Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Caley Scott, ND
Human psychology is complex, covering the vast expanse of the mind to the nature of our emotions. As science pushes forward with discovery and therapeutic applications, dissociative disorders have come into the spotlight as a key area of interest.
While we don’t yet fully understand the nature of dissociation and what it means, many people can relate experiences it describes. Feeling detached, disconnected, or “stuck in your head” are some simple ways to summarize the concept, but the details and intensity vary for everyone.
Even if you haven’t been officially diagnosed with a dissociative disorder, such feelings might be familiar to you. Whether it’s stress, overwhelm, or just a bad case of brain fog, you may benefit from a toolkit to help you return to reality and feel more at peace internally.
This article will cover some proven grounding techniques to help with feelings of dissociation, so you can spend more time feeling like your true self and living the way you want.
What is dissociation?
Dissociation is a psychological phenomenon characterized by a disconnect between an individual’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories, and other inputs. It can be summarized as an inability to process information accurately or, in extreme cases, cut to the core of a person’s identity and understanding of who they are.
The causes of dissociation also vary, from stress and exhaustion to traumatic events or other psychological issues. Many individuals have experienced some sort of dissociative episode, while others require medical attention for a more severe mental health disorder.
Symptoms are not just psychological — they can often have physical manifestations as well. The body may respond with increased heart rate, tension, lightheadedness, or weakness. Dissociation is not to be taken lightly, as it can be disruptive to one’s life an worsen with time.
Thankfully, there are many methods that one can employ when experiencing dissociative symptoms, allowing you to gain a sense of stability and comfort during distressing moments. It’s all about building your arsenal of mental tactics and tools that can help you navigate stressful situations, flashbacks, or depersonalization episodes.
What is grounding?
Grounding refers to a set of practices that can be used to keep you in the present and better handle the ebb and flow of psychological episodes. Dissociation is just one potential use case for grounding — people also use these methods to calm down racing thoughts, overcome negative thoughts, and navigate other situations that don’t always have a clear playbook.
Grounding techniques vary widely, and some have more scientific support than others. But like many aspects of health and wellness, the most effective grounding techniques will be discovered through trial and error, discovering for yourself which ones work best in practice.
Think of grounding as your first line of defense when encountering a challenging situation, whether that’s dealing with intrapersonal problems or facing obstacles in the workplace. With a set of grounding methods in your back pocket, you’ll be more resilient, better prepared, and more likely to navigate life’s toughest situations while staying on track with your goals.
What are the best grounding techniques for dissociation?
The best grounding techniques for dissociation will vary from one person to the next, based on our differing psychologies, past experiences, and the challenges we face. With that said, there are plenty of grounding exercises you can easily learn and apply, starting today.
These aren’t complicated or time-consuming — they’re all things you likely already know how to do. The key is knowing when and why to use them so that you can overcome dissociative traps and bounce back with confidence. Here are 12 techniques to add to your toolkit:
1. Deep breathing
A few deep breaths can work wonders, whether you’re feeling overwhelmed, disconnected, or detached from the moment. Take a moment to yourself and start a cycle of deep, diaphragmatic breathing techniques, with each inhalation completely filling your ribcage and abdomen. This will flood the system with oxygen, offer a moment of respite, and bring you back into a balanced state of mind.
2. Mindfulness meditation
The benefits of meditation are well documented, and a bit of mindfulness goes a long way in any situation. Try your best to clear your head of thoughts and stress, focusing only on your breath and nothing else. As emotions and ideas come and go, just let them pass without getting caught up with each one. When your timer goes off, you’ll feel refreshed, centered, and ready to return to the action.
Dissociation often comes with a feeling of not knowing yourself or the truth of your identity. Simply speaking out loud can be an effective way to remind yourself of who you are and what you’re meant to be doing. Try recording a voice note for yourself with positive affirmations, or reciting a piece of poetry or song lyrics. You can also reach out to a friend or family member and have a quick conversation to root yourself in reality again.
4. Daily routine design
A lack of control is a common sign of dissociation, and routine is a great way to feel in control of yourself and your environment. Set out a schedule at the beginning of the day with time blocks for each activity you intend to accomplish. If you feel distressed or disconnected, simply return to the schedule and see what you should do next. This helps you avoid staying stuck in your head and keeps you on track with tasks that will serve your big-picture goals.
5. Physical activity
Movement is key to feeling alert, alive, and in the zone. Make sure to incorporate some form of physical activity at least once a day, whether that’s taking a walk outside or spending a session in the gym. Your body will release feel-good chemicals like endorphins, and self-compassion will improve when you know you’ve done something positive for how your body feels. Consistency is the key here, so focus more on daily activity than setting records.
6. Full-body scan
A full-body scan is a visualization method meant to remind you of your physical body while calming the mind. You can start with deep breathing and scan each sector of your body, starting from the tips of your fingers and toes and working inwards. Spend a few moments on each part of the body and give complete attention to them, rather than other thoughts buzzing in your mind. This is also a great technique to help you wind down at night and fall asleep more quickly.
7. Creative pursuits
Activities like writing, crafting, or playing an instrument can be hugely beneficial when dealing with dissociation. These pursuits will spark your imagination, give you a break from thinking, and allow you to build skills that build a sense of self-worth over time. You don’t need to be a master of art or music to get the benefits of these activities — just dedicate a block of time each day and embrace the creative power you have within.
8. The 5-4-3-2-1 technique
This countdown technique is an important skill to stay grounded, involving all five senses. Start by naming five things you can see, then four things you can feel. Then, name three things you can hear and two things you can smell. Finally, name one thing you can taste, whether that’s taking a sip of tea or chewing some gum. This coping mechanism can help you break away from intrusive thoughts and come back to the present moment.
9. Organizing and cleaning
We might not think of chores as being a high-priority item, but organizing your space does more for your mental health than you might imagine. Just 10 minutes of cleaning up and sorting out your physical environment can restore a sense of control and give you a small win to celebrate. Plus, you’ll feel better when you can navigate your home as a safe place with more clarity and structure. You can also level up this practice by playing your favorite songs while you clean.
10. Time in nature
There’s never a bad time to step out into the great outdoors and move your body while taking in the fresh air. Even a brief walk through your neighborhood can offer a much-needed change of perspective and get some blood flow in the body, both of which are key to snapping out of a dissociative state. Get out there, enjoy the physical sensations, and return to your task list with a newfound sense of self.
If you’re already dedicating time to being outside and enjoying nature, consider adding earthing to your list of grounding techniques. This method involves physically connecting with the surface of the earth to restore the electric balance within your body. It might sound odd, but it’s backed by science and can definitely help you feel better during a bout of dissociation. Walk barefoot, lie down, and take in your surroundings while the earth does the work.
Mindful consumption of food and drinks can be useful, but it’s not always the healthiest response to dissociation for some people. Aromatherapy, the practice of using scents to return to the present moment, offers a parallel technique that can offer relief and relaxation with similar effects. You can use a diffuser to disperse essential oils into your environment or combine them with a humidifier to add moisture to the air. Aromas evoke powerful mental cues, so use this technique to your advantage.
What are other tools and tips for grounding?
Mastering these grounding techniques won’t happen in an instant — it takes some practice and dedication to make them work in your favor. However, other habits and lifestyle elements can help you get a step ahead of dissociation and limit the need for a rapid-fire response.
For example, fixing your sleep is a game-changer for those dealing with dissociation since poor sleep can lead to issues with mental strength and memory consolidation. Put together a sleep hygiene program and consider using a CBN hemp extract supplement to get more from your rest each night.*
Alternatively, you can use a general hemp extract blend during the day to balance your endocannabinoid system, a network of neurotransmitters that supports mental health. These tools, along with the pillars of healthy living, can be the keys to long-term stability and mental fortitude.*
The bottom line
No matter how it manifests, dissociation can be scary. If you’re able to respond to dissociation quickly and effectively, you’ll find that symptoms over time may lessen, leading to an overall better quality of life and well-being.
Sunmed is here to give you the support you need with wellness education and natural products designed to help you feel your best in every area of life.*