Medical and mental health professionals have long known of the correlation between toxic stress, anxiety, and hypertension. The more frequent the stress levels rise, or intensity that adverse events occur, blood pressure typically rises as well. Toxic stress has an overall negative impact on both physical and emotional health. This brief article aims to identify and describe these unfortunate connections, and offer a down-to-earth grounding strategy to augment any stress-management protocol one might have.
"Stress" is often used to explain a response to challenges and demands encountered throughout one's lifetime. "Stressors may be physical, emotional, environmental or theoretical, and all may equally affect the body's stress response" (Franke, 2014). "In most situations, the physiologic changes associated with the stress response are transient, with the body returning to its baseline state when the stressor is removed. Toxic stress responses include a prolonged or permanent abnormal physiologic response to a stressor with risk of end organ dysfunction."
Toxic stress can impact anyone, causing the "fight or flight" response to impact the "neuro-endocrine-immune response resulting in prolonged cortisol activation and a persistent inflammatory state, with failure of the body to normalize these changes after the stressor is removed" (Franke, 2014). Proven stress management techniques are important, as well as many mind-body interventions to foster the relaxation response. One technique we haven't always considered could take us back to feeling grounded, and that is Earthing.
What on Earth?
Earthing, or grounding "simply means reconnecting the conductive human body to the Earth's natural and subtle surface electric charge, an effortless lifestyle activity that systemically influences the basic bioelectrical function of the body" (Menigoz, Latz, Ely, Kamei, Melvin & Sinatra, 2020). " Doing so surprisingly stabilizes the physiology, reduces inflammation, pain, and stress, improves sleep, blood flow, and lymphatic/venous return to the heart, and produces greater well-being. These are systemic, profound effects." Research has begun to see results that Earthing can help people "feel and look healthier and younger. Those with pain reports less pain. Even mood improves."
Earthing has been in practice within many cultures for hundreds of years. How is it naturally performed? "In its most natural form, and free, by spending time barefoot outdoors in contact with natural conductive surfaces, like grass, soil, gravel, stone, and sand" (Menigoz et al., 2020).
Amazingly, earth under our feet can provide unique energy and frequencies that have a direct impact on our bodies, and how we feel. "Past cultures put great emphasis on connectedness with the Earth, a relationship still honored by many indigenous people today" (Chevalier, 2021). "To what extent this connection was recognized as a healing factor among past cultures is not a subject that has been studied. Now, finally, science is exploring the dynamics and benefits of this connection...Throughout time, we humans have sat, stood, strolled, and slept on the ground – the skin of our bodies touching the skin of the Earth. Such ordinary contact has served to transfer the Earth’s natural healing energy into the body."
In the more recent years, our human lifestyle has disconnected us and "makes us vulnerable to inflammation, pain, stress, poor sleep, and sickness" (Chevalier, 2021). "Earthing, also known as grounding, is the discovery that reconnecting to the Earth restores a timeless link to Nature that revitalizes the body, reduces pain and stress, and improves health, sleep, mood, and appearance. Reconnect and experience the healing benefits of Mother Earth."
Earthing is a prescription every person could benefit from. Earthing involves walking, standing, or sitting barefoot outdoors, and swimming in the ocean (Elkin & Winter, 2018). Earthing has been an ordinary element for many cultures over the ages.
"Being barefoot outdoors, living on earthen floors, or using animal hides for footwear and bedding that become conductive because of bodily perspiration and/or moisture in the ground" serve as a conduit (Elkin & Winter, 2018). The Earth's negative charge "has been transferred into the bioelectrically conductive body." But advances in insulating footwear made from plastics and rubber and other man-made luxuries have eliminated this natural healing power.
Twenty years of research reveals there are many benefits to Earthing, such as "improved sleep and mood, decreased pain, a normalizing effect on cortisol, reduction of stress, diminished damage to muscles caused by exercise, lessening of primary indicators for osteoporosis, better glucose regulation, and immune response," all of which has made humans vulnerable to inflammation and disease states.
A small study conducted by researchers in 2018 revealed Earthing to be of benefit to lowering blood pressure. "The potential to improve BP is thought to come from several different mechanisms: (1) improvement in autonomic/parasympathetic function; (2) normalizing effect on cortisol; (3) reduction of inflammation and pain; (4) better sleep; and (5) improved blood flow and viscosity" (Elkin & Winter). Those with anxiety, toxic stress, trauma history, and depression know that the relaxation response can feel like a life-saver.
Perhaps it is time to reconnect with Earth and experience healing benefits that can augment any stress-management or self-management strategies as we look to manage the undeniable stress in our lives.
How fortunate to consider such a natural choice as a strategy. Just be watchful of what you are stepping on as you ground yourself back down to Earth.
Teresa Jacobson is a Doctor of Behavioral Health and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Supervisor who is counseling Ohio adults of all ages and life experiences via secure Telehealth/Video visits. A strength-based, person-centered multi-cultural counselor with an existential philosophy, Teresa can be reached through emailing her at email@example.com, calling (513) 206-3026, or visiting https://www.jacobsoncounseling.org.
Chevalier, G. (2021). What is earthing and what can it do for you? The Earthing Institute. Retrieved from
Elkin, H. K., and Winter, A. (2018). Grounding patients with hypertension improves blood pressure: A
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Frank, H. A. (2014). Toxic stress: Effects, prevention and treatment. Children, 1, 390-402.
Menigoz, W., Latz, T.T., Ely, R. A., Kamei, C., Melvin, G. and Sinatra, D. (2020). Integrative and lifestyle
medicine strategies should include Earthing (grounding): Review of research evidence and clinical
observations. Elsevier, 16, 152-160.