Anxiety can be a debilitating emotion. When it takes over, it can feel like we are stuck in a dark hole with no way out. There are techniques that we can use to calm our anxious minds and bring us back to the present moment. In this blog post, we will discuss seven grounding techniques that you can use when you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious.
But first, let’s discuss where anxiety comes from.
Anxiety is a secondary emotion, which means there is a first emotion feeding the anxiety underneath. Anxiety, then, is the culmination of one overwhelming feeling being ignored and then compounded, resulting in anxiety.
Think of anxiety like the pressure building in your muscles trying to hold a basketball under water. The basketball is your primary emotion, like sadness. And you’re putting all your effort into making sure that sadness doesn’t break the surface. You begin to sweat, breathing in shorter breaths, telling yourself not to cry, holding the emotion in. But eventually, that emotion is going to break free.
These techniques are the difference between taking the basketball in your hands and bringing it gently out of the water or waiting until you fatigue or the basketball slips, and it goes launching into the air from under the surface.
Give Yourself Permission
If you learn nothing else, the best way to combat anxiety is to give yourself permission to feel whatever it is you’re feeling. The anxiety sprang up because your brain is tricking you into thinking your emotions are volatile, dangerous, and will for-sure kill you.
Spoiler: they won’t. A feeling is only a vibration in your body. The circumstances that caused the feeling may be troublesome. But we can’t deal with those when we’re stuck in anxiety. So right now, allow yourself to feel whatever feeling comes up without judgment or impatience.
It may require tears or punching inanimate objects. If that’s the case, but you can’t do that right now, skip to solutions 5-7, and come back to this one later when you can be alone. If you don’t take the time for this step, it will continue to come back.
Name the Feeling
Identify your primary emotion. What are you holding under the surface? Anger, shame, sadness, overwhelm? Name it and find where it resides in your body. If that’s hard to identify, do a body scan starting at the top of your head and working your way down. Then gently put a hand over the place you feel the emotion the strongest and say, “I’m feeling __________.”
This one can feel a little strange if you’re not used to meditation. But this step lifts you out of your spiraling thoughts and places you into your body. Anxiety is only aggravated by thought-spiraling, so take a moment to stop ruminating on your problems and focus only on the feeling.
Ask yourself what the feeling feels like, what color would it be, can I make it grow, can I make it shrink, do I feel it in my hands, how about my head? Focusing on the physical sensation tricks your brain into presence, which calms your mind.
Sometimes naming the feeling is too hard. You feel it, but it just feels strong and overwhelming. And you can’t focus on your body because your brain is yelling about all the problems that lead to this feeling.
Set a timer for 10 minutes and allow yourself to free-write all the thoughts spiraling in your head. You can’t stop, and you can’t judge the thoughts. Just give your brain a space to get them out like drawing poison from a wound. You can even do this with the intention of burning the page when you’re done. No one has to see it, it’s just for you. Let the thoughts out.
This step, however, can lead to a spiral. So once your timer beeps or you identify the feeling, move to “Name the Feeling,” so you can find presence in the moment and process the emotion.
Cry, Laugh, or Run
Whatever it is about these three, they all provide a tension release. Let go and give it up. They put you very physically in your body and give you a break from your spiraling thoughts. And they trick your brain into feeling like you’re actively doing something about this anxiety. So let it go.
These last 3 are great ones for when you need to “calm down,” but you can’t check out for the 20 minutes or hour you may need to truly process the emotion. They allow you to stop a thought spiral in its tracks and move directly to presence in the moment. But they’re hard. Indulging in your anxiety feels worse, but it’s much easier than choosing to be present. But if you practice these, they’ll be a great skill for managing social situations, parenting, and effective communication.
Just make sure that if you use this quick-fix, you must set time aside later to go back to “Give Yourself Permission” and “Name the Feeling” to process these emotions. Creating a backlog just means messier anxiety next time.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1
Play with your five senses. Identify 5 things in the room you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. On each item, breathe deeply and describe the item to yourself.
Finding the Feeling
This is a variation on naming the feeling, but it’s very effective when you’re not ready to process the emotion yet. Laser-focus on where in your body you’re holding your feeling. Then breathe into that spot. As you breathe in, see if you can make the feeling grow stronger. As you breathe out, imagine it shrinking. Now take longer breathes and make it grow and shrink again. Keep breathing into the space until you notice the feeling has released.
Touch and Taste
Keep highly tactile items handy. I like rubber bands, twisty ties, Silly Putty, and mint gum. My friend likes adult coloring books.
Pull out the item and only think about the object. Is it a mint in your mouth? What does it taste like? What does your tongue feel? How does your breath feel?
Is it a twisty tie? Feel the bumping on your fingers as you roll it. Wrap it around your index finger and make it a spiral. How far apart are the twists from each other?
Whatever you grab, focus on the experience to get out of your mind.
Presence is the key. Whatever tactic you use to control and process your anxiety, just remember that presence is the key. The more present you can be in the moment, with yourself and others, the less anxiety will control your life. And it does take practice. So don’t give up and keep trying new things until you find what works for you.