Healthy Living in the North

Emotional regulation – why I’m pretty sure I’m a cat person


Although hard to believe that anyone could get frustrated by this adorable face, Nick found grounding techniques really helpful when dealing with the frustrations of housebreaking his puppy, Keto. Grounding is a great tool to shake off negative thoughts before they get out of hand.

I’ve just gotten home for what used to be my lunch break. I’m standing outside in the rain. I’m tired, stressed, and I was already irritable before I got home. I am repeating a phrase loudly and evenly. A phrase that apparently only has meaning to me.


The puppy looks at me long enough for me to decide that she has heard me, decided that she wants to make me angry and waste my time, and then resume her attempts at inhaling the pine cone in front of her.


I don’t have time for this. I have a bunch of emails to return, education to plan, and an errand to run before I scramble back to work. Keto has now approached me slowly, but right before she mounts the couple of stairs leading back to the house, she suddenly prances into the thicket in my backyard and starts to roll in what I’m sure will be an aromatic pleasure to remove from her fur and my carpet.


It is decided. I already know the picture that my wife will choose for the “Missing Puppy” poster. I’m kidding, of course!

Here’s the thing: when Keto finally does listen and come to the doorstep, I need to be able to greet her and praise her and use positive reinforcement to help her learn to associate coming back to me with a positive memory. I need to be able to separate my busy schedule, work and life stressors, and frustration from the fact that this is a puppy just being a puppy. She is not deliberately trying to get on my nerves. In fact, most things in my life have not been set in place just to get on my nerves.

When it comes to maintaining my wellness and dismissing negative thoughts, generalizations, and distortions, I often find it helpful to use a tool called grounding. At its core, grounding helps to reorient me to the present and keeps me fixed in reality. It lets me shake off some of the negative thinking before it gets out of hand and I end up acting on thoughts that aren’t helpful to me.

My personal favorite way to do it is a simple exercise where I work my way through my five senses (sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste) and list 3 things that I perceive with each sense. I deliberately focus on each item for a couple of seconds before moving to the next. I can work my way through this exercise in just a minute and nobody around me would have any indication of what I’m doing. When I’m done, I find that it helps me come back to reality and lets me be effective. Sometimes, I need to do the exercise a couple times in a row.

The great thing about grounding is that there are many different ways to do it. Some people like the exercise I described, other people will do things like run their hands under cold water for a few seconds. Others will keep a smooth rock in their pocket and run their fingers over it, focusing on the way that it feels, the weight, whether it is warm or cool. Essentially, you are interrupting yourself before you get carried away with unhelpful thoughts. By choosing an exercise and practising it before you’re in the midst of a really stressful event, you can add another tool to your coping skills that will help keep you well.

So, on days where the housebreaking is failing and Keto has decided to try to eat the only bee stupid enough to be outside this early in the season, I remind myself to be thankful for all this practice I get to have with my grounding and coping skills.

If you would like to try grounding, I would recommend looking at the links below or inquiring at a Northern Health Mental Health and Addictions office. I hope you find it as effective as I have!

Grounding info and exercises:

Nick Rempel

About Nick Rempel

Nick Rempel is the clinical educator for Mental Health and Addictions, northwest B.C. Nick has lived in northern B.C. his entire life and received his education from the University of Northern BC with a degree in nursing. He enjoys playing music, going to the gym, and watching movies in his spare time.