It Mean to Stay Grounded?
If you want to know how to stay grounded, you first need to establish what it means to be grounded. Being grounded means you’re connected to your calm, steady center. It’s trusting in your ability to survive, even when what’s happening in your life feels like it’s threatening to overwhelm you. I think of it as having deep, strong roots to anchor me – like a giant oak tree. Even when the winds blow hard and my limbs swoop and sway, my core remains unmovable.
That’s not to say being grounded means we deny our natural, emotional responses to stressful situations. We’re human, which means we’re going to have fear, anxiety, and stress when significant upsets arise. If we want to stay healthy – or grounded, for that matter – we can’t stuff these reactions or pretend they’re not there. The fact is they are, whether we want to give them space or not.
But being grounded means we don’t give in to these feelings completely. Instead, we make a conscious choice to return to, or find, our inner source for courage, trust, and resilience. We can give space for initial or isolated emotional peaks, but we choose again and again to return to a more grounded perspective.
And this involves more than just a leap of faith. Faith can indeed help anchor us, but there are specific things we can do to ground anxious energy and prevent the flames of worry and stress from being fanned further. We can stay grounded by choosing to focus on energetic shifts in our body, heart, mind, and spirit.
How to Stay Grounded Through Your Body
One of the best ways to stay grounded is to shift what’s happening for you energetically in your body. There are two reasons for this. The first is we experience anxiety and fear acutely in the body. That’s why we often use the term nervous energy when talking about these emotional states. When we’re feeling anxiety and fear, the nerves in our body are frazzled and charged. If the emotional charge is high enough, we may also feel elevated heart rate, tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, trembling, and other physical manifestations. Fear, anxiety, and stress live in the body.
The second reason is anxiety and fear draw energy from the unknown future. Because the future is unknown, whatever reaction we’re having to it inherently derives from our mental activity. Specifically, our imagination. When we connect with and focus on our body, instead of our thoughts, we bring ourselves back into contact with the present moment, where we’re safe and secure. This helps us feel grounded.
Any kind of physical activity can help you feel more grounded. If you love running, walking, riding a bike, or lifting weights, you can use these activities to help you stay grounded. Yoga and hiking are my personal favorites when it comes to grounding through the body. Because yoga is designed to calm and balance the nervous system, it’s especially suited to this goal. And hiking, with its connection to nature and the earth, provides an intrinsic grounding effect. When we hike, the earth – being the ground itself – shares its powerful grounding energy with us. Additionally, studies have found time spent in nature produces many mental health benefits, anxiety and stress-reduction among them.
Grounding With a Body Scan
Another way to stay grounded through your body is to use the mindfulness practice of a body scan. This is a simple technique that brings attention to each part of your body as you observe whatever sensations are happening in the present moment. It has an almost instant grounding effect and can be done anytime, anywhere. (Try my Guided Body Scan Meditation here.)
How to Stay Grounded Through Your Heart
Here, by heart, I’m referencing your internal emotional center. The part of you that feels most connected to and affected by your emotions. For many people, that center is felt in the chest region, where the heart chakra resides. Anxiety, stress, and fear often manifest in this area, with sensations that can range from general uneasiness to tightness or heaviness, all the way up to full-blown panic, with rapid heart rate and chest pain.
When you’re feeling ungrounded, it can be soothing to place your hand on your heart center and massage in gentle circles. As you do this, focus on the contact between your hand and your chest and the warmth this touch generates. Maintain a steady, full breath. This calms your entire system and opens space in your heart center. Once you’ve connected with and warmed your heart center, there are two qualities you can focus on to counteract fear and anxiety and produce a grounding effect.
Inner States That Quiet Anxiety & Fear
The first quality is self-compassion. Compassion is a complex emotion that involves having empathy for another person’s suffering. With self-compassion, you offer that empathy to yourself, instead of someone else. Basically, you’re acknowledging the reality of your difficult emotions and the uncomfortable experience of having to face challenging circumstances you can’t control. You’re suffering, and because you recognize your suffering, you extend tender love and kindness to yourself. You can offer yourself blessings, by saying inwardly to yourself something like the following:
May I be held in the heart of compassion. May my pain and suffering be eased. May I be at peace. May I be loved and comforted in this difficult time.
When your heart opens to love and kindness, fear and anxiety automatically recede. That’s because these opposite emotional energies can’t be felt within your heart at the same time.
Gratitude works in a similar fashion. Focusing on all your blessings as you open your heart in sincere gratitude shifts your energy from the frequency of fear to the frequency of appreciation. This shift in energy has a grounding effect.
How to Stay Grounded Through Your Mind
The mind is often the biggest culprit when it comes to anxiety, stress, and fear. It’s our mind that imagines all the scenarios that can go wrong. These visions of doom can hold so much power we react to them as if they’re facts or real, lived experiences, instead of just one (or a few) of the many possible outcomes. If we want to stay grounded, we have to learn how to manage our thoughts skillfully.
Here are three ways you can use your mind more effectively to help you stay grounded:
Prevent Information Overload
My younger self – the what-if queen – wanted to know all the possible scenarios she might have to face. She wanted as much information as she could get about them too. The hope was knowing all this information would somehow keep her safe.
I confess, I’ve had to contend with her impulses over the past week. I’ve found myself digging through the news, looking for statistics and facts from all over the world, hoping I might gain some comfort in knowing what to expect. But once again, I’ve learned the lesson – there is no comfort to be found there. I’m no more prepared to deal with whatever does happen, and I certainly have no more control over it. All that digging accomplished was to feed the flames of my anxiety.
Of course, being informed is responsible. It does help us prepare in whatever ways we can. I have food in my pantry and medicines in my cabinet because I sought and found helpful information in enough time to prepare. However, we have to maintain a balance if we want to stay grounded.
The best way to know if you’re keeping that balance is to pay attention to how you’re feeling internally as you’re seeking out information. If you’re rationally processing what you’re reading, and using it to make wise decisions, it’s helpful. If you’re overcome with emotions, or drawn to read the news to feed an emotion, it’s probably not serving you well. It might be time to take a break.
Boundaries Can Help You Stay Grounded
When we’re in the middle of a crisis, we’re extra vulnerable to energetic influence. It’s important to choose wisely which sources we open ourselves up to. We don’t have to absorb everything the media, social networks, and other people present to us. Staying grounded sometimes requires us to be selective about who and what we allow to hold sway.
Having good boundaries can help protect you from ungrounded influences – people or sources that are fear-based and emotionally charging. Not everything that’s presented in the news is objective fact. In fact, in today’s media culture, much of it is either straight-out opinion, or at least slanted through the lens of opinion. Additionally, people can have different reactions to the same set of facts. Hence, why we see so many different takes on current events in our social media feeds. And, why family members, partners, and friends can have wildly different responses to the same information.
If you want to stay grounded, healthy boundaries can help you manage your own internal responses without undue influence from others. You can choose to filter-out opinion from fact. You can also choose to let someone else hold a different view of things, without surrendering your own. In this way, you take in what’s truly helpful and let the rest go. And you hold space for your own grounded perspective.
Recognizing Cognitive Distortions Can Help You Stay Grounded
When a crisis turns your world upside down, it can be easy to fall into the trap of cognitive distortion. Especially catastrophizing, which means you’re imagining the worst case scenario and assuming it will happen. Filtering can also interfere with forming a clear assessment of a situation. This happens when you focus all your attention on the negative and filter-out the positive. Leaning into emotional reasoning presents another trap. This happens when you start assuming just because you feel a certain way (i.e. afraid or anxious), the situation must be what you think it is.
Cognitive distortions can create and/or reinforce our anxiety, stress, and fear, leaving us feeling ungrounded. However, interjecting some clarity of thought can shift us onto more solid ground. How do you access more clarity? You have to challenge your initial assumptions. Is this the only possible outcome? What other possible outcomes are there? How likely is it this will happen? What positive things are happening right now? What resources and supports do I have available to me? Even though I’m feeling anxious about this, does that really mean I know it will happen?
When you examine the situation from the standpoint of challenging your assumptions, you break the automatic thought-loop. Flaws in your thinking come to light. Talking to a supportive friend, family member, or counselor can help you gain a more objective perspective too.
Mindfulness Helps You Stay Grounded
Because mindfulness is the practice of connecting with the present moment, without judgment, it has an intrinsically grounding effect. As we talked about earlier, anxiety and fear are rooted in future-mindset. They arise from focusing on what might happen. Mindfulness, on the other hand, focuses all your attention on what is happening right now.
There are a variety of ways to practice it (you can learn more about them here), but all mindful practices cultivate the capacity to stay grounded. If you want to know how to stay grounded, mindfulness is one of the most effective techniques. It produces immediate results and also cultivates a more lasting foundation for grounding over time.
How to Stay Grounded Through Your Spirit
Regardless of your spiritual path, connecting to your spiritual self can help ground you. Our spirituality guides our view of who we are, how the world and the cosmos work, how we’re connected to each other and life itself, and what gives meaning to our life experiences. When we tap into the spiritual truths that guide our life, we bring order to what might otherwise feel like chaos. We broaden our perspective enough to see beyond the problems or challenges right in front of us. We open up space for faith, hope, and the recognition that we’re part of something much bigger than ourselves. This brings comfort and inner peace.
Spirituality works like a salve for the uncomfortable reality we face as conscious beings – the fact we cannot know the future, and at the same time, we’re capable of imagining it. The fact we’re not only mortal, but we’re aware of our mortality. We know the pain of loss, and as much as we’d like to prevent it, we know we’ll feel it again. Spirituality helps us cope with all of this. But it does more than that.
Spirituality Brings Inner Peace
An energetic shift occurs when we connect to our higher self, or spirit. It’s transcendental, which means it’s non-physical. It transcends our ordinary way of relating to life, including fight-or-flight responses like anxiety and fear. I can’t explain the mechanism, and I doubt you need me to. If you’ve ever connected to your spirit, you know what I’m talking about. There’s a stillness and a peace that permeates – one that, as the Bible says, transcends all understanding.
While we often think about grounding in terms of feeling safe, secure, and capable of continuing to survive on this planet, spirituality offers a different comfort that’s nonetheless energetically grounding. It’s a trust and knowing that whatever happens, we’ll be okay. We can still find peace. And this peace becomes the solid ground beneath our feet when we’re confronted with circumstances that lie well beyond our control. Because we’ve accepted we’re part of something much bigger than ourselves, and we’ve developed a trusting relationship with that something, we find steadiness and stillness even in the midst of chaos.
However you connect with your spirit – prayer, meditation, reading spiritual texts, spending time in nature, etc. – it can offer a powerful way to stay grounded when your world’s turned upside down.
When we make the choice to stay grounded at every level of our being – body, heart, mind, & spirit – we give ourselves a strong foundation on which we can stand during times of crisis. It enables us to make good decisions and to keep putting one foot in front of the other. This, in turn, reinforces our sense of strong grounding.
All crises eventually pass. This one will too. On the other side of crisis, we find we’ve grown. We’re stronger, wiser, more resourceful and resilient. And when the next crisis comes around, we can reflect on how we survived this one to trust ourselves and find our grounding again.
May we all be comforted and strengthened in our greatest hours of need. Namaste.