Anxiety can be both mentally and physically debilitating, and staying grounded during anxiety attacks is difficult. With practice and support, however, it is possible to do so, and there are several techniques that can help you feel stable and safe. Try each of the following exercises in turn to see which ones work best for you. Learning and practicing them while you are feeling calm will help you to remember and use them during periods of anxiety.
Simply count to 20, and then back down to one. Doing this several times can occupy the brain enough to distract you from whatever is causing your anxiety. If this proves ineffective, try counting in a way that is more challenging, such as in multiples of three or using only prime numbers, to keep the brain engaged.
Extend this exercise by noticing five things that you can see, four things you can hear, three you can touch, and two you can smell, and then take one long deep breath. Repeat this several times. This is a popular grounding exercise that helps you to be aware of your surroundings and focus on the present.
Carry a small object, such as a piece of jewelry or a handkerchief, that has a significant meaning to you. When you start to feel anxious, take the object out and hold it, touch it to your cheek, look at it, or pay attention to it in whatever way you find helpful.
Grounding objects can also be improvised. For example, pick up a small stone (remembering to practice when you are calm) and hold it in your hand. Choose some positive affirmations that inspire you or comfort you, and say them aloud while looking at the object. Try to do this every day, perhaps first thing in the morning. You will start to associate the object with the sensation of being grounded and positive. Carry the object around with you and touch it or look at it whenever you start to feel anxious.
A quick way to ground yourself when you feel anxious is to experience a short, intense sensation. Some people pinch themselves or snap an elastic band against their wrist. The sensation might also be pleasant, such as taking small bites of rich dark chocolate or sipping a strong cup of coffee.
It is worth brainstorming the sensations that you find intense in everyday life, and also which sensations you can access in different situations. For example, it might not be possible to eat a piece of chocolate if you're in a meeting at work and can't excuse yourself, but pinching your leg under the table would be subtle enough to go unnoticed.
Describe the Physical Sensations
Anxiety attacks usually trigger a variety of physical symptoms, including shortness of breath or hyperventilation, increased heart rate or heart palpitations, sweating, trembling, nausea, and dry mouth.
If you are experiencing the physical effects of anxiety, talk yourself through the actual symptoms, reminding yourself that each one is a short-term symptom of anxiety caused by a surge of adrenaline.
Work through the body, starting with the top of the head and moving to the face, neck, shoulders, and throat, and down to the feet and toes, while stating aloud the physical symptoms that are affecting each particular body part. When you reach the toes, work your way back up, and then down again. The physical symptoms should begin to lessen and gradually fade away as you repeat this exercise.
Visualizations and Rooting
Some people find visualizing a peaceful scene helpful when experiencing anxiety. Visualizations are not limited to beaches and palm trees. The next time you feel uneasy, imagine that an invisible egg surrounds you. You determine the boundaries of the egg, and can give yourself as much or as little space as you need. The eggshell can be made from anything at all -- gold, titanium, a force field -- anything that helps you to feel safe within the space you are visualizing. You can be invisible inside the egg or let others see you, whichever you find more comforting; most importantly, you choose how long you stay inside the egg and when you want to leave.
Rooting is another form of visualization that helps people to feel grounded. Place your feet firmly on the ground and take some deep breaths. As you breathe in, imagine that you are a tree growing up and out; as you breathe out, imagine your feet have roots extending into the ground. Inhale and exhale 20 times, growing taller and deeper with each breath. Afterwards, hold the image in your head and breathe comfortably.
If possible, speak out loud. If you are alone, try telling yourself a story as though you were sharing your day with a friend, or calling out everything you can see, or reciting every U.S. president you can remember. Hearing your voice will help you stay grounded in your body and keep your breathing under control.
Certain techniques may help you in some instances but not in others. Try keeping a record of what you've tried, what helped, and what didn't. Collate this information onto an index card and carry it around with you so that you have easy access to your grounding techniques when gripped by anxiety.