By Rose Kennedy, For the AJC
When you work on your feet as a nurse, you wouldn’t expect a health boost to come from being on your feet a little longer.
But that’s the idea behind “grounding,” or “earthing,” a practice that emphasizes reconnecting to the earth.
According to a research review published in Explore: The Journal of Science & Healing in May 2020, earthing employs contact with our planet’s natural electric charge, usually through the soles of the feet. The benefits were swift, the review asserted. It stabilized “the physiology at the deepest levels, reduces inflammation, pain, and stress, improves blood flow, energy, and sleep, and generates greater well-being.”
An article published in the Journal of Inflammation Research also found grounding had “intriguing effects,” including its ability to reduce or even prevent “the cardinal signs of inflammation following injury: redness, heat, swelling, pain, and loss of function.”
And if reduced swelling and improved sleep aren’t enough to appeal to a weary nurse, there’s also the 2015 study from University of California biologist Gaétan Chevalier that showed earthing had promise as a mood booster.
The researchers electrically grounded one group of participants and attached similar equipment that was not activated to another group. The result: “Pleasant and positive moods statistically significantly improved among grounded — but not sham-grounded — participants.”
For nurses and other busy, stressed professionals, grounding provides a simple way to refresh and heal at your own pace, without special equipment or start-up costs. Wherever you can safely plant your bare feet in nature, you can complete at least the basic forms of earthing.
The JOIR research also described grounding systems that can enable “frequent contact with the Earth, such as while sleeping, sitting at a computer, or walking outdoors. These are simple conductive systems in the form of sheets, mats, wrist or ankle bands, adhesive patches that can be used inside the home or office, and footwear. These applications are connected to the Earth via a cord inserted into a grounded wall outlet or attached to a ground rod placed in the soil outside below a window.”
But the best is probably the simplest, especially for busy nurses. You can try earthing right before or after your shift merely by walking barefoot over sand, grass or soil. And snow, ice or mud are not out of the question if you’re able to warm up or clean off.
The process involves standing barefoot on the ground with your attention directed at your feet. “Allow yourself to make contact with the earth, and feel as though you can sink into it deeply,” Shamini Jain, a psychologist and founding director of the Consciousness and Healing Initiative, advised in U.S. News and World Report. “This allows the body to relax and receive more freely.”
Results might be immediate, or they might take a few sessions. As Debra Sullivan, a registered nurse and certified nurse educator told Healthline, research “continues to show that grounding has positive impacts on the human body.”
But she advises watching your step.
“It is understandable that walking on natural surfaces while barefoot would be beneficial,” she said. “However, there is a reason we created shoes to protect our feet, so use caution when walking barefoot.”
She also described how grounding shoes and mats create an electrical connection between your skin and the earth’s surface.
“The idea is to replicate the physical connectivity one would make by walking barefoot on the ground,” Sullivan explained. “This connection allows electrons to flow from the earth and into your body to create a neutral electrical charge. Since humans spend the majority of time either indoors or wearing rubber-soled shoes outdoors, we barely spend time having physical contact with the earth. These mats allow for this connection when indoor. … While I was unable to find evidence of electric currents corresponding to elevated stress levels, (there is a review that) shows that when a grounding mat was used during sleep, it lowered stress levels. That said, more research will need to be conducted to show whether or not those are correlated.”
And finally, even if it feels silly, you might tap a few well-established benefits from earthing, whether the direct contact with the ground makes a difference.
“Research has shown that taking group nature walks, for example, is linked with lower depression, less stress and better mental health and well-being,” U.S. News noted. “Other research has shown that spending long stretches of time in the woods — a so-called ‘forest bath’ — can boost the number of white blood cells that fight viruses and tumors.”
Eileen Day McKusick, a researcher and author in Burlington, Vermont, regularly walks barefoot. Grounding has “reaped swifter, more dramatic benefits than most other activities even she — a trained massage therapist and yoga instructor — has tried,” she told U.S. News. “I have enormous amounts of energy, I don’t have any inflammatory conditions at all, I sleep great.”
Plus, everyone says the same thing, McKusick added. “They just feel better when they’re grounded.”