Mindfulness and Grounding -
are they the same or different?

Some people are taught to use mindfulness to manage trauma symptoms, and some people are taught that grounding is the same thing as mindfulness.

At the Brisbane Harmony Centre, we have a more nuanced view of how mindfulness and grounding relate to one another. Our trauma informed perspective leads us to advise people who have symptomatic trauma to be cautious about how they engage in mindfulness activities.

Consider the following definitions:

  • Mindfulness: We favour Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness: “paying attention, on purpose, and without judgement to what is happening right here, right now.”
  • Grounding: Rather than being non-judgmental about what is happening in the here and now, when you are grounding, you are guiding your attention away from thoughts about past, destabilising experiences, and guiding it towards present safety.

The key difference is that, rather than adopting an attitude of allowing whatever wants to come up to come up, you are managing your focus purposefully, and focusing on present safety. In our experience, for people with symptomatic trauma, adopting a mindful attitude of allowing and non-judgmental awareness is too difficult for many people.

Rather than teach simple mindfulness techniques to people with trauma symptoms, we teach grounding, in which the purpose is to turn off your fight-flight-or-freeze response by anchoring on a safe and interesting feature of your current environment, and using your language skills and your ability to make judgements and evaluate the environment to stimulate frontal lobe activity. If your frontal lobes are on, then your limbic system is off, and that has a stabilising effect on the nervous system of someone with symptomatic trauma. This is grounding, and helpful to people with symptomatic trauma, whereas simple mindfulness can allow the fight-flight-or-freeze response to kick in and leave you feeling overwhelmed.