Get a grip on grounding

bare feet in grass

On the heels of last week’s biohacking post, I want to visit one technique I actually use myself: Grounding.

As a biohack, grounding is putting your feet on the ground. That’s it. Find a strip of grass or a patch of dirt, a beach or a forest floor, put your feet on it and look at you, you’re grounding. There is an important intent component and possibly a good bit of faith involved, which we’ll get into, but as far as physical requirements, that’s it. Grounding’s effectiveness as a “treatment” is controversial: some say it works, others say it’s nonsense. 

So what is grounding? I feel it’s more productive to start with a different question: What problem does it solve? The theory behind grounding is that the earth carries a negative charge, and our bodies, without earthen contact, build up positive charges as we walk around all day physically disconnected from it (through rubber shoes/flooring/driving/upper levels of buildings). Ideally our bodies are neutral, so it takes intentional physical connection to the actual earth to balance our charges and return to neutral. Advocates of grounding claim excess positive charge in the body leads to low energy levels, increased inflammation and susceptibility to disease. Through grounding, or intentional skin-to-earth connection for periods of time each day, we can neutralize our charge, improve energy levels, improve sleep, reduce inflammation, improve blood flow and improve our immune systems.

Does it ACTUALLY work? Well, it’s probably one of those “you just have to try it and see,” sort of things. There has been some research done where subjects slept on grounding mats, but it was poorly conducted with small test groups, no blinding and no placebo control. (Grounding mats are meant to bring a connection to earth indoors. The mats usually connect via a wire to the ground port of an electrical outlet and may be placed on the floor, on a desk, or on a bed so the user can put their bare feet, hands, or body on the mat and conduct the earth's energy.

Dave Asprey, founder of the Bulletproof companies and the unofficial “Father of Biohacking,” lists these quantifiable markers on his website to track the effectiveness of your grounding practices:

Sleep quality - Download a sleep tracking app and track your sleep through 5 nights of grounding and 5 nights of not grounding. See if there is a difference.

Daily cortisol rhythm - Though more expensive, you can get one of these on a grounding day and one on a non-grounding day and see if there are differences. Make sure to keep all other variables as consistent as possible.

Jetlag - Next time you land in a different time zone, spend an hour walking through a park with your bare feet. The time after that, walk around a park wearing shoes. See if you feel a difference in jet lag.

Happiness - Take a mood test (like the Beck Depression Inventory) for 5 days when grounding and 5 days when not. Average the scores for each phase and see if there is a difference.

Now, I feel the need to be transparent about my own grounding practices: I do not practice grounding regularly and I don’t know about the whole “body and earth charge balance” thing. I use grounding more as a spot treatment for anxiety, and find it highly effective in calming and soothing in moments of panic. Does it cure an episode? Honestly, it kind of does. If I find my mind starting to spiral on me, taking my shoes off and putting my feet on the ground, focusing on my connection to the floor and what my senses are experiencing helps pull me out of the spiral and back to reality. There are many psychological theories about why this works.

As an anxiolytic (used to reduce anxiety), grounding gives the person experiencing an attack to get hold of a sense of place, identifying objects around them using all  senses to help their brains recognize where they are. The comfort of this refocusing in a situation of paralyzing anxiety has been invaluable to me. This has also been shown to be very helpful for people with PTSD and trauma victims.

There are many methods to practicing grounding for anxiety, but most of them involve using each sense to identify your place in a room or space. Pick out something you can see, smell, taste, hear and touch (this, typically, is the feeling of your feet on the ground), and identify it - out loud is best. I, admittedly, do not do all 5 senses. In the past, I have taken my shoes off, put my feet on the floor and become intentionally aware of my connection to the ground. Paying detailed attention to what it feels like on the soles of my feet, noting that I am connected, that I am stable, safe, grounded and devoting all my energy to focusing on that connection. 

Whether this is a psych-hack, an effective distraction or redirection of an emotional state, or an actual rebalance of my body’s charge with the earth at my feet, I don’t know. But for me, it works. I recommend anyone that struggles with anxiety to learn more about grounding and ways to regain control of your mind when you feel it leaving you. Grounding refocuses your attention from the impending doom you feel looming, from all the horrifying what if’s and all the crushing regrets of things past, to where you are right now in reality with your two feet on the ground.

I’m not necessarily the type to need to know WHY something works as long as it DOES work, when it comes to things like this. But if you are, here are a few articles I found helpful in writing this:

If you try grounding for any reason or have tried it, please leave a comment or let me know privately, I’d love to hear your experiences!

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