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
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
● 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