Anxiety is something most of us have experienced at least once in our lives. It is normal to be anxious from time to time. Many things in our daily lives can cause stress and anxiety – health, family problems, a new big responsibility, major changes in our lives, a period of uncertainty, or being under a lot of pressure, for example. But if your anxiety isn’t going away and interfering with your daily activities, then it’s time to do something about it. Grounding techniques can be wonderful tools that can help anyone deal with anxiety.
Grounding techniques are simple exercises that help you distract your mind from negative feelings and thoughts and bring you back to the present. People with anxiety and PTSD are often overwhelmed by their traumatic memories or various anxious thoughts. During such panic attacks, your emotions can take over your thoughts and physical reactions.
Grounding techniques use tools such as visualization and the five senses to help you get out of those troubling feelings and thoughts. Focusing on the present environment through grounding techniques can help you detach your mind from the past and return to a place of safety. Let’s look at some different types of grounding techniques.
Grounding Techniques for anxiety
This is the most common grounding technique because it focuses on all your five senses (touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste) to bring you back to the present. Before you begin this exercise, pay attention to your breathing. Take a few slow, deep, long breaths to calm your nerves.
Once you have found your breathing, practice the next steps:
One thing you can taste in your immediate environment – this could be toothpaste, gum or a slice of bread.
Two things you can smell. If you are in your bedroom, smell your pillow. If you are in a garden, smell a blade of grass or a flower.
Three things you can touch from where you are sitting. This could be your face, your pillow, or just the ground under your feet.
Four things you can see. That could be a pen, a mug, or a doorknob – anything in your environment.
Five things you can hear. This can be any outside sound. Even if you hear the clock ticking, that counts.
Make an effort to identify these things in your physical world that you may not always pay attention to. When you do this, you take your attention away from your intense feelings of anxiety and slow your heart rate.
When your mind swings back and forth between different anxious thoughts, playing a memory game can be a fun and effective way to deal with anxiety attacks. Open a picture on your mobile (perhaps of a landscape or busy street scene) and look at it for 5-10 seconds. Then turn the photo over and make a mental list of all the things you remember from the photo.
Make a list of some categories you are interested in, such as “classic movies,” “ice cream flavors,” “vintage cars,” or “country music.” Take a few minutes to list in your mind as many things as possible from each category. This activity challenges your brain and directs it away from negative thoughts.
Similar to thinking in categories, this mental exercise involves three favorite things in different categories, such as songs, movies, food, travel destinations, colors, hobbies, etc. Focusing on these things will put you in a more positive mood.
You don’t have to be a math prodigy to do this exercise. Doing numbers in your head can help you center your thoughts. Try mentally counting the tables or counting backwards from 100. You can also pick a number and think of five ways you can make the number. For example, 5+10=15, 20-5=15, etc.
Think of your favorite song, poem, or a few lines from a book, or a powerful quote you know by heart and say it quietly to yourself or in your head. As you speak the words, focus on the shape of each word on your lips. As you picture the words in your head, visualize how they appear on a piece of paper.
Therapists say that developing a mental “anchor” can reduce your worries and fears by rebalancing your emotions – just like an anchor on a boat. To do this, you can repeat a phrase in your head. For example, you can say, “It’s 9:05 in the morning. I am calm and relaxed.” You can expand the sentence by adding details such as: “It’s beautiful and sunny outside. I am sitting on a chair. I will have a healthy breakfast today.” By continuing to repeat this sentence, you will naturally begin to feel more peaceful.
If you like cooking, think about how it would make you feel. For example, “The grilled chicken sandwich is my favorite. I’m cutting up the tomatoes and green onions. The chicken is so tender, I bet it tastes great. Now I’m adding bacon crumbles, and a dollop of sour cream,” and so on.
Familiar scents can evoke strong, nostalgic memories. Fragrance particles can even evoke pleasant memories that have long been forgotten. Choose a candle, a soap, a deodorant, an essential oil, or a beverage, and smell it if you want to ground yourself. They can immediately take your mind away from those unpleasant thoughts.
When you are sad or plagued by traumatic memories, imagine the face or voice of a positive person in your life, such as your child, your partner, your parent, or even a close friend or relative. Imagine that person being with you, putting an arm around your shoulders and comforting you. Imagine what they would say to you and how their voice would sound. Imagine him or her telling you that this is a difficult time, but that you are strong enough to get through it.
To bring your mind back to the present, simply take a moment to be still and listen to your surroundings. What sounds do you hear? Are there birds chirping at your window? Can you listen to the voices of children giggling outside? Or maybe you hear cars speeding by. Let the sounds come to you and remind you that you are in the here and now.
Note: While grounding techniques can help you deal with anxiety and stress, they won’t magically make your panic attacks disappear. Their main job is to prevent you from being swept away by feelings of anxiety. If you experience frequent anxiety attacks, seek further help from a mental health professional.
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