Anxiety Attacks and Grounding Strategies

The first time I had a panic attack I was 17. I can remember feeling like my mind was racing but at the same time blank, I felt shaky as if I was losing control, lights were too bright and sounds were too loud. I don’t remember anything specific triggering this, but over time I had more panic attacks, and I was able to recognize the feeling and use different methods to calm myself, sometimes preventing an attack altogether. The strategies that worked best for me are called grounding strategies – exercises that reduce anxious feelings by distracting your mind and pulling you into the present.


Consider practicing these strategies during times of minor stress, rather than attempting to learn a new skill during an anxiety attack. Learning how these strategies work for you beforehand will prepare you to use them during a crisis and make it more likely that you remember to try using them at all!


5-4-3-2-1

This strategy is a super simple way to distract yourself when feeling anxious. It works by focusing your mind on your physical senses. To use this method, think of five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.


What I like about this technique is that it’s easy to remember in the moment, and you can do it as many times as you need.


Try Deep Breathing to a GIF

Deep breathing is a well-known technique that can be used for reducing anxiety. Personally, I am a very visual person, and I’ve found that having a visual guide can really help me focus on inhaling and exhaling.


A breathing square with a dot moving around the box. The sides of the box have inhale, hold, exhale, and hold as instructions

A breathing box that has a dot moving around it with the words inhale, hold, exhale, hold

Shock your system

One method that I have found to be effective is to shock my system with a physical sensation. This works by drawing your attention away from your anxiety to how your body feels. What can you do to shock your system? Here are a few ways:

  • Run your hands under cold water (but not too cold!)

  • Bite into a lemon - or another food with an intense flavour

  • Clap your hands and focus on the feeling and sound

  • Gently snap a rubber band against your wrist

Remember to be GENTLE with yourself – you want your shock to be strong enough that it grabs your attention, but avoids harm.


Use a Grounding Object

Sometimes anxiety attacks come at unpredictable (and inconvenient) times. Carrying a grounding object with you can help pull you back into the present when you’re away from home. You could carry an object that holds a special meaning for you and reminds you of a loved one or of a happy day – such as a ring, a keychain, or a stuffed toy. On the other hand, you could carry an object that has a distinct physical feeling – such as a smooth rock, a piece of fabric, or sandpaper.


Aftercare

Fatigue, hypersensitivity to light and sound, and difficulty concentrating are all aftereffects of anxiety attacks that I’m familiar with. Panic attacks are often accompanied by physical symptoms, which are caused by your flight-or-fight response becoming activated. It makes sense that after your body goes through this, you are more likely to feel some after-effects.


Remember to take care of yourself after an anxiety attack. Practice self-compassion, reach out to a friend if you need, and rather than trying to fight your anxiety, try to accept it as a part of what makes you, you!


Sources:

Gif 1: https://www.mondaycampaigns.org/destress-monday/square-breathing

Gif 2: https://imgur.com/gallery/x8sHknP

https://www.rtor.org/2020/08/10/how-a-panic-attack-affects-the-body/

https://www.winona.edu/resilience/Media/Grounding-Worksheet.pdf

https://livingwell.org.au/well-being/mental-health/grounding-exercises/

https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/behavioral-health-partners/bhp-blog/april-2018/5-4-3-2-1-coping-technique-for-anxiety.aspx

https://myhealth.alberta.ca/health/AfterCareInformation/pages/conditions.aspx?hwid=uf8358&

 

About the Author


Carly (She/Her)

Hi everyone! I am a returning volunteer to HU as it has been such an engaging and gratifying experience. I am in the Faculty of Science, taking the Honours psychology program with a minor in biology. I’m passionate about helping others, especially with understanding mental health, sexual health, and gender related issues.


I love spending time with friends and family, exploring new places in the city, reading thriller novels, and listening to new music.