If you have ever struggled with anxiety, you may have experienced a panic attack. These attacks can seem powerful and even out of control. No doubt they can be scary to experience. Psychology Today describes a panic attack as "an abrupt surge of intense fear or intense discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes. Its symptoms include sweating, palpitations (racing heart), shortness of breath, trembling, dizziness, tingling, chills, etc."
Panic attacks can be caused by many different things. Distressing memories, intense feelings or regrets. Stress or worry causes swirling, uncontrollable thoughts. Flashbacks associated with trauma. Nightmares. These are all very real issues that can bring on panic attacks.
While panic attacks are very real and incredibly uncomfortable (to say the least), I want to remind you that they are not harmful to your physical health and each attack will come to an end.
However, if you are looking for a way to help cope with panic attacks and alleviate some of the extreme feelings, grounding techniques have proven effective for many people.
How to Ground Yourself During a Panic Attack
What is Grounding?
Grounding exercises bring your attention back to the present by connecting you with the physical world around you and causing you to focus on something you can touch, hear, smell, taste or see.
Since grounding can involve any of your five senses, the options of how to ground yourself are endless and you may need to experiment with different suggestions to see what works for you. Our basic human senses remind us that we are here, and that we are safe. You will need to discover what works best to bring you back to the present and allows you to calm down. There is no right or wrong method. It’s all about what connects you.
So, I want to provide you with a list of ideas to get you started.
I heard from a lot of people to come up with this list and I must say it’s as diverse as those who contributed. Sometimes two ideas even directly contradict each other which just goes to show that grounding is customizable to YOU. The common denominator is that grounding involves using one of your senses to connect you back to the present and pull your panic into check.
Pick a couple of ideas from this list that you may be comfortable trying and write them down. Having a variety of options may be useful.
As you practice any of these it is important to really think about how what you are doing feels, tastes, smells, sounds or looks like. Pay attention to every detail and describe it.
Grounding Techniques that use Touch
1. Run cold water over your hands, between your fingers, over the backs, cup the water, etc.
2. Rub a cotton ball between your thumb and finger. What sensation do you get? Rub it on your face or arm. How does it feel now?
3. Stand barefoot in the grass/dirt/carpet. Pay attention to how the ground feels beneath your toes.
4. Rub your hands over your legs where you are sitting…back and forth. What do your pants feel like? How does it feel to your hands? Your legs?
5. Wrap yourself in a soft plush blanket and feel the warmth and softness around you.
6. Hold ice packs in your hands touch them to your neck or arms.
7. Run beads/sand/flour through your hands. Touch something with an interesting texture…. feathers, sandpaper, stones.
8. Wear an elastic band on your wrist and flick it gently to you can feel it.
Grounding Techniques that use Sight
9. Pick an interesting object in your field of vision and trace its outline with your eyes.
10. Put ice in hot water and watch how it changes shape as it melts.
11. Look for every object that is blue…every object that is yellow…etc.
Grounding Techniques that use Sound
12. Go outside and describe the sounds that you hear…cars, traffic, birds, bugs, wind, etc.
13. Play calming nature sounds…waves, night sounds, trees gently blowing, etc.
14. Play music…some people find pump-up, rockin’ music grounds them. Others want calming tunes. Really give the music all your attention.
Grounding Techniques that use Smell and Taste
15. Hold a mug of hot tea, coffee, or chocolate. Feel its warmth, smell the flavor, and take small sips and feel the heat and taste the warmth.
16. Suck on a sour candy or peppermint. Think about the flavor and describe it.
17. Smell essential oils such as lavender. Concentrate on the scent.
Grounding Techniques that require Action
18. Take a walk around and think about each step you take.
19. If you have plants, tend to them. Soil can be an actual “grounder.”
20. Color in an adult coloring book.
21. Clap your hands together. Listen to the sound, and feel the sensation.
22. 5-4-3-2-1. Think about:
- 5 things you can see
- 4 Things you can touch
- 3 Things you can hear
- 2 Things you can smell
- 1 Emotion you can feel
23. Write messages on sticky notes such as “I’m O.K.” or “I’ll get through this.”
24. Breathe deeply by taking a slow, deep breath in through your nose moving it all the way into your lower abdomen and then releasing the breath through your mouth. Count as you do this. In 3 out 3 or in 5 out 5, etc.
25. Progressive Muscle Relaxation - It works like this:
- Focus on your left hand, notice how it feels before doing anything.
- Slowly inhale while you clench your left fist into a ball and squeeze the muscles in your hand and feel the tension. Do this for about 5 seconds (really feel the tension, but it shouldn't hurt).
- Exhale while releasing the tension in your left hand and feel the muscles relax.
- Relax for about 15 seconds.
- Move on to your right hand and repeat the process. You can continue to do this as many times as needed with different muscle groups. For example, tense your neck and shoulders by raising your shoulders to your ears for 5 seconds and then completely release your shoulders. You can tense your eyes by clenching your eyelids shut for 5 seconds and then completely relaxing your eyelids and eyebrows.
Prayer As a Grounding Technique
Prayer is an amazing tool to combat anxiety. Prayer can be similar to meditation. To meditate, you get in a quiet place, find a place of stillness, and focus on one word or one thought, allowing the rest of your thoughts to fade away. It’s taking the focus off everything else, so you can quiet your mind and body. It’s the same when you pray. You are getting in a quiet place, finding stillness, focusing on God and what you are praying to Him about. You are shifting your awareness from your anxiety to God, which calms your nerves and reduces stress. When you pray, you are taking your focus away from your problems and putting your focus on the problem solver.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” I believe God told us that in the Bible because He knows we are going to worry, but yet he tells us to bring it all to him. The Bible also says, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you.” What a promise! By focusing our thoughts on God, which we do through prayer, we will have the peace of God.
If you've never prayed before, that's O.K. - you can read more about prayer here - How to Pray.
Grounding Tool Kit
Once you figure out what works for you, be prepared to use your grounding techniques when the need arises. You might even consider collecting any “props” that you may need in a box somewhere that is handy to retrieve when you need them. Likewise having a playlist ready to go is a smart idea as well.