Mindful Mondays: Grounding Your Anxiety with 5-4-3-2-1 technique
Having a panic attack is one of the worst feelings in the world. Feeling that all the air has been sucked out of the room, your head begins to spin, your vision blurs, your palms become sweaty and the hair on the back of your neck stands up. You lose your sense of reality as a landslide of anxiety provoking thoughts knock you off your feet.
All in a matter of seconds.
Yes, I have had my fill of anxiety ridden moments. For years.
I can trace my anxiety back to my early twenties, although I am quite certain I may have suffered from low level anxiety throughout high school and college. Since that time, anxiety has always played a major part in my life. A major unwelcome part of my life. My anxiety seemed to stem from stress, being overworked, poor sleep patterns, depression, and the use of alcohol. Very quickly I felt the effects of general anxiety turn into panic attacks that effected every aspect of my life.
The Pathway of Anxiety…
When our mind becomes accustomed to the anxiety “pathways” or “roads” that they create in the brain, anxiety becomes second nature. Once those paths/roads are created, it becomes easier and easier for anxiety to take over what would normally be a non anxiety triggering situation.
I’m embarrassed to admit that even though I have been a mental health therapist for 10+ years, I was unable to control my own anxiety. It became so bad that I often avoided social outings, new scenarios and meeting new people. At one point my anxiety was triggered by the smallest event and before I knew it, I was breaking out in a cold sweat and trying to use my breath to slow down a rapid heartbeat. Due to these panic attacks, I missed several big events in my friends’ lives including weddings, baby showers, birthdays and even missed work on tough days.
The reason I am sharing this is that anxiety & mental health have a stigma. A big fat embarrassment in our society but millions of people have experienced at least one panic attack in their life. Anxiety while some cases are mild can quickly turn into a life altering condition.
Anxiety is also quite common with individuals who suffer with chronic illness and pain.
There are many ways of trying to control anxiety. In fact you could go to therapy for years and still struggle with controlling your anxiety. It is not easy, so do not feel bad if you struggle with this!
The easiest and most effective way that I have been able to help my clients and myself with anxiety, has been through teaching a simple method of how to mindfully ground themselves in the present moment.
First off it helps to know what triggers your anxiety. Is it a place? Is it a person? Is it a situation? Once you know what may be triggering your anxiety you can be prepared to stop things before they get out of hand.
I often think of anxiety as snowball rolling down a hill. It starts off small and as it continues it grows bigger and bigger, picking up momentum and speed as it rolls down the hill. (This analogy was so effective that I even hung onto this example when I did therapy in the Caribbean with kids who had never seen snow!)
As soon as you know your triggers, you will be able to catch the anxiety before it turns into a giant avalanche.
5: SIGHT. Notice 5 things that you can see around you. Maybe it is a tree, a lamp, an animal, a small child, a cup. Even something very small such as a speck of dirt on your shoe.
4: Touch. What are 4 things around you that you can touch? A pillow, your leg, a pencil, your phone. While listing these 4 things, take note of how they feel. Is it soft, cold, warm, rough, smooth.
3: Hear. What are 3 things that you can hear. Since our thoughts during this time are typically anxiety induced, make sure that these are external. Can you hear someone talking? Music? The highway? A dog barking? A person laughing?
2: Smell. What are 2 things you can smell in this moment? Can you smell your perfume? A candle? Essential oil? Fast food? If you can’t smell anything in the room that you are in, try finding something that you can smell such as a bottle of lotion, a cup of coffee. (I typically keep peppermint oil in my purse, so when I notice I am becoming anxious I can open the bottle and smell the oil. I also find that diffusing the oil throughout the day not only helps soothe my anxiety but my co-workers and students also love coming into my office and smelling the refreshing scent.)
1: Taste. What is 1 thing you can taste? Maybe this is a drink that you have beside you, coffee, a candy or mint? Focus on this taste and which part of your tongue you are using to taste.
Using these techniques can help you take back control of the situation and shift the focus away from the anxious thoughts that you are having. Until you get the hang of this, try saving this Pinterest Image to help recall this technique so you don’t forget all about it in the moment. ( I also have a printed copy on my fridge!)
What helps you ground yourself when you are feeling anxious?