Anxiety, that dreaded feeling, can be an occasional part of life. However, for some people, (myself included) it can be a more persistent, frequent part of the everyday experience. When this happens, it’s known as an anxiety disorder and there are lots of different types.
Sometimes anxiety can build and become a panic attack.
Mayo Clinic describes this well, stating that often: “anxiety disorders involve repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks).”
There are lots of effective treatments for anxiety, including therapy and medication. There are also plenty of ways you learn to manage it yourself.
A great method of coping with anxiety and learning to stop panic attacks in their tracks is grounding.
Therapist Joanna Filidor, LMFT explains:
Grounding techniques are tools used to self-regulate in moments of stress and anxiety. They serve as gentle reminders to stay focused and anchored in the present moment
Joanna Filidor, LMFT
Essentially, grounding yourself helps you to refocus your energy and thoughts on the present or on something positive, helping you to distract your brain from negative thoughts and feelings.
Let’s take a look at 12 grounding techniques that can help you whether you have anxiety, are feeling low, or are simply going through a time of stress in your life.
1. Breathing Exercises
Focusing on your breathing is a form of mindfulness, helping you to calm down and be in the present. There are a wide range of breathing exercises you can try, so you can figure out what works for you.
Paced breathing involves breathing in and out for a number of seconds, for example, breathing in for three seconds then out for four seconds. You can increase the number of seconds as you get the hang of it. Make the ‘breathing out’ part longer than breathing in, as this helps to calm you down and overcomes the urge to keep breathing in quickly which is common with anxiety.
Another quick breathing exercise is the 4, 7, 8 technique: breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and then breathe out for eight seconds. You can start with smaller numbers until you get the hang of it.
I sometimes find visualization is helpful with breathing exercises. I like to imagine breathing in positive energies and a sense of calm, and breathing out any tension and anxiety, imagining it floating away.
You can check out our guide on breathing exercises for more information and guidance.
2. Use Your Senses
Our senses are powerful and paying attention to them can bring you back to the present and help you to feel calm. There are lots of ways you can do this, but essentially focusing on what you can see, feel, hear, smell, and taste in your environment can help.
Dr. Sarah Allen recommends the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique. This involves naming out loud five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
3. Hold a Grounding Object
If you live with anxiety, it can be useful to choose a grounding object. Ideally, this is something with sentimental value that brings you comfort and something that’s small enough to carry with you.
Holding this object and really focusing on it can bring a deep sense of peace.
Visualize and believe that anytime you hold this object, you are safe, you are present, and you are calm.
4. Tell Yourself Some Facts
A simple yet effective way to distract your mind is to give it a task to focus on, like telling yourself some facts either in your head or out loud. Talk to yourself about a topic you like and tell yourself as many facts as possible about it. This could be fun facts about your favorite TV show or you could recite the characters' names.
Any topic works as long as it gets your mind working, ideally something you know quite a bit about so you can keep going until you start to feel calm.
5. Use Cold
Something that really helps me when I’m anxious is a cold sensation. I use cooling facial sprays or an ice-cold drink of water which give me that jolt back into the present. You could also splash your face with cold water; put a cold compress on your face or neck; or take a cold shower.
Psychotherapist Sheri Heller explains: “Sensorial stimulation with cold water can break through dissociative feelings that often accompany anxiety and offer immediate relief from heightened cortisol levels”.
Something else I discovered recently was going for a walk in the rain (of course, this is weather dependent, and be sure to wear waterproofs). It happened by chance on a day that I was feeling really anxious and dissociated (meaning I felt disconnected from the world around me). We went out for a walk with my dog and it was pouring rain, and all of a sudden I felt very present and at peace.
6. Move Your Body
Sometimes when you’re feeling anxious it can be too difficult to sit still and calm down. You know that feeling when it’s almost like you have too much anxious energy built up? Well, moving your body is a great way to release that energy.
You could get up, put some music on, and dance around, or you could simply do some exercise (any type of exercise that you normally enjoy works). Often getting out of the house and going for a mindful walk is useful, especially if you’re out in nature.
7. Focus On an Object
Picking an object in your environment to focus on can help you to engage your senses and focus on something specific. This can be anything in your line of sight: a rock, a picture on the wall, a chair, or a cup for example.
Really focus on the object: notice its shape, its color, its size. What else do you notice about it? Trace the outline with your eyes and repeat these steps until you begin to feel grounded.
8. Count to 100
If you like maths, you can use this to your advantage to keep your mind occupied. Count to 100 repeatedly. If that isn’t challenging enough for your mind you could do it backward, or recite the times' tables!
9. Positive Affirmations
Positive affirmations are short, positive phrases that you can repeat over and over again in your mind or out loud. They can be great anytime you’re feeling low or need a pick-me-up, as well as for grounding.
It’s a good idea to prepare two or three affirmations that work for you in advance. Use them to reassure yourself that although you’re anxious and having a hard time right now, this feeling will pass. Reassure yourself as you would reassure a friend.
Some examples of positive affirmations are below but you can choose anything that would be comforting for you:
- I am safe, anxiety always passes.
- I am in a safe place, I am going to be ok.
- I am strong, I am powerful, I am in control.
- I can do this, I’ve done it before and I know I can do it again.
- I am relaxing my body, I am relaxing my mind, I’m letting worries go.
10. Try Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils for therapeutic benefits, including to fight anxiety and promote a sense of calm. There are lots of ways you can use essential oils, for example in roll-ons, room sprays, pillow sprays, or in an essential oil diffuser. If you want to learn more you can check out our ultimate guide to aromatherapy.
I love using a roll-on during the day because I can take it with me wherever I go and simply apply it to my pulse points. I can inhale the smell easily when I need a moment of grounding. I also love pillow sprays at night as I find they ground and calm me ready for sleep.
11. Talk to Someone You Love
Sometimes talking to someone you love, like a partner, friend, or family member, can be enough to ground you. It’s also really comforting! This could be in person (nothing beats a good hug to calm you down) or even over the phone or video call if they aren’t nearby.
12. Plan For the Future
Although grounding is mostly about being in the present, it can help some people to focus on the future if the present feels too overwhelming. You could plan out a future event or a trip, even if it’s fictional. Really go into detail in your mind and imagine it, planning every detail.
Not only does this distract your mind, but it can also remind you of the good things in life and the possibilities for your future. It can give you hope and help you to feel more positive.
Learning to ground yourself is just one of many ways you can learn to fight anxiety and improve your mental health. While living with anxiety is certainly a battle, it is possible to live a full, happy life and learn to manage your symptoms. Why not try out one of these grounding exercises next time you’re struggling?
Mayo Clinic, (2018), “Anxiety disorders”.
Shelby Deering, (2020), “8 Grounding Techniques for When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed”. Talkspace.
The Blurt Foundation, (2022), “Coping With Anxiety: Breathing and Grounding”.
Dr. Sarah Allen, (2018), “7 Simple Grounding Techniques For Calming Down Quickly”.
Fiona Tapp, (2018), “10 Anxiety Hacks Therapists Swear By”. HuffPost.
Mind, (2019), “Dissociation and dissociative disorders”.