Anxiety, panic, and negative or unwelcome emotions can come on at any time, and they’re normal. What matters most is how we respond to these feelings. Grounding exercises can be an excellent way to help you get your metaphorical (and sometimes literal) feet back under you during moments of heightened anxiety and stress.
Grounding techniques exist in two forms: physical grounding exercises that utilize mind-body tactics and mental grounding techniques that focus on working with your mind first. If you’re unsure of how to begin, Health Coaches are trained to provide a supportive environment that’s nonjudgmental and unbiased, allowing clients space to talk out their issues. This can help clients realize the answers to their own questions and allows them perspective to see more clearly.
We’ll explore multiple ways to execute both forms of grounding exercises below.
Seven Physical Grounding Exercises
1. Try the 5-4-3-2-1 method.
Use your senses to list some things you notice around you, counting backward from five. For example, if you’re out shopping, list:
- Five things you see (trees, benches, people, birds, cars)
- Then four things you can touch (your jacket, the bench you’re sitting on, a tissue in your pocket, the rings on your fingers)
- Then three things you hear (cars driving by, the chatter of other shoppers, the music coming from a nearby bistro)
- Then two things you smell (freshly baked cookies, someone’s wafting perfume)
- Then one thing you can taste (the gum in your mouth)
Make an effort to notice the little things you might not always pay attention to, like the color of someone’s hair or the background music at a salon.
2. Do a short breathing exercise.
Slowly inhale, then exhale. If it helps, you can say or think in and out with each breath. Feel each breath filling your lungs and notice how it feels to push it back out.
3. Hold a mug of something warm.
Focus on how the warmth seeps into your palms, fingers, and fingertips. Feel it travel into your wrists and forearms. How does that heat make you feel? Focus on warm, fuzzy feelings and memories.
4. Utilize essential oils.
Essential oils have long been used to relieve stress and anxiety, improve sleep, and promote overall well-being. It’s believed that inhaling essential oil steam allows the essential oil molecules to travel from the olfactory nerves to the brain. Some oils, like bergamot, may activate the areas in your brain that control your emotions (like the hypothalamus) and create serotonin, the feel-good chemical.
5. Feel your feet.
Place both feet flat on the floor while sitting or standing. Wiggle your toes, then curl and uncurl them several times. Spend a moment noticing the sensations in your feet. How do your toes feel in your socks or shoes?
6. Do a longer breathing exercise.
Close your eyes and inhale for four seconds. Count those seconds in your head. Hold your breath for another four seconds, focusing on how it feels to hold the air in your lungs and how far your chest has expanded. Release the breath for four seconds, really feeling the air leave your body.
This is often referred to as box breathing, and you can visualize inhaling and exhaling each “side” of the box. Do this exercise three or four times.
7. Take a shower or bath.
When feasible, take a shower or bath. Pamper yourself if you can; light some candles and play soothing music. Focus on how the water feels against your skin. Feel it drip down your shoulders. Listen to the sound of the water running down the drain. Smell the bath products you use.
Seven Mental Grounding Techniques
1. Remind yourself of who you are.
Narrate out loud, filling in the blanks as you go: “My name is ____. I’m ____ years old. I live in ____. I work at ____. I woke up at ____ today. I had ____ for breakfast. Now I’m at ____. I’m doing ____ now, then I’ll do ____. Tonight, I will...” Try to focus on where you are in the moment.
2. Count backward from 100 by sevens.
Most people don’t know how to count backward from 100 by sevens off the top of their heads, and it takes concentration to do so. Any brainpower you spend counting backward is less that your anxiety has to control.
3. Visualize colored light.
As you breathe in and out, visualize a soft light radiating from within, and moving over, your body. It can be whichever color you’d prefer. With each inhale, picture the light dimming. With each exhale, picture the light moving farther down your body. It can start wherever you’d like.
As you breathe in and out, picture the light expanding to cover more parts of your body: your toes, ankles, calves, thighs, and so on. Once the light covers your entire body, unpaint yourself, having the light work its way off your body.
4. Picture 10 bald men.
Although this is often used to get rid of hiccups, the premise works the same when you’re feeling anxious or unsure. Close your eyes, and list the names of ten bald men aloud. They can be celebrities, family members, or friends.
5. Recite something.
It could be anything: a favorite poem, passage from a book, inspirational quote, inside joke, or song lyric you can’t get out of your head. Say it out loud. Focus on the shape your mouth takes when reciting the words. Visualize the words in your head like you’re reading them from a page.
6. List your favorite things.
List your top three favorite things in five categories. The categories can be anything you want: food, places, people, colors, songs, animals, movies, etc. As you name them, picture them as well.
7. Listen to music.
Music has long been associated with relaxation and grounding techniques. To make things easier, you can even create a playlist of songs you know will help you feel more at peace during moments of unbalance. Listen to the lyrics closely. Take one headphone away and listen to the song again. Can you hear the background instruments? What about the bass line?
The bottom line
When feeling nervous, anxious, or generally unsettled, it’s important to first recognize these are normal, natural emotions. That being said, if they occur often or impact your day-to-day life, you should speak with your doctor. Long-term stress can wreak havoc on your body, and your physician may have recommendations for further treatment.