Anyone who suffers from anxiety will know the horribly familiar feeling of a racing mind and a pounding heart. It can feel as though your world is sliding out of control while everyone around you remains oblivious. This sense of disconnect can be quite distressing and it can impact on the quality of your day to day life.
Life has undoubtedly been pretty stressful for many of us over the past few years, with the pandemic and the soaring cost of living. Maybe you have a general sense of uncertainty created by political upheaval, the pace of technological change or the climate crisis. Sometimes anxiety has no specific trigger, but grips us nonetheless in its vice-like jaws.
However, there are actions you can take that can help you to manage anxiety. While we are all individual and respond to stimuli in different ways, many people use grounding techniques as their go-to method when they feel the dreaded rising tide of stress and panic. Here’s a look at what they are and how to apply them.
Grounding is a way of calming down a whirling mind by bringing your attention back to the present moment. Think of it as a factory reset button. This will happen eventually when your anxiety attack subsides, but grounding techniques give you a roadmap and a reliable shortcut, so you are not left floundering around in a miasma of stress hormones.
A great advantage of grounding is that it is very simple, so you don't need to worry about recalling a complicated set of rules in your moment of distress.
A very easy and effective grounding technique that you might like to try involves noticing five things. You can practise it at any time, so that in a moment of panic you can reach for it without too much thought. It takes you out of your own head and reconnects you to your environment, so it’s useful anytime negative thoughts intrude too strongly.
Pause for a moment, maybe take a deep breath or two and look around, and notice five things you can see. If you are indoors, look out of the window, and name the things out loud. Next, listen carefully, and notice five things you can hear; maybe birds twittering or the sound of passing voices in the street.
Lastly, notice five things you can feel in contact with your body. For example, the texture of your clothing against your skin, the weight of your back against the chair, the fresh air on your face, and so on. Closing your eyes can help you to notice these things more keenly.
By the end of this exercise, the overwhelming tide of anxiety should have begun to subside as the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, telling your body and brain that it is time to relax and return to a regular state.
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