Anxiety Got You Spinning? 3 Ways to Ground Yourself Fast
The triggers for overwhelming anxiety may be simple or complex. Yet before we can get to the root(s) of your panic or anxiety attacks, it’s helpful to start with “grounding techniques” to take the immediate edge off your anxiety.
The goal is to stop spinning out, and instead ground yourself to here-and-now reality. Why? Because for persons who suffer from anxiety attacks, the fear is not from a concrete or immediate danger.
Instead, the fear lives in our thoughts of what we think might happen (“I’m going to faint”, “My heart’s going to give out”, “I’m going to have an anxiety attack and look stupid”, etc.) But when we calm our body, our minds follow.
So the following grounding skills can help you manage overwhelming feelings or intense anxiety. Sometimes my clients feel a bit silly when I teach them these. But most of time, they are glad they did. So, try them. Practice them. There are others that work too, but these are my favorites.
“Finger Trace” to Lower Anxiety
This first one is great for kids, but honestly, works great for panicky adults because it’s so simple. (Here’s a video to see it as well.)
How to do it: Stretch the fingers of one hand out like a star, as if you were going to count to five. And using your first finger from your other hand, trace each finger, starting at the outside of the thumb, s-l-o-w-l-y slide up, and then s-l-o-w-l-y slide down the other side.
Then do the same for each finger. Slowly slide up one side, and then slowly down the other of each finger on your hand.
One more thing. As you s-l-o-w-l-y trace your fingers, just as slowly breath in through your nose as you slide up one side of the finger, and then s-l-o-w-l-y breath out through your mouth as you slide down the other side of your finger.
You can then reverse the trace.
For added relaxation, notice what your fingers feel like as you trace. How does the texture of your skin feel? What’s the feel/temperature/quality of your breath as it enters and leaves your lungs? Notice whatever there is to notice.
Do this for about 60 seconds and see if you feel a bit calmer. And if you like, do it again.
Engage Your Senses, Lower Your Stress
There are lots of ways to engage your physical senses and ground yourself in the here and now. Here’s a popular one some call the “5-4-3-2-1 game” that uses our normative five senses to get us to ground.
How to do it: When you sense a panic attack is coming, or you are beginning to feel especially stressed, stop whatever you are doing and take a deep belly breath to begin. Then…
5 – LOOK: Look around for 5 things that you can see, and say them out loud. For example, you could say, I see the computer, I see the cup, I see the picture frame.
4 – FEEL: Pay attention to your body and think of 4 things that you can feel, and say them out loud. For example, you could say, I feel my feet warm in my socks, I feel the hair on the back of my neck, or I feel the chair I am sitting on.
3 – LISTEN:Listen for 3 sounds. It could be the sound of traffic outside, the sound of typing or the sound of your tummy rumbling. Say the three things out loud.
2 – SMELL:Say two things you can smell. If you’re allowed to, it’s okay to move to another spot and sniff something. If you can’t smell anything at the moment or you can’t move, then name your 2 favorite smells.
1 – TASTE: Say one thing you can taste. It may be the toothpaste from brushing your teeth, or a mint from after lunch. If you can’t taste anything, then say your favorite thing to taste.
See if you’re feeling a bit calmer. Then do it again. Taking a couple of minutes now might save you a lot of stress in the longer run.
Change Your Thoughts, Reduce Your Anxiety
Cognitive awareness grounding exercises work well for some people. They help you re-orient yourself in place and time, and they give an anxious mind something else to focus on. So rather than get panicky over a future thought, we can ground ourselves in what is going on right now. Try these…
Write an Email: Write an email to someone you care about. Check in, ask them how they are doing. This gives your mind something to focus on besides whatever is making you anxious. You could also send a private message or direct message on social media.
Positive Things: List five positive things that are going on in your life right now. If you want to, call or text a friend and share the list. Then, post the list somewhere you will see it when you get anxious. It will help you remember that the anxiety isn’t always there and there is some good in the world.
Remember Wellness: Think back throughout the last week, and remember a time you did not feel anxious. What did that feel like? Write that down. What can you change to make yourself feel that way again? Write that down as well.