For those of us with anxiety, sometimes it feels like there’s nothing we can do to stop intrusive, unwanted, or distressing thoughts. But the longer you stay in a negative headspace, the more likely you are to spiral deeper into your own anxiety. To that end, we’ve put together a list of grounding exercises for anxiety to help get you through those moments when everything feels overwhelming.
What is Grounding?
Grounding is a technique to help you focus on the here and now in moments of distress. Whether you’re struggling with emotional turmoil, suffering traumatic flashbacks, or wincing away painful memories, grounding can help you…well, ground yourself. The purpose of grounding is to regain control of your body and mind, no matter your circumstances. By connecting with the world around you, you can stave off negative thoughts and emotions and anchor firmly in the moment, instead of being stuck in the past (or your own head).
It’s important to note that there are many ways to use grounding exercises for anxiety. There is no right or wrong answer here; and in fact, many people find multiple exercises useful in stressful situations. Thus, you may have to try several exercises before you find a few that work for you.
Furthermore, it’s important to note that grounding exercises are not just for anxiety. There are many disorders and instances for which grounding can be helpful, including:
- Anxiety and depression
- Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
- PTSD, including flashing back to traumatic memories
- Substance abuse disorders
- Moments of dissociation
Grounding Exercises for Anxiety
Because grounding exercises for anxiety are so useful, there are a number of reputable mental health sources on the topic. Many of these come from NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, in the form of coping mechanisms for behavioral health providers to run through with afflicted individuals. Here, we’ve adapted them into exercises you can use if you’re alone – but never be afraid to ask someone around you to run through helpful exercises with you! A few of these exercises also reference a mental health bulletin from Truman University.
Without further ado, here are NUMBER grounding exercises for anxiety to get you through those stressful moments.
Sensory-Based Grounding Exercises for Anxiety
- Name a “grounding object” to focus on. This may include objects you enjoy touching, smelling, looking at, or listening to. Make sure the item is something that brings you comfort at the moment for your specific needs.
- Tactile individuals may enjoy objects such as smooth stones, a favorite blanket, or a beloved pet.
- For those who are calmed by smells, incense, essential oils, or candles can help.
- Pictures of nature or pets/loved ones, or special memories can be visually calming if sight is your soothing sense.
- Calming music, sounds of nature, or loops of rain or thunderstorms can ground those who prefer audio “objects”.
- Use a wet cloth or your hands to splash cold water over your face.
- Focus on a particularly cold or hot item in your hands, such as a cold beverage or glass of ice, a heating pad, or other sensory objects. If you choose a (non-alcoholic) beverage, focus your mind on the smell and taste as you swallow. For other items, you can press them to your face or rub them on the back of your neck.
- Take your shoes and socks off and walk around barefoot on the carpet, wood floor, or a rug. Feel how the different textures and fibers brush up against your feet. Note how your senses interpret the changes – such as temperature and texture – when moving between flooring types.
- In a soft, carpeted area or on a rug, take off your shoes and socks and ball your toes up repeatedly. As you do, take deep breaths and try to clear your mind a little more with each breath. (Think Die Hard: “Make fists with your toes.” If you need to ground yourself in the moment, it can really work!)
Physical Grounding Exercises for Anxiety
- Use your hands to grab an imaginary “dial” in front of you and slowly turn your emotions down like the radio volume.
- Sit or lie down on your back and place your hands on your belly. Then, focus and watch your hands go up and down as you breathe.
- Clench your fists into a ball as tightly as you can, and then relax your fingers. This can physically and mentally “move” emotional energy into your hands, which is released when you let go.
- Ground yourself physically if you’re in a safe place to do so. This is the act of putting your bare feet in contact with the earth. Walk outside barefoot on dirt or grass and focus on your connection with the ground beneath you.
Mental and Meditative Grounding Exercises for Anxiety
- Take ten deep breaths all the way in and back out. Focus on the feeling of air in your nose and expanding your lungs. As you exhale, number your breaths out loud until you reach ten.
- Ask yourself important, strength-based questions – and then give yourself the answers. While helpful questions will vary based on your situation, some examples include:
- How did I survive my traumatic experience?
- What strengths have gotten me this far?
- Who have I helped this week and how?
- What did I do successfully last time I was in (emotional state)?
- What traits make me a good/strong person?
- Remind yourself of who you are and where you exist right now. Out loud, state your name, age, where you are, and what you’re doing.
- Focus on the future – not worries! – instead of the past and tell yourself about it (or write it down). For instance, you might make a to-do list, talk about an event you’re looking forward to, or name all of the TV shows you want to watch this year.
- Find your favorite pen, pencil, crayon, or marker, and a piece of paper. Paying attention to the feeling of the tip on the paper, focus your energy in your fingers, and write grounding or affirming statements, such as:
- This won’t last forever / this is only temporary
- I am not my emotions
- This too shall pass
- My (emotion) can’t kill me; I am in control of my mind and body
- Use the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding exercise:
- Name 5 things you can see around you
- List 4 things you can feel touching you
- Name 3 things you can hear
- List 2 smells in your surroundings
- Name 1 positive attribute about yourself
Altering Your Diet To Ground Yourself
One of the best and often overlooked ways to help with your mental health is by focusing on your diet. Improving your diet may come with many benefits, but with the right diet, you can target certain parts of your body. For cognitive health and mental ailments, there are various well-known ingredients with research supporting them, such as bacopa leaf, valerian root extract, and passionflower extract.