How to manage anxiety with these 5 grounding techniques

16 November 2022
Neha Jain Written by Neha Jain
Neha Jain

Neha Jain

Neha is a freelance writer passionate about providing well-researched and empathetic mental...

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Ankita Magdani Reviewed by Ankita Magdani
Ankita Magdani

Ankita Magdani

Ankita Magdani is a Mental Health Therapist, Career, and Mindset Coach based in Dubai. She...

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Most of us are familiar with the panic before an important interview or an exam, fear of public speaking, sweaty palms, or feeling like the walls are closing in on us. Some of these situations also cause heavy breathing or shortness of breath. These are common signs of anxiety. All of us feel anxious at one point or another. According to a 2017 WHO report, 38.4 million Indians live with an anxiety disorder. 

There is no one way to experience anxiety; everyone experiences it differently. But one thing remains the same.

Anxiety leaves you on edge and makes you believe you are losing control. Practicing grounding techniques is a science-backed way of managing anxiety.

A meta-analysis review has found grounding and mindfulness based-therapy to be effective in treating anxiety. A 2014 systematic research review also found that mindfulness-based programs can help manage depression and anxiety. 

When you practice a grounding technique, you try to ground yourself to the present moment. Anxiety often leads to locking you inside your head, whether in flashbacks or imaginary situations. It triggers the ‘fight-or-flight’ response of your body. Grounding techniques bring you back to the present moment. They help you regulate your emotions and quiet extreme feelings. Another benefit of grounding techniques is that you can do them anytime and anywhere.  

There are three types of grounding techniques

  • Mental: focusing your mind
  • Physical: focusing your senses
  • Soothing: talking to yourself kindly 

Here are five grounding techniques to help you manage anxiety and stress.

Ankita Magdani

Mindfulness activity – 5 senses

MyndStories Reviewer Ankita Magdani, a therapist and mindset coach, lists this as a favorite. This activity helps you connect with the present by activating your senses one-by-one.

See. Look around yourself. Describe every tiny detail of the objects you see around yourself. It can be anything: a TV, a streetlight, or your palm. The key is to engage your eyes and notice things. 

Hear. Concentrate on anything you hear around yourself. The sound of the clock ticking, voices of people talking, birds chirping, or cars honking in the traffic. 

Feel. Be conscious of what you can physically feel. The texture of the chair you are sitting on or the ground beneath your feet, or the feel of holding a phone in your hand.

Smell. Pay attention to what you can smell. The scent of flowers in the wind, the smell of the floor cleaner used a few minutes back, or something cooking in the kitchen. Activate the sense of smell.

Taste. Focus on the taste in your mouth. Is it the taste of the morning coffee you drank or the meal you just had? Drink water and try to describe a particular flavor. 

Play a categories game

This one is a simple distraction technique. Choose any category and challenge yourself to list as many things as you can under it. For example,

  • Name your favorite authors
  • Different ice cream flavors
  • Names of flowers
  • Movies with a specific actor 
  • Birds that start with the letter ‘P’

These are just examples of the things you can list. Take any random category and name as many things as you can.

5-4-3-2-1 method

This technique is similar to the 5 senses method. It also involves engaging your five senses but in a different manner. Take a few deep breaths and list the following:

  • Five things you see around yourself
  • Four things you can hear
  • Three things you can touch
  • Two things you can smell
  • One thing you can taste 

Watch this video for reference. 

Narrate your surroundings

Narrating what’s happening around you or with you is another way of grounding yourself in the present. Be a narrator, a storyteller. Start with your name and follow it with where you are and what you are doing. Talk about things happening around you. Go into detail or just mention the facts. Make a story out of it. Say it out loud or say it in your head. You can even write it. 

A 2018 study has found the positive effects of journaling on anxiety and depression. So, forming a journaling habit is also helpful in the long term. The important thing is to be as compassionate and kind as you can. 

Three breaths trigger

Breathing is a powerful grounding technique that calms the sympathetic nervous system, activated during our body’s fight-or-flight response. When you breathe, you remind your brain that everything is under control and activate the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for rest and reboot.

Activity: Focus on your breathing. Snap your fingers or clap your hands and say the word ‘stop.’ Close your eyes, take a deep breath, hold it for a second, say the word ‘deep relaxation’ in your mind and breathe out slowly. Do this three times. 

“When you say stop, you send a message to your brain to stop overthinking. With practice, someone else snapping fingers or clapping hands will also send a message to your brain to STOP and focus on breathing. Soon it will become subconscious, and you will remember to breathe in times of stress or anxiety,” says Ankita.

This video describes square breathing, a popular breathing exercise for stress and anxiety. 

The grounding techniques listed above help manage anxiety and stress. However, because everyone experiences anxiety differently, what works for them might not work for you. 

Listening to music, yoga, meditation, and taking a walk are some other techniques you can use to manage stress. Ankita also suggests practicing at least two of these techniques to start with. 

Remember, grounding techniques can help you temporarily but cannot solve the underlying cause of anxiety. If you continue to feel anxious, consider seeing a mental health professional. 

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