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know what anxiety feels like — that dreadful sensation of panic, worry, and
restlessness that sucks the joy out of life.
are times when anxiety is so intense and overwhelming that you tend to lose
touch with reality. In other words, you fixate on whatever worry-filled
thoughts are racing through your head.
you’re dealing with panic attacks or severe anxiety, it almost feels like you’re
entirely disconnected from the world around you.
Fortunately, there’s a simple strategy that allows you to get back in touch with reality and keep your anxious thoughts under control.
called grounding, and numerous experts recommend it as an effective strategy
for dealing with anxiety.
But to understand how grounding techniques work (and why it’s such a useful anxiety management tool), first we need to look at how anxiety impacts our perception, thinking, and mood.
The Dark Side of Anxiety
any person who’s dealing with a form of anxiety, and
they will tell you how annoying and exhausting it is to feel under pressure
most of the day.
hard to focus on the bright side of things when your mind keeps worrying about
a future that hasn’t yet materialized.
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we generally perceive anxiety as an unpleasant state, the truth is, each one of
us had experienced it at some point in our lives.
fact, anxiety is part of our emotional spectrum, which means getting rid of it entirely
is out of the question.
baffling as it may sound, you need anxiety to survive and thrive in our
ever-changing, ever-growing society
about it! Anxiety is what prompts you to evaluate risks and make informed decisions;
it’s why you look twice before you cross a busy street; it’s what keeps you
away from physical and emotional harm.
short, it’s a pretty handy survival mechanism.
there’s also a ‘dark’ side to anxiety. In other words, there are times when this
mechanism can work against you.
example, when you’re agoraphobic, so you avoid taking the subway to work. Or
when you wish to speak in front of an audience, but you get dizzy and nauseous
just by thinking about it.
“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow; it only saps today of its joy.” – Leo F. Buscaglia
seems too little anxiety makes you careless and reckless, while too much can
Let’s take PTSD, for example. This form of anxiety disorder occurs as a result of a traumatic event. If you have a car accident, chances are anxiety will keep you from getting behind the wheel.
anxiety does precisely what it’s supposed to do – keep you out of harm’s way.
In this example, it prevents you from driving, therefore, eliminating the
possibility of another car accident.
when you try to go against it, you might be surprised to discover how intense
anxiety can get.
As people who struggle with PTSD will tell you, exposing yourself to something that has caused you pain and trauma in the past can result in panic attacks.
means your heart starts beating fast, you take desperate gasps of air, you feel
disconnected from everything around you, and all you can think about is running
can we bypass such an intense reaction? How can we overcome anxiety, achieve
post-traumatic growth, and enjoy
the life we want?
answer is – GROUNDING.
What is Grounding?
is a form of mindfulness, a technique that quickly reconnects you with the
‘here and now.’
you’re dealing with anxiety, dissociation, or flashbacks, you tend to remain
fixated on all sorts of images, thoughts, and memories that keep playing inside
result, you begin to lose touch with your surroundings; your senses are
“disabled” by the anxiety that takes over your body and mind.
And this is where grounding comes into play, bringing you back into the present moment. This technique helps you re-establish a connection with your surroundings, with the space you find yourself in at that moment.
ground yourself in the present moment, you will need to use all your five
senses – sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. Your basic senses are the means
through which you interact with the outside world.
smelling the flowers on your kitchen table, tasting a delicious cookie, or
listening to the sound of cars passing by, your mind will slowly let go of any
obsessive and intrusive images.
it helps you focus on your environment – instead of the worry-filled
thoughts that are racing
through your head – grounding is an effective way to distract yourself and
avoid a panic attack.
let’s take a step-by-step look at how grounding reduces anxiety.
How Do Grounding Techniques Help Reduce Anxiety?
Let’s say you’ve had an unpleasant experience with public speaking. Perhaps you were humiliated by your teacher in front of the whole class. Or maybe you forgot your lines in the middle of a school play, and you left the stage feeling ashamed.
you work at a sales company, and you must deliver product presentations in
front of potential clients. The stakes are high, and you don’t want them to
leave disappointed or confused.
the minute you walk in the room, your palms get sweaty, you begin to feel
slightly dizzy, and everything seems ‘unreal.’ The more you focus on your
anxious thoughts, the more disconnected you feel from everything that’s going
on around you.
tough to deliver a fluent presentation and create a connection with your
audience when anxiety keeps you trapped in a never-ending circle of
that’s why you need to re-establish a connection with your surroundings; to
leave worries in the back of your mind and ground yourself in the ‘here and
Using your five senses, you can anchor yourself in the present moment by focusing on sensations that are hard to ignore.
For instance, the touch of your pen slowly gliding on a piece of paper, the sound of people talking on their phones or typing on their computers, the smell of fresh coffee.
more connected you are with your surroundings, the less likely you are to lose
yourself in anxious thoughts and end up having a nervous breakdown. Furthermore, grounding techniques can also reduce
the likelihood of flashbacks and dissociation.
you try these strategies, keep in mind that grounding is a profoundly personal
practice. In other words, what works for some might not work for others. And
that’s why it’s crucial to experiment with several techniques (and senses)
before you find the ones that work best for you.
don’t worry, because I’ve prepared a list of 20 grounding techniques that you
can experiment with.
20 Grounding Techniques You Can Try Right Now
1. Eat a cookie
This grounding technique may sound ridiculously simple. But is can be effective when you begin to spiral out of control from anxiety or PTSD.
a cookie – or whatever snack you find delicious – is an excellent way to ground
yourself in the ‘here and now.’ This simple action can stimulate your taste,
smell, and touch.
on the sweet taste, the crunchy texture, and the pleasant smell of a cookie.
That way, you can distract yourself from those catastrophic scenarios and
unpleasant flashbacks that are going through your head.
2. Look at the sky
all it takes to ground yourself in the present moment is to look at the sky. Next
time you feel anxiety bubbling up on the surface of your mind, take a seat
somewhere on a bench and look at the sky for a couple of minutes.
on the color, the shape of the clouds, perhaps an airplane moving slowly on the
canvas of the sky, leaving a white trail behind it.
barefoot on grass can be an incredible sensory experience. The pleasant feel of
soft grass on the soles of your feet can bring you back in the ‘here and now’
in no time.
find yourself in the park or on your front yard lawn, take a moment to walk
barefoot on grass. It will distract you from all those worry-filled thoughts
and help you enjoy some well-deserved calm.
4. Drink a glass of water (slowly)
like enjoying a delicious cookie, drinking a glass of water allows you to focus
on the ‘here and now.’
panic takes over, and you feel like you’re slowly losing touch with reality,
pour yourself a glass of water and pay attention to the sensations that you
experience while drinking it.
the best part is that you can practice this grounding technique anytime and
5. Fold a paper airplane
the paper airplanes you used to make when you were a kid? It turns out this
activity can serve as an excellent grounding strategy.
only that folding a paper airplane distracts you from anxious thoughts,
flashbacks, and feelings of dissociation, but it also allows you to remain
anchored in the present moment.
next time you feel anxious and disconnected from reality, pick up a piece of
paper, and start folding an airplane. You can even throw it across the room and
watch it fly.
6. Listen to music
feel like noticing random sound around you is boring, perhaps some music can
get you out of your head and into the present moment.
experts agree that listening to your favorite music can affect your
mood and level of happiness.
Next time you feel anxious or panicked, search for your favorite tunes and hit play. It will put you in a better mood and distract you from all those panic-inducing thoughts and images.
Looking for your song ideas? Check out our favorites:
7. Read the names of stores around you
you feel like anxiety has taken control over your thoughts, and all you can
think about is how badly you’re going to fail at today’s presentation, you can
distract yourself by reading the names of stores you see around you.
you’re indoors, you can read the titles of the books or music albums you have
in your bookcase. For a more profound sensory experience, try touching each
book or music album while reading the title out loud.
8. Smell the flowers
“Stop and smell the flowers” is actually great piece of advice on using a grounding technique to gain control of your out of control thinking.
When was the last time you stopped to smell the flowers? Or the smell of fresh pastry coming from the store that you pass by every day on your way to work. Or even the earthy smell of freshly cut grass.
smells that we come by each day can elicit amazing sensory experiences that
ground us in the present moment.
find yourself in a place that generates anxiety and panic, stop for a moment,
take a deep breath through your nose, and notice the smells around you.
9. Touch the desk
quick way to connect yourself with your surroundings is through your tactile
sense. In other words, each object around you acts as an anchor that can keep
you from losing touch with reality.
look around the room, and you will find numerous objects of different textures,
sizes, and shapes that you can experience with a simple touch.
you feel lost in worries and concerns, pick up an object from your desk and
focus on its features (shape, size, texture, function). It will put you back in
touch with your surroundings.
10. Count cars
like reading titles off a shelf, counting the cars that are passing in front of
your house or office can distract you from anxiety, panic, and flashbacks.
don’t even have to count each one of them. The mere act of paying attention to
the movement of cars, their color, speed, shape, and other features is a useful
11. Hold an ice cube
know for a fact that our nervous system is sensitive to any significant change
in temperature. This allows us to regulate our body temperature and achieve a
state of comfort.
did you know that you can use the same system to distract yourself from
flashbacks, panic-inducing thoughts, and feelings of dissociation?
holding an ice cube in your palm and focus on that sensation of cold and slight
numbness on the surface of your skin. It will stop you from ‘drowning’ in
catastrophic scenarios and keep you anchored in the ‘here and now.’
12. Move around the room
act of moving can generate a whole array of physical sensations. The contact
between your feet and the floor, the movement of your arms, the sound of your
shoes – all these sensations are a reminder that you are here, in the present
Instead of letting yourself be carried away by panic and painful memories, you can get up and take a few steps while focusing on your body’s movements. A simple two-minute walkabout can do wonders.
13. Take a deep breath
Sometimes, all it takes to ground yourself in the present moment are a few deep breaths.
time you feel like you’ve lost touch with reality because your mind is
overwhelmed by flashbacks, panic, and anxiety, take a deep breath and notice
how the air fills your lungs.
and focus on how your body ‘softens’ and relaxes; it almost feels like the
weight of the world has been lifted from your shoulders. And once the body
begins to relax, the mind will soon follow.
14. Describe your surroundings
close look around you and notice the space you find yourself in at that moment.
Imagine you’re an extraterrestrial being on its first contact with the human
do you see around you? What objects, colors, shapes, and textures do you see?
What are the purposes of all these objects surrounding you?
a mental description of each object you see that will anchor you in the present
15. Wash your hands
like walking, washing your hands employs the use of various movements and sensations.
example, you can focus on the feel of water on your hands, the temperature, the
touch of one hand washing the other, and the smell of soap. By noticing these
sensations, you can reconnect with the space around you.
try not to use it too much as it may turn into compulsive behavior.
16. Listen to the sounds around you
matter where you work or live, you will always have background sound. But since
background sounds are there 24/7, we grow so accustomed to the environment that
we eventually stop noticing them.
feel overwhelmed by panic and dissociation, all you need to do is notice the
sounds around you. It could be anything from the distant sound of traffic to
the more proximal sound of a squeaky chair.
17. Pet your cat or dog
Most experts believe owning a pet can have a significantly positive impact on your health and wellbeing.
moments of stress and anxiety, petting your dog or cat, watching your goldfish
swim across the tank, or feeding your parrot creates a sense of comfort and
helps you focus on the ‘here and now.’
can be a great source of joy and a reliable ally when you feel like
everything’s falling apart.
18. Play with a ball
with a ball – or any other activity that involves movement – can be a powerful
distractor for when you feel entirely overwhelmed by panic and flashbacks.
a ball against the floor or simply throwing it up and down keeps you focused on
the present moment by stimulating your visual and tactile senses.
Furthermore, when it comes to stress relief, squeezing a stress ball is one of the oldest tricks in the book.
19. Talk to someone
to someone is perhaps the best way to get out of your head and reconnect with
your surroundings. Furthermore, by opening a conversation with someone
available to listen, you can also benefit from an empathetic ear or a shoulder
to cry on.
story short, taking is not just an activity that distracts you from those
catastrophic scenarios but also a profoundly therapeutic act.
20. Describe an object you see
describing your surroundings feels too distracting, perhaps you can try to
focus on one object at a time.
time you feel disconnected from reality, pick a random object, hold it in your
hand, and describe it in as much detail as possible. From shape and size to
texture, color, and function, make sure you cover as many features as possible.
more profound sensory experience, you can even name its features out loud.
Final Thoughts on Grounding Techniques
you’re dealing with anxiety or PTSD, the quest for happiness and joy can
quickly turn into an obstacle course where your primary goal is to avoid
discomfort and emotional pain.
life is unpredictable, sooner or later, you will have to face situations or
contexts in which you don’t feel comfortable. And that’s when panic kicks in,
pulling you away from a distressing reality.
grounding techniques can help you face these situations without getting lost in
panic-inducing thoughts and images that prompt you to give up.
more connected you are with your reality – the more you anchor yourself in the
‘here and now’ – the better you can control anxiety.
broader perspective, the way you choose to handle your occasional moments of
anxiety and flashbacks will influence your sense of happiness and well-being.
For more helpful tips on how to cultivate a happy and fulfilling life, check out Happier Human. This book contains 52 science-backed habits that will guide you in your quest for the life you wish to achieve.
And if you’re looking for more ideas, check out these blog posts:
Finally, if you want a simple way to reduce your stress and anxiety, then try writing these 35 mindfulness journaling prompts to live more in the present moment.
Alexander Draghici is a licensed Clinical Psychologist, CBT practitioner, and content writer for various mental health websites. His work focuses mainly on strategies designed to help people manage and prevent two of the most common emotional problems – anxiety and depression.