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Grounding Techniques for Anxiety and Why They Are Helpful

If you are treating a patient with anxiety, read up on this short guide about Grounding Techniques for Anxiety and teach them some tricks to help them calm down whenever their anxiety triggers.

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Grounding Techniques for Anxiety
Grounding Techniques for Anxiety

Hello! If you are on this page, then it’s quite likely you are a mental health therapist looking to learn about and add Grounding to your roster of exercises for your therapeutic work. Or, you are a non-mental health therapist interested in knowing what this particular skill is all about and wondering if this is something you can do whenever you experience anxiety, depression, dissociation, or stress.

Before anything, do note that this particular guide is about specific Grounding techniques that you can do whenever your anxiety is triggered. While we will talk about Grounding in general for a little bit after this preamble, we do have a guide that’s all about Grounding in general, plus another guide that talks about Grounding techniques that you can practice! This guide differs from the latter as it is about Grounding techniques we believe are the best to practice if you have anxiety.

If you are already familiar with what Grounding is and are here to learn about techniques that are perfect for dealing with anxiety, keep reading! There’s bound to be a thing or two here that might just be the best choice to teach your patient or to practice for yourself!

What are Grounding Techniques for Anxiety?

Now, before we go into the nitty-gritty about what specific Grounding techniques for anxiety you can use, let’s talk about Grounding in general for the benefit of those who have not read our general guide about this particular therapeutic skill.

Grounding is a type of exercise where a person works to anchor themselves in the present moment while they are distressed by mental health issues like negative thoughts, anxiety, depression, and even dissociation. What is normally done is that a person concentrates on their physical sensations, their emotions, and/or their immediate surroundings whenever they are experiencing such mental health issues. It’s a kind of therapeutic exercise that aims to boost emotional resilience as well as teach those who are practicing it a wide variety of healthy ways to manage their emotions and feelings.

But how do people practice Grounding anyway? They do so by completing specific Grounding techniques. Each one is different from the last, but they all work toward the same goal of helping people calm down by reframing a person’s scattered thoughts and emotions to bring them back to the present moment.

Whether you are practicing Grounding techniques for anxiety or for any other mental health disorder that you or your patient has, they come in different types:

  1. Sensory Grounding - This Grounding type relies on any one or all of a person’s five senses. For this particular kind of Grounding, the person practicing it will focus on what they can feel based on their five senses to help them be in the present moment and away from whatever negativity is plaguing their mind. There is a specific Grounding technique for anxiety that uses all five senses that we will discuss later in this guide.
  1. Physical Grounding - This particular type revolves around all the physical sensations a person feels. These can simply be the feeling of their feet touching the floor or ground, the tension that they feel whenever they move their shoulders back and forth, a delicious snack they are munching on, etc.
  1. Emotional and Mental Grounding - If Physical grounding focuses on the physical sensations, techniques that fall under this type of Grounding focus on their emotions and feelings.
  1. Social and Spiritual Grounding - For this type of Grounding, persons practicing the skill will be relying on certain techniques that involve someone or something that they can lean onto whenever they are troubled by their trials and tribulations.

Why are Grounding Techniques for Anxiety helpful?

Grounding techniques for anxiety are helpful for several reasons. Symptoms of anxiety include the likes of losing or lacking concentration, muscle aches, cold skin, excessive worrying, and being irritable. Since Grounding techniques, in general, aim to calm people down by anchoring them to the present moment, they can help combat these symptoms by reframing people’s minds! And depending on the type of technique they are using, they will get other benefits:

  1. For those who are practicing physical Grounding techniques, you will notice that you will become more aware of your physical sensations.

Since knowing is half the battle, you will have the chance to pinpoint and acknowledge what exactly is causing these sensations.

Since we’re talking about Grounding techniques for anxiety, then obviously, anxiety is the reason why you are feeling certain things like trembling or tremors in your limbs, palpitations, shortness of breath, increased heart rate, etc.

By practicing Grounding techniques for anxiety that fall under this type, not only will you be anchored to the present moment, but you’ll have the opportunity to find out what exactly is triggering your anxiety and making you feel all the negative physical sensations you are feeling. Once you know exactly what triggers them, you can find ways to avoid what can trigger your anxiety, or if being triggered can’t be avoided, you will at least be armed with the techniques and know-how to help you calm down and better manage your anxiety attacks.

  1. As for mental and emotional Grounding techniques, the goal is similar to physical Grounding techniques, but instead of focusing on physical sensations, they will be focusing on negative thoughts and emotions that were brought out by their anxiety triggers.

These can be feelings of excessive worry, feeling nervous, panic, and expecting worst-case scenarios.

The specific Grounding techniques under this type will differ from person to person. Some will do just fine facing these thoughts and examining them in an objective light to combat them, while some will use certain techniques so that the present moment they will be in focuses on getting away from and warding off these thoughts to find a sense of peace, however temporary that may be.

Now, just to expound on the point of “getting away,” it’s not necessarily running away from negative thoughts and feelings. These are literally the things that are causing distress, so some people may not be calm enough or resilient enough to face them in an “objective” manner. One way to look at “getting away” is that it’s a way to calm down first, build better and healthy coping habits, and better emotional resilience.

  1. Lastly, regarding social and spiritual Grounding technique, these are particularly helpful because they can help people eliminate their worries through companionship. Having a support system, whether it is composed of family, friends, pets (yes, pets!), and/or an object, can help alleviate or soothe symptoms of anxiety.

Companionship can create safe spaces that can calm even the most anxious person (although this will depend on the person, and is not a guarantee).

Some can even encourage goal setting. By focusing on what they truly want in life, they might be able to combat anxiety by reminding themselves of what lies on the other side if they get what they want, and then they can work their way toward that goal. A goal can serve as both a north star and an anchor that can help boost their emotional resilience.

What is the 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding technique?

Now, based on the name of this Grounding technique, you’re probably wondering what it entails. You might be thinking, “Am I going to count down or something?” It involves counting, but you’re not counting down to anything. The numbers are there for identifying certain things!

The 5-4-3-2-1 technique is a sensory type of Grounding exercise that requires practitioners to use all five of their senses. They will use these senses to anchor themselves to the present moment and engage with their immediate environment in a deliberate manner.

Here are the specifics of this particular Grounding activity:

  • The first thing that they need to do is to take a deep breath and focus on looking at their environment. If they are dealing with anxiety, ask them to inhale and exhale several times, as slowly as possible but at a reasonable pace. While they are doing this, have them look around their immediate surroundings. Once they have calmed down, they can finally start the activity.
  • 5 - Once they have calmed down, the first thing that they need to do is to identify five things that they can see in the space they are in. They can point at anything. If you are a therapist guiding a person, you don’t count as one of the five things they should identify. They can point at a telephone, a poster, a cup of coffee, a pencil, or even a computer.
  • 4 - Once they have identified five things by sight, the next thing that they have to do is to feel four things by touching them. They can touch their clothes and feel their textures, they can focus on the feeling of their feet (without shoes) touching the floor, even rub their hands on the fur of a pet, or even press their back against a wall behind them.
  • 3 - The third thing that they need to do for this activity is to identify three things that they can hear. If you are a therapist, identifying your voice or whatever sound you make doesn’t count. Hearing yourself also doesn’t count. Again, it has to be from your surroundings. This can be the rustling of leaves on a tree outside your window, the honking of cars on the street, or even the sound of music from a radio.
  • 2 - The fourth part of this activity is all about smelling things. The only thing that you need to do is to identify two things that you can smell. This can be the smell of freshly brewed coffee or the smell of dinner that your loved one is preparing. If you’re conducting this activity in a clinic, you might want to have some stuff prepared that they can smell, like incense, or maybe even perfume.
  • 1 - The last thing to be done for this exercise is to taste something! It can be a cookie, Diet Coke, chewing gum, a whole meal, or a light snack! If this activity is taking place in a clinical setting, prepare a bunch of snacks for your patient.

Through the 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding exercise, people can focus on what they can feel, see, hear, smell, and taste. It’s an effective way to anchor a person to the now. By focusing on their immediate surroundings, it can help them relax by keeping their attention away from whatever overwhelming feelings and thoughts they’ve had prior to doing the exercise.

20 Grounding Techniques for Anxiety That You Can Do

Besides the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise, we’ve prepared a short list of Grounding techniques for anxiety that you can teach your patient or do on your own! We’ve divided them into three categories: Physical, Emotional and Mental, and Social and Spiritual.

Physical Grounding Techniques for Anxiety:

  • Clench your fists as tight as you can for several seconds. About 20 seconds should be good. While clenching your fists, practice some deep breathing. That way, you are doing three things at once. Focus on counting, your inhales and exhales, as well as the physical sensations of your clenched fists. Do make sure you or your patient don’t have long and sharp nails to avoid unintentional self-harm.
  • Turn on a faucet and splash the water on your face, or just feel the water run over your hands. Focus on feeling the running water.
  • If the second suggestion wasn’t enough, take a warm shower! Sit down (or stand up) and just let the water fall on you. Imagine that you are under a waterfall.
  • Squeeze a stress ball or hug a stuffed toy. If you’re going with the latter, hug something you find adorable. There are ugly stuffed toys, after all.
  • Brew some coffee. Try to keep your mind on the process of brewing. Smell the coffee as you are blending and pouring it into your cup, then drink it. Savor the heat and the smell. We recommend a hazelnut blend.
  • Exercise! One good way to calm yourself down is to exercise. Do simple ones like jogging, stretching your arms and legs, doing push-ups, squatting, jumping up and down, etc. You will work up a good sweat and perhaps calm down because you did something that is refreshing for your body.
  • Cook a meal! Similar to brewing coffee, just keep your mind on the process of preparing the meal. Feel the ingredients, smell them while you are boiling, frying, or whatever method you’re using to cook your food, and then savor the taste of your own creation.

Emotional and Mental Grounding Techniques for Anxiety

  • Write down your thoughts and feelings. Writing can be a therapeutic exercise and can serve as a Grounding technique. One thing that you can do is to write down your negative thoughts and feelings, then explain to yourself why you think the way you think and feel the way you feel. After that, write down alternative ways of thinking or what you can do so you can start thinking more positively. If you can write down all that, follow through with actions.
  • Recite a poem you’ve memorized or sing a song that you love. Make sure that they are not depressing, otherwise, you might feel something else that you don’t what to feel in addition to what you are already feeling because of anxiety.
  • Or, if you’re not one for reciting poetry or singing songs, maybe you can listen to music or a podcast. Focus on the instruments and how well they go together (assuming they do; some artists are deliberately abrasive, though that might be awesome depending on the person), or listen to the words being said and focus on what the person speaking is trying to say.
  • Watch a television show or a movie! Keeping your mind engaged in a story is a good way of warding off any negative thoughts or feelings caused by anxiety. If you’re the type to analyze what goes on in a film or show as it goes on, then this might just be what you need to keep your mind focused on something that isn’t causing you distress.
  • Think about a funny moment in your life or a joke that still makes you laugh to this day. People sometimes say that laughter is the best medicine. While we shouldn’t think of the adage as an absolute or a guarantee, laughter does shift your mood to something more positive. This could help calm you down.
  • Play a letter game where you recited 10 things per prompt, like 10 bands with names starting with the letter A or 10 animals with names starting with the letter C. Or, you can count down from 100 to 1, or recite the alphabet in reverse order.
  • Practice Mindfulness. Grounding actually draws inspiration from this particular exercise since it is also about focusing on the present moment. In the case of Mindfulness, what it asks people to do is to sit down, close their eyes, and let their thoughts and feelings just flow in a way like they are watching it play in front of them, but without judgment or criticism. As they let each thought and feeling pass, they inhale and exhale. This is only recommended for those who are emotionally resilient enough, otherwise, it’s best to rely on other grounding techniques for anxiety.

Social and Spiritual Grounding Techniques for Anxiety

  • Spend time with family or friends. Being around the company you love is important because they can be there for you when the going gets tough, especially if you are in distress because of anxiety. They can give you words of affirmation, plus you can do stuff together to take your mind off of things, if only for a while. Knowing that you have a support system will help you power through things, hopefully.
  • Embark on a nature trip, whether alone or with a group! Just take in the grandeur of scenic sights and just enjoy the tranquil ambience of being surrounded by trees, walking down sun-dappled trails, listening to birds singing, etc.
  • Play a team sport! Focusing on team dynamics and developing strategies to win is one way to get your mind off negative thoughts and feelings. You’ll be focused on the sport and playing with your team.
  • Meditate. This is somewhat similar to Mindfulness in the sense that you will sit down and close your eyes, inhale, and exhale, however, instead of allowing your thoughts to pass, you will actively try to clear your mind of all thoughts.
  • Practice self-compassion. Let’s say what’s causing you anxiety has nothing to do with others but rather with yourself in terms of succeeding at certain tasks, achieving what you set out to do, etc. Tell yourself words of affirmation. Speak to yourself like a family member or friend giving you a pep talk. Say things like “You can do it, man!” or “Just because you’re in a slump, doesn’t mean you’ll be in one forever!”
  • Imagine yourself in a place where you are safe and secure. What’s in it? Who is there with you? Is it something that you can bring forth to reality if you work for it? If what you are imagining is not a fantasy land and is something that you can actually build or reach, then you can write down what you need to do and follow through with actionable steps. This can be a house with your family, an apartment with your significant other, etc. This can encourage goal setting. With this in mind, you can build emotional resilience to deal with your anxieties because you are set on achieving something.

When is it best to use Grounding techniques for anxiety?

Now, if you are wondering when is it best to practice Grounding techniques for anxiety, it will vary depending on who is practicing it.

If you are a mental health therapist, then the best time to introduce Grounding techniques to your patient is when they are seeing you because they want to learn how to combat their anxiety, all the more if they are currently experiencing it while they are talking to you.

The perfect grounding technique for clinical settings is the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise we discussed earlier since it relies on the five senses and what they can identify in their immediate environment using them. Though, just ensure you account for the smell and taste parts by having certain things like snacks and perfume.

Many of the techniques we suggested may require certain things not necessarily found in a clinical setting, so you’ll have to do them on your own time and if you have what’s needed (like a TV or computer watching shows or movies). If ever you suddenly get overwhelmed by negative thoughts and feelings because of anxiety, or if physical symptoms of anxiety start to pop up in your body, then that’s the best time to practice any Grounding technique! Make sure to see which ones work best for you.

Commonly asked questions

I’m not seeing a therapist. Is it okay to just practice Grounding on my own?

Of course. A lot of Grounding techniques for anxiety are things that can be done on your own time. You don’t have to be in a clinical setting to do any of them, though some may require certain things in order to be done. Just make sure to never use this as a substitute for therapy. If your anxiety is getting the better of you all the time and you are frequently triggered, please see a therapist.

What do I do if a certain Grounding technique for anxiety doesn’t work?

Try other techniques! There are numerous techniques that you can try! In this guide, we suggested 20 Grounding techniques for anxiety that you can try, so see which ones are perfect for you. If none of them work for some reason, please see a therapist to get more options and suggestions.

Are there any Grounding techniques that are particularly dangerous?

Grounding techniques are safe, however, some may not work for certain people. Some exercises, especially the ones that fall under Emotional and Mental category, require people to face their emotions as opposed to many other techniques, which are for merely shifting their attention to other things or the present moment. If they are not emotionally resilient enough, some techniques are not viable. So it’s best to try other techniques before certain ones, like Mindfulness.

How can Carepatron help with Grounding-related therapy?

Carepatron is a platform that you’ll love to use and rely on because we have a wide variety of resources that you can take advantage of, especially the ones that revolve around mental health!

If you’re reading this article, then you are likely to be a mental health therapist. We’re all about helping healthcare professionals, including you, with their work by streamlining their workflows and providing them with clinical resources, from worksheets to assessments!

Earlier in this guide, we discussed an exercise about writing about your negative thoughts and feelings. We have Cognitive Behavioral Therapy-related resources that can help patients do that, one is the Decatastrophizing worksheet, which aims to help patients reframe their thoughts into something more positive, especially if it’s about a worst-case scenario.

Not only do we have resources that you can download for free, but we also have a nifty storage system where you can store all your therapy-related documents in a HIPAA-compliant manner! This is a great feature for any healthcare professional because storing your files with us is the equivalent of making digital backups of your files. In the event that you lose physical copies of your files, you can just download them again and re-print them!

It’s our mission to help improve your work as well as to preserve them!

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