According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly one-third of Americans currently experience anxiety. The COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest are significant contributors to the rise in anxiety levels. Someone who already has anxiety can easily become more hyper-focused and endlessly ruminate on negative and stressful thinking where doom and gloom and what-if scenarios consume extraordinary energy and precipitate a downward trend. This should be addressed. Fortunately, there are numerous grounding techniques, particularly anxiety grounding techniques, that are easy to do and effective at relieving anxiety.
Understanding What Rumination Is
Focusing on a particular thought and dwelling on it for long periods of time is ruminating. It is literally a case of never finding resolution, as the person goes over and over the situation, replaying it from every conceivable angle, becoming more and more agitated and anxious in the process. Rumination is negative thinking about the past, present, and/or future that causes emotional distress. This is also commonly called “getting stuck in the head” or “stinking thinking.” Anxious rumination, a key symptom of anxiety, can lead to physical symptoms as well.
Understanding What a Grounding Technique Is
Grounding techniques are a way to help control symptoms of anxiety by consciously turning away from uncomfortable feelings, worries, and thoughts and deliberately refocusing on this moment in the present.
10 Grounding Techniques
While the potential list of grounding techniques is vast and varied, the following 10 anxiety grounding techniques are worth a look in self-help anxiety coping skills repertoire. Some may also be part of anxiety treatment.
1. Deep Breathing
Breathing exercises, such as deep breathing, help calm and center the body, eliminating anxious ruminating, and helping to stop anxiety. Among anxiety grounding techniques, deep breathing helps restore calmness and more regular breaths. The process is simple:
- Sit in a chair, feet firmly on the ground or floor.
- Resting hands in the lap, relax arms and shoulders.
- Inhale through the nose slowly, while imagining the earth’s energy being pulled up the spine.
- Exhale through the mouth, slowly.
- Repeat the deep breathing exercise until a sense of calm, relaxation, and centeredness return.
2. 5-4-3-2-1 Technique
Anxiety can suddenly creep up, becoming noticeable in uneasiness, tightness in the breath, with shoulders tensing, achy and nervous. As the stomach becomes more upset, thoughts start racing, tumbling over each other in an out-of-control spiral. The 5-4-3-2-1 method is another effective anxiety grounding technique that helps to anchor the individual, gradually pulling them back to earth. After starting with a few deep breaths, focus on the following, in sequence:
- Focus on five visible objects. This means paying attention to intricate details, really seeing, and simultaneously acknowledging, for example, the veins on leaves of a houseplant, how the cat’s fur shimmers in the sun, the smiling faces of the family in photos carefully placed.
- Become aware of, maybe touch, four nearby objects. Search for things that have tactile impressions, like the silky smoothness of a kitten’s fur, the roughness of a throw pillow, the heat of a coffee cup.
- Identify three things that you hear. A siren from a passing emergency vehicle, freeway traffic sounds coming in through the open window, the ticking of a clock. Sit without judgment. Just acknowledge the sounds and even the silence between the sounds.
- Smell two things. Perhaps it’s the aroma of the pot of stew on the stove or something baking in the oven. Sniff the fragrance of flowers, perfume, or lotion-scented skin.
- Think about one thing to taste. How flavorful is that latte on the desk? What about the tangy zest of dressing on a salad?
The 5-4-3-2-1 method helps bring the individual back to the present, grounding anxiety’s energy and calming it down. Whereas anxiety and anxious ruminating causes the mind to dissociate from the body, anxiety techniques like the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise help to root the body and reconnect the senses.
3. Backward Counting and Other Mental Exercises
Among the mental exercises that are effective anxiety techniques, backward counting can be done anywhere, anytime. Start at 100 and choose a number to count back by, such as 7 or 9. This challenges the mind to focus on the task at hand, completely quashing those anxious ruminating thoughts.
Other mental exercises that work as grounding techniques include: naming items in categories, reading backward going letter by letter, speaking aloud the step-by-step process of how to do something in detail, drawing an object in the mind from memory, and others.
4. Manage Anxious Emotions with Mindfulness
Using the powerful tools of mindfulness is one of the most effective anxiety grounding techniques. Indeed, there are many ways to mindfully manage anxious emotions through mindfulness. The benefits of mindfulness to manage emotions include connecting to the present, regulating the emotional response to stress, retraining the brain, heightening awareness, promoting relaxation, and shifting self-perception. Examples of mindfulness to manage anxious emotions include meditation to enhance emotional awareness, self-awareness body scan, self-guided meditation to sense and rate anxiety in the body, letting go of judgment through guided meditation, detaching from over-thinking through guided meditation, and more.
5. Plan an Activity to Do—Alone or with Others
What better way to disengage from nagging, endless anxious ruminating than spending some time planning an activity to do. Whether it’s a solo trip up the coast or out of state or a vacation with loved ones and family members, engaging in activity planning focuses the mind on a positive endeavor, one to eagerly anticipate, which makes the planning all the more pleasurable.
6. Challenge the Mind with a Memory Game or Category Thinking
Research published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, looking at the effect of isolation and loneliness on psychiatric symptoms in older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic, found that older adults were more susceptible to anxiety, depressive, and peritraumatic distress symptoms. Researchers suggested that solving puzzles (along with reading, listening to music, cooking, baking, and regular conversations with family members and others) can help mitigate some of the psychiatric symptoms exacerbated by loneliness and isolation. Other research points to mind-challenging activities, including memory games and category thinking as effective grounding techniques to stop anxiety and aid in calming anxiety.
7. Go for a Walk in the Woods—Paying Close Attention to Surroundings
Getting out in nature and purposefully taking a walk in the woods, all the while paying close attention to the sights, smells, and sounds of the surroundings is another powerful grounding technique. For literal grounding to the earth, remove shoes and socks and squiggle toes in the grass, soil, sand, pebbles, or other ground surface materials encountered during the walk. Research published in the journal Integrative Medicine found that earth grounding a potential realistic therapy for those suffering anxiety, fear, emotional distress, and panic, with results for many appearing within 30-40 minutes.
8. Envision an Enjoyable Activity or Task
Envisioning is a grounding technique that is best utilized in a quiet and distraction-free environment, although it is possible to briefly envision some enjoyable activity or task while in the midst of commotion. The key is to close the eyes and see the activity in the mind. Maybe it’s surfing or downhill skiing or another favorite recreational sport or activity. It could be a watercolor or oil painting you can’t wait to do. This technique both diverts the mind away from intrusive and ruminating anxiety and restoring earth connectedness and rooting in the ground.
9. Sit in Quiet with a Beloved Pet
Carving out time for sitting comfortably in quiet and enjoying the presence and company of a beloved pet is a perfect grounding technique for calming anxiety. It’s also a great way to end or begin the day and drive away anxious ruminating. The animal’s presence serves as a reassurance of love and promotes a feeling of wellbeing, stimulating joy, memories, and the sight, sound, smell, and touch of the home companion.
10. Practice Tai Chi
A study published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing found that among those with cardiovascular disease (CVD), practicing Tai Chi as a CVD intervention produced significant improvement in depression, psychological distress, and anxiety. Researchers said that the positive results from tai chi seem to be the “synergy between postures and breathing,” and good body posture has been shown to enhance mood. They further noted that “holding your breath can cause stress and anxiety,” which tai chi helps to reduce.
The Importance of Practicing These Techniques
Being ready to deploy these techniques is important, so practicing them before the need becomes critical is a necessary step in preparedness. When there are tried and proven anxiety coping techniques at hand, ones that have been practiced and feel comfortable, this knowledge adds confidence and reassurance that getting beyond anxious ruminating and managing intrusive thoughts can be effectively tackled.