Anxiety has a way of screwing with your emotions and your senses and overwhelming you with fear.
The ground beneath your feet can seem to move or become so unsafe you fear to take a step.
Walls and the things on them appear to move in and out or back and forth.
Normal sized shelves and rooms can feel as though they tower over you and are about to crush you.
Sounds become distorted and though you hear someone speaking it’s not possible to make sense out of what they’re saying.
Closing your eyes makes everything worse.
Then there’s the worry that can escalate into anxiety faster than you mind can keep up.
Or the agoraphobia that assaults you when you leave the comfort of your home or neighborhood, or lose sight of the horizon as you’re driving.
When anxiety gets to the point that it’s almost impossible to hold a rational thought in your head, you need break free of the onslaught.
The best way to do that is to interrupt the anxiety (aka a pattern interruption) with one of these 3 techniques that ground you in your body.
Grounding Technique: Shrinking Your Field of Vision
When the world around you is tilting like a ride at the amusement park, rather than trying to deal with the everything that’s moving around you, pick one thing to focus on.
It doesn’t matter what you focus on, but it must be one thing.
It could be a book, a knick-knack, or a can of vegetables on a shelf. It can be something you’re holding in your hand, and it can even be your hand itself.
Once you focus on that one thing, keep re-focusing on it. The anxiety will want to pull you away from it, but keep going back to that item that you’ve picked.
Concentrate on the shape of it. Look at all aspects of the shape: is it tall, flat, round, fat, skinny or short. What else do you notice about the shape?
Even though you can see other things around it, just keep focusing on that one object.
When you’ve look at everything shape related, look at the biggest word or picture, or splash of color or design.
Take a moment to check in with yourself. How do you feel? Calmer? Steadier? More in control?
When you’ve looked thoroughly at your item, begin opening up your field of vision to include an item next to or near the one you’ve been focusing on.
Can you move your eyes back and forth between the first object you focused on and the second one? When you can do that and still feel calm and in control, then continue widening your field of vision until you can once again feel normal (not overwhelmed by anxiety).
I’ve used this technique at the grocer’s, when I’ve gotten surprised by agoraphobia while walking the dogs, and even at my desk.
With the agoraphobia, I used one of the dog’s leash and added how it felt in my hands.
Grounding Technique: Hold On Tight
This is a very straight-forward technique that’s good when your mind is at war with what someone is telling you or what your anxiety is trying to make you believe.
By that I mean when your rational mind is saying no to listening to what is being said because you don’t know whether something is true or not.
I learned this technique from Tara Brach.
The one thing your brain is good at is making connections – whether those connections are accurate or true or not.
For example, you hear of a plane crashing during take-off at the same airport where a friend or relative was flying out of.
You have no information yet both your worrying-mind and your anxiety are willing to jump to conclusions.
To prevent that, hold on tight to something solid such as a table or counter top, a hard-sided cup or glass, the handle of a pot or a towel rack.
Focus on how your hands feel around the object.
As you keep squeezing, try breathing evenly and as deeply as you can.
Or alternately, take a deep breath and hold it as long as you can before breathing out slowly.
When you can begin to think logically about the situation, begin loosening your grip.
Grounding Technique: Scrunch Your Toes
Unless they hurt, most people don’t pay much attention to their feet or their toes.
That’s why scrunching your toes is a great way to redirect your attention from whatever your anxiety is doing to something unusual.
There are a couple of ways you can do this technique:
- Scrunch your toes while breathing in, then loosen them while breathing out. When you do that while standing up, all sorts of shifts take place in your body to help you remain balanced. That helps you redirect your attention as well.
- When sitting down, scrunch your toes while pushing your heels into the floor. Pushing your heels down also makes you sit up straighter.
- A third way you can do this technique while sitting down is to put the soles of your feet together. That also gives your ankles a good stretch as well.
Use the Grounding Techniques Often
The more you use these techniques the more you’ll benefit from them, and not only when you’re anxious.
They can help center you and relax you.
Plus the more often you use the, the more readily they’ll be available to you when anxiety does strike.
When anxiety’s running rampant and flooding you with its chemicals, trying to think about what to do is hard.
That’s why making a habit of these techniques will help you reduce your anxiety when it thinks it’s got the upper hand.
Here’s a bit of advice on habits from the man who won the Royal Society’s Copley Medal in 1753 for his work with electricity.
I believe long habits of virtue have a sensible effect on the countenance.