April is Stress Awareness Month, and it seems like it couldn't have come at a better time. There are many stressors and anxiety triggers taking place all around us, from current events around the world to the ongoing impact of the last two years. And that's not even counting the normal challenges, life transitions, and difficult situations we face on a regular basis. If you're feeling overwhelmed by stress and anxiety, you're not alone.
Depression and anxiety rates have increased around the world since 2020. The Anxiety & Depression Association of America estimates that 40 million adults in America experience anxiety disorders. While that number can seem a little overwhelming, the good news is that anxiety disorders are highly treatable. There are many different treatment options that exist, including therapy, medication, and coping strategies to help you manage your symptoms.
One of the strategies that many people find to be helpful when it comes to managing anxiety is grounding.
What is grounding?
Grounding is a term used to describe specific self-soothing skills you can use when feeling stressed and anxious. These grounding techniques work to keep you present in the moment while also distracting you from negative or anxious thoughts. These techniques can be helpful if you are experiencing flashbacks to trauma in your life, having unwanted thoughts and memories, or struggling with your emotions.
Grounding helps you create space from your stressor or trigger so you can refocus on the present.
Grounding techniques you can use today
There are many different grounding techniques that you can try. Here is a sample of grounding exercises that some people find helpful. If you are feeling anxious, choose a couple to try and explore which ones help you the most. These are great tools to have in your back pocket to pull out when you can feel your anxiety levels rising.
There are many different types of deep breathing exercises that can help with grounding. For example, you can focus on taking ten slow breaths, or you can focus on thinking "in" when you inhale and "out" when you exhale. You can also try box breathing, where you use a 4-count to inhale, hold your breath, exhale, and pause before inhaling again.
Pick a scent to focus on
Choose something that you enjoy the smell of, and slowly and deeply inhale the scent. Focus your attention on what it smells like. Is it spicy or sweet? Does it smell fresh? What words would you use to describe it?
You can also put this grounding technique into play if you are eating or drinking something. Focus on the smell of it before you taste it, and then connect the smell with the taste once it's in your mouth.
Stomp your foot
Pay attention to the sound that your foot makes when it connects with the ground. Be mindful of the way it feels on your foot and any sensations that it causes in your leg. You can also take a walk, being mindful to notice the way each step feels and sounds as you go.
Put your five senses to work
Try to notice five different things you can see, feel, hear, taste, and smell. Pay attention to the specific details of each one. Or, you can work on quickly trying to identify five of each thing. Shifting your focus to engaging multiple senses can help distract and refocus your brain.
Sit quietly, close your eyes (if you can), and simply listen to what is happening around you. What sounds can you hear in the distance? As you sit and intentionally listen, you will likely begin to hear small sounds you have been missing, like birds outside the window, traffic passing on the street, or wind through the trees. Use the sounds to help you be present in the moment.
List items with a theme
If you are having a hard time getting your mind off of an unwanted memory or thought, use this grounding technique to distract yourself. Pick a theme such as "funny movies" or "kinds of fruit," and try to name as many as you can come up with in a minute. If you make it through, you can always extend the time or choose another topic to focus on.
Do mental math
You can use numbers to distract and refocus your brain as well. Run through the multiplication facts. Pick a number to skip count by as high as you can go. Try counting backward by seven, starting from 100. The more you have to think and focus, the more helpful it is.
Focus on the details around you
Take time to simply look around the room and see what you notice. What are the sights, sounds, and smells around you? How does the chair that you are sitting on feel? What shape are the clouds? See how many things you can notice about the space where you are.
Pick a color
If simply looking around the room to see what you notice isn't working for you, you can also try looking for items of a specific color. For example, look around the room to count how many yellow or purple items you notice.
What if my anxiety is overwhelming
If you are struggling with or overwhelmed by anxiety, don't hesitate to reach out for help. You may be experiencing symptoms of a mental health disorder where you would benefit from working with an experienced and licensed mental health professional. Even if you don't have a diagnosable disorder, a therapist can help you learn additional coping strategies you can use to manage and overcome anxiety.
Our team of mental health providers are ready to help and support you on the path to finding your center again and creating balance in your life. Schedule an appointment today to be matched with a therapist that is right for you.