“Really early in life, I would get to points where I would feel like I wasn’t real, humans weren’t real, there’s no real world… Anytime I feel like that, for whatever reason, I can’t leave the house.”
Can you relate? Having an experience like this isn’t only caused by psychosis or breaks in reality. Some symptoms of mental health conditions can be severe enough that you have difficulty distinguishing what is happening around you. Many situations can cause you to lose touch with reality, such as:
- recovering from trauma
- severe depression
- panic attacks
- manic episodes
- other mental health symptoms
To be grounded in reality means to be aware of our surroundings and to know the difference between what is real and what is not real. It means living in the present moment. When you are unable to tell the difference between a hallucination or just a passing thought, it’s difficult to perform day-to-day activities with a clear mind. Grounding techniques can bring you back to reality for a better quality of life.
Plenty of sleep and keep a schedule
When sleep problems come up, for many people with mental illness, we know this is the first sign that life is stressful and that we might be having an episode. Sleep deprivation can make it almost impossible to stay grounded in reality and will cause your brain to play tricks on you. Do your best to keep a schedule by going to bed at a decent time and waking up in the morning to start your day. Adequate rest is one of the keys to good mental health.
Staying grounded in the moment
Talk to a friend
Speaking to someone can help distract you from emotions or symptoms that pull you away from reality. Ask those closest to you if they hear or see the same things you do. By having someone you trust to be a “reality tester,” you will be able to discuss what you are feeling and distinguish reality from imagination.
Your friends and family who know you well are also great at helping to find tips to be well. If you think there’s a medical reason for your issues and you want to explore medication or intensive therapy, these practices can help you build skills and reduce distressing experiences.
Get in touch with your surroundings
If you feel as though you are stuck in a dream-like state, using grounding techniques may help. Observe what is around you. Feel the ground with your feet. Touch the wall. Pick up small objects while observing their detail. You can also take a warm bath and add oils you enjoy smelling. Or, have something to eat or a warm drink to get in touch with your sense of taste. The objective here is to show yourself what is happening around you. 
Practices that help you stay grounded
Breathing and meditation
Meditation is a way to clear the mind and concentrate on what is happening in the present moment:
- Sit in a quiet area.
- Place your hands somewhere comfortable, like your heart or your knees or the ground.
- Clear your mind of thoughts or focus on the thoughts you have. Wherever your brain goes, it’s ok!
- Focus on your chest rising and falling as you take deep, slow breaths.
It’s also soothing to listen to the sounds of nature and make it the center of your thoughts. Sit outside in a chair or on the grass and just listen to the noises around you. 
Break a sweat and stretch
Exercise puts us in tune with our bodies, so we feel more connected to our bodies. It can pull you away from a feeling of fear and give you positive emotions. When you need to feel grounded, break a sweat by taking a brisk walk, doing some jumping jacks, or any other type of movement that requires focus.
Stretching also helps to relieve stress in the muscles and promotes relaxation. Find a comfortable place to sit and stretch the parts of your body that may have the most tension. Do light stretching while concentrating on the movements and how it is making you feel.
Your mind and your body are connected (food and drugs)
Your mind and body are connected to the experiences that you have—and the food you eat or the drugs you take may make you feel more or less connected to reality. For example, sugar feels good, but it can lead to experiencing more brain fog. Eating nutritious foods full of vitamins may help you feel more connected to your surroundings.
It’s the same idea with drugs and alcohol. If you’re using drugs to feel good, you’re starting to recognize what your brain might want. But this doesn’t come without consequences. For example, marijuana can make you feel happy and relaxed. But it can also increase paranoia and hallucinations for some people making them feel more disconnected from reality.
There are many things you can do on your own to stay grounded. It’s ok to ask for help and talk about what you’re experiencing so you can have a way to better manage your symptoms. Try the tips that will work best for you and will bring you the most enjoyment!
- Boge et al. (2021). Is Mindfulness for Psychosis Helpful? Deconstructing a Myth. The British Journal of Psychiatry 218(2). Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1192/bjp.2020.165
- DIDR. (2022). Grounding Techniques. Dissociative Identity Disorder Research. Retrieved from https://did-research.org/treatment/grounding
- Melzer et al. (2021). In Pursuit of Healthy Aging: Effects of Nutrition on Brain Function. International Journal of Molecular Sciences 22(9). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8126018/