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Anxiety Relief Technique: Grounding

Anxiety can do a lot of damage when it shows up, but, for me, the worst is how disorienting the experience can be: it literally turns my world upside down so that I have no idea how to “right myself.” Of course, this discombobulation compounds the already awful situation (kind of like when you tug on a loose thread and the whole sweater unravels) and heightens the anxiety. Uggh. My heart’s starting to thud just thinking about it.

 

We’ve spoken a lot about TLC, which is my go-to strategy for managing acute anxiety, but there are other techniques that work just as well. One of these is called “grounding,” which refers to how this particular exercise re-orients the user so her feet feel firmly back on the ground. This is an especially useful strategy for managing overwhelming feelings and for helping a “spacey” sister (Mags) stay in the present. I also have used it with anxious kids, who really appreciate the tangible nature of grounding and how it can be made into a game.

 

So here’s how it works in 5 easy steps:

 

  1. Describe (talk to yourself) or write down 5 things you can see right now.
  2. Describe 4 things you can feel/touch right now.
  3. Describe 3 sounds you can hear right now.
  4. Describe 2 things you can smell right now.
  5. Describe 1 thing you can taste right now.

 

By the time you finish the last step, you will have distracted yourself from the anxiety and brought yourself back into the current moment.

 

You can create variations of this exercise; one I like is sucking on peppermint or smelling lavender, both of which “wake up” my senses and bring me back to reality. Because that is the key: anxiety is a state of unreality; it results from an erroneous command from the brain to get ready to flee or fight an enemy that doesn’t really exist. It’s a giant screw-up.

 

Grounding is another way to help your brain see its error and allow your body to resume a more relaxed state.

Comments

  • Laura
    April 4, 2017

    I have a metal key chain in the shape of the word breathe. I hold it when I am anxious, and it reminds me to be in the present. I never knew this was grounding. Thanks for this blog post.
    Laura

    reply
    • Barb
      February 28, 2020

      When my anxiety is running rampant and my mind turns to every bad thing that anyone said/did to me, I find an object in the room and describe it to myself in detail. I didn’t realize it was grounding but it always brings me back to the present.

      reply
  • Nicole
    April 5, 2017

    I tried this on the train the other day when it was stuck underground. I was feeling myself starting to panic and I did this and it definitely helped.

    reply
    • Abs
      April 6, 2017

      I’m so glad grounding helped you. Being stuck underground would make me feel panicky too!

      reply
  • Joanie Calem
    April 23, 2017

    I am so happy that you wrote this: “anxiety is a state of unreality; it results from an erroneous command from the brain to get ready to flee or fight an enemy that doesn’t really exist. It’s a giant screw-up.”
    I think this is the trickiest thing to remember: that what you are feeling and thinking isn’t actually real. Breathing really helps, but I also am now familiar with what is happening in my brain when I am going into that place of unreality, so I remind myself that this is what unreality feels like, and that helps me come back!

    reply
    • mags
      May 2, 2017

      I relate to the feeling of depersonalization or what Abs and I like to call “floating” when we feel like we are outside of ourselves. I found this such a scary anxiety symptom because I thought it was the start of a very severe mental illness….one that might just leave me detached from reality. It’s terribly uncomfortable but now that i know that I will float right back into reality, it’s much less scary and less likely to send me into the anxiety loop! Mags

      reply
      • Connie Crowe
        July 6, 2017

        I get that feeling of floating outside of my body. It is very scary when it happens. Next time I will try some of this grounding work.

        reply
      • Tammy
        September 7, 2018

        Thank you, your posts have really helped me

        reply
  • Eileen
    June 26, 2017

    I’m still finding my way…Thank you!!

    reply
    • Mags
      July 5, 2017

      Eileen,
      We all are still finding our way. Hopefully, we can all help each other.
      Your anxiety sister,
      Mags

      reply
  • Michelle
    July 4, 2017

    Thank you soo much for sharing this I have really bad panic attacks some times it’s really hard for me to breath and I pass out I’ve even woke up one time in the week from were my brother was driving and I had one Bc we had to leave our dad in the hospital and we were on our way how and by the time he got me to the we he told me I pass out in his arms and I woke up to Oxigen on me and doctors around me this really sounds like this would help a lot of people so ty

    reply
    • Mags
      July 4, 2017

      We’re so glad we could help!

      reply
  • Cecile wall
    December 5, 2019

    I have I’ll was anxiety disorder when it comes to Drs health illness. I have several Appts coming up n physically makes me sick. Think n imagine worse bad news n freaks me out before going. In a terrible frame of mind with anticipation n projection. Just don’t know how to deal anymore and at our age my hubby n I seem to spend much of our time in Drs offices. Always something. Makes me sad anxious lack peaceful feeling n feel like the floor will drop out any time even when things status quo. Gloom n doom. I take meds practice breathing but need some heavy retraining of brain.
    My husband is opposite n doesn’t understand my feelings

    reply

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