The human mind is powerful: it allows us to solve complex problems, plan for the future, remember events of the past, imagine alternate realities, and more. Much of the time, these abilities serve us well as they motivate us to seek out positive experiences and avoid negative consequences.
They also come with a cost. Rumination about events of the past, worry about what the future may bring, and preoccupation with emotional states can cause us a great deal of distress. The good news is we can learn and practice helpful exercises that bring us back to the present moment.
When we’re feeling preoccupied by thought, consumed with worry, or overwhelmed by physical sensations of distress, grounding exercises can help bring us back to the here-and-now. Present-moment awareness, or mindfulness, pulls us away from our worries and connects us to our bodies and our physical location in space.
Here are 3 helpful grounding exercises that promote mindfulness and ease anxiety:
1. Tap into the five senses
By paying close attention to the five senses, our attention is forced into the present moment and away from distressing thoughts. The 5-4-3-2-1 method is a popular strategy for tuning into the senses. One at a time, pay attention to:
- Five things you can see
- Note five things in your surroundings that you can see. Pay attention to their physical properties. Notice how they are grounded by gravity.
- Four things you can feel
- Pay attention to physical sensations. Don’t judge them as pleasant or unpleasant, just notice them. Tingling sensations on your skin. Areas of warmth or coolness. The feel of your clothes touching your skin. Your weight pressing you down into your chair or the pressure of your feet meeting the ground beneath you. The wind on your face. Your breath moving through you.
- Three things you can hear
- Listen for noises in your environment. What is producing the sound? How close or far away is it? Is it constant or changing?
- Two things you can smell
- Tune into your sense of smell and pay attention. For this one, you have the option of finding something near you with a scent and bringing it to your nose. Notice the subtle properties of the scent.
- One thing you can taste
- Maybe you can still taste hints of whatever you last ate or the taste of your toothpaste. Mindfully eating or chewing gum can also serve to ground you to the present moment.
2. Box breathing
Breathing is a handy grounding exercise because your breath is always available to you. Focusing on your breath pulls you away from anxious thoughts and back into your body. Deep breathing also helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a calm and restful state.
Box breathing, or square breathing, is a structured breathing exercise. Here’s how it works:
Imagine a square in your mind. Travel up one side of the square as you breathe in to the count of four, move across the top of the square as you hold the breath for the count of four, travel down the other side of the square as you release the breath to the count of four, and move along the bottom of the square as you hold the breath to the count of four. Repeat for as long as you need to.
Moving your body is another great way to get out of your head and into your body in the here-and-now. Beyond that, exercise helps improve mental health in many ways.
To make your movement mindful, pay attention to the movement of your body and the way it supports you as you move. Pay attention to your breathing and tap into your five senses. Be present.
There are so many ways to move your body. Find a way to move that feels good to you.
Mindfulness is just one component of the much more complex picture of mental health. If your anxiety causes you acute distress and makes it hard to get through daily tasks, a licensed therapist can help.
At GLPG, we believe in the power of therapy, and we hold the therapeutic relationship in high regard. That’s why we’ll go to great lengths to match you with your perfect therapist.