Panic attacks are scary to experience as well as to witness.
When you see someone suffering from a panic attack you feel as paralyzed as them, not knowing what to do and how to help. Unless you are ready for it and know exactly how to tackle it.
A panic attack is an intense onslaught of fear and anxiety that comes on suddenly and overwhelms the person. Panic attack symptoms include physical discomforts similar to that of a heart attack – chest pain, palpitations, sweating, and shortness of breath. No wonder it is terrifying.
Whether you are experiencing an episode of a panic attack or witnessing it in someone else, there is a lot you can do to help alleviate the panic attack symptoms. Grounding techniques are considered the more effective among them.
Read on to learn more about grounding techniques for anxiety victims. This article covers how grounding can help recover from a panic attack and how to use the technique.
What is a grounding technique?
Grounding techniques are distraction activities that help a person pull away from unwanted thoughts and troubling memories. This can help them manage their intense emotions and regain control of their minds. Grounding therapy is achieved by involving the five senses.
When suffering from anxiety, grounding techniques can help a person create distance from their distressing thoughts and feelings. They are highly effective when dealing with mental issues such as social anxiety disorder (SAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic memories, dissociation, or urge to self-harm.
If you are suffering from anxiety, calming techniques work by awakening your senses – one or more of them. While some grounding techniques involve physical sensations of touch, hearing, smell, seeing, and taste, you achieve similar results by triggering your mind as well.
30 grounding exercises for anxiety
The physical grounding techniques make use of the five senses to bring you back to the present and create space from the negative emotions.
1. Deep breathing:
Take long deep breaths slowly. Breath in and hold for 5 seconds. Breathe out and hold for five seconds. Become aware of the air filling your lungs and leaving them. You may place your palm on your chest or abdomen to feel it rising and falling as you breathe in and out.
2. Dip your hands in water:
This can be more effective when the water is warm or cold enough to jolt you out of your senses. Or you can alternate between warm and cold water to get you out of the stupor. As you feel the touch of water on your fingers, palm, and back of your hand, your mind will detach itself from the troubling thoughts and come to the present moment.
3. Reach out and hold the things near you:
How do they feel? Light or heavy? Soft or hard? Cool or warm? What is the texture? What are the colors?
4. Eat or drink slowly:
Take time to recognize the taste of every mouthful. Choose something with a more pronounced taste so that you won’t miss it. Breathe in the smell and allow the flavors to linger on your taste buds for long.
5. Hold an ice cube in your palm:
The shock of touching something cold will do the trick. Pay attention to how your palm gets adjusted to the coldness of the ice cube as it melts.
6. Smell something you like:
Such as a cup of coffee or cinnamon or vanilla. Or you can light an incense stick or a scented candle. Draw in deep breaths and savor the fragrance. Try to understand why you like the smell.
7. Do some stretches and light exercises:
When you have a panic attack, your body tends to freeze up. It would help if you can loosen it up with non-strenuous body movements. Jump up and down, use a skipping rope, or jog in the same place. Become aware of how your body feels.
8. Pay attention to the environment:
Listen to the sounds around you. People talking, children playing, dogs barking, birds chirping, and cars zooming past. Recognize each sound. This will bring you back to the earth in an instant.
9. Become aware of each body part:
Begin from the top and feel the hair blowing into your face. If you are wearing glasses, feel its touch on your ears and the bridge of your nose. Listen to your heartbeat. What is your hand doing? Are you feeling full or hungry? Are your feet touching the floor? More time you spend focusing on your body, the less time you are dwelling on negative thoughts that are making you panic.
10. The 5-4-3-2-1 method:
You start with 5. List five things you can see around you, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. In case you have trouble accessing something to taste, you can imagine the taste. You can change the order of the senses and the numbers associated with it.
These activities work by acting as a distraction to keep your thoughts away from disturbing emotions and bring them back to the present moment.
11. Try a game of memory:
This involves looking at an image for 10-20 seconds and trying to recall as many details about it as you can remember. This activity demands your full attention and that may be the break you are looking for.
List things in a specific category: Think of a category such as food, vacation, jobs, animals, or football. Pick one such category and try to list as many things as possible in it. Again, this needs full involvement of your mind, thereby creating a break from negative thinking.
12. Play with numbers:
This can be fun if you are fond of numbers. Count backward. Try even/odd numbers or prime numbers. Or perfect squares. Or try expressing the number in as many ways as you can.
Recollect something you know by heart: A song, a poem, a dialogue, or a passage from your favorite book. The effort needed to search your memory for the words will distract you from your present predicament.
13. Make up a riddle or a joke:
Silly ones will do. This will require some mental effort and it can help.
14. Laugh out loud:
Watch your favorite funny video and laugh with abandon. This is a simple way to forget about your concerns.
15. Talk about yourself:
Often during panic attacks, you tend to lose your orientation and sense of identity. To retrieve it, you can try saying, “My name is… I am … years old. I live in …”. You may also add, “Today is February 4, Friday. It is 3:05 pm. I am at my office, sitting at my desk. Others have gone out during the break. It’s sunny/raining/snowing outside. I am not going out. I will make myself a cup of tea.”
16. Visualize something you enjoy doing every day:
Such as waking up in the morning or coming back home after work, spending time with family, or having dinner together. Happy thoughts are powerful enough to push negativity out of your mind.
17. Describe a simple task step-by-step:
Such as cooking your favorite dish or even making a pot of coffee. It should be something that you can do unconsciously. Compelling yourself to think of the same task as a step-by-step process as if you are writing it down for someone, demands all your attention.
18. Describe the scene around you:
Just as you did with the image exercise, you look around you and take in the scene for a couple of minutes. Then sit down and write down as much as you can remember. Use all your senses in the description.
10 ways to ground yourself
You can get creative and invent your own methods to trigger and awaken your sensations and awareness. The purpose is to rein in your mind that is drowning in negative thoughts and bring it back to the present moment.
- Visualize that you are discarding your negative feelings behind as if you are taking off your clothes and putting them in a bag and throwing the bag in the trash.
- Conjure up the image of someone you love. Listen to their voice or sense their touch or smell.
- Go for a walk. Counting steps is helpful. Become aware of how one foot takes off from the ground as the other touches it. Focus on the rhythm of your walking.
- Cuddle with your pet. Animals can offer you their unconditional love and this can comfort you.
- Make lists of your favorite things in different categories such as books, movies, food, vacation destinations, songs, and suchlike.
- Visualize being in your favorite place. Close your eyes and immerse yourself in the happy feeling.
- Plan something you have been postponing. Pay attention to the minute details such as whom to include, where it will be, how you will go, what you will wear, and what food you will eat.
- Hold something soft and comforting. Like an old t-shirt or a soft toy. Take in the sensation.
- Make a list of joyful things in your life. Invest some time in visualizing each one of them.
- Listen to your favorite song.
How to ground yourself when suffering from anxiety?
Though all the ways to ground yourself described here makes sense now, when you are actually suffering from a panic attack, you may not be able to follow most of them. Knowing in advance what works for you will help in the situation.
These tips may be useful to finding success with grounding.
- Practice the activities when you are not distressed. So that you can use them straight away.
- Rate yourself before and after each technique to see whether a particular one is working for you.
- Don’t allow your condition to worsen. Start doing the activities even as you sense the onslaught of a panic attack.
- Avoid involving your feelings when you are describing something.
- Avoid closing your eyes as it prevents you from staying in the present.
Grounding skills are immensely helpful to cope with distressing thoughts and feelings. They can help you detach your mind from negativity and bring your mind to the present moment.
Despite all the good that it can achieve, grounding is still a temporary solution to panic attacks. For a lasting solution, you need to consult a mental health professional and get therapy.