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Why This ‘Unusual’ Grounding Technique Helps With My Anxiety


Grounding is a highly respected method of coping with anxiety and panic, but it is also uniquely personal and can be achieved in many different ways. Grounding brings your focus back to the present by utilizing the five senses, which leaves a plethora of possibilities to explore what techniques work best for you. Bringing your focus back to the present when you are feeling anxious or panicked helps distract you from emotional overload, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) flashbacks and dissociation — it allows you to regain control and self-soothe.

There is no “wrong way” to ground yourself, so don’t worry about messing it up. My favorite grounding technique is very unique and sometimes embarrassing, but I am learning to embrace it for the gift it is and not be ashamed. 

Cotton balls. What? You read that right — cotton balls.

There is something about the tactile experience of holding a cotton ball between my thumb and pointer finger and just rubbing it gently that brings me back to the present. It helps me avoid diving back into unhealthy coping mechanisms of self-harm and it keeps me “out of my head.” When I feel self-conscious, I keep reminding myself that my cotton balls are a much healthier way of handling my overwhelming emotions than many of my go-to alternatives, and there is nothing to be ashamed of. They help me find some relief in those difficult moments, so cotton balls are always on hand in my house.

close up photo of woman holding cotton call between fingers

My use of cotton balls to self-soothe actually dates back to my childhood, but I never realized until quite recently that it was a method of grounding. Just like most children, I had a favorite stuffed animal that I carried with me everywhere. As we all know, this eventually leads to the complete destruction and disintegration of said toy after many months of wear and tear. I loved the ears on my stuffed kitty, and when I wore them down to nothing my mom would sew a cotton ball into the remaining shell of the ear so I would still have something to rub. This is where my love affair with cotton balls began.

I have found over the years that my most effective grounding techniques tend to involve the sense of touch, but this is completely unique to each individual. There are several different ways you can engage the five senses to bring you back to the present moment — here are examples of one for each of the five senses:

Touch: Rub lotion into your hands.

Smell: Utilize essential oils such as lavender for its well-known calming benefits.

Taste: Suck on a sour candy or peppermint.

Sight: Do a jigsaw puzzle or crossword.

Sound: Listen to some soothing music, nature sounds or even a guided meditation.

What are some different grounding techniques that you have found to work best for you? Please feel free to share!

Photo by Darius Bashar on Unsplash