4 Grounding Techniques I Use to Manage My Anxiety

Having runaway anxiety and panic sucks. Most of the things I worry about have either already happened or haven’t happened yet (and there’s no proof they will). I shouldn’t be worried about them or catastrophize, but yet, due to the anxiety, I can’t help it.

The good news for me is there is a way to short-circuit the anxiety before it becomes full-blown panic. It can also help shorten or even stop a panic attack in progress, and even lift my spirits if I’m feeling down. The tool is called grounding, and it helps bring me back to the here and now instead of events from the past or possibilities from the future.

There are many grounding techniques. Some work for some people, but not for others. Some also work with different levels or types of anxiety or panic. Sometimes they’ll work and sometimes they won’t, which is why it’s good to know a couple of them. They all take practice but for me, it’s been really worth it.

Here are a few of my favorite grounding techniques:

1. The “5-4-3-2-1 method.”

Dr. C. taught me this one in one of our early sessions. It has helped me immensely and is usually my first go-to grounding technique when I’m in trouble. Here’s how it works:

— Look around you and find five things you can see. The more detail, the better. “I see a wall” isn’t as effective as “I see the little indents on the inner circle of a paperclip that’s sitting on the desk” or “I see the store down the street has used an ‘F’ in place of an ‘E’ on their sign.”

— Sit (or lie) still, and find four things you can feel. Again, more detail is better. “Butt on chair” isn’t as good as “My right sock has fallen a bit and is lower than the left sock” or “I can feel the gentle breeze of the ventilation system moving the hairs on my right forearm.”

— Now focus on your hearing and identify three sounds you can hear. “Cars” isn’t as good as “the Doppler effect of the cars going by” or “the whir of the computer fan.”

— The next thing is finding two things you can smell. If you can’t smell two different things, then think of two smells you really like. Again, describe them as well as you can.

– The last step is to think of one good thing about yourself. Be honest. If you’re feeling down, this can be difficult, but remember everyone has at least one good thing about them.

If you think about it, each of the steps is harder and requires more concentration, which helps push what you were worried about over to the side. With luck, doing this once or twice will help break the cycle of anxiety/panic at least for a little while.

2. Running water over my hands.

This one I discovered myself when washing my hands one day. Turn on the tap and put your hands into the stream. Now just feel and watch. Feel the water running over your hands. Feel the tiny variations in temperature. Watch the bubbles as they form and run over your hands and down the drain. Look at the paths the water takes as it flows over your hands and how easily you can move it around with subtle movements of your hands.

I like this one because I can use it in public restrooms without looking too weird.

3. Putting ice in hot water.

Get a cup of hot water from the tap and drop an ice cube into it. Listen to the ice crack and watch as parts of it thin out and become translucent, then transparent. Does the ice move to a particular side? Does it move around at all while it’s melting?

4. Listening to music.

This one worked quite well for me yesterday when I was in a slump. Get some uptempo music you really like or find interesting, put it on speakers and crank it up (but not so high that you hurt your ears). Let the music wash over you. Try to pick out and listen to each instrument or voice one at a time. No ballads, no slow music. Something fast that you can tap your toes to.

This is just a tiny sample of the many grounding techniques out there. I highly recommend having at least a couple of them in your toolbox to help you cope.

Do you have any particular techniques that work for you?

Follow this journey here.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Unsplash photo via Patrick Beznoska.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Anxiety

Teenager girl with remote control laying down and watching tv eating popcorn.

What 'Netflix and Chill' Means to Me as Someone With Anxiety and Depression

Watching the same TV show over and over again gives me the ability to relax. I know that sounds weird and not many people understand why I do it, but it is calming. It is like a security blanket. I know what is going to happen — there are no surprises. I know it will [...]
A painting of a woman with her eyes closed

How Time Passes With a Mental Illness

It’s a powerful, complex mixture of antidepressants, benzos and sleeping pills. It’s weeks of waiting to find out side effects, withdrawal symptoms and maybe needing to start all over… again. It’s baring my soul to a counselor, diving into painful childhood memories then needing to find another because we just don’t mesh. It’s being unable [...]
Illustration of woman standing against sky with birds

When My Anxiety Questions Itself

For years I have experienced different manifestations of anxiety. From OCD to generalized anxiety, to feelings of panic. I have had triggers that come and go and triggers that stick around for the long haul. For anyone who has an anxiety disorder or who has loved someone with an anxiety disorder, it can make for [...]
Illustration of three students walking together

How My Friends Support Me Through Rough Times With Anxiety

I consider myself relatively personable. I’ve never had problems making or keeping friends. I’m not terribly outgoing or social, but I have plenty of friends and a comfortable social life. I’ve never quite been comfortable telling others about my anxiety. But currently, I have four friends who know about my anxiety and help me through [...]