This is an introduction to a series of ways to manage stressful feelings, whether you have struggled for days, months, or years. What kind of distressing feelings and impulses to act can become more manageable?  There are several common reactions that we can manage:

• Frustration, anger, and rage, which some of us experience as a desire to argue, scream, yell, or even inflict physical violence toward property or another person.
• Anxiety and nervousness, which some face as a desire to run away and hide or avoid and stonewall.
• There are also some of us, who are so overwhelmed by conflicts or struggles, that they do not function well, going into a panic with racing heart rate and thoughts or numbing or freezing up to the point of even losing track of time or worse.
• Sadness and depression, which can result in a desire to cry, be quiet, and isolate oneself.
• Disappointment, hurt, emotional pain, which some suffer as a sense of abandonment or betrayal.
• Shame or humiliation, which can result in a desire to cover one’s face, blame oneself, being overly apologetic.

For more information about what contributes to these feelings and impulses, please see two other posts, Managing Stressful Feelings: Reaction to Threat and Managing Stressful Feelings: Understanding Unmet Needs.

There are many ways to manage these feelings. Some of them use a mind-body kind of approach called grounding. What is grounding? Lisa Najavits (2002, p. 33), who is a professor at Boston University and who lectures at Harvard University, states that “Grounding is a set of simple strategies to detach from emotional pain . . . “ and that it works by “focusing outward on the external world rather inward toward the self.” She writes that you can think of them as ways to distract, center, detach, or develop a safe place.

Najavits also encourages us to remember that these strategies can be used “any time, any place, anywhere,” that they are more useful if keep your eyes open and the lights on rather than try to relax with one’s eyes closed or with the lights off. One should focus in the present rather than in the past or future, on the outside world rather than internally on feelings.

You may note that these methods will work better if you identify those that you like and seem helpful during times when you are not distressed. It is harder to try something new when we are stressed out. Even if these methods do not seem to work, continue to practice them. As the old saying goes, “Practice makes perfect.”

The grounding techniques are listed in the following categories:

• Mental Grounding, which uses your mind to reduce suffering in the moment.
• Physical Grounding, which uses your body or senses to cope.
• Soothing Grounding, which uses kindness and compassion to tolerate pain.

Grounding techniques are for times when you are in crisis. They are in-the-moment strategies. There are other strategies, such as acceptance and combining mind and body approaches to calm oneself before or to prevent a crisis.

Max Stager is a Licensed Professional Counselor who specializes in assisting couples so they can go from having communication problems, like criticism, stony silence, arguments, and contempt, to experiencing warmth, love, and respect.  Contact Max today to get started on nurturing your relationship today.


Najavits, L. M. (2002).  Seeking Safety.  New York: Guilford.