Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Your heart’s racing. Your stomach’s churning. You’re jittery and fidgety and can’t stop your mind from going to the worst-case scenario.
These are all signs of anxiety, and if you ever feel this way, you’re not alone. Anxiety disorders affect 40 million Americans over the age of eighteen.
An anxiety disorder is characterized by excessive worry that interferes with everyday life.
Of course, you don’t need to have a disorder to experience anxiety — everyone feels anxious every now and then. Especially when life gets stressful!
So, what’s the best way to calm your racing thoughts when you start to feel your anxiety spiral? Try using grounding techniques.
When you’re anxious, your body dives into what’s called a fight-or-flight response — for example, you get sweaty palms, a thumping heart and quickened breath.
This fight-or-flight response was designed as an evolutionary adaptation to help us escape immediate danger.
If we were being attacked by predators or facing certain death, our fight-or-flight response would kick in and help us either fight off the imminent threat or flee.
Unfortunately, when it comes to anxiety, your body is usually overreacting to stressors that aren’t exactly life-threatening.
Now think about it: usually, when you’re anxious, you’re often worried about something that has already happened, or that might happen in the future, right?
But grounding techniques help you focus on the present, ultimately keeping those overwhelming feelings and extreme emotions in check.
These techniques require using your senses and/or cognitive awareness to bring you back to the present moment.
If you keep a few grounding strategies in your back pocket, it’s like having a secret weapon that can help you return to a calmer self.
Here is a list of 10 grounding methods for you to keep in mind the next time your anxiety starts to get the best of you.
The key here is to practice them when you’re feeling calm, so you’re armed and ready when you start feeling stressed.
This popular technique is a five-step exercise that uses your five senses to help ground you in the present when you have feelings of anxiety.
It’s done by acknowledging the following in a moment of panic, unease or anxious feelings:
Five things that you can see
Four things you can feel
Three things you can hear
Two things you can smell
One thing you can taste
Take a seat. Once sitting, be very mindful and notice how the chair supports your weight. Is it a soft chair? A hard chair? Does it feel comforting? Draw attention to the places where your body makes contact with it.
First, make sure your feet are planted firmly on the floor. Then, take a deep, slow breath in and fill your lungs with air.
As you breathe out, imagine you’re exhaling all the way from the soles of your feet. Repeat this at least three times.
Another good breathing exercise involves holding it, then exhaling. Try breathing in slowly for four seconds, holding it in for four seconds, then exhaling slowly for four seconds.
Repeat this as many times as needed until you feel calmer.
Pick a category then look around the room or environment you’re in, and try to find all the items within the category that you’ve chosen. For example, let’s say you’re outside and you pick the color orange.
Maybe you see a flower, a ball, the sun, an autumn leaf — keep going until you start to feel grounded and calm.
Find something like a coin, a stone, or a piece of jewelry and hold it in your hand. Notice the sensation of it. Is it cold? Smooth? Delicate?
Really connect with the object and the way it feels as you hold it. If you tend to have panic attacks often, maybe carry an item with you that you can take out when the anxiety symptoms hit.
Whether it’s placing a piece of ice in the palm of your hand and feeling the sharpness of the cold and the wetness as it melts, or taking a sip of cool water and feeling the sensation of it in your mouth as it trickles down your throat, focusing on this sensory experience may help ground you and allow you to be present.
Remind yourself of who you are. Say your name. Your age. Where you are. What you’ve done today and what you’ll do tomorrow.
Say it in a sentence. My name is ____. I am ____ years old. I am at _____. And so on.
When you start to feel panic spiraling, reorient by asking yourself some (or all) of these questions. Where am I? What day is it? What’s the date? What’s the month? What’s the year? What season is it?
Whether you like your shower hot or cold, the sensation of the water against your skin can help ground you.
Are your muscles relaxing? Is the sound of the shower calming? Is the sloshing of the bath water soothing?
Focus on your senses and the smells of the soaps, the sound of the water and the way it feels against your skin.
Keep a calming playlist on your phone, and play it whenever you feel anxiety mounting.
Studies have shown that listening to music can decrease the body’s stress response.
So, listen to the sounds of the instruments, the tones of voices and the lyrics, and try to ground yourself in the present moment.
While there isn’t a large amount of research about the science behind grounding methods, it certainly can’t hurt to try these techniques to help calm anxiety.
To get the most out of them, practice when you’re not feeling stressed so it becomes second nature when tensions rise.
Also, keep your eyes open to stay aware of your surroundings, and check in with yourself periodically to see if your anxiety is lessening or increasing.
While grounding exercises may help in the moment, living with anxiety can be a long-term challenge.
Don’t avoid the problem — it won't go away, and it may even worsen if you don’t get help. Hers’ online therapy offering can help assess your needs and provide you with solutions that are tailored to you.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.
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