For many of us, there have been times in our lives where we feel anxious, stressed or unfortunately are faced with a distressing situation. Listed below are five techniques that can be very helpful during these periods of anxiety, stress or panic by helping to ground you when your mind is whisked away by anxious or distressing thoughts, feelings or situations.
These techniques are meant to help distract from what might have triggered you, and refocus on the present feeling calmer and safe. Before we begin it’s important to keep in mind that sometimes-regaining control of yourself is not always easy, and could take a few tries or a combination of techniques to get to a good head space again. Don’t give up, and start with the basics:
1. Deep Breathing
As anxious or distressing thoughts begin to race, it can take a persons’ breath along with it. To regain control of your breathing take slow, deep and purposeful breathes while focusing on the air filling the lungs before pushing back out, growing calmer and in more control with each breath. Here’s how:
- Focus on breathing in slowly through the nose for a count of 5…4…3…2…1
- Hold that breath for a shorter count of 3…2…1
- Exhale as slow as possible out the mouth for a count of 5…4…3…2…1
- Repeat these slow, deep breaths as many times as needed
2. Walk or Exercise
Anxiety or stress can sometimes feel like a lot of physical energy built up in the body looking for a way out; a good way to expel that energy and regain control is doing some quick exercises, such as:
- Walking at a good pace, focusing on the feeling of your feet hitting the ground and moving your arms back and forth to match the rhythm of your legs, for about 5 -10 minutes.
- Doing 5 – 10 jumping jacks, squats, lunges or jumping up and down, once again focusing on what your arms, legs, feet or hands have to do to successfully complete the exercise.
- Doing 5 – 10 stretches like toe touches, arm raises, side bends or windmills, and be sure to focus on the muscles that you feel pull and relax as you stretch. Keeping in mind to not stretch to a point of pain.
3. Memory Games
Anxiety can make your brain feel like a mess, which can be overwhelming and make matters worse. Redirecting focus to a list can help jump start a sense of organization and help you think more clearly. Start by trying to:
- List animals, sports teams or ice cream flavors, taking a minute or two to think of several for each category
- Reciting the letters of the alphabet in reverse, slowly
- Counting to 100 by 5’s slowly, then by 2’s or 1’s or even in reverse
- Recalling the last thing you ate or read or watched, trying to remember as many details as possible
4. Focus Object
A focus object can be anything that is easily held in one or both hands and has some different colors, textures or factors to it however, a simple pen can also do the trick. If this exercise works for you be sure to carry or have a focus object around so it’s available whenever you should need it. To use a focus object:
- Hold the chosen object in your hand(s)
- Either out-loud or in-your-head, describe this object by asking yourself different questions; Is the object heavy or light? Hard or soft? Shiny or matte? Does it have moving parts? Colors? Materials? Etc.
- Repeat the answers to these questions that describe your chosen object over and over in your head until all you can see or think about is the focus object.
- Keep focusing on the object for as long as needed until you feel calm enough to stop.
This last technique is similar to the focus object, as it requires you to focus on different parts of the space you are in using your 5 senses to act as an anchor, bringing you back to feeling in control and calm. This technique can be done out-loud or in-your-head, start by:
- Listing FIVE things you SEE around you: the walls, ground, objects, people, colors or anything else around you.
- Next, list FOUR things you can TOUCH around you: your hair, clothes, furniture, plants, animals, the ground or anything you can reach safely in your surroundings.
- Then, list THREE things you HEAR externally around you: birds, cars, people, music, the wind or your own deep, slow breaths.
- Then, list TWO things you can SMELL: good or bad, strong or mild and take your time finding a smell or the absence of a smell in the space around you.
- Finally, list ONE thing you can TASTE: do you have a snack or gum? Did you just eat or brush your teeth?
In order to get the most of these techniques, here are a few pointers:
- Practice: Even if you are not feeling anxious or stressed, try practicing one of these techniques for a few minutes every day. By making them a habit and a part of your routine it will be easier to use them in the moments when you need them to cope.
- Don’t wait: If you are starting to feeling off or like your anxiety is building, don’t wait for it to be at it’s worst to start using a technique to bring yourself back down. By using one earlier on it can help your emotions remain in a manageable place and allow you to try a few techniques if one of them is not as effective in that particular moment.
- Check in with yourself: By checking in with yourself before and after using a technique, it will help you know how well it worked for you. This can be done by rating your anxiety or distress level on a scale from 0 (not distressed or anxious) to 10 (most distressed or anxious) and making a note of the change in the rating.
These techniques are useful tools to help cope with distressing thoughts, situations or emotions in the moment. They provide relief, however, it’s generally temporary. If anxiety, stress or feeling overwhelmed are things that you struggle with regularly and you continue to have trouble coping with these feelings, please call StayWell Health Center at (203) 756-8021 ext. 3529 to schedule a session with one of our Spanish-speaking or English-speaking clinicians today!
Janet Peterson, LCSW
Behavioral Health Clinician/Manager
StayWell Health Center