As someone with anxiety, you know what it feels like when the physical symptoms of an anxiety attack kick in. Your heart races. Your mouth gets dry. Your body starts to tremble. You break out in a cold sweat. Panic takes over your mind, defying all logic and reality. What if we told you there are ways to stop anxiety attacks in their tracks to prevent them from consuming you? Well, there are. They’re called grounding techniques.
People with anxiety and PTSD are often carried away by thoughts of their traumatic past or uncertain future, which triggers fight-or-flight instincts. The brain feels like the body is under attack, so it gears up for a nonexistent threat.
Grounding techniques are physical or mental actions that distract you from oncoming anxiety in moments like these. These calming methods help you focus on the present and what’s actually going on around you. Here are 25 strategies to help you come out of those moments.
Mental Grounding Techniques
The 5-4-3-2-1 technique: This is the most common grounding technique because it calls upon all the senses to bring you back to the present. It involves thinking about:
- Five things you can see;
- Four things you can feel;
- Three things you can hear;
- Two things you can smell; and
- One thing you can taste in your immediate environment.
Identifying things in your physical world slows your heart rate and takes your focus off the intense feelings of anxiety.
Memory game: A memory game is an effective and fun way to manage anxiety attacks. Play a memory card game on your phone or try to memorize details in a photograph and recreate the picture in your mind.
Picture someone you love: Who is your biggest confidant in life? Who is the one person who can comfort you no matter how bad things get? Imagine that person is right there with you, what they’d be saying to you, and what their voice would sound like.
List your favorite things: Make a list of things that make you happy. Break it down into categories. What is your favorite food? Your favorite song? Your favorite hobby? Your favorite movie? Your favorite color? Your favorite travel destination? This line of thinking will put you in a more positive mindset.
Play the categories game: Similar to listing your favorite things, you can also list out a handful of categories and challenge your brain to list as many things in those categories as possible. Who are five authors, football players, or movie stars? What are five European countries, car brands, or types of flowers?
Spell some things backward: Spelling something backward is a mental challenge that forces you to concentrate. You can do lots of things backward — like counting down from 100 in increments of 6, reading a page of a book backward, and so on.
Visualize turning down an emotional dial: You’ll have strong emotions at the onset of a panic attack. By visualizing an emotional dial and making the conscious choice to turn it down, you’re putting yourself in charge of your feelings.
Listen to your surroundings: Simply taking a moment to be quiet and listen to your environment can bring you back to the present. If you’re inside, listen to the clock ticking. Listen to people chatting or breathing around you. If you’re outside, listen to leaves rustling in the wind. Listen to birds chirping, children playing, or dogs barking in the distance and remind yourself that you are in the here and now.
Think about numbers: Doing math in your head is a great way to center your thoughts. Go through the times tables mentally or think of a few different equations that yield the same answer.
Recite something: Have you memorized the pledge of allegiance? A famous poem? A scientific theory? An important speech? A noteworthy quote? The preamble to the Constitution? Whatever you have in your head, speak it out loud or say the words mentally. Think about your mouth as you vocalize it or imagine the words appearing on a piece of paper as you go.
Watch a movie or TV show: If you enjoy watching it, television can transport you to another place and time, allowing you to live in another person’s shoes for a little while. After an episode or two, you might even forget that you were anxious to begin with.
Listen to music: Putting on your favorite song not only boosts your mood, but it also elicits emotions that bring you back down to earth. Focus hard on the lyrics and think about what they mean to you in this particular moment.
Watch a funny YouTube video: Nothing alleviates anxiety like a good laugh. Put on your favorite comedian or whatever else you find funny and allow yourself to laugh away the negative feelings.
Recite a to-do list for the day: If your to-do list gives you anxiety, you can skip this one. But if it helps you to think about the things you want to accomplish in the present moment, speaking your to-do list out loud can refocus your thoughts on something productive you can do in the moment.
Focus on an object: Pick a small trinket you find interesting, whether it be a coin, a piece of jewelry, a polished rock, a pressed flower, or a figurine — and keep it with you at all times. Focus on this object when you’re feeling a panic attack coming on. Are there imperfections in the jewelry? How has the coin deteriorated over time? How does the polished rock look when it’s glinting in the light?
Physical and Mindfulness Grounding Techniques
Clench your fists and release: Focus all the negative and nervous energy to your hands. Clench them into fists, squeeze as hard as you can, and let go. Do this 10 times in a row and think about how your body feels as you release the tension. Feel the blood flow back into your fingers.
Rub your palms together: This is another way of channeling energy to your hands. Rub them together as fast as you can and generate heat through friction, focusing on expelling anxious energy through that heat.
Stomp on the floor: It might feel good to stomp around a little bit, thinking specifically about how it feels when your foot lands on the floor. Focus on the ground beneath you and the sensation it causes when it makes contact with your foot.
Designate a grounding chair: Pick a cozy chair in a quiet space in your home. Sit in it and think about how it feels as you sit. How does the material feel on your skin? How does your body fit into it? Lean back in the chair and imagine all of the negative emotions spilling out of your feet and onto the floor and relax every muscle on the way down.
Bring attention to your breath: Breathing exercises help you take control of your heart rate and your muscle tension. Breathe in for four seconds, hold it for four seconds, and let it out for four seconds. Repeat this until you feel calm.
Do some vigorous exercise: Feeling your heart pounding in your chest and the sweat forming on your body can bring you back from a place of fear. Do a form of exercise you enjoy, whether it be a light jog outdoors, a dance exercise at home, or a kickboxing session at the gym.
Stretch your body: As you stretch, focus on the areas of the body that carry the weight of your anxiety. For most people, anxious tension is carried in the back, the shoulders, and the neck. Think about how your body feels and try implementing breathing exercises throughout.
Take a shower or bath: Take your time in drawing yourself a bath or shower. Feel the water and how its temperature brings you back to reality. How does the warm or cool water feel on your muscles? What do the sounds of the water do to your mind?
Make a comforting, hot drink: Coffee, tea, and hot chocolate are cozy beverages that calm your body and mind. As you prepare it, think about the cool mug in your hand and the motions of stirring the drink. How do you feel as the liquid trickles down your throat and the warmth spreads through your body?
Smell something familiar: Smells, especially familiar ones, are powerful sensations. These can help you come back to the present moment. Pick a candle, a lotion, a cologne, an essential oil, or a hot beverage to smell when you need to ground yourself.
Seek Further Help From a Mental Health Specialist
While grounding techniques help you in the moment, they won’t make your anxiety and panic attacks go away; they only prevent you from dissociating and getting swept away by feelings of fear. If you’re experiencing regular anxiety attacks or dissociation, consult a mental health professional as soon as possible. A specialist can help you overcome these episodes through therapy and medication.