When things get tough, bring yourself back to the moment with these essential tips
We all experience anxiety or stress at different points in our lives. It’s a normal and natural response to difficult times, and it can help us to take action when we need to. Sometimes, however, we can get stuck in anxious thoughts and feelings, to the point where it feels overwhelming. Grounding is an easy, practical set of techniques that I teach my clients, which can help to restore some balance to your day.
When we are anxious or stressed, our nervous system goes into ‘fight or flight’ mode. Our ‘back brain’ (the amygdala and limbic system), takes over, and our bodies are flooded with hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. We might feel our heart rate increase, have repetitive thoughts, or general feelings of fear or anger. Grounding soothes our fraught nervous system and brings our prefrontal cortex, or ‘front brain’, back online so we return to the present moment, and are able to function.
So, how do you do it?
My absolute top tip for grounding is to concentrate on your breathing. It might sound obvious, but I teach people every day how to breathe properly, and the results can be amazing. The key is to focus on the exhale, not the inhale. This lets your body know that it is safe, and brings calm quickly. Try a simple count, like inhaling for four seconds, and exhaling for seven, to keep you focused. Also, be sure to inhale into your diaphragm. The simplest way to do this is to imagine you are blowing up your belly like a balloon when you breathe in.
2. 5-4-3-2-1 sensing
This exercise is great for bringing your attention to your body, and helps you to feel more centered as you tune-in to the physical, and away from any difficult thoughts. Start by saying five things you can see out loud. It might be objects in a room, or a detail about a blade of grass. Next, say out loud four things you can feel. Notice sensations such as your feet on the floor, or your hands on your knees. Pick up an object and feel it fully. Now say three things you can hear. Noises outside, inside, a ticking clock, your own breathing. Then two things you can smell, perhaps a waft through the window, or your own clothing. Finally, say out loud one thing you can taste. If you have a sweet or snack nearby, pop it in your mouth and savor it fully. Finish by noticing how you feel, usually you can appreciate a sense of being ‘back in the room’.
3. Mind games
A great technique for bringing your ‘front brain’ back online is to complete mental exercises. These can also have the added bonus of distracting you from worrying thoughts and feelings. My favorite one is to count backwards from 1,000. Other examples you could try are spelling the names of your family members backwards, counting all the things you can see in your room that are a certain color, naming as many films, books, or countries as you can begin with a certain letter, or picking an object and describing it mindfully using all of your senses.
4. Body shaking
Another one that’s great for tuning-in to the physical, this exercise is also helpful for releasing and relaxing muscles that have become tense due to a stressful day. Start by standing up straight, feet hip-distance apart, pelvis tucked in, and focus on allowing space and length into your spine. Balance your head, imagining it is suspended from a fine cord dangling down from the ceiling. Take a few breaths, and focus on your feet being grounded and connected to the floor. Now, start to shake your wrists, letting them be loose and floppy. Continue up into your elbows, letting your arms dangle at the same time. Continue to move the shaking up into your shoulders and your whole body. Just shake your body, letting everything go, perhaps rising on your heels and feeling the shake as you ground back down to the floor. You might also want to turn from side to side, whatever your body feels it needs to do is fine. Keep going for a few minutes at least. When you come to a stop, get back into the relaxed standing stance again and notice what changed, maybe a fizzing in the body, or a welcome sense of clarity.
Jodi Pilcher Gordon is an integrative counsellor and wellbeing tutor. Find out more by visiting counseling-directory.org.uk.