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Grounding Exercises Help Manage Anxiety and Worries


Grounding exercises are great tools young people can add to their emotional toolkit to feel safe when worries or fears become overwhelming. Worrying is a normal part of life. But for many youth and adults this can grow into feelings of anxiety.

When young people are experiencing anxiety, it’s natural to want to help them feel better. Just like you help youth with life skills, grounding exercises are skills to support their emotional well-being.

If the seeds are planted early, these skills offer a strong foundation to draw on throughout their lives.

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What are grounding exercises?

Grounding exercises are a powerful kind of mindfulness. After a traumatic or upsetting experience, simple grounding exercises help young people manage their negative emotions.

Instead of focusing on difficult thoughts and feelings, these techniques encourage youth to focus on the things around them. It shifts their mental focus from negative emotions back to their senses in the present moment.

The goal isn’t to avoid strong emotions. It’s about giving youth the choice to focus their attention somewhere else. In this way, they have power over their feelings instead of feeling controlled by them.

And in a world full of distractions, practices to maintain mental focus are always welcome.

Luckily, grounding exercises can be done anywhere, anytime! All you need is a few minutes and a comfortable space.

How do they help?

Grounding techniques work so well because they engage the senses and interrupt the mind and body’s automatic response to anxiety.

Engaging the senses helps youth regain control over their thoughts and physical responses so they feel safe. Grounding builds resilience and confidence.

Grounding exercises benefit adults, too. So, try modeling and doing them together with young people!

Youth can develop the skills needed to deal with anxiety as it happens. With enough practice, young people will learn to calm down on their own.

Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to ground yourself. Different strategies work for different people. The goal is to find ones that anchor you in the here and now.

Sharing grounding exercises with young people

There are many ways to do grounding exercises. They should be done as soon as stressful feelings surface. Here are a few big ones to try:

5 Senses Scavenger Hunt
Create a scavenger hunt for youth based on their five senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. This mindfulness practice helps young people be more aware of their surroundings.

A-B-C Around the Room
Similar to the 5 senses scavenger hunt. But instead of identifying sensations, youth are asked to name an item in their space according to the letters of the alphabet. Ask them to find something that starts with ‘A’, then ‘B’, and so on. Let them go through as many letters as they can before asking how they feel.

Finger Breathing or Hand Tracing
Young people trace the outline of their hand with their finger while coordinating their breaths. Or they can trace their hand onto paper.

More examples include:

  • Nature Walks
  • Cloud Watching
  • Counting Colors and Shapes
  • Texture Touch Exploration
  • Sound Mapping
  • Belly Breathing
  • Mindful Stretching
  • Body Scan Meditation

No matter the technique, be sure you are creating a safe space, encouraging open communication, and modeling self-care. Also consider using visual aids and ways for youth to build this into their routine.

Youth may prefer to do exercises independently. If so, try recording yourself walking them through it and suggest they use it when they want to calm themselves.

Grounding exercises can be adapted for youth of all ages or with diverse abilities. Encourage them to try a variety of techniques. Everyone is unique!

If you’d like to learn more about grounding and calming techniques for youth of various ages, check out YIPA’s training on Using De-escalation and Drain-off for Challenging Behavior and Crisis.

About the author

Jade Schleif is the training director of the Youth Intervention Programs Association (YIPA), a non-profit association of youth-serving organizations. We're your source for exceptional, affordable, personal and professional online learning via The Professional Youth Worker.  Join us!

To ask Jade a question or share your feedback about this blog, email

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