4 Grounding Techniques for Reducing Anxiety
Anxiety is a very normal part of being human. What is not normal is when it gets you stuck in a pattern that is dysfunctional and keeps you from doing important things. When has your fear or anxiety held you back? I know it’s frustrating and you need help when it comes to getting unstuck and getting your life back on track. Would you like some tips on how to deal with your anxiety?
Why not try some grounding techniques that help reduce overwhelming feelings and thoughts? Grounding is a great way to deal with those types of thoughts and fears. To use grounding you need to practice. There are different methods you can use, but we want to teach you 4 to start with.
Grounding techniques can orient you and help “ground” you in the present moment. They allow you to become aware of the physical space surrounding you. Our goal is to help you connect with your body and the physical world. Grounding can also help you to understand your surroundings, connecting you with the physical world in the present moment.
These tools can help reduce anxiety by anchoring you to what is happening with your body in the moment of the struggle you are facing. We want you to learn 4 grounding techniques that can help you overcome intense overwhelming emotions or thoughts that stop you from succeeding. We will explore the following grounding techniques for anxiety: practicing body awareness, counting and breathing exercises, mental exercises, and listening to music.
Practicing Body Awareness to Decrease Anxiety
Therapist Aid tells us that using body awareness can help you to become present in the moment, and even connected with your physical body. The goal is to help you focus on the “here and now.” One useful tool in this category of grounding is what is called “body scanning,” which is a useful mindfulness strategy. It helps you become more aware of what’s going on in your body physically as you check in with and focus on each part of your body.
To start, find a chair or surface to sit on. Then, make sure your feet are flat on the floor. Face your shoulders forward. Now, press both feet into the floor. As you do, notice the sensation and what you feel in your feet. Do you feel different pressures in your feet? Pay attention to any sensation that arises. Do you feel pain, tension, or a specific pressure in your heel, toes, or balls of your feet? Make a mental note of what you experience. This first part is to help you start to pay attention to certain parts of your body.
Next, move to the next part of your body and do the same things. A good practice is to close your eyes and imagine that a scanner or copier is going up your body, pausing at your feet, then legs, then torso, and on up to the top of your head. At each stop, notice any tension or sensations you may have. Note your feet, then next notice your legs. Repeat this until you have gone all the way up your body, finishing with your head. If you have more time, repeat this process by going back down, starting with the head and going to the feet.
Noticing your body through stretching
Another form of practicing body awareness can be done while stretching. When using this technique, start by breathing in and out; try to breathe in through your nose, and exhale through your mouth. Next, place your feet flat on the floor, pushing them into the ground, as we did in the last exercise. Move your toes, wiggling them, and then curl and uncurl your toes a few times.
How does this feel? Is there any tension that you notice in your body that is being released? As with the body scan, work your way up your body, moving your fingers and arms next. Try doing stretches, reaching your arms up to the sky, and holding for a few seconds. Continue to stretch different parts of your body and work on becoming more aware of any sensations that you notice.
Doing these exercises helps you focus on your body and the sensations you feel physically. It is a great way to take your focus off of the thoughts and feelings that are bothering you and activating a different part of your brain. Your focus leaves the focus on the future fear and centers on the here and now. It also allows you to gain control over something that you did not realize you had control over. Let’s move to the next exercise to see how it can help similarly.
Counting, Breathing, and Practice Awareness to Slow Anxiety
Counting can be a useful technique that can also anchor you to the present. When consulting with a colleague, Tucker Braddy, LPC, he provided a list of specific grounding techniques for this category that he uses regularly. He suggested the following techniques: breath counting, counting to ten, and focused awareness of aspects of your surroundings. Let’s start with understanding breath counting.
This technique is similar to taking regular deep breaths, except for this one, you count your breaths. You can complete this exercise while sitting or standing. Just get comfortable. Start by closing your eyes tightly. Take deep breaths. Count every breath in, starting with breath one. End with breath four. After completing your fourth breath in, start over at one. Repeat this for 3-5 minutes, or until you feel that your anxiety decreases.
Counting to 10
Counting can seem so dull and like it may not do much, but let’s give it a try. When you count, your mind is focused on the numbers and the pattern you are making. This tricks your mind from focusing on something that causes negative emotions and refocuses them on thoughts and patterns that are more rational and less emotional. The movement away from negative emotion and negative stimulus opens up one’s ability to see outside of the moment to more possibilities and perspectives.
Try counting slowly from 1 to 10. What did you think about while counting? It’s hard to think about anything other than the numbers. That’s the point. You can also try counting backward from 10 to 1. Other options are counting to 100 or reciting multiplication facts. Try these others and see what you focus on and what’s different about your thoughts and emotions while you are doing them.
Focused awareness of your surroundings
For this exercise, the goal is to notice things in your surroundings, while utilizing your five senses: Taste, Touch, Smell, Sight, and Sound. Each sense has a unique perspective to provide. Try each one, focusing on the sensations that each of your 5 senses picks up.
Mental Exercises That Help Ground You
Another useful grounding technique is mental exercises. They aid in focusing the mind on concrete concepts. One exercise for this grounding technique is to start listing items. Think about places you have visited. How many places? Where were they? What did you enjoy about them? This is sort of like brainstorming. Most of us learned how to brainstorm in middle school or high school. You think of a topic and list everything related to that topic.
Another list could be listing how many Presidents you can remember. Some other ideas are listing how many State capitals you can think of off the top of your head, how many animals you can think of with each letter of the alphabet, or what are the different types of foods you like to eat. We challenge you to find several lists that you like to think through and start using them to refocus your brain when you are overwhelmed by anxiety.
Listening to Music to Manage Nerves
Our last category is listening to music. Music can be a way to not only calm your nerves but also to focus your mind. In this technique, try putting on your favorite song. Notice what sounds different than the last time you listened to the song. What new feelings do you get from the melody? Focus on the words. Which words feel new to you or move you? Which words do you know by heart?
As you continue to listen, think about the first time that you heard the song. What did you feel then? Where were you when you first heard it and who were you with? Do you notice that you are less or more anxious? Listening to music can be a great way to connect you with good memories, people you care about, and places that you love.
While these are only a few techniques, they can get you started on learning new coping skills that will help you overcome anxious, overwhelming thoughts when they come. In addition, using these techniques can give inspiration for coming up with your own strategies in the future. Although this is not an exhaustive list, we hope that you will start practicing mindfulness and other grounding techniques to help you reduce your anxiety and take back hold of your life. We love to help and want you to find ways to reduce your anxiety outside of the counseling office. Two other techniques that you can try in order to reduce anxiety are music therapy and progressive muscle relaxation. Try them out.
Bahadir, Y. E. (2021). Effect of executive music therapy on state and trait anxiety levels of patients in a psychiatric ward: A quasi‐experimental study. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 57(1), 98–104. https://doi.org/10.1111/ppc.12530
Loustaunau, M. (2023). Relaxation Response. Salem Press Encyclopedia of Health.
Robb, S. (2000). Music assisted progressive muscle relaxation, progressive muscle relaxation, music listening, and silence: a comparison of relaxation techniques. Journal of Music Therapy, 37(1), 2–21. https://doi.org/10.1093/jmt/37.1.2
Therapist Aid (2018, November 7). Grounding techniques. Therapist Aid. https://www.therapistaid.com/therapy-worksheet/grounding-techniques
Braddy, T. (2023, December 6). Personal communication [E-mail].
Bethany Stanley is a Licensed Associate Professional Counselor. She provides couples counseling and individual counseling as a therapist at Legacy Marriage Resources, LLC based in Augusta, Georgia. Find out more about her in her Bio.