Simple Grounding Techniques For Calming Down Quickly
One of the tools you can use for when you feel anxious is called Grounding. When your mind is racing, grounding brings you back to the here-and-now and is very helpful in managing overwhelming feelings or anxiety. It is a great way to calm down quickly.
Grounding brings your focus to what is happening to you, either in your body or in your surroundings, instead of being trapped by the thoughts in your mind that are causing you to feel anxious. It helps you stay in the present moment instead of worrying about things that may happen in the future or events that have already happened that you still find yourself going over and over in your head.
Grounding as part of your self care routine
You might want to practice daily, in the morning or just before bed to aid sleep. The more we practice the easier it is to do when our anxiety becomes overwhelming.
Why Grounding Works To Calm You Down
Before I start describing some grounding techniques let’s talk about why grounding works. The amygdala is the part of our brain that is responsible for preparing for emergency events and enabling the ‘fight or flight’ response but sometimes it kicks into action and detects a threat where there really isn’t any. It can be more easily activated in some people than others.
Here is a typical process; we have a negative thought about a situation ( a thought doesn’t necessarily mean it is real), our amygdala says “emergency! emergency!” and initiates changes in our body such as increased muscle tension, rapid heartbeat and faster breathing - suddenly we are in ‘fight or flight mode’. The amygdala then interprets these body changes as further evidence that something is actually wrong, which of course further activates it and creates a vicious cycle where you become more and more anxious and physically and emotionally overwhelmed.
Thankfully, we can use grounding techniques to break out of this vicious cycle. By re-focusing on the present moment, noticing you are actually safe and that nothing is about to attack you, you get out of your head and divert your mind away from anxious or stressful thoughts and into the moment.
There are many ways to ground yourself. Below are 7 examples.
Practice them any time or when you are slightly stressed or anxious so they will become familiar making it easier to launch into the technique that works best for you when you are feeling very stressed, overwhelmed or stuck in an anxiety attack.
The Grounding Chair
Sit down in a comfortable chair, one where your feet reach the floor.
Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Breathe in slowly for the count of three, then out slowly for a count of four, pushing all the air out with your diaphragm.
Bring your mind’s focus to your body: How does your body feel sitting in that chair?
Push your bottom right into the back of the seat so the whole length of your back is pressing into the back of the chair.
Can you feel the contact between your body and the chair’s surface?
If the chair has arms, touch it, is the material smooth or textured?
Press your arms down the length of the chair arm, notice how your hands hang off the end.
If your chair doesn’t have arms, touch the material on the seat, how does that feel?
Next push your feet into the ground, imagine the energy draining down from your mind, down through your body and out through your feet into the ground.
You can picture it as a colour filling your body as it goes from top to toe, choose whatever colour you want your energy to look like.
As the energy drains from your head, feel how heavy each body part becomes, your torso feels heavy and now your arms as you relax those muscles.
Lastly, feel the heaviness go down your legs, through your feet and down into the ground.
At this point you can also do the next technique below…
The 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique
This second technique gets you to use all your five senses to help you get back to the present moment. It starts with you sitting comfortably, closing your eyes and taking a couple of deep breaths. In through your nose (count to 3), out through your mouth (to the count of 4) as above.
Now open your eyes and look around you. Name out loud:
5 – things you can see (you can look within the room and out of the window)
4 – things you can feel (the silkiness of your skin, the texture of the material on your chair, what does your hair feel like? What is in front of you that you can touch? A table perhaps?)
3 – things you can hear (traffic noise or birds outside, when you are quiet and actually listening things in your room constantly make a noise but typically we don’t hear them).
2 – things you can smell.
1 – thing you can taste (it might be a good idea to keep a piece of chocolate handy in case you are doing this grounding exercise! You can always leave your chair for this one and when you taste whatever it is that you have chosen, take a small bite and let it swill around your mouth for a couple of seconds, really savouring the flavour).
Take a deep breath and exhale to end.
Hold Something and Really Focus On It
I keep pebbles and shells in my counselling room just for this purpose but look around your house for things that have a texture or are pretty or interesting to look at.
Hold an object in your hand and really bring your full focus to it. If I was looking at one of my shells or stones I would see the patterns that run through it and the colour variances. Some have veins of different colours going through them or sparkly bits. Look at where shadows may fall on parts of it or maybe there are shapes that form within the object. Feel how heavy or light it is in your hand and what the surface texture feels like under your fingers.
This can be done with any object you have lying around or if you know you are going into a stressful situation, take one of your favourite small objects and put it in your pocket or purse so you can do this calming exercise on the go.
Let Your Thoughts Come and Go
When we are anxious our thoughts about our worries go around and around in our mind. Never ending and building on each other until we feel drained. Whenever you try not to do something it is guaranteed to make you do it more; so instead observe your thoughts like you are on the outside looking in. Just watch your thoughts for a minute. Imagines leaves floating on the surface of a stream. For each thought that comes to mind, allow that thought to take its place on a leaf and watch it blow away in the wind. Or allow the thought to turn into a fish and watch it swim away down stream. Allow those thoughts to come and go, you don’t need to respond to them.
There are several ways to distract your mind so it stops thinking about whatever it is that is worrying you nad instead focus on something that isn’t emotionally driven. Here are two quick ways to do it.
Pick a colour. How many things in different shades of that colour can you see around the room or out of the window? Still feeling stressed? Pick another colour.
Count backwards by 7, starting at 100. It isn’t that easy and needs you to concentrate.
Draw Around Your Foot In Your Mind
Place your feet on the ground and in your imagination pick your favourite colour to draw an outline around each foot. Start at the heel and using your imaginary pencil slowly go up the side of your foot to your pinky toe and then make sure you draw around each toe and then go back towards the heel. Repeat on the other foot.
Another quick way to focus on your feet when you are in a stressful situation is just wiggle your toes inside your shoe. Pay attention to the sensation as you move each separate toe. Do some move independently of the others? Tense up your whole foot then stretch it out. Now do the other foot.
Get Your Adrenaline-Fuelled Energy Out
Sometimes my clients tell me that they just can’t concentrate enough to do any of these grounding exercises because their body seems too pumped full of adrenaline fuelled energy. If this is happening to you, it is good to kick-start the calming down process by doing something physical first to get that pent-up energy out and then come back to your favourite grounding techniques. So first you might like to:
Run up and down the stairs.
Take a brisk walk or run outside.
Run on the treadmill/elliptical if you have one at home.
Cleaning up the kitchen, house or garden moves that extra energy into something useful!
Dance around the house while listening to loud music.
When you are physically spent, you can return to trying one or two of the grounding techniques above, to calm down your mind.