4 Easy Anxiety Tips for Grounding Yourself, from an Anxiety Therapist in Castle Rock, CO
Anxiety can come up anytime, anywhere, for anyone. Anxiety isn’t just feeling worried. It’s actually our brains’ normal response to uncertainty. When something feels off, anxiety tells us to look into it more and make sure we’re safe.
When we’re faced with a problem, anxiety helps kick our bodies into high gear to solve that problem, and the anxiety often fades away when the problem is resolved. For example, let’s say you’re anxious about a job interview. You know the interview is in two hours. And chances are, a lot of your anxiety will resolve after that interview is over, no matter how you think it went. That’s because your body is telling you that you got through it, and that is often enough to resolve the anxiety!
But here’s the thing: we often find ourselves anxious over problems that can’t actually be solved at the moment! Our world has been full of these kinds of problems lately: the pandemic, the climate crisis, political tensions, wars overseas… so many things. We can’t predict when or how these issues are going to resolve. And so our bodies don’t know how to turn down that anxiety response without a little extra help. That’s where grounding comes in.
Grounding is a term for many different techniques that essentially help you reconnect to your body and the present moment. So often when we’re feeling anxious, our brains are kinda off somewhere else, thinking about that thing. We’re stuck in our heads, and not in the moment. Grounding helps bring us back. It’s an important first step to coping with and tackling anxiety. So I want to share with you a few of my favorite grounding techniques! These are all simple to do and easy to learn.
This is almost always my first go-to. 54321 is an easy grounding practice for your 5 senses. First, look around and name 5 things you can see. Give yourself a couple seconds to notice each item you choose. Notice their colors, shapes, size. This is called mindful noticing!
Then, name 4 things you can touch, and if at all possible, go ahead and touch them. Notice their textures, temperatures, hardness or softness, and other details. Maybe your dog or cat is nearby to pet!
Next, name 3 things you can hear. Just like with the last two, see what else you can notice about the sounds. Where are they coming from? Are they loud or quiet? Please or annoying?
Now, name 2 things you can smell. If they’re not immediately obvious, feel free to walk around a bit and find things. Perhaps there’s a candle in the room with you, or you can kneel down and smell the grass outside. Maybe it’s just the slight smell of paper or clothing. Notice these scents.
Finally, name 1 thing you can taste, and taste it! Again, you may need to look around and that’s fine. Even if it’s just water! And if you recently finished a meal, perhaps you can still taste that.
That’s it! If you’re still feeling pretty anxious after the first round, go through it again and try to pick all new items. You can also slow down the exercise and really pay close attention to each item.
Ice Cream Breathing
Ice Cream Breathing is the name I gave to what’s commonly called Diaphragmatic Breathing (but that’s a bit too medical and hard to pronounce, isn’t it?). Think about a 3-scoop cone of ice cream. When the ice cream shop serves it up, they put Scoop 1 on the bottom, then Scoop 2, then Scoop 3, right? But most likely, you eat it backward: Scoop 3 first on the top, then Scoop 2, then Scoop 1. So… stay with me… the scoops are areas in your body. Scoop 1 is your diaphragm, your abdominal area. Scoop 2 is your lungs. And Scoop 1 is your throat/esophagus.
Take a deep breath with me, and try to fill up your abdomen (Scoop 1) first, then fill your lungs (Scoop 2) with air, and finally your throat (Scoop 3). As you exhale, let the air out of your throat first, then your lungs, then your abdomen last.
How did that feel? Many people find that Ice Cream Breathing eases anxiety by forcing them to slow down and focus on their breathing. This process sends signals to the brain that the body is safe, and it’s okay to relax!
Choose a Grounding Object
A grounding object can be any item you want, that brings some happiness and calm to you when you see it. Maybe it’s a photo, a souvenir from a favorite trip, a small gift from someone you care for deeply, or a stuffed animal. You can also use fidget spinners and other similar objects. The only requirement is that the item is portable! That’s because the grounding object should be something you can carry with you to different environments, especially if you know you might have increased anxiety there.
When you start to feel anxious, pull out the grounding object. Focus on it mindfully, just like in the 54321 exercise. Notice its colors, textures, shape, size, smell, anything you can think of! And then notice the memories or sensations that come up when you hold the grounding object. This can be a great option for travel, work, while on public transportation, being in medical appointments, and other situations where you need to ease your anxiety discreetly.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is an excellent technique for releasing anxiety from your body. PMR is basically a physics principle. Remember this phrase from school? “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” When you notice some tension in your neck, for example, you might stretch it for a second to ease that tension. Small action (the original tension), small reaction (a quick stretch).
But what if you noticed the tension, and made it MORE intense, just for a few seconds? And then did the same stretch, for several seconds this time? Chances are, you’d notice a much bigger relaxation reaction, because the original action was bigger too! That’s exactly what you do in PMR.
You can work through your whole body with PMR, by tensing up each muscle group for about 5 seconds, then allowing them to fully release. This is a great exercise to do before bed. I personally like to start at my feet, and work up to my head, but you can do whatever is comfortable. The whole body can take 10-15 minutes. But you may not have the time to do that during the day, in which case I suggest a quick “spot check.” Like the example with neck tension, mentally scan your body and notice which areas need some attention, and just do PMR on those areas. The best part is that other people often can’t tell what you’re doing, so this is great at work and during meetings!
Try the anxiety grounding techniques for yourself!
Try each of these for yourself to see what best helps your anxiety. Every person is different, so you may resonate with some more than others. These grounding techniques each serve as a good first-step to coping with chronic anxiety.
If you’re looking for more support for your anxiety than these tips can offer, several therapists here at Authentic Connections Counseling Center in Castle Rock, Colorado, specialize in anxiety and are here to help! Our therapists serve the Castle Rock area in person, and can meet with anyone in Colorado via online therapy.