Grounding Techniques To Calm Anxiety & Panic

When overwhelmed by life, it is easy to feel as if you are walking on quicksand.  One manifestation of rootlessness is depersonalization, feeling separate from your body. It is often a result of post-traumatic stress, but can also be triggered by an abundance of current stress. This disjointed feeling can create a fair amount of anxiety. By using grounding exercises, when managing strong emotions as well as when calm (for extra practice), you can really root yourself in the here and now, alleviating anxiety and feeling more in control. You don’t need to have had emotional trauma to benefit from these techniques.  Anyone feeling off kilter from challenging life circumstances, major changes, or recovering from an addiction can use them to good effect.  In addition, if you suffer from chronic anxiety, these methods will help you feel more in control of your emotions.

The following utilize your ability to actively focus your attention on something external or distracting from your emotional state.  Use these strategies when you are craving your addiction, ruminating, anxious, feeling dissociated, overwhelmed, numb, spacey, or recalling a traumatic event. Remember, the first thing you want to do whenever anything unpleasant arises is allow it.  By making it safe to feel all your feelings you avoid the self-recrimination and self-downing that only add another layer of disturbance to what you are already experiencing.

5-4-3-2-1 meditation.  Wherever you are, notice 5 things you can see, then 5 things you can hear, and then 5 things you can physically feel. Continue with four things in each category, then 3 things in each category, then 2 and, finally, 1.  Allow about 15 minutes to complete one full cycle.  It is preferable to find new things, but not necessary.

Think of all the vocabulary words you can rememeber from another language you studied.

Recall your favorite foods, places you have visited, movies, books, or music.

Recite a poem you memorized as a child.

Describe in minute detail a mundane activity you do every day, like brushing your teeth: I pick up the toothbrush, I turn on the water, I wet the toothbrush, I put toothpaste on the toothbrush, etc.

Imagine a time when you felt very safe and describe it in great detail, using all five senses.

Build a sanctuary in your head, and use as much detail as possible.  See Visualization heading on this site.

Focus on where your body is contacting the floor, a chair, or bed.  Breathe into that place.

Widen and stretch your fingers and toes. Relax them and repeat.

Repeat a prayer, affirmation, or mantra.  See Mantras and Affirmations sections on this site for more ideas. Use a rosary or mala beads to help anchor the repetitions.

Count backwards by threes from 100.

Sing a song, or just la la la.

Try some simple qi gong exercise from Jeff Chang on You Tube.

List how many things you can do, from the mundane to the most sophisticated.

Play old car games in your head, like Geography (where you say the name of a place and use the last letter of that place as the first letter of your next one) or I Packed My Trunk and In It I Put an A (apple), a B (beta endorphin), a C (color wheel), to Z, going through the whole alphabet, starting from A each time you add another letter.

Look out the window and notice subtle color differences in the sky, cloud configurations, trees and branches, or the various shapes and sizes of leaves.

Drink a glass of water. The sensation of drinking and swallowing can bring you into the moment and into your body making you feel more settled.

If you are inside, starting with the upper left area of your visual field, find a corner. Now, find a corner, or any 90° angle, on the right side. Keep slowly going left and right and focusing on different corners.

Feel your breath. Remind yourself that you are alive, and whatever your are feeling is part of life.  You are here to feel it all.  Some times will be easy and others will be more challenging. That’s the nature of existence.  We need contrast to find life perennially interesting.  By experiencing what we don’t want we can more easily craft what we do desire. Allow yourself the full human experience by practicing radical acceptance.

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

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Nicole Urdang

Nicole S. Urdang, M.S., NCC, DHM is a Holistic Psychotherapist in Buffalo, NY. She holds a New York state license in mental health counseling and a doctorate in homeopathic medicine from the British Institute of Homeopathy.