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Minimalist Therapy Skills: If Nothing Else, Learn to Ground & Stabilize

Updated: Jul 25, 2023

Grounding & Stabilizing is arguably the most important but simplest skill a person can learn in therapy when dealing with stress, anxiety, depression, trauma, and almost any mental health condition. These minimalist methods physiologically/ somatically calm the system, and unhelpful or hard thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sensations usually follow suit. Breathing, using the body & space we are in, and working with imagery are three easy ways to improve grounding and stabilization. Grounding & Stabilizing exercises can be very helpful for when you need to nurture your body, mind, and heart.

Here are some exercises you can try for yourself, but keep in mind that if you find any of these more destabilizing than helpful, please discontinue attempting this on your own and instead work with a mental health professional to find what can work best for you. Practicing grounding exercises daily 3-5 times a day soothes stress, anxiety, depression, and trauma symptoms, and also helps keep us regulated.


A man stands with his eyes shut and head tilted back looking peaceful as he breathes outside under a tree.
Breathing helps to regulate by slowing the nervous system down,

Breathing* is one of the fastest and most reliable ways to ground & stabilize, and an extended exhale is what is most well linked to improved emotional regulation, stress management, increased problem solving, increased creativity, and more. Breathing is truly surprisingly effective as a simple way to reduce uncomfortable thoughts, images, and emotions. This is because when distressing thoughts take over, the heartbeat can get erratic, but by slowing the breath, we slow the heartbeat, and then the brain also stabilizes. With effective breathing, you will notice your heart rate and brain stabilizing (so mentally functioning better to manage negative thoughts and emotions).

*For some people who have a negative association with breathing exercises, grounding exercises which focus more on the sensations in the body or connecting with the physical environment can be more helpful.

1.Short Inhales

  1. Breathe in only half a breath.

  2. Breathe out for as long as you can.

  3. Repeat10 times.

2. 7-11 Breathing

  1. Inhale 7 seconds through the nose

  2. Exhale 11 seconds through the mouth, focusing on engaging the diaphragm and keeping the chest still. It can help to place your hands on your abdomen and to focus on feeling the hands move up and down as the abdomen expands and contracts.

  3. Repeat for at least 3 cycles, but ideally for a few minutes.


Breathing doesn't feel great for everyone, so it's a good idea to try some somatic and environmental grounding exercises too. Here are five options.

A flow chart providing three options instead of doing deep breathing to help with grounding & stabilization.
There are many options other than breathing that can help with grounding and stabilization.

3. 3x3 Orienting

If you are feeling disconnected/ dissociative/ overwhelmed, this is an easy way to come back into the space you are in, the present moment, and they body, which is calming and soothing.

  1. Look around you and name & point to 3 things of a particular colour (ie. blue).

  2. Look around you and name & point to 3 things of a particular shape (ie. square).

  3. Slowly and intentionally, move 3 different body parts for 30 seconds – 1 minute each, noticing your ability to create that movement in your own body in a way that feels good for you.

4. Hand Massage

One hand massages another.
A simple hand massage can be very helpful to ground and stabilize.

A hand massage brings the attention of the mind to a soothing bodily sensation and movement. This helps to come back into the body and present moment. Hands carry a lot of tension and there are stress release points at the base of the thumbs and connection points at the end of the fingers. To do:

  1. Slowly and gently massage your hands together.

  2. Experiment with the rate and pressure you are using to find what feels best, and notice your innate ability to create the movement you want in your own body as you do this.

  3. Option: You can add a scented lotion of your choosing if you would like the additional benefit of a soothing smell - pay attention to what emotions/ mood states you associate with the smell, and choose wisely.

5. Butterfly Hug

This simple practice connects dual attention bilateral stimulation with noticing thoughts, emotions, and sensations, and can help lower the impact of these harder parts.

A woman stands with her arms crossed in a butterfly hug position with a calm face while softly gazing out at the sea.
A butterfly hug can help ground and stabilize.
  1. Cross your arms at your chest with your middle fingers directly under the collar bone/ clavicle. The fingers rest where the shoulder meets the collar bone.

  2. Keep your arms and hands as vertical as possible with each hand touching the opposite side of your chest. OPTION: Lock hands in place by interlocking in the thumbs.

  3. Close your eyes if comfortable. OPTION: Close eyes partially and/or find something to softly rest the gaze on.

  4. Flutter your hands from one side to another of your body - like the movements of a butterfly.

  5. If you find yourself holding your breath, just let out a long exhale and let the breathing naturally resume - of focus on breathing in and out in tune with your movements.

  6. Gently notice any thoughts, emotions, or sensations that arise - each time just mentally waving to them before shifting your mind to in turn notice any odors, sounds, or contact points between your body and your surroundings. You can also imagine any harder thoughts, emotions, or sensations turning into butterflies and fluttering away.

  7. You can stop once you start to feel better, and negative thoughts and/or emotions are not as bothersome. The goal of this exercise is not really to push away negative thoughts but simply lower the impact of them so you don’t feel as anxious or distressed.

6. Create Temperature Change

Creating a temperature change can help the body and mind reset. Options for this can include:

- Run water over your hands. Start by running cold water over your hands. Focus on how the temperature feels on each part of your hand, from your wrist to your nails. Switch to warm water and focus on how the sensation on your hands changes. Do this for a few minutes until you calm down.

- Try the same, but immerse your whole body (have a shower).

- Take some ice cubes and see how if feels to hold them in your hands, or to run them over your face or other parts of your body.

7. Exercise

Exercise naturally regulates the breath and brings focus to the body. Doing just a couple minutes of jumping jacks or burpees can be incredibly helpful, especially for people who struggle with using breathing to regulate. Even a short walk about at a moderate pace can have very beneficial results.


Imagery is another way we can create a different set of feelings compared to what is immediately around us - this can offer calming, grounding, or stabilizing even in quite chaotic or uncomfortable situations. The more we practice with imagery like this, the more likely we can access it in times where we truly need it, and the faster it tends to work.

A woman lies with her eyes shut and face peaceful in a field of deep green grass.
Imagery can be very helpful to ground and stabilize - deeply envisioning the associated 5 senses can bring up helpful feelings.

8. Visual Grounding

  1. Sit down.

  2. Intentionally feel your bum on whatever you are sitting on and firmly place your feet on the ground.

  3. Out loud, say the time and date.

  4. Notice your breath - see if you can slow it down, especially the exhale.

  5. Close your eyes if comfortable. OPTION: Close eyes partially and/or find something to softly rest the gaze on.

  6. Imagine a place that you like that makes you feel secure.

  7. Visualize it strongly - what would you see there (colours, beings, objects, movement, etc.).

  8. Use your other senses to explore the place (What are the sounds around you in this place, what smells can you pick up, what could you touch in this place, and what would that feel like, what aromas are here, and even what might you taste here - even if it's the salt in the air by the ocean, for example?)

  9. Notice and feel any positive emotions coming up as you visualize this place - happiness, coziness, or comfort, etc..

  10. Think of a phrase or name that goes with this place and repeat it to yourself 5 - 10 times.

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