Since anxiety in a nutshell is about anticipating the future (even if that future is only 30 seconds away), one of the best antidotes is to stay in the present, or the “here and now.” One extremely effective way of bringing yourself into the present moment is using a tool called “grounding.” Grounding is not only useful for calming anxiety, but it also helps with reducing postraumatic experiences (i_nstrusive thoughts, flashbacks, etc_) as well.
What is Grounding?
Grounding connects you with the very present moment using your five senses. Let’s talk about each of them:
**Sight: ** You can use your eyes and what you see in your surroundings to help ground yourself. As you look at something, talk to yourself, either about what you see or what it means to you.
For example, I recently underwent Lasik surgery. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the procedure, you essentially lie on your back, fully awake while your eye is held in position by a corneal suction ring. They also told me to keep my other eye open (I wanted to shut it). Although the surgery takes all of ten minutes and does not hurt, I was anxious Since I had no choice but to have my eyes open, I concentrated very intently on the bright light that I could see (that’s about all I could see, actually). I focused my thoughts on my doctor, Opthamologist Dr. William May, and how much I trust him. I also thought about how great it would be to not have to wear glasses.
So, what might you look at? Photographs, clocks, trees, your cellphone, the possibilities are endless! Or, you can look for things to go with the letters of the alphabet, starting with “A” and work your way to “Z.” Whatever you do, it needs to be deliberate, conscious, and in your present environment.
Sounds: Another way to ground yourself is to name what you hear in the present moment. How many different noises can you hear? Are they comforting noises or irritating ones? Are people talking? If so, what are they talking about? Since I had my surgery at USC, a teaching hospital, there was a medical student present. My doctor was telling him everything he was doing, step-by-step. I focused on what my doctor was saying, as if I were learning too!
**Smell: ** Smell is a great sense to use as a grounding technique because you can control it…meaning that you can carry some “smells” with you, such as hand lotion. Otherwise, what smells are in your environment? Food? Coffee?
**Taste: ** Here is another category where you can carry things with you to help ground yourself. Gum, mints, candy, anything with a taste that can bring you to the present. One therapist I met suggested to her clients that they suck on Altoids, because they are super strong tasting mints (“Curiously Strong!”). I happen to hate them, but I like Tic Tacs and Life Savers, which you can suck on for a long time. My suggestion is that you carry whatever you like with you wherever you go.
**Touch: ** I remember meeting a therapist who gave her clients little green fuzzy balls to keep in their pockets. “Think Green, be Serene,” is what she told them. Touch is a great way to bring yourself into the present moment! Remember the old “worry stones” from the 1970’s? What can you carry in your pocket, purse or wallet that could bring you comfort as well as back to the present moment? Other things that you might touch in your environment include animals, fabric, a smooth surface, etc.
Take a moment and jot down things from each of the five senses that could help bring you “into the present,” as well as bring you comfort. Carry the things that you can carry. Try the “A” to “Z” technique. Remember, like anything else, grounding takes some practice so be patient with yourself and experiment!
Jennifer Fee is Director of Vision Quest Psychological Services. She is a psychologist licensed to practice in the State of California. She wrote for HealthCentral as a health professional for Anxiety Disorders.