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  • Pari Shah, LCSW

Coping with Dissociation

The key to managing dissociation is to practice grounding techniques to bring yourself back to

the present moment. You can do this by always having a "grounding plan" when you find

yourself feeling disconnected. It allows our brains to take a break from something it perceives as

threatening.


Using mindfulness and grounding is paramount to a person's physical and mental wellbeing. If

you find yourself dissociating, try some of these Grounding Techniques:


Physical techniques: These techniques use your five senses or tangible objects — things you

can touch — to help you move through distress.


Try the 5-4-3-2-1 method: Working backward from 5, use your senses to list things you notice

around you. For example, you might start by listing five things you hear, then four things you

see, then three things you can touch from where you’re sitting, two things you can smell, and one

thing you can taste.


Breathe deeply: Slowly inhale, then exhale. If it helps, you can say or think “in” and “out” with

each breath. Feel each breath filling your lungs and note how it feels to push it back out.


Take a short walk: Concentrate on your steps — you can even count them. Notice the rhythm

of your footsteps and how it feels to put your foot on the ground and then lift it again.


Mental techniques: These grounding exercises use mental distractions to help redirect your

thoughts away from distressing feelings and back to the present.


Play a memory game: Look at a detailed photograph or picture (like a cityscape or other “busy”

scene) for 5 to 10 seconds. Then, turn the photograph face-down and recreate the photograph in

your mind, in as much detail as possible. Or, you can mentally list all the things you remember

from the picture.


Think in categories: Choose one or two broad categories, such as “musical instruments,” “ice

cream flavors,” “mammals,” or “baseball teams.” Take a minute or two to mentally list as many

things from each category as you can.


Use math and numbers: Even if you aren’t a math person, numbers can help center you. Try:

● Running through a times table in your head.

● Counting backward from 100

● Choosing a number and thinking of five ways you could make the number (6

+ 11 = 17, 20 – 3 = 17, 8 × 2 + 1 = 17, etc.)


Visualize a daily task you enjoy or don’t mind doing: If you like doing laundry, for example,

think about how you’d put away a finished load.


Soothing techniques: You can use these techniques to comfort yourself in times of

emotional distress. These exercises can help promote good feelings that may help the

negative feelings fade or seem less overwhelming.


Picture the voice or face of someone you love: If you feel upset or distressed, visualize

someone positive in your life. Imagine their face or think of what their voice sounds like.

Imagine them telling you that the moment is tough, but that you’ll get through it.


Practice self-kindness: Repeat kind, compassionate phrases to yourself. Say it, either aloud or in

your head, as many times as you need.

● “You’re having a rough time, but you’ll make it through.”

● “You’re strong, and you can move through this pain.”

● “You’re trying hard, and you’re doing your best.”


Visualize your favorite place: Think of your favorite place, whether it’s the home of a loved

one or a foreign country. Use all of your senses to create a mental image. Think of the colors you

see, sounds you hear, and sensations you feel on your skin. Remember the last time you were

there. Who were you with, if anyone? What did you do there? How did you feel?


Additional tips: Grounding yourself isn’t always easy. It may take some time before the

techniques work well for you, but don’t give up on them. Here are some additional tips to

help you get the most out of these techniques:

● Practice. It can help to practice grounding even when you aren’t dissociating or

experiencing distress. If you get used to an exercise before you need to use it, it may take

less effort when you want to use it to cope in the moment.

● Start early. Try doing a grounding exercise when you first start to feel bad. Don’t wait

for distress to reach a level that’s harder to handle. If the technique doesn’t work at first,

try to stick with it for a bit before moving on to another.

● Avoid assigning values. For example, if you’re grounding yourself by describing your

environment, concentrate on the basics of your surroundings, rather than how you feel

about them.

● Check in with yourself. Before and after a grounding exercise, rate your distress as a

number between 1 and 10. What level is your distress when you begin? How much did it

decrease after the exercise? This can help you get a better idea of whether a particular

technique is working for you.

● Keep your eyes open. Avoid closing your eyes, since it’s often easier to remain

connected to the present if you’re looking at your current environment.

Grounding techniques can be powerful tools to help you cope with distressing thoughts in

the moment. But the relief they provide is generally temporary.


-Pari Shah, LCSW