Sometimes, it comes out of nowhere. That sudden feeling that I can’t breathe, heart and mind both racing at the same time. Depending on the day, I may feel like I can’t sit still or like my body is paralyzed. Ultimately, I feel out of control. This happened on a regular basis until I learned to use grounding techniques to reduce my anxiety.
We all know what anxiety feels like, that sensation of panic and worry that seems to take the life out of everything. Anxiety can feel so overwhelming at times, that it can even cause you to lose touch with your current reality. You are totally fixated on whatever worry filled thoughts are racing through your mind.
“Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it.”Kahlil Gibran
Anxiety is a Thief
For anyone dealing with panic attacks or severe anxiety, they understand feeling disconnected. They can sometimes feel completely disconnected from the world and people around them. Anxiety becomes so all consuming, that they are unable to participate in the life right before them.
Anxiety is more than an “uncomfortable” feeling. It hijacks your life, keeping you focused on a future that has yet to happen. It keeps you out of the present moment and forced into a reality that doesn’t exist. Fortunately learning to use grounding techniques to reduce anxiety can help you stay present and in control.
Is Anxiety All Bad?
Before we can begin to practice a grounding technique we need to understand how anxiety impacts our perception, thinking and mood. I can testify when struggling with anxiety I feel annoyed and exhausted at dealing with that pressure all day.
Everyone has experienced anxiety at some point in their lives. It is part of our emotional “genetics”, so getting rid of it, is not an option. Believe it or not, you need anxiety to survive the constant changing of life and society. Anxiety helps you to evaluate risks, make informed decisions and avoid physical and emotional harm. It’s part of our survival mechanism.
“When you’re feeling anxious, remember you’re still you. You are not your anxiety.”
Take for example someone suffering PTSD from a traumatic car accident. This type of anxiety keeps you from getting back into a car. In theory, anxiety does what it’s designed to do; keep you from harm via another car accident. If you try to oppose that signal, the anxiety intensifies. If you have ever spoken to someone who suffers from PTSD they can verify facing something that caused their trauma causes panic attacks.
While anxiety is designed to protect us, it does have a dark side. Too little anxiety can cause carelessness and recklessness. Too much anxiety can cause you to feel “paralyzed”. It can manifest as irrational fears; such as fearing crowded places, or fear of public speaking. This side of anxiety is what affects your quality of life. But you don’t have to live this way! Using grounding techniques to reduce anxiety can help.
So what is grounding? I’m glad you asked! That’s why we’re here on Mindfulness Monday; it’s a form of mindfulness. Grounding quickly connects you with the present moment. When dealing with anxiety or flashbacks you tend to fixate on all kinds of images, thoughts, memories or fears inside your head. As a result, you lose touch with your surroundings and identity with your five senses. You become numb to the present as anxiety takes over your body and mind.
Grounding simply helps you re-establish a connection with your surroundings and provides a distraction to avoid a panic attack. This happens because to correctly practice grounding you must use all five senses. The basic senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch provide the avenue for us to experience the world outside of us.
By choosing to focus your attention on something in your present surroundings, like sounds of traffic outside, an item or photo on your desk or touching something textured; you bring yourself into the present moment. Choosing a breathing exercise is also very helpful.
How Grounding Helps Reduce Anxiety
Anxiety surfaces from unpleasant past experiences or trauma as well as fear of future unpleasant experiences or failures. As a result you tend to focus on either the past or the future disconnecting from the present.
For example, you fear public speaking because of an unpleasant past experience. Yet your current job requires you to make a presentation in this week’s meeting. The moment you walk in the room, your heart starts racing, and your palms start sweating. The more you focus on your anxious thoughts based on past experience, the more disconnected you become from the current surroundings.
However, using a grounding technique to re-establish your connection with the current situation and surroundings now brings you into the present moment and away from the fixation on past experiences. This reduces the anxiety sourced in the past.
“The past has no power over the present moment”Eckhart Tolle
My Favorite Grounding Techniques
- Look at the Sky – find a place to sit down, or even better, lie in the grass! Look at the sky; consider the color, the shape of the clouds, maybe some birds or even a plane. Focus on the details.
- Walk Barefoot in the Grass- enjoy the coolness, the textures, this is one of the most calming things you can do.
- Drink a Glass of Water Slowly- feel the water, focus on the temperature and how refreshing it feels in your mouth.
- Smell the Flowers-ok this is an old adage, but seriously it brings you into the present moment like no other. No flowers available? Try essential oils. Keep a small bottle in your purse for times like this.
- Touch an Object-this can be an object on your desk or counter, or even your clothing. Touching different textures brings you immediately into the present moment.
- Listen to Sounds-anything around you, traffic, people talking, distant music, birds chirping. Focus intently on the sounds, listening for details, or even “counting” frequency or how many different sounds you hear.
Make It Personal
The list of grounding techniques has no limit. Tap into your creativity and make it personal for you! Think of things that use all five senses, as engaging all five of the senses grounds you in the present more quickly.
When you deal with PTSD or frequent anxiety, joyful moments can quickly change into what feels like an obstacle course with a goal to avoid pain and discomfort. Life is unpredictable and sooner or later you will face situations that cause you discomfort and panic.
Using grounding techniques to reduce anxiety will help you to face these situations and avoid getting lost into anxiety filled thoughts from the past or future. The more you can anchor yourself in the present moment, the more you will control your anxiety. Ultimately, practicing grounding techniques on a regular basis will improve your well-being and happiness.