If you've ever spent hours worrying about what the future holds or dwelling on past mistakes, you know how deep and unsettling anxiety can be. When you're caught in the tight grip of anxiety, it can seem impossible to center yourself — but there are, in fact, ways to shift your focus back to the present and calm your mind. POPSUGAR spoke with mindfulness experts to find out how exactly you can ground yourself when you start to feel overwhelmed. The next time you're feeling uneasy, try one of the 25 grounding techniques listed here. But first, let's talk about why they're so helpful.
What Is Grounding, and Why Is It Beneficial?
Being grounded means being aware of the present moment. In mindfulness practice, grounding techniques are widely used to center yourself through stillness and staying present. When anxiety strikes, you may feel restless or overwhelmed, and focusing on anything else can be challenging. In order to ground yourself, you might take a few deep breaths, count to 10, or find a quiet place to collect yourself through meditation.
"Grounding is a way to turn one's attention away from thoughts and emotions that cause physiological arousal responses in response to stress. For example, when someone has experienced trauma, they can have flashbacks, anxiety, and other symptoms that may be difficult to endure," Anandhi Narasimhan, MD, a double board-certified adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist, told POPSUGAR. "Grounding is a way to reduce the physiological responses associated with those symptoms such as elevated heart rate, sweating, and a sense of impending doom."
Grounding is also a great stress reliever and has other health benefits as well. "Grounding can help reduce anxiety, depression, and even pain symptoms," Dr. Narasimhan explained. "The body's stress response is dialed down, and this can ultimately benefit not only your mental health, but also cardiovascular health by reducing blood pressure." When you make these rituals part of your routine, you can train yourself to stay centered in moments when you're experiencing anxiety and feel good knowing that it may benefit your health in the long run.
Grounding Techniques For Anxiety
Training yourself to stay grounded takes effort, but it isn't as intimidating as it sounds. "Grounding can be done at any time and any place, and I think that's what can make it so beneficial for those experiencing anxiety and also for folks who aren't," explained Dora Kamau, a registered psychiatric nurse, mindfulness teacher, and host of Sunday Scaries by Headspace. Even something as simple as taking a deep breath or connecting with your surroundings can help you feel more grounded, Kamau added. So the next time you start to feel yourself spiraling into a fit of anxiety, try to find the time and space to practice one of these grounding techniques. You may be surprised at just how quickly you begin to feel calmer.
1. Try the 5-4-3-2-1 technique.
"A classic grounding technique that's often used for anxiety is reconnecting to our five senses as a way to destimulate and recenter the mind and body," Kamau told POPSUGAR. The 5-4-3-2-1 technique is even recommended for those who experience panic attacks. To try it for yourself, "list five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste," Dr. Narasimhan said.
2. Take deep breaths.
Deep breathing is a staple in meditation, and focusing on those intentional breaths can be an effective way to bring yourself back to the present. "By breathing deeply into the stomach, you can stimulate the vagus nerve, which cues the 'rest and digest' part of the brain that calms the body and mind," Kamau explained. "It's as simple as bringing your attention to the breath and breathing deeply into the abdomen."
3. Practice the bee breath technique.
Take your deep, mindful breathing to another level. "Bee breath or 'humming breath' is a breathing technique that helps to soothe and calm the body. You breathe in through the nose and exhale making a buzzing or humming sound," Kamau said. This sensation can help redirect your attention to your body and away from whatever's causing you anxiety.
4. Make meditation a regular part of your routine.
Practicing meditation as part of your morning or nightly routine can help you feel more prepared to use it in a stressful situation. Dr. Narasimhan suggests practicing mindfulness meditation, where you focus on one thing (such as your breath or a mantra), and try to gently push other thoughts out of your mind.
5. Get outside.
Getting some fresh air and sun really can have an impact. "Physically putting ourselves in a different space helps to also put ourselves in a different mental and emotional space," explained William Chum, LMHC, a licensed psychotherapist.
6. Relax your muscles.
If you've ever owned a stress ball or found comfort in keeping your hands busy, you may want to give this technique a try the next time you start to feel anxious. "Progressive muscle relaxation helps to ease the body when it's tense or rigid," Kamau told POPSUGAR. Try this: "Squeeze the hands and gently release them," she said. "Squeezing the hands is one way to try this technique, but you can do this throughout the entire body."
7. Take a moment to stretch.
Being aware of your body is key to remaining mindful and present. "Mindfully stretching the body to let go of any tension or tightness can invite more presence into the areas of the body that hold anxiety," Kamau said.
8. Practice visualization.
If you're struggling to stay focused on the present, try using your imagination to transport yourself somewhere else. "Practice visualizing yourself in a calming place, such as near the ocean or elsewhere that you find relaxing," Dr. Narasimhan said. It's a good way to redirect your focus.
9. Cuddle a pet.
"If you have a furry friend, connecting with them helps to create a sense of connection and comfort, which is helpful for bringing the mind and body to a calm, centered place," Kamau explained. "If you don't have a pet, you can opt for a fuzzy or soft blanket, which is quite soothing as well!"
10. Take a cold shower.
"It sounds counterintuitive, but taking ice-cold showers or even splashing the face with cold water can definitely help to redirect our thoughts, and it can also boost our moods," Kamau said. In fact, research suggests that being immersed in cold water may lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
11. Speak to a trusted friend or family member.
Being vulnerable may feel scary, but voicing what's on your mind can be cathartic. "People are the best emotional equalizers," Chum told POPSUGAR. "Talking to a trusted friend or family member that we feel safe with helps us to reconnect with our reality."
12. Listen to your all-time favorite music.
When you can't drown out your thoughts, it could help to change the tone in the room by listening to artists who comfort you. "Playing your favorite songs can help with shifting the mind away from any ruminating thought patterns and even evoke uplifting feelings in the body," Kamau said.
13. Break out your craft box.
Picking up a creative project like drawing or painting can help bring you back to the present. "You don't have to be Picasso, but a favorite art practice of mine is taking a pen and paper and, as you breathe in and out, tracing the breath on the paper," Kamau said. "Try drawing mountains or waves and using different colors!"
14. Throw a solo dance party.
"Dancing to your favorite music helps to shake and release tension in the body and ease your mood," Kamau said. "Notice the different movements of the body parts, and take your time exploring different bends and shapes."
15. Practice gratitude.
"Gratitude can help us shift our mind from focusing on what we don't have to what we do have, and this is another soothing way to ground," Kamau explained. She suggests writing down some things you're grateful for. (You might even consider keeping a regular gratitude journal.)
16. Do something mechanical.
If you're struggling to stay present, it might do you good to engage in a chore, such as washing dishes, Dr. Narasimhan explained. Doing anything mechanical can help you feel more grounded.
17. Do a body scan.
In meditation, one powerful way to stay focused is to do a body scan, which helps make you more aware of how you're feeling physically. "By mindfully bringing attention to different areas of the body, you can strengthen your mind-body connection," Kamau said. "As you scan the body from head to toe, just notice the different sensations in and throughout the body as if you're exploring something you've never seen before."
18. Hold onto something.
Directing your awareness to an object, especially one that has a special meaning to you, can help get your mind and heart in the right place. "Holding something like a rock, crystal, or sentimental item and focusing on it is a great way to ground yourself," Dr. Narasimhan said.
19. Try this raisin (or candy) exercise.
This is a common practice in meditation. "Holding a raisin, or candy, in your hand, put all your focus on all the details of the raisin, paying attention to the texture, color, shape, etc.," Chum said, adding that this will redirect your focus from any unwanted thoughts to what's right in front of you.
20. Unwind with a bath.
Taking a relaxing bath can help quiet those racing thoughts. "Having a warm bath helps to soothe the body and mind. I love adding eucalyptus or lavender to my baths to help with calming the nervous system," Kamau explained.
21. Play the name game.
When you're feeling overwhelmed, try this simple activity to train your mind on something else. "Naming things in a category — colors, fruits, animals — helps to redirect the thoughts," Chum said.
22. Lie down for a few minutes.
A great way to stay grounded is to become one with it. "Laying down on the bed or the floor and relaxing every muscle, as if to feel like you are sinking, is a way of physically grounding the emotions in the body," Chum explained.
23. Recite a mantra.
"Finding a mantra that one believes in and brings comfort is helpful to ground any unwelcome thoughts," Chum told POPSUGAR. Try listing some self-affirmations you can repeat to yourself anytime you start to feel anxiety creep in.
24. Count down.
"Counting backwards from 100 can help ground you. It's something that uses a lot of brainpower, and paying attention helps redirect the focus from the emotional thoughts," Chum said.
25. Take a mindful walk.
"You can do this indoors or outdoors! As you walk, notice the movement of the body, pay attention to your surroundings, or even try syncing the breath with each footstep," Kamau said. "This helps to focus our attention away from any racing or ruminating thoughts."