There it is again.
That familiar feeling of anxiety welling up in you.
Tension creeping up into your neck, your heart pounding, your breath becoming rapid and shallow. Your hands feel clammy and your head feels like it’s slowly being squeezed in a vise. Dizziness begins to set in.
By then, you notice your attention drifting, your thoughts beginning to jump around randomly. Your mind is taking a left turn.
At that moment—when you start feeling spacey and anxious but are not quite in panic—you can still turn it all around and keep yourself from spiraling down into a full-blown panic attack.
Using grounding exercises.
These simple but powerful techniques can help distract you from your distressing feelings and draw you back into your surroundings.
5-Step Grounding Exercise
Any time you start feeling anxious, you should make an effort to control your breathing. Breathe in to the count of 5, hold your breath to the count of 5, and breathe out to the count of 5.
Once you begin feeling your thoughts slowing down as well, you can execute a simple and quick 5-step awareness exercise that uses all five of your senses to you help ground and stabilize yourself.
5. Sight – see 5 things
The clouds outside, a picture on the wall, a car driving past, a spill on the ground, a tiny ladybug on a leaf nearby, the bright colored flowers in a vase, etc.
4. Touch – feel 4 things
The breeze brushing your skin, your hands on the computer’s keyboard, your purse hanging over your shoulder, a coin in your hand, the chair you’re sitting on, etc.
3. Sound – hear 3 things
The sound of the traffic, the laughter of children, a clock ticking, the chirping of birds, the dripping of water, the humming of the A/C, etc.
2. Smell – smell 2 things
The lotion on your hands, a bar of soap, the fragrance of flowers growing nearby, the detergent you washed your clothes with, etc. (If you’re not in a very stimulating environment, try thinking of smells you enjoy.)
1. Taste – taste 1 thing
A piece of chewing gum, a breath mint, a sip of juice, a piece of chocolate, the salty taste of your sweaty skin, etc.
Because anxiety often makes you feel inadequate, don’t forget to think of something positive about yourself at the end. Like accomplishing these five steps and calming yourself down. That is something to be proud of. You’ve learned to control your anxiety!
Remember how that felt. Remember that you can regain control. And next time you feel anxious, remind yourself of your success. It will become easier every time you execute these steps. Practice makes perfect!
A Few More Pieces of Advice
- When you’re doing this sensory awareness exercise, don’t forget to keep your eyes open so that you can truly focus on your surroundings.
- Speaking out loud and calling out the things you see, feel, hear, smell, and taste also helps keep you focused.
- And last but not least, move. You don’t have to be sitting still. Pacing, jumping, or stretching can help you put more focus on your body and less on your mind. Plus, it’s a good way to wear off that extra adrenaline.
One of the best things about using grounding exercises—aside from helping you cope with overwhelming anxiety—is that nobody has to really know that you’re experiencing it. Of course, you don’t have to be ashamed of it, but it’s always a little counterproductive when you feel everybody is watching you and worrying. It can cause your anxiety to increase.
Though, at the same time, it can also be helpful when someone close to you—like a friend or family member—understands and reminds you that it may be time to begin grounding yourself when they see signs of anxiety. So, why not make it a matter of teamwork and avail yourself of that support whenever you can?