Have you ever felt less drained after spending some time in a garden or a park? Or when last did you take the time to hug a tree and feel the bark beneath your cheek and palms? Perhaps you’ve taken some time to lie down on the ground to just stare at the clouds (or the stars). This can all form part of “grounding” or “earthing”, the health benefits of which are being studied and show promise.
In a double-blind study by Gaétan Chevalier in 2015, for example, it was found that – of the 40 adult participants that had an hour’s contact with the earth – many had an “improved mood more than expected by relaxation alone” and that more studies should be done.
In this article we’ll have a look at what grounding is, how grounding is used in CBT and the 5,4,3,2,1-technique, and Japanese Forest Bathing as a grounding method.
What is grounding?
There are two different types of grounding, which can sometimes overlap. The first, which is also called “earthing”, consists of being in touch with the earth either directly by being outside or through the use of specific “earthing” mats. You can read a lot more about this in this beginner’s guide.
The second type of grounding exercises are used in cognitive behavioral therapy and, while this can also be done to great success in the outdoors, the focus is more on bringing you into the present in order to relieve the stress and overwhelming thoughts of, for example, PTSD and anxiety. Keep reading to find out how you can incorporate nature and all your senses in the 5,4,3,2,1-exercise.
Both of these types of exercises are able to relieve anxiety and stress, although the cognitive behavioral therapy exercises have been more widely and thoroughly tested and proven to work thus far.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and grounding exercises
As I’ve mentioned, CBT also uses types of “grounding” exercises to bring patients back to the present to relieve stress, anxiety and PTSD, bipolar disorder, OCD, and more.
By using these grounding techniques – like the 5,4,3,2,1-technique below – a person can manage their traumatic memories and overwhelming emotions by allowing them to step away from the negative emotions or flashbacks and bringing them back to the present by using their senses.
The 5,4,3,2,1-technique as CBT grounding exercise
The 5,4,3,2,1 technique is often used in bipolar disorder and can even help one through a panic attack. Therapist Aid notes that this technique forces you to take in and focus on small details of your surroundings. You should strive to pick out details (sounds, textures, etc.) that you’d usually tune out.
For example, rather than hearing the overwhelming sound of people in a mall (well… when there’s not a pandemic) you’re forced to “break down” this one sound into many sounds and focus on each separately. This can take away the complete overwhelm.
How to do the 5,4,3,2,1-exercise:
When you start to feel overwhelmed or stressed, use each of your senses to consciously take in details of your surroundings and name each of the following:
- 5 things you can see
- 4 things you can feel
- 3 things you can hear
- 2 things you can smell
- 1 thing you can taste
For each of these, don’t name the first, obvious thing that you see, but rather go for details, for example different textures that you can see or feel.
Japanese Forest Bathing (Shinrin-yoku) as a grounding technique
Shinrin-yoku, which can be translated from the Japanese as “forest bathing” or “forest-air bathing”, have been practiced far longer than its effects on the human body and emotions have been researched. However, the research which have been done by academics like Qing Li and E. Morita have shown that shinrin-yoku can be great for one’s physical and mental health.
Getting out into the open air and getting in touch with nature in order to practice the forest bathing, leaves you in the perfect position to do some of the CBT exercises and to let your senses take over for some earthing exercises. Forest-air bathing has even shown to be a wonderful physiological and psychological intervention during these uncertain pandemic times in this paper by Erica R Timko Olson.
TIME Magazine published an article by Qing Li in which the method for shinrin-yoku is described as follows:
“First, find a spot. Make sure you have left your phone and camera behind. You are going to be walking aimlessly and slowly. You don’t need any devices. Let your body be your guide. Listen to where it wants to take you. Follow your nose. And take your time.” – Qing Li, ‘Forest Bathing’ Is Great for Your Health. Here’s How to Do It.
Although many studies have been done to gather data on the efficacy of grounding exercises and techniques for various physical and mental illnesses, there are lots of work yet to be done, so it is well worth keeping an eye on sites like PubMed for any new studies that get released.
Doing grounding and earthing exercises are also easy and can be done anywhere in nature – from a patio garden to a “proper” forest hike. Use all your senses when you’re in or close to nature (even if that nature is only a potted plant). By getting back in touch with nature and its soothing properties, it seems that we reopen a door to a secret healing garden that we’ve forgotten we’ve been holding the key to this whole time.
Some more resources for discovering the healing that contact with nature can bring are:
- The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams
- Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness by Qing Li
- Forest Bathing ASMR for when you’re stuck inside or need some inspiration while working:
Carin Marais is a fully bilingual language practitioner (English/Afrikaans) and a copy and content writer for a wide variety of digital and print channels. She has worked with both local and international companies on subjects as diverse as health and mindfulness, finance, beauty, décor, pets, food, and agricultural implements.