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