Check yourself – do you feel anxious right now?
We have all experienced acute anxiety.
Some of us experience it regularly.
Daily triggers resulting in an uncontrolled unease or dread are natural.
And if those feelings have a traumatic root cause, the fear can feel overwhelming.
Rather than turning to medication, several exercises, called grounding techniques, can quickly and discretely help you regain emotional equilibrium.
Grounding techniques work because they utilize aspects of our daily lives that are familiar to us — our five senses.
- What Is The 5 Senses Grounding Technique?
- How to Practice 5 Senses Grounding
- How to Practice a Mental Grounding Exercise
What Is The 5 Senses Grounding Technique?
At their simplest, the five sense grounding techniques are mental and physical tools utilizing visualization, refocusing, and affirmation.
These exercises help distract you from overwhelming thoughts and feelings.
They may resolve the issues independently or maintain a status quo until more effective therapy is administered.
Either way, sensory grounding activities represent a baseline strategy for managing PTSD, mood disorders, ADHD, the Autism spectrum, and daily anxiety.
During a panic attack, your emotions take control.
Focusing on the here and now through your five senses can help interrupt your body’s response and return your brain to a place of safety.
Grounding exercises use all senses, including:
This creates a practical whole-body approach to recentering.
What Are The Benefits of 5 Senses Grounding?
Anxiety is different from fear. Fear is directed towards a specific stimulus. But with anxiety, the catalyst is often unclear.
Sometimes an individual just has a vague sense of worry.
It is here that grounding exercises work well.
These practices create a manageable distance from distressing feelings in nearly any situation – school, meetings, or when out running errands.
Grounding your senses, combined with mindful breathing and meditation, can effectively reestablish control over your thoughts and manage stressful situations.
These exercises can help:
- reduce anxiety and stress
- regain emotional control
- reduce hypertension
- help with sleep issues
- improve mood and relieve depression
- control Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED)
- control post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms
- reduce dissociation
The best thing about utilizing grounding techniques as a coping mechanism is that you can use these techniques in any environment without harm.
What Is the 5-4-3-2-1 Method for Ground?
A standard method for grounding is the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. Almost all grounding tools are based on the generalized form.
The goal of this technique is to use the five senses to recenter your thoughts, bringing you back to the present — minimizing stress-causing ideation.
When an episode occurs, follow these basic steps to bring an individual back to the present.
5. SEE: Count five things you can see.
4. TOUCH: Count four things you can touch.
3. HEAR: Count three things you can hear.
2. SMELL: Count two things you can smell.
1. TASTE: Count one thing you can taste.
Don’t just count and move on. Involve the mind. Look for the little things that are usually ignored.
Look closely at the color of the drapes or listen to the sound your fish tank makes. Or feel the weight of your ring on your hand.
How to Practice 5 Senses Grounding
No matter which grounding technique you choose, the purpose remains: to refocus your mind from the emotional and return it to the rational.
Breathing helps with nervousness or stage fright. But it can also be a good first tool for panic attacks or grounding techniques for PTSD.
And while grounding can benefit everyone, studies indicate that it is vital for individuals with ADHD and Disassociative disorders.
Dissociation is when people disconnect from their thoughts, feelings, or sense of self to cope with too much stress.
Similarly, grounding decreases the probability of traumatic disassociation or “mental escape.”
It may take more than one technique, depending on the intensity of the feelings. But with practice, individuals can develop a box of practical tools to resolve various situations.
Body Awareness or Physical Grounding Techniques
Moving through distress can be overwhelming. Try some of these grounding tips to feel centered.
- Put your hands in water, warm then cold.
- Pop some bubble wrap.
- Keep a rubber band on your wrist. Snap it gently.
- Spritz your face, neck, and arms with a water mist.
- Play with a fidget toy.
- Squeeze a pillow or a soft stuffed animal.
- Feel the wood of the desk.
- Put some calming essential oils in a dispenser.
- Light a scented candle.
- Put on some perfume and savor the scent.
- Pick some fresh flowers.
- Hug a Tree – feel, see and smell the bark and leaves.
- Listen to the wind in the trees.
- Read out loud. Listen to the sound of the words.
- Feel your hungry stomach rumble.
- Find a bird song. Try and repeat what you hear.
- Listen to a ticking clock.
- Savor a cold vanilla milkshake.
- Eat a piece of dark chocolate.
- Eat or drink something warm or spicy like tea or salsa and describe it.
- Taste the mint in a bit of gum
- Savor the freshly brewed coffee.
While movement is not a sense, it does involve all five senses. Exercise has a whole host of benefits.
- Vacuum the house.
- Take out the trash.
- Plant a garden.
- Take a short walk around the block.
- Run up and down stairs – focus on your steps — count them.
- Get up and move. Stretch or Jog in place.
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Breathing Grounding Techniques
Breathing and meditation have been long-held practices to reduce stress and anxiety.
A quick breathing technique combines deep breathing and distraction activities to relieve stress.
- Take five long, deep breaths.
- Stomp your feet – loud.
- Clench your hands, then open them wide.
- Rub your palms together briskly. Feel the warmth.
- Stretch your hands over your head.
- Take five more deep breaths — noticing the calm and control.
The more senses you can combine during a grounding technique, the more complete the distraction.
- Practice self-kindness through a compassionate mantra.
- Sit with your pet.
- Take a hot bath.
- Touch a soft blanket or furry coat.
- List your favorite things.
5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Techniques in the 21st Century
While there is some ongoing controversy regarding the time spent on phones and tablets, a growing number of apps aid individuals with breathing and grounding exercises.
Watch apps or independent watchlike devices use bio-neuro feedback to help you ground and focus.
How to Practice a Mental Grounding Exercise
Most mental exercises utilize the parietal and frontal lobes of the brain. Creativity stems from the hippocampus in the right frontal cortex of the brain.
Drawing, writing, painting, or anything involving the hands, releases built-up emotions and refocuses the mind.
Activating these areas diverts the brain from the overwhelming feelings of fear and panic centered in the amygdala.
It is always best to begin grounding exercises as soon as you experience intense emotions or a problematic mood. Refrain from good or bad judgments; just be.
But remember, everything takes practice. Some techniques may become more effective over time. If one technique type doesn’t seem to be working, switch – be flexible and don’t give up.
Mental Grounding Exercises
- List everything in a category, such as dog breeds, fruits, classic cars, or types of wine.
- Count by ‘fives.’
- Journal the situation.
- Color a picture.
- Sing a song.
- Draw or paint a picture.
- Complete a puzzle.
- Play a word game on your phone.
- Make yourself laugh, as laughter is powerful medicine.
- Describe the steps in an activity – making coffee or brushing your teeth.
- Name everything you see in the room.
- Pick up something from your desk. Describe its color, texture, and size.
- Spell your full name and everyone in your family — backward.
- Draw the alphabet in the air with your finger.
Grounding techniques are powerful coping tools for momentary or unforeseen distress. However, if these types of exercises are not helping, a professional therapist may be able to help you look a little deeper.