Grounding techniques: 10 strategies for coping with anxiety

Reviewed by:
Tracey Griffin, LMHC – Staff Therapist at Talkiatry
August 25, 2021

Grounding techniques are designed to help a person cope with traumatic memories or strong emotions and can be used to pull your attention away from painful emotions so that you can focus on the present moment. Of course, anyone can use grounding techniques as a tool to help calm distressing feelings, but they’re especially beneficial for people dealing with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and panic disorder (PD).

With anxiety disorders ranking as the most common mental health concern in the United States, millions struggle with anxiety every day. Intense anxiety can cause a significant amount of psychological and physical distress that’s only heightened when you don’t take the proper steps to ease the painful feelings. Daily life can be filled with all sorts of negative emotions, but grounding techniques can help you break free from distressing thoughts, so you can focus on what matters.

While grounding techniques are a great short-term coping strategy to use when struggling, they do not replace professional mental healthcare. Instead, they should be considered a supplement to professional treatment.

Below are ten strategies you can use to help you cope with any daily struggles you may face, especially when you don't have immediate access to assistance from a mental health professional.

Physical grounding techniques

Physical grounding involves focusing your attention on what is happening physically, such as what you are doing or what’s happening around you. These techniques can distract you from the thoughts inside your head that are causing you anxiety.

  1. 5-4-3-2-1: This technique involves you using your five senses to notice things in your surroundings. For example, start by listing five things you hear, four things you see, three things you can touch, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Using this technique, you can engage all of your senses to help bring you back to the present moment, clearing your mind of the intense anxiety you may be experiencing.

  2. Deep Breathing: This is a straightforward tactic that you can use to slow down your heart rate when experiencing anxiety. Try breathing in for four seconds, hold it for four seconds, and let it out for four seconds. Be sure to pay close attention to how your body feels while taking your deep breaths and repeating until you feel calm.

  3. Exercise: Moving your body is a great way to help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Exercise and other physical activities produce endorphins, which ultimately lead to temporary relief in symptoms of anxiety and depression. Huge job interview in 10 minutes and can’t seem to shake your feelings of anxiety? Take a quick trip up and down the stairs or do a few jumping jacks, focusing on how your body feels with each movement to help clear your mind.

  4. Stimulate Your Senses: Activating one of your five senses can help distract you from any negative emotions you may be experiencing. For example, try placing your hands in cold water, focusing on how it feels as you rest there. You can also find a familiar scent to focus on, such as a candle, an essential oil, or a hot beverage to smell when you need to ground yourself.

  5. Identify Your Surroundings: Take a few moments to take in your surroundings, including the things you can see or hear, to help remind yourself that you are in the here and now. For example, if you are outside, you might listen to the birds chirping and watch the tree leaves moving in the wind to focus your attention on something other than your challenging emotions.

Mental grounding techniques

Mental grounding techniques are meant to direct your attention away from anxiety-inducing thoughts. They can be used anywhere and at any time. 

  1. Visualize Yourself Completing a Task: Is your favorite part of your day making your morning cup of coffee or cooking your favorite meal? Maybe it’s taking your dog for a walk. Take a few moments to close your eyes and walk through completing a task that you don’t mind doing, really focusing on each step with specific details from start to finish.

  2. Solve Math Problems: Concentrating on math problems can help distract your thoughts. For example, try going through multiplication tables in your head or even just counting backward from 100.

  3. Create Lists: Make a mental list of your favorite things or even all of the things you’ve accomplished so far that day. Try listing in categories, such as your favorite songs, types of flowers, or books you’ve read. By concentrating on all of the positive things, you can divert your attention from the anxiety you may be feeling.

  4. Practice Mental Anchoring: Anchoring is a great way to bring your emotions into balance. The easiest way to do this is by creating an anchoring phrase that you can recite when you feel overwhelmed. It can be something simple like the word “Relax” or a phrase that’s a little more detailed, such as “My name is XX, and I live in XX. I’m XX years old and work at XX.” Regardless of what you choose as your anchoring phrase, you’ll want to repeat it until your mind is at ease.

  5. Imagine your favorite place. Try to visualize your favorite place, whether it's in your hometown or an exotic destination. Create a mental image by using all of your senses—think about the colors you see, the sounds you hear, and the sensations you feel on your body. For example, if your “happy place” is the beach, travel there mentally by recalling the last time you were there. Think about the color of the sky, the shape and movement of the clouds, the sound of the waves, the feel of the sand on your feet, and how the warmth of the sun felt on your body.

How do I know if I need to see a mental health professional?

Practicing grounding techniques is an excellent way to cope with anxiety, but it is only a short-term fix for negative emotions. If you have extreme anxiety or worry that negatively impacts your life and keeps you from doing the things you love, we recommend seeking a mental health professional for treatment. A variety of mental health disorders could be at the root of your anxiety. To properly address your symptoms, you must get an accurate diagnosis from your mental health provider.

If you’d like to learn more about understanding or managing your mental health,  the Talkiatry blog features posts on a range of mental health disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), that may help you gain a better understanding of your symptoms and the treatment options available.

Talkiatry can help

Talkiatry provides accessible, affordable mental health care solutions that are personalized, in-network, and focused on helping you feel better, faster. We also offer flexible appointment options via telemedicine or in-office visits, matching our therapeutic and modern approach to psychiatric care. Receive a preliminary diagnosis by taking our free and easy assessment today, then get matched with one of our psychiatrists, who will help you manage and treat your symptoms based on your unique needs.

Talkiatry is a mental health practice, and our clinicians review everything we write. However, articles are never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you think you may need mental health help, talk to a psychiatrist. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.

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