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Overwhelmed? Try This Grounding Technique
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Overwhelmed? Try This Grounding Technique

The 5-4-3-2-1 technique is a way to feel grounded in what you can sense and name around you. It’s a worthwhile tool to add to your toolbox when you feel anxious, scared, or overwhelmed.

May is mental health awareness month, and I think it’s so important that we have this month to talk about the real challenges and struggles many of us face with our mental health. For a long time, I felt ashamed of my anxiety, and desperately wished it would go away. I felt that because I was in the health and wellness space as a yoga instructor, I should have it all figured out and know how to deal with my feelings of worry and nervousness. For a long time, in fact, I didn’t even know this part of me had a name: anxiety.

It has taken me many years and many melt-downs, but today I look at my anxiety as a very unusual gift. It’s a barometer for me to check in with myself. It points me in the right direction when I’m not listening to my intuition.

My anxiety points me in the right direction when I’m not listening to my intuition.

But sometimes, I feel overwhelmed, and it helps me to have techniques and tools to ground me, such as meditation. Meditation as a daily tool has allowed me to acknowledge the spiral of fearful emotions inside, but not get swallowed up by them. I gained some self-confidence and was able to accept my anxiety as part of me this way.

I’ve recently read about another technique that has helped many people in moments of panic find some grounding–and not just people who have anxiety. It’s a tool to recenter, refocus, and soothe those feelings of being overwhelmed. It’s called the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. 

The 5-4-3-2-1 Technique

This technique is all about pulling your mind’s attention to your senses. It allows you to slow down, check in with your body, and reconnect with the world around you. This technique requires you to focus your thoughts on what you can feel in the moment, which can be particularly helpful when you find yourself in a swirl of anxious thoughts and need a way to step away from them–especially when they feel inescapable.

The first step, before you start your countdown, is to find your breath. While this is easier said than done, even getting in a few deep breaths can slow your thoughts and breathing down long enough to start this technique.

Try a deep breath. Then one more. Then one more after that. As long as you’re trying, you’re on the right path. Once you're ready, turn your thoughts to your senses. You’re about to play a game of I, Spy with yourself, except you’ll go beyond sight and notice yourself and the world around you through all five senses. Here’s what you do:

Name 5 Things You Can See

This can be any 5 things you see when you look around you. It can be specific objects like a mug or a shoe, but it can also be things like the shadow cast by your lamp or the grain of your wood floors. You don’t have to seek out the most interesting or unique things you can see, just the first five things that call your attention.

Name 4 Things You Can Touch

And don’t just name them, touch them as well, paying attention to the tactile sensation. This could be your hair or a blanket on your lap. It can even be the ground beneath your feet or the arms of a chair if you’re sitting down. Notice how each one feels, not just the texture or sensation of the thing itself, but how your skin feels in relation to it.

Name 3 Things You Can Hear

Time to tune into the sounds around you. You can even make a little noise if you need something to focus on–rubbing your hands together and listening to the sound of your skin is a good one.

Are the floorboards creaking beneath you? Are there birds chirping outside your window? Can you hear the hum of your air conditioning?

Name 2 Things You Can Smell

Start off taking a big breath in through your nose. Does any smell strike you right away? If you’re in your bedroom, maybe you can smell the laundry detergent on your sheets. If you’re in an office, maybe the smell of paper is in the air. If you can’t name anything, take a walk around your surroundings and–you guessed it–sniff! Maybe you’ve got a pot of coffee brewing, or you want to step outside and smell what’s growing around you. You can even head to the bathroom and smell your soap.

Name 1 Thing You Can Taste

What taste is lingering on the inside of your mouth? Maybe you’ve had a cup of tea or an apple for a snack. Maybe some peppermint is lingering from your gum or you can still taste your breakfast. If you really can’t taste anything and feel you need to complete this last section of the technique, go find something to snack on or a drink to take a sip of. Lean into the flavour and sensation as you taste.

Your Feelings Matter

Hopefully, this technique works to make you feel more grounded in your body–touch and taste are great to connect you to your body. Paying attention to what you can see, smell, and hear also brings the space around you back into focus. Plus, by focusing on and naming in your mind each thing you’ve experienced, that mental energy has replaced the negative thoughts that were there before.

It’s okay to feel stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed. We as humans have names for these feelings in the first place because they’re universal and important to talk about.

Of course, this is not a magical fix for your feelings, but having techniques lik this in place can give you the confidence, knowledge, and kindness to care for yourself in moments of fear and worry. If this technique doesn’t help you, or only works for you sometimes, remember not to be hard on yourself.

It’s okay to feel stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed. We as humans have names for these feelings in the first place because they’re universal and important to talk about–whether it’s mental health month or any other time of the year.

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Questions this article answers: 54321 technique Anxiety countdown tool Sensory grounding Grounded senses What to do when overwhelmed

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