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grounding techniques for anxiety
June 22, 2021

Grounding Techniques for Anxiety

Getting caught in an anxiety spiral can feel overwhelming, as one worry stacks upon the next. You may start feeling panic attack symptoms such as a racing heart, sweating, shaking and shortness of breath. When your mind is racing, having a few grounding techniques in your pocket can help calm you down quickly and restore your sense of normalcy. 

What Is Grounding?

Grounding requires you to focus on what is happening in the moment, instead of feeling trapped by worries about the future or regrets about your past. Whenever you feel anxious or panicky, it’s a sign that your body’s innate fight-or-flight response has gone into overdrive. When this happens, you are essentially overreacting to a perceived threat. 

If you start thinking about something stressful, a region of your brain called the amygdala goes into action, initiating changes such as muscle tension and shallow breathing. Somewhat paradoxically, these changes can be stressful in and of themselves because they can make you feel physically and emotionally overwhelmed. Thankfully, you can use grounding to break the cycle and divert your attention.

Here are a few grounding strategies to try. It’s wise to practice them before you get caught up in an anxiety spiral so they will begin to feel familiar. Next time you’re overwhelmed, you can immediately start implementing the technique that works best for you. 

1. The Grounding Chair

Sit in a comfortable chair and put your feet flat on the floor. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Bring your full focus to the physical sensations of sitting in the chair. How does the seat support your body weight? Touch the chair’s material and notice its texture. What adjectives would you use to describe it? 

Next, push your feet into the ground. Imagine the anxiety draining from your mind, down your body and out through your feet into the floor. As the nervous energy leaves your body, progressively relax your muscles and let your body go limp into the chair. Notice how much lighter you feel.

2. Use Creative Imagery

Your imagination is a powerful tool. Guided imagery can help relax your body and mind simultaneously. If you like to daydream, this grounding technique could be ideal for you. With the help of a recording, a therapist or your mind’s eye, envision the most relaxing scene you can. 

For example, you might choose to picture yourself strolling down a private beach at sunset. Imbue this vision with as much detail as you can think of – the breeze through your hair, the sound of the waves along the shoreline, the feel of warm sand on your bare feet. Guided imagery helps promote a profoundly tranquil state, while distracting you from the source of your anxiety. 

3. Release Tension

Sometimes, you may find you’re too keyed up from anxiety to achieve the focus necessary for the two grounding techniques described above. In that case, you might benefit from releasing your built-up tension before trying to relax and clear your mind. Try a vigorous physical activity to get that nervous energy out – go for a brisk walk around the block, run up and down the stairs or put on some high-tempo music and use it to motivate you to do household chores. Once you’ve worked out some of your physical tension, you can return to trying grounding techniques that require you to sit still and quiet your mind.

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