The simple 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique


























When you are in the middle of a panic attack, it can feel like you are never going to break out of it. It feels like there is no air to breathe, your heart races, you start to shake, tremble, sweat, like your legs will give way underneath you, you think you are going to faint or are having a heart attack.

All in a matter of seconds, and often with no perceivable trigger.

I have suffered from generalised anxiety and panic attacks since adolescence, and the more I allowed anxiety to take hold, the worse it becomes. The first time I went to London I felt paralysed with fear as everything raced by me and I could barely breathe. Most commonly, my anxiety presents itself with catastrophise to the nth degree and my anxiety snowballs out of control and I start to have a panic attack as I become certain that the worst possible scenario will definitely happen.

When anxiety pathways become stronger in the brain, it becomes easier and easier for anxiety to take over what would normally be a non-anxiety triggering situation.

The following technique takes you through your five senses to help bring you back to the present and can help to create more helpful neural pathways. It can help you get through tough or stressful situations and is useful if you are in the middle of a panic attack. It is also a simple technique parents/guardians/teachers etcetera can implement if a child is having a meltdown.

To begin, take a deep belly breath, and then:

5 - LOOK: Look around you and notice 5 things that you can see. For example, if you are getting anxious in the middle of a busy shopping centre, you could think/say: I see a bench, I see a steaming mug of coffee, I see a table, I see a plant, I see a shop sign.

4 - FEEL: Start to come inwards and pay attention to your body. Notice 4 things you can fee. For example, you could think/say: I feel my heart beating, I feel my breath, I feel warmth in my feet, I feel tingling in my fingers. If you are in the throes of an anxiety or panic attack this step may be extremely difficult or distressing, if so it is ok to go back to the first step, move on to the next, or stop there if it is all too much.

3 - LISTEN: Listen for 3 sounds around you. It could be sounds originating from close by, or more distant sounds. For example, you could think or say: I hear the sound of distant traffic, I hear the sound of birds singing, I hear the sound of my tummy rumbling.

2 - SMELL: Say/think two positive you can smell (it's unlikely to help if you hone in on a repugnant odour. Move around to find them if you need to. For example, you could say/think: I smell some freshly ground coffee, I smell a perfume. If you cannot smell anything think of your 2 favourite smells.

1 - TASTE: This may be a little more tricky to explore, say/think of one thing you can taste. For example, it may be the toothpaste from brushing your teeth or a lingering flavour of something you have recently eaten. If you cannot taste anything, think of/say your favourite thing to taste.

To finish, take another deep belly breath. If you need to, go back to the beginning until you feel grounded.

For more information on panic attacks, I recommend Mind's guide, where you can also find lots of other fantastic resources around mental health.

If you feel that your anxiety is becoming completely unmanageable, I recommend that you seek guidance from your doctor or mental health practitioner. 

The Together We Are Strong website also compiled this fantastic international list of helplines you can telephone if you are in crisis. 

Comments

  1. I have had panic attacks since my early teens its no fun i never knew how to handle thwm and made it worse.thank you fr sharing this I will keep these in mind incase of another attack

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    1. Your'e most welcome, Regina. They feel really scary don't they? I hope the technique helps :)

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  2. Very helpful article. Panic attacks are very serious mental disorder, which can lead to critical problems. Including death.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for your comment. Put simply, they are the result of a release of stress hormones, a fight or flight response. The physical symptoms can be alarming, and you may think you are having a heart attack but the effects are only temporary and will not kill you. There will be exceptions of course such as if someone had a serious congenital heart condition, or getting in an accident from loss of concentration.

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