Can you remember a time when you felt really overwhelmed, panicky, or anxious? Racing worry thoughts, feeling on edge or distracted, and changes in heart rate are just a few indicators that there may be something going on. We certainly don't have the ability to plan an emotional crisis so sometimes anxiety doesn't come at the most appropriate times.
This is one of my favorite basic grounding exercises because you can practice it ANYWHERE, even in public, without drawing attention to yourself. This 5-step exercise can help you increase awareness and ground yourself to the present moment in periods of anxiety and panic by incorporating all of your senses. The trick is to notice things that are comforting to you, not the things that stress you out.
Here's what you do:
5- Find 5 things that you can see. What’s around you? Notice 5 things in the room, your environment. This could be anything!
4- Find 4 things that you can hear. What do you hear? The humming of the AC or space heater, the beating of your heart, the purring of your cat or car outside, the motoring of lawn equipment, etc. I LOVE this sense because it can be challenging but pushes you to focus on slowing down and tuning into your environment. Don’t stop until you can pick out 4 things you can hear before moving to the next one.
3- Find 3 things that you can touch. Notice how your feet feel planted on the floor or notice where your back and the chair connect. Touching fluffy blankets, pets, and fidget toys are just a few other examples. Slow down and take the time to really notice the texture of the things you choose to touch. Is it soft/hard, hot/cold, bumpy/smooth, or fluffy/coarse? Bonus points: Find things to touch that are comforting/calming to you.
2- Find 2 things that you can smell. Can you smell anything in your room like someone cooking dinner, clean laundry, or fresh mowed grass outside? If that seems difficult, make a point to find something to smell like a candle, your clothes, or essential oil. I find that this one can be the hardest sense to use in the moment.
1- Find 1 thing that you can taste. Do you have cold water or hot tea near you? Find something to taste that feels safe or soothing to you. Research shows that temperature can help physically cool down body chemistry when our bodies tend to heat up during moments of anxiety, fear, or anger. What helps is paying attention to the temperature of the food or drink to help you focus on something that is NOT your anxiety.
The point of this exercise is to re-focus on what is around you versus how anxious you're feeling. Now, notice how you’re feeling after going through the 5 grounding steps. If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, DO IT AGAIN! It’s okay if the exercise needs to be repeated. If you go through the exercise again, I encourage you to find completely new things to focus on. Practice helps you get better at it so try this as often as possible to get comfortable with it.