Whether it's looming work deadlines, the start of a new venture, the lingering effects of past trauma, or the change and uncertainty that has occurred since March 2020, we all experience anxiety. Sometimes it can be overwhelming. When we experience anxiety, our mind pulls us away from the present and focuses on future fears or past regrets. To get us back to focusing on the here and now and to stop dwelling on negative thoughts, we need to ground ourselves through the one thing that can only ever be in the present: our bodies. To do that, we use the five senses with what's called the 5-4-3-2-1 technique.
The key is to use your five senses and take in the details of your surroundings. By taking notice of small details of what's around you, things that your mind would usually tune out, you invite your mind to get back into the moment.
To start, take some good, deep breaths to begin to slow everything down. Next, go through these steps to help ground yourself:
5 – Sight
Look around and acknowledge five things you can see. It can be anything big or small, like the flowers outside your window, a painting, the coffee in your cup, or the shape of your computer mouse. Think about how they look and maybe reflect on what you like about them or consider how they were made. The key is to take your time and really acknowledge what you're seeing.
4 – Touch
Become aware of four things you can feel or touch. Notice how the sun feels on your skin, the softness of your shirt, the coldness of your water bottle, the ground beneath your feet. It might help to say what you're feeling out loud, such as “I can feel the wind blowing through my hair.”
3 – Sound
Name three things you can hear, whether near or distant. Can you hear a motorcycle going down the street, birds tweeting, the sound of air pushing through the vents? Don't judge what you hear; just listen to it.
2 – Smell
Find two things to smell in your surroundings. This can be as simple as the pencil in your desk, your drink, the lotion on your skin, or the fabric softener in your clothes. If you wish, you can walk around and smell the soap in your bathroom or the plants outside.
1 – Taste
Focus on one thing you can taste. Are you drinking coffee or tea? Does the inside of your mouth taste still have the lingering suggestion of your last meal? If you can't taste anything, then name a flavor you like and think about it.
Feel free to repeat this technique as many times as necessary. By following these steps, your mind will start to focus on the moment, shift away from the anxiety, and reorient back to the present.
Here are some more grounding techniques:
Categories - Choose at least three of the categories below and spend a few minutes naming as many items as you can in each one.
- Movies, countries, books, cereals, sports teams, colors, cars, fruits & vegetables, animals, cities, TV shows, famous people
- Body Awareness – Pay attention to the physical sensations created by doing things like rubbing your palms together briskly, clenching your hands into fists and then releasing the tension, or wiggling and curling your toes.
- Mental Exercises – Take your mind off of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings by performing some mental exercises like counting backward from 100 by increments of 7, thinking of an object and “drawing” it in your mind or in the air with your finger, or describing all the steps in preparing your favorite meal.
For our faith-based clientele, there is an adapted 5-4-3-2-1 technique to create a faith practice that will help us to ground ourselves in God.
5 – Sight – Name five things you can see right now that make you grateful, like a family photo that reminds you of the people you love.
4 – Touch – As you touch the items around you, reflect on Psalm 139:5: You are all around me on every side; you protect me with your power.
3 – Sound – As you name the things you can hear, focus on those who need your prayers. For example, if you hear a bird, perhaps you are being nudged to pray for creation. Or if you hear a siren, pray for the first responders or the person who needs their assistance.
2 – Smell – Find things that make you smile when you smell them, like a bakery or a garden. As you search for a scent, reflect on the profound truth that we worship a God who seeks us, even if we don't feel worthy.
1 – Taste – As you have a meal today, reflect on those who are hungry and pray for them. Consider contributing to a local food bank or bringing baked goods to church for those in need.