Not a lot needs to be said to describe that feeling we call anxiety. We would not call it a friend, but it’s always there.
We would not call it welcome, yet it often overstays its unwelcome visit. Anxiety comes in all shapes and sizes for each individual. Each of us has our own story of how anxiety presents itself. Often in a multitude of ways.
For many of us, we have developed our coping mechanisms for anxiety even if we think we haven’t. Any experience that causes overwhelm, fear, loss of mental or bodily control, pain, difficulty breathing, and irrational thoughts can trigger that anxiety response.
High-level anxiety can happen to anyone.
Anxiety as a diagnosed disorder or not can happen at any stage of life. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states that not only can anxiety be experienced at any stage of life, but it can also often be linked to our traumas. In studying this, men often experience it more often in midlife.
Women, on the other hand, may experience this at a younger age and are more likely to have an anxiety disorder than men. We will expand further in a later blog and course the various types of anxiety disorders and their effect on us at different stages in life.
For so many of us, we carry this secret anxiety monster with us wherever we go. It is not invited, it refuses to listen, it may be the most difficult part of us to contend with.
You see, therein lies the key to understanding more of our anxiety – it is part of us. It requires the same attention, understanding, and care as any other aspect of what makes us unique human beings.
The Anxiety Toolbox
When we take a step back and think about it, we may have some tools in our toolbox for mediating our anxiety and maybe sometimes they work. But think of all the times they have not or perhaps you have never quite gathered any solid coping tool at all.
This is a path I have walked myself. Carrying the dark shadow in my back pocket. Never knowing when it may appear and wreak havoc with emotion and often ending in embarrassment. Step one, for myself and many others, has been recognizing and acknowledging.
The experience happens. It just does. Now, to be able to acquire a skill to navigate the anxiety is the next step in the direction of taking back control and true self-care for ourselves.
Step Into Grounding
Grounding essentially means to bring the focus back onto yourself, your body, your present needs. We want to focus on our physical experience rather than focus falling upon our doubting mind of racing fear. Grounding is what gets us out of our heads and back into a place of safety and escaping stressful and anxious thoughts.
Grounding strategies can distract and distribute the sense of calm needed. That is not to say that grounding is a cure-all. Grounding is a tool to be practiced and kept near so you may better be able to better heal your mind and body during times of anxiety response.
Here are a few grounding methods or tools that I along with many others have practiced to ease the anxiety within and bring ourselves back to a place of calm and security.
The Five Senses
If you can, sit and stabilize your body whenever you are. In any position with feet planted firmly on the ground, eyes closed, taking slow deep breaths through the nose and out your mouth. Your focus is on the breathing. Each breath as it passes through you and out into the air and back again. Ask yourself:
- What can I see?
- What can I feel?
- What can I hear?
- What can I smell?
- What can I taste?
Do this as long as you like over and over if needed. When you are ready, open your eyes and continue your breathing and feel how grounded your body is with the earth beneath you and how protective the air around you has become.
Positive Coping Statement
It sounds like a simple technique and it is. This involves preparing a coping statement that is yours and yours alone to carry with you in writing or in memory. When you begin to feel the onset of anxiety, use your positive coping statement to help deliver the sense of ease you are in need of.
An example could be,
I am present. I am aware of my experience. All that I am feeling will pass. When it does pass, I will look back and see how well I embraced this experience. I am without fear. I am without anxiety. I am releasing all feelings in my body into the air and I breathe softly and deeply. I am a present… (and repeat)
If possible, this technique is perfect for taking more time and sitting with the experience to later examine in writing in a journal for example. If you can use a dedicated journal for techniques such as this, it’s a wonderful opportunity. Simply sit within the moment and ask yourself these questions and write your answers in response.
What am I feeling right now?
What is the weather outside or around me like?
Where do I live?
What does my favorite place look like?
How old am I?
Count to ten and exhale.
The act of sitting has long been a practice for grounding in many cultures. This is a practice that can be performed on the ground or in your favorite chair at any time. If you do have a chair available, try practicing taking a few moments sitting. Be aware of your feelings. Be aware of your environment. Become aware of the feeling of the sun or wind around you. Feel the ground beneath your feet.
What else do you feel?
Can you let the anxiety you are feeling flow from your head through to your feet and into the ground?
Repeat this process and experience yourself feeling lighter each moment. End this technique when you are ready with slow deep breaths and try to smile.
The act of smiling with your eyes close can change the narrative and focus very quickly. Whatever you are experiencing, stay connected with the ground and leave all things into the earth below your feet, and walk away lighter than you arrived.
Do you have a special object you can carry with you? Perhaps a small stone, a favorite book, a piece of jewelry, even a coin from a pocket could be your special object. Take a moment to observe the object. Study it with your eyes before letting your hands take over.
Hold the object with one or both of your hands. Think of how it looks and feels. Take in the texture. Is it warm or cold? Is it smooth or rough? What does this object mean to you?
Take all that your body is feeling and transfer it into the object. Imagine it disappearing within it. Imagine it vanishing instantly as you hold your object as long as you need. Remind yourself you are present and grounded.
Grounding As A Daily Practice
The act of grounding is for any time you need. It is for any purpose that calls to you. Perhaps using it while going for a walk, or on the ride to work can be helpful. Practicing this in times when we are not experiencing great anxiety is just as important as when we are having those experiences.
It becomes familiar and safe. If you are able to integrate it into daily life, it will become all the more beneficial when you need it the most.
Grounding may not solve the underlying problems but it does involve an array of techniques that can help us regain control of ourselves physically and mentally.
To be able to reduce our feelings of anxiety as well as the anticipatory stress that comes with anxiety disorders, you are encouraged to research further into the many options for grounding techniques.
I hope you find one that speaks to you and can help aid in regaining your sense of control and safety with anxiety.