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Alcohol and Mental Health

Therapist-Approved Grounding Techniques for Anxiety

July 11, 2023
8 min read
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A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 11, 2023
8 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 11, 2023
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 11, 2023
8 min read
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Reframe Content Team
July 11, 2023
8 min read

Picture this: you're a ship in the midst of a tempest. Tumultuous waves of stress and worry crash against you. Chaotic and overwhelming, right?

What if we could be our own anchors, holding steady amidst the chaos? That's where grounding comes in. Grounding techniques are practical, straightforward tools that help us focus on the present moment.

These techniques, backed by science, can help us weather any storm by bringing us back to the calm and steady present.

So, let’s set our sights on tranquility. This article explores grounding techniques to help manage anxiety.

Grounding: Our Brain's Superpower

Grounding techniques tether our minds to reality, preventing them from spiraling into a vortex of distressing thoughts or emotions. It's like bringing a kite down from a gusty sky and steadying it in our hands.

Neuroscience has an explanation for this.

When anxiety hits, it triggers the amygdala, the part of our brain responsible for fear and stress responses. This creates a wave of physiological changes — racing heart, rapid breathing, spiraling thoughts, and more.

Grounding techniques work by engaging the prefrontal cortex, the "thinking" part of our brain. This dampens the amygdala's overactivity, helping us to feel calm and centered.

In a practical sense, they help redirect our attention away from spiraling thoughts or traumatic memories and into the present moment.

Grounding in Action: The 5-4-3-2-1 Technique

A well-known grounding technique is the 5-4-3-2-1 method. This exercise keeps our minds occupied and provides a mental anchor, stopping us from drifting into the sea of anxiety.

It involves a specific number of items:

  • 5 things we can see
  • 4 things we can touch
  • 3 things we can hear
  • 2 things we can smell, and
  • 1 thing we can taste

Say we're at a party, for instance, feeling anxious about the number of people surrounding us. Using this technique, we might notice the vibrant colors on the walls, the cool glass in our hand, the laughter in the room, the aroma of the food, and the taste of our chosen beverage.

By focusing on these sensory experiences, we can remain present and grounded, reducing anxiety.

Here are other sensory grounding techniques to try:

  • Put your hands in water for a few seconds. Experiment with temperature as you see fit.
  • Pick up or touch items near you. What do you feel? What do you see?
  • Breathe deeply and focus on the sensation of your breath. How does your body expand or shrink with each inhale or exhale?
  • Savor a favorite food or alcohol-free drink, like a mocktail or botanical soda.
  • Take a short walk and pay attention to the sensations in your body.
  • Hold a piece of ice.
  • Touch or hold onto objects with different textures.
  • Try aromatherapy: calming scents, like lavender and chamomile, can help bring about feelings of relaxation.

Different techniques may work better during certain moments, so it’s good to give a few of these a go.

More Tried-and-True Grounding Techniques

Just as there are sensory-based grounding techniques — which engage the five senses — others engage the body or the mind more as a whole. Here are therapist-approved physical grounding techniques:

  • 4-7-8 breathing: Inhale for a count of 4, hold for 7, exhale for 8. Do this a few times, then breathe normally.
  • 4-4-4, or "box" breathing: Inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4.
  • Tense and relax your muscles.
  • Stretch your body.
  • Change positions.

Here are a few mental grounding techniques:

  • Name all the objects you see around you. This can be useful if the 5-4-3-2-1 technique feels too overwhelming or difficult at the moment.
  • Read something backwards, letter-by-letter.
  • Focus on the lyrics and melody of your favorite song as if you're hearing it for the first time.

Try a mix: some might work for you better than others. Some might be more appropriate given the situation or trigger. It’s good to have plenty in your toolbox.

Remember, grounding techniques are not a perfect solution. These techniques can provide temporary relief, but they don’t address the underlying causes of anxiety. For that, you’ll need professional help.

Key Takeaways

Grounding techniques include the classic 5-4-3-2-1 technique, or they can be sensory, mental, or physical in their nature.

When we're anxious, it's easy to turn to alcohol as a temporary solution. But with grounding, we can have a better — and healthier! — tool in our toolbox.

When cravings or anxiety come knocking, grounding techniques anchor us to the present. This is one way of practicing mindfulness, which can help us identify, even curb, thoughtless or impulsive drinking.

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