By Ericka Carr |

It starts in the pit of my stomach, an intense nausea. 

Then my breathing gets faster, and the simple fact of biology is that once you start breathing faster, your heart rate gets faster too; at this point I’ve stopped talking, but that’s okay because my thoughts are running too quickly for my mouth to keep up, and I’m stuck in an endless vortex of too much.

Suddenly, my breathing stops. My chest feels like a hole has just been punched through it. And within seconds, I’m stuck frantically gasping like a fish and people are gawking and I’m still not breathing. But at least now I’m crying–– that’s better than nothing. The only problem with crying is that it steals more of the breath I already lack. This stage seems to go on forever in a vicious cycle before exhaustion gives way to sleep.

Anxiety doesn’t always manifest itself in panic attacks. It can be the inability to focus, a sudden loss of words, a sudden loss of appetite, frantic twitching, or even stillness. With each of these comes the feeling of being trapped. A state of comatose or sleep walking. 

At times, anxiety feels inescapable. But I’ve come to bring you a little bit of hope: grounding.

Grounding is a technique that forces your mind to focus on what’s real and present in an attempt to push theoretical thoughts out of your head. Grounding uses the five senses to connect you to the things around you to stop you from worrying about a problem that probably doesn’t exist.

It sounds ridiculous, I know. Like another breathing technique or a talk-it-out type of exercise that almost never works. Honestly, sometimes nothing can stop anxiety, but if anything can, it’s grounding. Even if the steps don’t remove your anxiety, they at least distract you long enough to calm down and fully grasp a situation. It’s sort of like a five-step mantra with actions tied to it. 

Use these questions as a guide to move you through the five senses:

  1. Five things you can see

What are five things you can see right in front of you? Maybe it’s the shirt you’re wearing or a picture hanging on the wall. Focus on the details of each item and what makes them real.

2.  Four things you can feel

What is directly touching your skin? Again, this is probably related to the clothing you’re wearing. It could also be the ground underneath your feet or something lying next to you. Take time to think about the texture and tangible characteristics of the item.

    3.  Three things you can hear

What sounds are nearby and what is causing them? Be intentional about bringing background noise to the front of your mind. Focus your attention on the noise and find where it’s coming from so that it becomes more real. 

    4.  Two things you can smell

What is scents are associated with your environment? As the steps count down, they get harder to identify. It’s easy to just say you smell the air or perhaps your own perfume, but really take time to pick out aromas that are part of your environment like a nearby plant or the scent of cleaning products.

    5.  One thing you can taste

What was the last thing you ate? Unless you’ve just eaten or are willing to take a lick at whatever is lying next to you, this step isn’t as easy to physically experience. I use this step to really focus my attention. You have to think harder to finish this step. Use it more as a final moment to clear your thoughts before you focus on the problem ahead.

When trying grounding, be intentional about focusing on each step individually; don’t rush through the list. Take your time and slowly identify each of the senses so that you can connect your mind and body.

At the end of the day, remember that it’s okay if these techniques don’t work. It’s okay if your anxiety is too difficult to bear alone. It is okay to seek out professional help when breathing and grounding techniques don’t work. After all, there’s only so much aromatherapy can do.