“I can’t breathe”. It was months since the first lockdown was announced. My university exams were to take place in a month. My entire career was at stake. I could feel my heartbeat. Tears rolled down my face. I couldn’t process what the person in front of me was saying. I was spiraling. What I was experiencing was a panic attack. Today we are going to speak about Anxiety and the Grounding Techniques.
WHAT IS ANXIETY?
Anxiety is an intense, overwhelming experience of fear, apprehension, worry and is often accompanied by increasing physical arousal of tension, palpitation, chest pain, feeling of choking, dizziness, nausea among other indicators. It is a common and normal experience which almost all individuals experience. Some psychologists believe anxiety to be adaptive and necessary for growth. With appropriate levels of anxiety, one can achieve enough arousal to adequately perform tasks and do well. You can see this for yourself!
For instance, your ability to study and remember your study material is comparatively higher the night before the exam. This is partly (or wholly) due to the anxiety you experience which allows you to perform well.
However, the opposite is true if one is too anxious. This causes them to become unable to orient themselves to the present as they worry about what is to come.
As mentioned in the example above, higher anxiety levels will lead to over arousal before an exam. This results in the individual focusing on the future threat (i.e exams/ failure). Thereby being detached from the present.
DOES IT NEED TO BE ADDRESSED?
Anxiety can be a positive experience, when present in appropriate levels. Too little or too much anxiety is bad. Disproportionate amounts of anxiety to the threat may eventually lead to anxiety disorders, ranging from Phobias, Panic or a generalized worry state in individuals. It is necessary to address anxiety, especially when experienced as distressing to the individual. The distress may arise when one can no longer work, study and perform tasks expected of them.
For example, bouts of panic about a paper submission which is due, may result in the individual not being able to concentrate on the present tasks. Thereby contributing to a cycle of perpetuated anxiety.
Owing to the current ongoing pandemic crisis, many psychologists have predicted an increase in the number of diagnosable anxiety disorders. While the amount which can be treated by Mental health professionals is high, many others who still experience disproportionate amounts of anxiety but who don’t get “diagnosed” also exist.
Panic attacks like the ones mentioned in the beginning of this article, are far more common and continue to increase among the common population. Therefore, understanding your anxiety and managing it may contribute to an increased sense of general wellbeing. Here, we will discuss an easy and proven method to take control of your anxiety; The grounding technique.
WHAT IS THE GROUNDING TECHNIQUE?
While anxiety is a future oriented worry state, it differs from fear. In that the latter involves an objective, present fearful stimulus which causes fear. Due to the nature of anxiety being worrying, either about the future or ruminating about the past, the individual is often detached from their present. The worry or rumination often leads to increased amounts of negative thoughts which results in an unhealthy cycle. This further causes more distress for that individual. It results in a sense of loss of control. Therefore, grounding techniques help orient the individual away from the negative thoughts about the past and future, and towards the present available information.
Types of Grounding Techniques:
There are many ways one can orient oneself to the present. Many of them involve “unhooking” oneself from the worry by engaging in some physical or mental activity thereby turning away from the anxiety causing stimuli and towards ones own physical and mental activity. Some of these techniques include:
- Orienting oneself to the process
- Orienting oneself to the five senses
- Engaging in enjoyable activity: Dance, music, painting,
- Holding on to and focusing on an object
- Creating category lists
- Tracing objects using mental imagery
One of the simplest techniques to ground yourself is breathing. However, this requires one to mentally distance themselves from the stressful situation and focus on one’s own breathing.
It involves the following steps:
- Sit comfortably on a chair
- Close your eyes
- Take a deep breath in and hold for 5 seconds
- Focus on your breathing (i.e. the air going into your nostril, your chest raising, your stomach going in, etc.)
- Take a deep breath out, focusing again on the breathing.
Continue the above process for 10- 15 mins until you are oriented towards your self and immediate surroundings.
The most important part of this technique is focusing on your body. Besides focusing on your physical body, take some time to reflect on your thoughts; stressful and benign, without reacting on them.
This requires further practice of acceptance of thoughts, feelings etc. Other variations also include focusing on the other aspects of the body beginning from the feet to the head.
As you sit on a chair, focus on each body part, how you feel, etc. , breathe ( as specified above) as you move from one body part. Some ways this could be done is as follows:
- focus on your feet- How do they feel? Do they hurt? Are they comfortable?
- move on to your legs- Are your calf muscles tight? Do they hurt? Are they relaxed?
- your knees- How do they feel? Have you been experiencing pain?
- Thighs- Are these muscles tensed up?
- Abdomen- Are you feeling good? Are you constipated? Have you eaten well today?
- Chest- Does it feel tight? Is your heart racing?
- Neck- Do you feel like you are being choked?
- Face- Are your facial muscles relaxed ? Are you clenching your teeth? Are you tensing your brows? Do you feel you cannot breathe right now?
Orienting oneself to the five senses
Experiencing anxiety which is discrete and intense can be very overwhelming for the person. Loss of orientation to the present usually occurs due to our senses being overwhelmed, with future, or past, and not on the present. Therefore, this grounding technique involves orienting oneself to the present, via the five senses: Seeing, Touching, Hearing, Smelling and Tasting.
The process includes:
- Find Five things you can see
- Find Four things you can feel
- Find Three things you can hear
- Find Two things you can smell
- Find One thing you can taste
It is important to know that you don’t need to physically taste or smell these things. One can simply acknowledge the presence of these items in your immediate surroundings to help in the grounding process.
Engaging in some enjoyable activity
We have all experienced the bliss of enjoying something we love doing. These include activities such as dancing, painting, colouring, etc. And even mental activities such as solving puzzles, riddles, etc. This technique involves what psychologists call “Flow” as one is immersed in the activity, escaping the stressful situation and experiencing the present.
Some ways one can experience ‘Flow’ include:
- Investing in the Mandala colouring books or any other colouring books
- Investing in a karaoke machine or just singing your lungs out in your room!
- Taking part in a high energy activity, such as, exercising or dancing
- Investing in puzzles and word search booklets
Holding on to and focusing on an object
When one is experiencing anxiety, one can find objects in their immediate surrounding to help ground themselves to the present and not to the negative thoughts. This includes taking any object available in the environment- pen, rock, paper weight, etc. and focusing on various aspects of that objects.
Try this out,
- How does it look?
- How does it feel? What is the texture?
- Does it make a sound? Is it soothing?
- How did it come to be? (e.g. a wooden block: How it was made?)
Creating category Lists
Mentally engaging yourself in the process of making mundane and simple categories, can help in gaining a sense of control over the situation, and away from the stressful thoughts and events. The objective includes choosing three categories and thinking of them as many possible examples for that list.
Some of these includes:
Tracing objects using mental imagery
One way of detaching oneself from negative worries include mental effort of visualisation of an object or focusing on an object at hand and mentally tracing it. For instance, one can focus on one’s feet and mentally begin to trace its edges beginning at the big toe moving along the other toes and around the heel to reach the big toe once again. This technique can be carried out by anyone and requires one to simply trace objects.
Orienting oneself to the process
Similar to the other methods mentioned above, engaging in the process of mindful experiences of tasks, etc. can be extremely calming to the individual. While allowing one to deviate one’s thought processes from the stressful thoughts, focusing on the present purposefully has shown to be beneficial.
Here is an Instance,
- While walking, when experiencing a negative distressing thought, one can try to focus on the process of walking: Which foot goes first?, How much pressure one puts on the feet?, Am I walking in a straight line or in zigzags?, How do my toes feel?, etc.
- While eating, one can similarly practice mindfulness as one experiences the different sensations of taste and smells, the texture of the food, how one’s jaw and facial muscles move, the food going down your throat, etc.
WHEN TO SEE THE DOCTOR?
While dealing with anxiety is manageable by some, many of us experience extremely debilitating anxiety and stress over future worry or even stress of the present environmental stimuli. It then becomes beneficial to seek professional mental health services. This can improve one’s wellbeing to a far greater extent than one believes.
Some mental health professionals include;
- Psychiatrist: an individual who has a MBBS and MD in Psychiatry and deals with diagnosing and medication
- Clinical Psychologist: an individual with a MPhil or PsyD in Clinical Psychology who helps diagnosing, therapy and assessments
- Counsellor: an individual with a masters degree in psychology who uses techniques to help individuals deal with everyday issues.
- Psychiatric Social Worker: An individual who has a degree in social work and help the individual by doing a job similar to counsellors and psychologists. Their main job is to assess and develop the patient’s plans of care.
Anxiety is a normal part of life which everyone has to deal with. Owing to the Pandemic and abrupt changes in the lives of many individuals around the globe, it becomes important to address the associated anxiety. Managing one’s anxiety can be effectively possible using grounding techniques, shifting one’s attention away from the stressful stimuli and towards the present through simple techniques. It is also beneficial to point out the necessity to seek professional mental healthcare especially when one is experiencing extremely intense and debilitating experiences of anxiety.
Mental health is important! Seeking help for yourself only makes you a stronger, better and more efficient leading to better overall sense of wellbeing to you and those around you.
Also read: 10 Affirmations for Anxiety
Hello! My name is Jeanne Cotta and I’m studying to be a Clinical Psychologist.
Family. Friends. Food: The three Fs I’m passionate about. I love trying out new experiences and learning about culture, history and people.
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