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Today I will be sharing three amazing grounding techniques for calming anxiety, stress, panic and other negative emotions.
Grounding techniques are a way to stabilise strong emotions during stress, anxiety or trauma.
Grounding is achieved by redirecting your attention away from what is causing your stress back to something more pleasurable and relaxing.
There are infinite ways to practice grounding, but the general idea is to connect with the present moment by settling into your body through the five senses.
Throw yourself into one of these grounding exercises to manage stress and improve focus.
When your mind wanders back to worries or things that are outside of your control, gently ground yourself back in the present moment – even if you have to bring your attention back over and over again.
With high stress, try one exercise after another until you find the one or a combination that makes you feel calm, safe, and relaxed.
Disclaimer: I am not in any way a certified therapist, therefore all the advice given is from my own experience and should not be taken as medical advice.
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What is grounding?
Grounding as a coping skill has been around for some time. The purpose of grounding is to divert focus from something distressing to something more pleasant by being mindful.
By shifting focus to something in the environment, we can better control what we experience. To do so, we concentrate on using the information our five senses provide.
For example, if I were anxious over something, and could not stop thinking about it, I would look around and focus on something I see, to begin distracting myself from my anxiety.
After performing a grounding exercise, you will be able to shift your focus away from your anxiety by becoming more aware of what is around you.
Grounding is a series of exercises designed to use all your senses. For each sense, you note what your senses are telling you. To begin, we will focus on sight.
Health benefits of grounding
Though grounding techniques for anxiety is an under-researched topic, there are emerging results that show positive effect. Some of these health benefits include reduction of pain, depression, stress, and fatigue.
In my experiences with grounding, I’ve also found some added benefits. For example, when I’m stressed while working, it’s not uncommon for me to utilise various grounding techniques to enhance my concentration.
How can grounding reduce anxiety at home?
Grounding is simple and free strategy to reduce anxiety that you can use anywhere.
Grounding distracts you from your worry and anxiety. It uses mindfulness principles to refocus your attention on concrete, observable things in the present.
As the name says, it grounds you in reality so that your mind isn’t stuck in the past or future.
There are very few “rules” to grounding. You can change the questions as they suit you and your environment. The key is to just get you to tune into observing and using your senses.
Now let’s look at our top three favourite grounding techniques.
3 Amazing Grounding Techniques – For Anxiety, Stress, Panic!
4 7 8 Breathing Method
4-7-8 Breathing Benefits
Dr. Weil calls this breath a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system” and clarifies that it “gains in power with repetition and practice.”
Although there isn’t a large amount of clinical research on this specific technique, there is a large amount of anecdotal evidence from those who use this technique regularly (including myself.)
According to Medical News Today, who conducted a review on the 2011 Health Science Journal article, revealed some potential benefits of deep breathing – especially if that is deep breathing from the diaphragm.
Some of those benefits include:
- Decreased fatigue
- Reduced anxiety
- Better stress management
- Reduced hypertension
- Improved migraine symptoms
- Helps induce sleep
A systematic review was conducted of 15 articles pulled from 2461 abstracts on the psychological and physiological changes of the brain-body interaction of the voluntary slowing of breath frequency in relaxing practices.
These slow breathing techniques alter the body’s heart rate, central nervous system activity, and brain waves.
The review results state: “Psychological/behavioural outputs related to the abovementioned [biological] changes are increased comfort, relaxation, pleasantness, vigour and alertness, and reduced symptoms of arousal, anxiety, depression, anger, and confusion”
The same review concluded that slowed breathing techniques are linked to emotional control and psychological well-being in healthy patients.
If one of your main goals of this breathing technique is to reduce anxiety, this article has a few other techniques that are helpful.
If your main goal of this breathing technique is to induce sleep, this article on valerian root is also a good resource.
The origin of the method
Dr. Andrew Weil, the founder of the University of Arizona Centre for Integrative Medicine, is a celebrity doctor who brought these fascinating ancient Indian breathing techniques closer to the Western population.
According to his own words, he was surprised by how little research there was on ancient Indian yogic techniques considering how beneficial they are.
There is a very limited amount of written evidence because in India these techniques are passed on from generation to generation by oral tradition.
This ancient practice called pranayama in Sanskrit is about manipulating rhythmic breathing for its various health benefits as well as relaxation of the body and mind.
The three phases we already mentioned are crucial for pranayama – inhalation, retention, and exhalation.
There are many methods for slowing down breathing, 4-7-8 breathing being one of the most popular.
These breathing exercises help reduce stress, improve attention, and boost cognition.
They also increase speed in activities which include simultaneous physical and visual action.
How to Perform the 4-7-8 Breathing method
The 4-7-8 breath originated from a pranayama, or yoga, breath. Dr. Weil further evolved this breathing technique to relax the mind and body.
This breathing technique is effortless to practice, involves nothing but your body, and is finished faster than it began.
- Sit or lay down.
- Place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth right behind your teeth.
- Push all the existing air out of your lungs before beginning.
The 4-7-8 breathing method:
- Breath quietly in through your nose for a count of 4
- Hold your breath for a count of 7
- Breath out of your mouth for a count of 8 while making a ‘whooshing‘ sound
- Repeat for 4 breath cycles
- Open your eyes and wallow in the bliss
Dr. Weil suggests practicing at least 2 times a day.
For me, practicing once when I wake up and once before bed is a simple way to keep track of the practice. If you have been practicing for a month or longer, you can repeat for 8 breath cycles, but no more.
The ratio of the 4-7-8 is more important than how long you are performing one breath cycle – keeping a steady rhythm, regardless of speed, is crucial.
The more you practice this technique, the slower you will be able to practice.
Using the 4-7-8 Breath in real life situations
Dr. Weil suggests practicing this technique for 4-6 weeks before attempting to use it for relief in a specific situation.
After practicing this technique for some time, I personally found value when amidst an anxiety attack.
I was overwhelmed with everything that was going on in my life. My heart was pounding and my mind was racing.
But something magical happened that day.
For the first time ever, I successfully used a breathing technique, the 4-7-8 breath, to stop a full-blown anxiety attack.
How did I remember to use it? Well, I had been practicing it regular, so when it was game-time, my muscle memory jumped right to it.
Typically, in times like these, I would try to ‘think’ my way out of overthinking. Counterproductive, I know.
This time was different – this time I had a tool my anxiety attack had never seen before.
I sat on a chair, closed my eyes, and performed the four rounds of 4-7-8 breathing cycles. I paid close attention to the breath and close attention to my counting.
When I opened my eyes, I realised my brain had quieted down a little. I felt better and calmer.
Of course, I still felt some anxiety, shame, and guilt but it was all much more manageable.
Plus, I had dodged a full-blown anxiety attack for one of the first times in my life.
Some other real-life scenarios you can consider using the 4-7-8 breath:
- feeling anxiety during social engagements
- experiencing overwhelm at work
- navigating intense shame or guilt after an argument
- working through a busy and stressful schedule
- having trouble calming down to fall asleep
The 4-7-8 breath is uncomplicated and takes no more than a minute to complete.
It is a technique that has added extreme benefit to my life and the lives of many others that practice this technique both daily and in times of need.
Maybe, just maybe, this breathing technique will be the one that changes your mind and reveals to you the real power behind the phrase – just breath.
Box Breathing Exercise – For Stress & Anxiety Relief!
Box breathing is also known as box breathing or 4×4 breathing (or even four-square breathing!).
Did I mention that the box breathing technique is really simple? Here’s all you need to know about the technique itself.
- Step 1: Inhale your breath (to a count of 4)
- Step 2: Hold your breath (to a count of 4)
- Step 3: Exhale your breath (to a count of 4)
- Step 4: Hold your breath (to a count of 4)
- Step 5: Repeat
This is what it looks like:
The benefits of Box breathing
Box breathing is a powerful tool for reducing stress, and it has an immediate impact. Square breathing is used by the US Navy Seals and in professions such as law enforcement and medical care, where managing high stress situations is a critical part of the role.
Here are some of the benefits identified by the Mayo Clinic:
- Eases anxiety, depression, and other stress related issues
- Increases alertness
- Allows your body to release toxins more readily
The Mayo Clinic also identifies a neurological foundation to the benefits of square breathing:
Many studies have found that deep, yogic breathing helps balance the autonomic nervous system, which regulates involuntary bodily functions, such as temperature control and bladder function. This may help ease symptoms of stress-related disorders and mental health conditions such as anxiety, general stress, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
All very profound!
Below are the benefits of box breathing as I experience them:
Reduces stress instantly
I think of the box breathing technique as ‘the body regaining control over the mind’. The deep breathing triggers a relaxation response which regains control over the body’s fight or flight response to short-term stress.
When I’m feeling stressed at work a few minutes of box breathing really helps. And it’s so practical because I can do it at my desk (I don’t need a darkened room, and I don’t have to close my eyes to feel the benefits).
Increases focus and control
If I’m feeling nervous or becoming frustrated with a certain situation, box breathing can help.
With the reduced stress comes an increased focus and control which enhances my performance with my work.
A useful weight-control ally
This may seem like a strange benefit! Here’s how square breathing helps me manage my weight.
Towards the end of the afternoon I often get hungry and low on energy. My previous habit was to walk over to the cupboard for some biscuits or a chocolate bar.
Now, when I get that little bit hungry / low energy feeling towards the end of the afternoon I do 5 minutes of square breathing.
It’s enough to refocus me and recharge me to get through until my next meal.
A quick and effective break from work
Ideally, we take regular breaks through-out the day, to recharge and refocus. But sometimes that’s just not possible. There’s just too much on.
When that’s the case, try just 3 minutes of square breathing, it really helps.
How to get started with box breathing
Try it out using the gif provided above. It’s really simple, but a little practice will give you the confidence to use it when you need it.
Sit comfortably in your chair, relax your shoulders, have your hands comfortable (perhaps resting in your lap).
Practice: inhale, hold, exhale, hold, repeat.
When you first practice, don’t worry about how long you are practicing, just focus on the rhythm (even just for 3 or 4 cycles is fine).
Here are some additional tips:
- Don’t strain your diaphragm by over-inhaling or over-exhaling, experiment with the level of inhale and exhale that is comfortable for you.
- If at any time you feel a little dizzy, just stop, rest in your seat a minute and come back to the practice later.
- As you become more practiced, you might want to set a timer on your phone and explore longer sessions of square breathing (though I’ve never felt the need to go beyond 5 minutes).
- You can also explore the durations of the inhale, the holds and exhale. You can explore a ‘bigger box’ (eg: a 5 x 5 square breathing practice), or you can keep the holds to a count of 4 and extend the exhale and inhale (creating an oblong breathing practice!).
This is a simple technique that can be extended as you become more confident.
5 4 3 2 1 Grounding Exercise
One of the most studied and preferred methods of distraction is known as the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique.
This method is simple and effective for helping you to regain control of your mind by grounding you into the present moment.
It works by incorporating all five of your senses to keep you in your present surroundings, which is incredibly effective for fighting anxiety.
The best part? It only takes one minute of your time!
Here’s how it works:
Before you begin the 54321 grounding exercise, you need to take deep, slow, and long breaths as your first priority.
This will achieve a calm state of mind before proceeding to the following steps:
Acknowledge five things that you can see around you.
Options can range from a pen or stapler at your office, to a bird or tree while you’re out at the local park.
If you’re at home, you can look at a family photo on the wall or a glass of water on the kitchen counter. You can pick between big and small items to keep your options open.
Acknowledge four things that you can touch around you. You can start with your hair, hands, elbows, and other parts of your body if you’re short on time.
The ground beneath your feet, whether it’s the floor of your bedroom or the office at work, also helps. Pillows, desks, phones, and keyboards can fit this step.
Acknowledge three things you can hear around you. Instead of listening to your own thoughts or sounds from your body like your stomach growling, focus on external noises.
Examples include someone driving a car nearby, a clock ticking, or a dog barking. If you’re at work, you can listen to typing and the steps of people walking by your desk.
Acknowledge two things around you that you can smell.
This step may be a challenge compared to the others, so it’s best to go to a place with more sources of scent if you don’t smell anything wherever you are at the moment.
The outdoors has plenty of options for smells, and the soap in bathrooms also helps. Your furniture can provide pleasant smells for this step when you’re home.
Acknowledge one thing around you that you can taste. It doesn’t necessarily have to be food, as toothpaste and minty floss you use in the morning or at night are easy sources.
You can also go with the oatmeal you have for breakfast, the sandwich and crisps you have for lunch, or the pasta you have for dinner.
Coffee, tea, and other drinks you have to get through the day also work.
End this exercise with a long, deep breath.
3 Amazing Grounding Techniques – Final thoughts
These 10 practices are each quite simple, and easy to apply. It can be helpful to write them down or put them in your phone, so that when anxiety arises, you’ll have them at the ready.
It’s also helpful to work with them one at a time, using the same one several times to get somewhat familiar with it, before trying the next one.
Then once you are confident with all three, you’ll know which one to try in a given situation.
Have you ever heard of grounding techniques before? Also, what helps you stay calm during stressful moments?
I would love to hear your thoughts on what you are doing to change your life in the coming days and years!
If you have any questions please reach out to me via email@example.com. I would love to hear from you!
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