Quick Grounding and Breathing Techniques to Help With Anxiety

January 19, 2024

Anxiety can sometimes feel like an uninvited guest, overstaying its welcome. The more you try to ask it to leave, the more persistent it can become — dictating your thoughts, feelings and even your actions. This can feel frustrating and even frightening. Grounding techniques for anxiety can be incredibly powerful in helping you regain control.

These techniques, widely used and researched, can offer immediate relief and help to regulate anxiety in the future.

5 3 2 1 Grounding Technique

The 5 4 3 2 1 grounding technique is a popular mindfulness-based exercise that encourages you to focus on your immediate sensory experiences. By anchoring your attention in the present moment and to the physical world, the 5 4 3 2 1 technique can help bring you back to your body and interrupt the cycle of rumination and anxious thoughts.

Practice 5 4 3 2 1 Grounding:

5. Look for five things around you. It could be a pattern on the wall, a light or an object at a distance.
4. Feel four things. Maybe it’s the texture of your clothing, the surface of the chair you’re sitting on, the temperature of your drink, or a breeze against your skin.
3. Listen to three sounds. The hum of the AC, the ticking of a clock or the distant noise from the street.
2. Smell two things. Maybe you have a cup of coffee nearby or an open window letting in the fresh air.
1. Taste one thing. If you can, grab a piece of fruit, sip some water or just notice the current taste in your mouth.

In practicing this technique, you calm your sympathetic nervous system and disrupt the fight or flight response, providing yourself with immediate relief from anxiety symptoms.

Box Breathing

Box breathing, also known as square breathing, is a powerful anxiety reliever rooted in pranayama, a type of breathwork that has been practiced for thousands of years in the Ayurvedic tradition. Box breathing encourages full oxygen exchange, which can slow the heartbeat and stabilize or lower blood pressure, enhancing focus and psychological responses and bringing about a state of deep relaxation.

Practice Box Breathing:

  1. Find a Comfortable Position: Find a space where you won’t be disturbed, and sit with your back straight or lie down.
  2. Slowly Exhale: Begin by gently exhaling all of the air out of your lungs through your mouth.
  3. Inhale: Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose to a slow count of four, filling your lungs with more air with each number.
  4. Hold Your Breath: Hold your breath for another slow count of four.
  5. Exhale: Exhale through your mouth for the same slow count of four, expelling the air from your lungs and abdomen by the end of the final count.
  6. Hold Again: Hold your breath for a final count of four before repeating the cycle.
  7. Repeat: Perform this cycle four times, or continue for a few minutes until you feel the calming effects.

The balanced rhythm of breathing and holding engages both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, helping to regulate the body’s stress response. By slowing and deepening your breaths, you tell your brain that it’s safe to relax.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Anxiety doesn’t just take hold in our minds, but can manifest in our bodies as well, resulting in muscle tension and discomfort. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR), developed in the 1920s by Dr. Edmund Jacobson, is a relaxation technique that involves focused breathing and tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups in your body, offering both physical and psychological relief.

Practice This Technique:

  1. Prepare Your Environment: Choose a quiet, comfortable space free from distractions. Sit or lie down in a position that feels supportive.
  2. Begin with Breathing: Initiate the process with deep, deliberate breaths. Inhale slowly through your nose, expanding your abdomen, then exhale gently through your mouth. You can even combine this technique with Box Breathing.
  3. Focus on Muscle Groups: Starting with your feet and working your way up, tense each muscle group firmly but without causing pain for about five seconds.
  4. Release the Tension: After holding the tension, release it abruptly. Feel the muscles become loose and limp as the tension flows away.
  5. Notice the Relaxation: Pay close attention to the sensation of relaxation that follows the release of tension. Allow yourself to enjoy the contrast between the tension and relaxation.
  6. Move to the Next Muscle Group: After relaxing one muscle group, shift your focus to the next one. Gradually work through each muscle group in your body, from your feet to your facial muscles.
  7. Maintain Slow Breathing: Keep your breaths slow and deep throughout the exercise to maintain a state of relaxation.
  8. Conclude with Total Relaxation: Once you’ve worked through all the muscle groups, spend a few minutes enjoying the sensation of full-body relaxation

Progressive Muscle Relaxation is effective for anxiety because it directly targets the physical sensations that often accompany mental stress, and helps to regulate your breathing to foster a state of calm.

Harness the Power of Mind-Body Techniques

With these grounding and breathing techniques in your toolkit, you can navigate moments of anxiety and guide yourself back to a state of calm and presence. Regular practice can make these techniques feel more natural, and they can become powerful allies in managing anxiety.

Catherine Rye is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor based in Minneapolis, MN. Reach out today to begin your path toward healing.