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Grounding techniques for stress, anxiety and panic attacks

Following on from an article I wrote in 2019, 'Anxiety and Me', I felt it would be helpful to put together some techniques to use in times of high anxiety or if you suffer from panic attacks.

Many of the clients I have supported found breathing exercises and grounding techniques worked well for them when suffering high anxiety or panic attacks. Many had heard of ‘breathing exercises’ and ‘grounding’, however, they were unsure what they meant and how to go about using these techniques.

I have detailed below five useful techniques and how to complete them. It’s important to go slow. There’s no rush, and this allows you to really relax and focus on the specific exercise you are completing.

Tip – we are all individuals, therefore, what works for one person might not work for the other. With grounding, it is about trial and error.

What is grounding?

Grounding simply means to return your focus back to the present. It works by ridding your body of excess energy, calming and slowing down emotions you are feeling and calming your mind, to allow you to connect back with yourself in the present.

Grounding is often used when working with clients who suffer with PTSD as a way of supporting them with flashbacks and dissociation. However, it works well for stress, panic and general anxiety, too.

To start off, I use a breathing exercise for around a minute. To do this find a comfortable seat, then simply sit up straight, with your bum to the back of the seat and feet on the ground. Close your eyes and take a slow breath in counting to five in your head, then slowly breath out for five (some people can hold more breath and may find counting to 10 is better).

Repeat this around eight to 10 times or until you feel your breathing has calmed.

Now you’re ready to start on to the grounding techniques. It’s usually a good idea to practice these when you are slightly stressed or anxious then, when you find what works for you, you are ready for those higher times of anxiety or a panic attack.

Tip – remember: slow - relax - focus.

 1. Distraction technique

These are probably the simplest to do, and you can do them anywhere. Here is a couple you can try:

Colour

Start by choosing your favourite colour, for example, green. Look around you and notice, how many objects in varying shades of your chosen colour can you see? If your anxiety is still peaked, pick another colour and start again.

Count

For this one, you need to count backwards from 100 in sevens. This is not an easy task (unless you really love maths), it requires you to really focus and concentrate.

2. The 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique

This technique uses all five of your senses. Start by sitting comfortably in your chair (however you would normally sit), now close your eyes and take a deep breath in and then release it slowly.

Open your eyes and look around you, slowly taking in your surroundings (this can include looking out of a window). Now, follow the next steps and, remember, there is no need to rush - relax and focus.

Name out loud:

  • Five things you can see.
  • Four things you can touch (this could be the material of the chair, a rug, flowers, your hair). What do they feel like?
  • Three things you can hear (music, rain, wind, traffic).
  • Two things you can smell (coffee brewing, a candle, your perfume/aftershave).
  • One thing you can taste - you might find for this part it’s good to have a boiled sweet, chewing gum or bit of chocolate to hand (you can get up to get something or, if not, try to imagine how it would taste).

Then take a deep breath, release it and end the process.

3. Focus technique

This is a really good one, as you can do this anywhere. For this technique, you need to choose a small item of your choice (something that fits in your pocket/purse). Things like a stone, gem, crystal, or you could use an earring, bracelet, etc. 

Holding a crystal

Tip – remember: slow - relax - focus.

Once you have chosen your item, hold it in your hand and really focus on it. Close your eyes and notice how it feels. Is it soft, hard, sharp or blunt? Is it cold or warm? Can you feel the texture - what’s that like, is it grainy, smooth or bumpy? Now notice how it feels in your palm, is it heavy or light?

Now open your eyes and really focus on what it looks like. Is it coloured? What colours can you see? Is it patterned or plain? What other details do you notice about it?

Once you have done this a few times and, as long as you use the same object, just having the item with you or holding it in your hand can help you to focus in stressful situations.

4. Happy place technique

For this technique, all you need is your imagination. Start off this exercise by getting comfortable either sitting or lying down, then do the breathing exercise from the beginning of this article.

Once you are relaxed, start to imagine your happy place. This might be lying in a meadow reading a book (my favourite); lying on the beach with the warmth of the sun and the calming sounds of the sea; the freedom of climbing a mountain; or being surrounded by family. You get the idea.

Really engage all of your senses. Close your eyes and imagine your scene - what does it look like? How does it feel? Is the sun warming your skin, or can you feel the rough texture of the rocky mountain? What can you smell? The salty air, soil, or flowers? Really immerse yourself so it feels like you are really there and relax.

Stay in your happy place for as long as you like. When you are ready to come back, keep your eyes closed and count backwards from 10. Then slowly open your eyes.

The more you practice this, the quicker you will be able to arrive and immerse yourself further.

Tip – to enhance your happy place why not try some ambient sounds? You can download an App that has all sorts of sounds, these might help you to really relax and focus.

5. Adrenaline refocus

This is something I often do. As an individual with a very busy and active mind, I often find it difficult to focus on some of the slower, more relaxing techniques.

So, here is one that I often use, which takes the adrenaline that is pumping around your body from the panic, stress or anxiety and channels it into something else. For example, singing, dancing, walking, running or cycling, to name a few.

It’s as simple as it sounds. Put some music on (as loud as you like or is permitted) and have a dance, sing, exercise or, alternatively, get dressed and go outside for a power walk, run or cycle. 

When you have burnt off that adrenaline and excess energy, you could always try a more relaxing technique from above when you get back to cool off and calm down.

Final notes

If you are still struggling to cope or finding things difficult on your own, reach out to someone you can trust, a friend, family member or search for a counsellor in your area. If you already have a counsellor, you could talk to them about grounding techniques and you could try some together.

Thank you for taking the time to read this self-help information, I really hope you found it helpful. Take care.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Louise Leighton MNCS Accred

I am a qualified Humanistic counsellor and my core approach is person-centred. I work with individuals in a variety of areas, such as anxiety, depression, relationship issues, family problems and bereavement.

Working together I would support you in facing your concerns to equip you with the skills and resilience for your future.… Read more

Written by Louise Leighton MNCS Accred

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