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article / April 27, 2023

7 Effective Grounding Techniques for First Responders

Two fire fighters holding a hose

7 Effective Grounding Techniques for First Responders

Axon Aid shares practices for keeping your body and mind in the present and remaining calm in times of crisis.

“Grounding” refers to regaining a sense of calm and stability. Grounding techniques are various methods that can help you get to a more tranquil mental state. Grounding works by redirecting your attention1away from anxious thoughts or stimuli in your environment, allowing your body to relax, which in turn can improve decision-making and focus.

Effective grounding techniques for first responders

Below is a list of some common grounding techniques. Most of these are simple to learn and can be used in the field.

The 5-4-3-2-1

The 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique engages all five of your senses to help you stay in the present, and can be utilized at any time, anywhere:

Notice five things you see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste.

Box breathing

Box breathing, or tactical breathing, gets its name because some people like to picture drawing a four-by-four box in their mind when practicing this technique. To practice, simply inhale for four counts, hold for four counts, and exhale for four counts. Repeat as long as you need. Retaining your breath slows down your respiration rate, which inhibits the fight-or-flight response in your body. That, in turn, helps you stay calm and in the present.

Watch Axon Aid’s Tactical Breathing video for an in-depth explanation.

Counting steps

Take a minute to count your steps as you walk, paying attention to the soles of your shoes making contact with the ground and the solid feeling underneath your feet. This technique (quite literally) helps ground you in the moment by redirecting your attention to your environment.


Focus your attention on an object, sound or sensation around you, or on a pre-determined phrase that you can repeat to yourself. For example, you may notice the coffee maker in the break room making a dripping noise and tune into the sound for 30 seconds. A phrase can be an affirmation, a meditation, mantra or a form of prayer; it doesn’t really matter as long as you find it reassuring. The point is to effectively disrupt a cycle of distressing thoughts through focusing your mind on another, more calming, repetition.

Daily task “log”

Pick a task you do on a daily basis, like walking the dog, taking your child to school or preparing breakfast, and run through the steps in of completing this activity in your head. Include details. For example, if you are going through a walking-the-dog routine, run through all the steps in your head: Checking the time, checking the weather forecast, getting a jacket, picking up the leash, etc. Try to pick a task you enjoy doing or one that brings you a sense of peace. This grounding technique serves as a reminder of a stable part of your day that you know you’ll come back to.

Body awareness

Moving your body regularly, whether that’s on a lunch break walk, at the gym or doing yoga at home, can build long-term awareness of your body and uncover signs of stress. If you find yourself experiencing anxiety in the field or during a time when you can’t drop everything and do jumping jacks, try slowly clenching and unclenching your fists for a minute. Focus on breathing in when you clench your fist and breathing out and letting go of tension as you loosen the grip. This technique connects you back to your body, even as your mind is racing.

Listing objects in categories

Pick a broad category, like “music,” “cars,” “athletes” or “movies”, and try to list off as many items as you can in that category for a minute. Distracting yourself from the present in this way allows your body to come back to a calmer state.

Mental health resources and training for first responders

Being able to take care of yourself is important, but following up with outside help when necessary is equally crucial.

Axon Aid: Wellness is dedicated to creating mental health resources for first responders, their families, and agencies to utilize at no cost. Our comprehensive resource library features mental health experts and addresses topics relevant to the first responder community. If you believe your agency may benefit from our wellness resources, send us a quick message.

  1. Grounding Techniques: Definition & How To Use Them

  2. Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response