How to ground yourself in 5 simple steps

I have unfortunately suffered from anxiety for the majority of my life. I’m not sure when I first experienced anxiety or panic attacks, but I can remember all the way back to 8th grade of having panic attacks. Something that I wish 14 year old me knew was that I didn’t have to suffer in silence and that there were ways to manage panic attacks. It would take years before I actually recognized that I was suffering from anxiety, and even longer before I actually started receiving therapy and treatment for it. Although I am in no way “cured” of my anxiety, going to therapy has taught me alot of great grounding methods to manage my emergency panic attacks. The method I’m going to share with you is one that my favorite therapist taught me, its known as the 5-4-3-2-1 method.

Some of you may already be familiar with this method or perhaps learned it from your own therapy sessions. The basis is simple, when you feel a panic attack coming on, you apply this technique. It’s important to recognize your triggers and ideally apply this method before you have a panic attack, but it should also work when you are in the midst of your attack as well. The method goes like this: shift your focus to your surroundings and find 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. There is more to this method though, and I’ll give you some examples of how you can make this method work for you.

5 things you can see

The whole point of this method is to shift your focus, to distract you from what is causing your panic. There is more to this than just seeing 5 things. The objective is to really notice the finer details of these things. What color is that car next to you? Is it a shiny red or a matte? Did you notice those scratches from a previous accident? How about that lady’s purse? Is it a soft cotton or a rough leather purse? I think you get the picture, the point is to use your surroundings to find 5 things that you can see and then focus on the finer details of those things to help you ground yourself.

4 things you can feel

You’ll want to apply the same efforts as before for this one. Find four things in your surroundings that you can feel. Pay attention again to the finer details. This is where sensory toys can come in handy. I’ve always had things such as a fidget cube or fidget spinner that I keep in my bag at all times. I highly recommend the Fidget Cube by Antsy Labs because it has multiple sides of sensory stimulation and you could actually use it for all 4 things you can feel. If you don’t have a fudget cube, use other things to stimulate this sensory response. The soft or rough texture of the clothes you’re wearing, the cold metal of the elevator or stair railing, the warmth of your toes in your socks. There are SO many things for you to feel and focus on to help bring you back to your self awareness.

3 things you can hear

Are you noticing a trend yet? All of these require attention to detail to help ground yourself. If you have noticed this method getting a little bit harder as it goes along, you’re not imagining it. Some of our senses provide more senesory stimulation to our brain than others. Luckily, this one is still pretty easy to find in your surroundings. There are so many noises in our daily life that we’re probably used to filtering it out subconsciously. Take the time to notice those sounds when you’re trying to ground yourself. Listen for the gentle buzzing of the electricity running, or the sounds of a soft breeze blowing through the trees outside. Listen for that young couple next door arguing or the annoying barking of your neighbor’s dog. Open up your ears and actively listen for those sounds.

2 things you can smell

This one is probably a bit harder, but luckily this one only requires two things. The cool thing about this one is that it works with all kinds of smells, both good and bad. While no one enjoys disgusting smells, you can absolutely use them to help achieve the grounding needed. I always carry perfume or lotion with me, or in today’s new “normal” a good source might be some hand sanitizer. I’ve even used my own body odor for this one! No, it definitely was not pleasant, but it did work.

1 thing you can taste

This one is going to be the hardest, but that’s where planning ahead comes in handy. Having a pack of gum on you, stopping by a water fountain, or having a soda or snack would all be great ways to achieve this step. If all else fails, use your own spit; as gross as that sounds, if you need something to taste this is a quick fix.

Using the 5-4-3-2-1 method

This method may work for you, it may not. I do believe that this method just takes practice. I can tell you that the more you get used to using this method, the easier it becomes. I’ve only ever had to use all 5 steps of this method once or twice. Every time I use it, I find myself not needing all five steps. I went from using 5, to 4, to 3, and now when I use this method I find myself grounding my anxiety by the second step and sometimes even by the end of the first.

I hope that this method can be of use to others who suffer from panic attacks and need just a little help to do a body check and remind yourself that you are ok. If that doesn’t help then please just remember that “this too shall pass”. I know anxiety can really feel like you’re dying sometimes, but please remember that it won’t always be that way, and it will pass.

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