Managing Your Anxiety with Simple Grounding Techniques
When we are in a state of psychological distress it can be difficult to stay present. We are either focused on worry and fear about the future, experiencing a flashback of a previous event, or in a state of dissociating. Whether we are experiencing anxiety, stress, feeling overwhelmed, or triggered by something as the result of previous trauma, grounding techniques can help to bring down our level of distress. These techniques work to orient us to the present moment and can have a physical effect on our nervous system, which calms the body and decreases the level of activation we feel.
Here are some simple techniques to try:
-Use the 5-4-3-2-1 technique to help orient you to your surroundings and the present. Take a moment to look around you. Notice 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch (it helps to actually touch them), 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, 1 thing you can taste.
-Pick one of the 5 senses and focus on that. Some examples:
Touch: Hold an ice cube in your hands. Pay attention to how it feels
Sound: Play music and focus on it, noticing the different sounds
Smell: Use essential oils, especially those that promote calm such as lavender
Taste: Choose a food with a strong taste such as a mint and focus on that while you eat it
Sight: Look around you and choose a color you see. Name all the things you see that are that same color.
Being outside and around our natural surroundings helps us feel more connected to the present. Take time to notice what is happening around you. Do you feel the warmth of the sun, or is it cold? Maybe you hear the leaves blowing in the wind, or birds chirping. Try closing your eyes to get more connected to things you experience through senses other than sight.
To get the grounding benefits of exercise you do not need to run a marathon. Simply going for a walk outside can help. If you are experiencing a higher level of distress, a more vigorous activity might be more beneficial, such asdoing a few jumping jacks. Feelings are energy in our bodies, and this will help to move and let go of some of the activation we are feeling.
This is a simple technique proven to help calm your nervous system. It is also good for distracting from distressing thoughts because it takes some attention to keep counting out the breath. Inhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts.
Repeat as many times as you need. Here is a link to a guided Square breathing that uses sound and does the counting for you:
Try practicing and get in the habit of using these skills when you are not distressed so it will be easier to use them when you need some grounding.
These techniques are meant to address the experience of psychological distress in the moment. If you find yourself having difficulty staying grounded and these skills are not enough, working with a therapist can help to address the underlying causes.
-Laura Gross, LMSW
Laura Gross is a Clinical Therapist with Marsh Psychology Group.
You can contact her at: