Simple Grounding Techniques For Calming Down Quickly
One of the tools you can use when you feel anxious is called Grounding. When your mind is racing, grounding brings you back to the here-and-now and is helpful in managing overwhelming feelings or anxiety. It is a great way to calm down quickly.
Grounding is about bringing your focus to what is happening to you physically, 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 to stay in the present moment instead of worrying about things that may happen in the future or ruminating on the past.
Here's how it works; we have a negative thought about a situation (remember a thought doesn’t necessarily mean it is real), and the part of our brain called the amygdala says “emergency! emergency!”. This initiates changes in our body such as increased muscle tension, rapid heartbeat and faster breathing, we are moving into 'fight or flight' mode in order to prepare for the perceived emergency. The amygdala then interprets these body changes as further evidence that something actually is wrong which then further activates it and creates a vicious cycle; you become more and more anxious and physically and emotionally overwhelmed.
Thankfully, we can use grounding techniques to break out of this cycle. By re-focusing on your body and what you’re physically feeling, you get out of your head and divert your mind away from anxious or stressful thoughts and into the moment.
It's important to try them all when you are only slightly worried about something at first and practice them often. Choose the ones that you like best. Practice means they are easier to remember when your brain goes offline when you are in overwhelm.
Here are a couple to try:
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. 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. I picture it as a colour filling my body as it goes from top to toe, but this is your image so choose whatever 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.
This will bring you back into your body. The amygdala now knows that you are safe and therefore it stands down from the fight or flight mode. You will return to a resting state.
There are several ways to distract your mind so it stops thinking about whatever it is that is worrying you and focuses 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. This one can also be helpful to do when you are finding it hard to sleep.
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.
Grounding helps you get out of your brain and bring your focus to your body.
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.
Run on the treadmill, if you have one at home
Run up and down the stairs
Take a brisk walk or run outside
Clean up the kitchen, house or garden. This channels 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 these techniques to calm down your mind.
Which one of these grounding techniques works best for you? Maybe different ones help at different times. Whichever one you choose, once you have calmed down and your mind stops racing, you are then able to look at the situation more rationally and challenge the thoughts that made you anxious in the first place.