Imagine that you are walking to a location that you’ve been to many times. When you arrive at your destination you don’t remember the process of walking there. You were on autopilot, a common occurrence of mindlessness. However, these states of mindlessness make it easy for anxiety to seep in and overwhelm you. The same goes for states in which you are hyper-focused on anxiety provoking thoughts or actions.
Your brain cannot firmly focus on anxiety and on your present environment at the same time. It has to choose, and if you’re experiencing anxiety, you can choose to focus on your environment instead. You can do this by shifting your brain out of autopilot by tuning into the present through focusing on your environment with your senses. This mindfulness intervention is called grounding.
Grounding is an easy intervention that can be used anywhere at any time. You do not need a calming environment – just an environment that provides stimuli.
Try these steps to ground to your environment:
1. Sight: Look around you and look for details. What do you notice? What draws your eye? You can look for colors, patterns, imperfections, things that are out of place, or shapes to name a few.
2. Sound: Listen; truly listen. What are all the sounds that you hear? You’ll likely notice the obvious sounds at first, but after a few seconds you may hear the underlying, ambient sounds that often go unnoticed.
3. Scent: Smell the air. How many scents can you smell? How would you describe them? It’s ok if they’re unpleasant! Foul scents can bring us back to the present moment just as much as pleasant scents can.
4. Touch: Touch something with your hands. This can be an object in your environment or even your own body. Notice how it feels. What’s the temperature like? Are there any sensations upon your skin such as moisture or air? You can also notice the contact that your body has with your environment, such as the feeling of the ground under your feet or how the chair feels under you.
5. Taste: Is there a taste in your mouth right now? If so, how would you describe it? If there is no taste, you can put something in your mouth that has a taste that you enjoy. This isn’t a time to eat or drink quickly, but to focus carefully on the actual experience of taste. The sensation of taste can change dramatically the longer something is broken down by saliva.
Which senses are your strongest? These are the senses that most help you to focus. Some of my clients reported that it’s these sensations that make “more sense” to them. Typically, people have 1-2 senses that they gravitate towards. Once you find out your primary senses, you should focus on those senses first when you attempt to ground to your environment.
Here’s an example:
Chris experienced anxiety daily on his way to work. His job was fast-paced and stressful and he was constantly worried about getting fired. He often had a panic attack as he left the house for work. Chris discovered that his primary senses was sight. On his way to work he began to choose a color and would see how many things he could find that were that specific color. For example, if he chose blue he would notice the sky, blue cars, blue clothing worn by others, blue signs, etc. This method helped to stop his panic attacks and Chris reported that he felt more present and clam upon arriving to work.
If you experience anxiety, try grounding to your environment. If you need help to manage your anxiety you may benefit from counseling. Symmetry Counseling provides individual, family, and couples counseling. Contact Symmetry Counseling at (312) 578-9990 to schedule an appointment.