Grounding Techniques for Anxiety

May 6, 2021

What Are Grounding Techniques?

Grounding techniques can be helpful for those of us who experience anxiety or panic attacks. These practices can also help those of us who have gone through traumatic experiences or PTSD. Grounding can pull us away from negative or challenging emotions, unwanted memories, or flashbacks. These practices can help distract us from the uncomfortable feelings we’re experiencing and allow us to become mindful of the present moment. Grounding techniques for anxiety are a great way for us to self-regulate in moments of stress and overwhelm.

There are many benefits to practicing different grounding techniques when we are anxious. These techniques can help to switch off the “fight, flight or freeze” mode in our brains and allow our body to re-center itself. It’s a great way to quickly calm down our anxiety. Grounding practices bring our focus to what is happening to us physically or in our surroundings, so that we aren’t trapped by our thoughts and so that we can stay in the present moment.

One grounding exercise that works for someone may not necessarily work for someone else. Luckily, there are many different ways to practice grounding to reduce anxiety. Here are just a few of many grounding techniques you can practice:

Physical Grounding Exercises

  • Try Boxed Breathing, where you breathe in for four seconds, hold for four seconds, breathe out for four seconds, hold for four seconds, then repeat. Continue the exercise until you feel more grounded.
  • Try the 5-4-3-2-1 method. From wherever you are, notice five things you can see. Then notice four things you can touch, Next notice three things you can hear and two things you can smell. Finally, notice one thing you can taste. This exercise will bring heightened awareness to our five senses to ground us. 
  • Move your body. Try some light stretching that will wake up your muscles and root you in the present moment. Or go on a walk to get more air and feel your body moving.
  • Choose a nearby item to hold onto. Pick it up and notice the texture of the item. Really try to focus on the one item that is with you in this moment. 
  • Try the grounding chair technique. Sit in a comfortable chair and rest your feet on the floor. Close your eyes and notice your breath. Bring your mind’s focus to just your body and the chair. Can you feel the contact between your body and the chair’s surface? Notice if the chair is textured or smooth. How does it feel?

Mental Grounding Exercises

  • Play a memory game. Look at a detailed photo for 5-10 seconds, then turn it face down and try to recall it in as much detail as possible. You can also do this by observing your immediate surroundings and describing them in full detail.
  • Begin thinking in categories. Choose one or two broad categories, like sports teams or ice cream flavors, and take a minute or two to mentally list as many things in the category as you can. 
  • Use math and numbers. Even if you’re not a math person, counting backward from 100 or running through times tables in your head can help to concentrate on the mental task at hand and break away from anxious sensations. 
  • Visualize your favorite place. Is there a place that brings you calm and joy that you can go to in anxious moments? Close your eyes and try to focus on this place. 

These are just some of many grounding exercises that we can practice when we’re feeling anxious. Whether they are more physical activities or mental ones, their main purpose is to help us slow down and shift our thoughts off of our anxiety and onto the present moment instead. You can try out multiple techniques and see what works well for you. 

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