3 Grounding Techniques To Calm Your Anxiety, Fast

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Woman doing grounding techniques for anxiety
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The grounding techniques for anxiety allow you to deactivate the alarm in your body, so that you can feel calmer, emotionally and physically.

Anxiety is built into your system — you're hard-wired for it to naturally occur. Without the capacity to feel anxiety, you would not be here today.

You probably don't often if at all give thanks to your anxiety. Anxiety isn’t all bad. 

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There are helpful grounding strategies to help you when anxiety shows up.

Think about anxiety from a historical perspective. For our cavemen and cavewomen ancestors, feeling anxious about the saber-toothed tiger in the distance was useful. Anxiety cued them to escape danger.

Without anxiety, our ancestors might have approached the tiger and been mauled or stayed put thinking it was a cute overgrown kitty.

Without anxiety and the natural responses to it, our ancestors would have been the tiger’s meal for the day.

The capacity to feel anxious has survival advantages.

Otherwise, you would blindly confront danger, which could easily lead to injury or death. Your mere existence right now is proof that the system works!

Fast-forward to the 21st century. Most of us are familiar with anxiety, although rarely do we need to escape lions, tigers, or bears.

Instead, we feel anxious for other reasons. Some are "real" and others are cognitive distortions — tricks your mind plays on you to make you think something is true when it isn’t.

For example, you may be anxious about failing an exam. Even though there's no actual danger, your body still responds with anxiety.

Sensations in your body that accompany anxiety can be unpleasant.

Maybe your heart rate increases, you start sweating, breathe more quickly, feel light-headed, or are convinced you're going to die at any second.

The symptoms of anxiety can be especially miserable if they occur at an inconvenient time — like in the middle of a meeting, when giving a presentation, or when you're introduced to a blind date.

One way to calm down is to remind yourself that anxiety is your body’s way of signaling danger ahead.

Your body is trying to keep you safe — it's giving you data.

The anxiety is often a false alarm, because there's no actual danger. The data may be wrong. There's no predator about to attack.

Instead, what's causing anxiety is "what if" thoughts, also known in jargon talk as "catastrophizing." It's an irrational belief that doom and gloom are about to occur.

With this distortion is the certainty that an unfavorable outcome is likely and disaster will result.

Here are 3 common and helpful grounding techniques for calming your anxiety, fast.

1. Try the 3333 technique.

Tune into the here and now, in your current environment. Notice and state out loud three objects you see, three sounds you hear, three tactile sensations on your skin, and three scents you can smell in the moment.

In all four cases, you're focusing on the here and now in the setting you're in. It's impossible to use this technique and be simultaneously anxious about something.

For example, you may see a tree, a road, and a squirrel. You may hear the wind, chirping birds, and a person talking. You notice the soft feel of the fleece against your skin, the warm sun on your arm, and the quarter in your pocket.

Fragrant lilacs, just-brewed coffee, and freshly cut grass are the scents you notice. Breathe and take in all of these sensory pleasures!

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2. Use the tree metaphor.

Think of your favorite tree or create one in your mind. Consider the deep network of its roots under the surface. No wind or force is strong enough to uproot the tree.

Imagine yourself as the tree. Note the roots of the tree extending from the soles of your feet, strongly rooted to the center of the Earth.

You're tethered, calm, and breathing. Strong as a tree — solid, calm, and confident.

3. Try the S.T.O.P. practice.

If you like acronyms, this one is for you! The four steps of a S.T.O.P. practice take seconds to a minute.

  • Stop: Give yourself a moment to literally stop and collect yourself. Just stop whatever you're doing and pause.
  • Take a deep breath: Feel your belly expand as you inhale. Allow your belly to contract on your slow exhale. Be here now. Feel the place where your feet and ground connect — feel its support. You got this!
  • Observe: Notice your thoughts, feelings, sensations. Is your jaw tight? Are there butterflies in your stomach? Do your knees feel like they are going to buckle? Tune in to yourself, without any kind of judgment. You're just observing.
  • Proceed: This is the secret sauce. To do so, expand your awareness and take in the situation. Remind yourself that you can be in this circumstance without it controlling you. Notice the calming sensations you may start to feel. Allow those to help you open to the choices for what to do next.

You come up with the next steps from a place of wisdom and presence, rather than from a place of anxiety and panic.

Gently remind yourself that anxiety is normal, natural, and adaptive.

When you practice the 3333 technique, the tree metaphor, or S.T.O.P., you'll find yourself grounded. Find one technique you like most, or see which techniques are best for which situations.

By using these grounding techniques for anxiety, you access deeper safety resources inside of you.

Just as anxiety is hardwired, so are safety resources, like breathing, visual imagery, and self-observation.

RELATED: The One Mindfulness Technique That Eliminates Anxiety —​ Without Medication!

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Dr. Elayne Daniels is a renowned psychologist who works with men and women on body image and sexuality. To contact her or to learn more about the services she offers, contact her on her website or send her an email.