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Grounding Exercises for Anxiety (That aren't the 5-4-3-2-1 technique)

When anxiety starts to build up, there's not always time for something complicated. Lots of advice for calming anxiety attacks assumes a couple of things. 1. That you'll remember an activity or exercise even though you're hyperventilating and can't think straight, and 2. That you have the headspace to engage in an activity that takes a bit of effort.

I have never been able to do either of those, really. When I have anxiety attacks, I can't recall things, or even recite affirmations. I can't remember which affirmations I'm even supposed to recite!

There are lots of tools that can help you with this. Something I find really useful is writing down the exercises, phrases or reminders that you find most helpful, and keeping them with you. You could make them your phone wallpaper, pin them on your Notes app, or keep a reminder card in your wallet. There are also apps that are designed to ground or distract you, and I'll be writing about which of those are my favourite soon. (Sign up to emails if you want to be reminded when I write a new post!)

But for today, I wanted to share the grounding techniques that I find the easiest, and most realistic, to actually do when things get really hard.

Scroll down to read, and save the image below to keep as a reminder of these exercises.

Grounding Techniques for anxiety and panic attacks. Instructions to help you calm down when having an anxiety attack, such as breathing exercises, grounding exercises that bring you back into your body.

  1. Who am I? Where am I? By saying what's real and happening right now, you can help bring yourself back into the present moment. Sometimes, during a particularly bad anxiety attack or meltdown, it can be really important to remind yourself of what's going on. So, saying things like "I am Rosie, I'm sat in my bedroom, I can see the curtains, my feet are on the ground." It may feel silly to say these things aloud but it really helps.

  2. Breathe Slowly by Breathing Out We are often told to slow our breathing down, and we often want to answer, "I can't! That's the problem!" I know. But just focus on breathing out. Breathe out for a little longer by blowing cold air onto the palm of your hand. Or, if you can, try blowing bubbles! It's a great way to encourage slow breathing. If you keep breathing out a little longer, it will regulate your breathing pattern and intake of breath. This will help your body to feel calmer more quickly.

  3. Stop & Listen for 4 Sounds You may be familiar with the 5 4 3 2 1 grounding technique, but did you realise that it's okay, and actually helpful, to just take a section of that? Listening is, in my opinion, the most useful. Stop and notice the sounds around you, looking for at least 4. Maybe birds outside, maybe the humming of the fridge. This can help bring your thoughts to something other than the panic spiral you might be in.

  4. Cold Water When I feel anxiety, cold water is a gift. You can splash it on your face, or run your hands under the cold tap,  noticing the sensation of the water on your skin as a way to come back into your body. You could also use lukewarm water if that's more comfortable! You could also drink some cool water, paying attention to the feeling as you swallow the water.

  5. Find Something to Hold or Touch You can keep an object on hand to use as a go-to, but if you don't have one, pick up the nearest thing. Notice the texture, the temperature, is it soft or hard? Is it heavy? How does it feel in your hands? What does it remind you of?

These are all exercises intended to bring you back to yourself, and ground you. You can write one or two down if you want to remember them. You can also purchase the 'Grounding Exercises' poster here - especially useful to keep on hand if you're a counsellor who wants to offer a set of exercises to a client.


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