calm down anxiety

How to Calm Down When Anxious

How to Calm Down When Anxious Using Grounding Techniques

Have you ever been in a situation where you start to panic because you can feel an anxiety attack coming on?

The thoughts start to go off in your mind… “Don’t panic, stay calm”, but this only makes you focus on the impending anxiety attack even more!

This happened to me all the time and I would always think, how do I calm down when anxious? What’s the trick?

Or let’s say you’re in a group where people are talking, but you’re frozen and can’t think of anything to say. You’re trapped in your own mind, talking to yourself about what to say, but you’re completely stuck. You feel so anxious, your heart is racing, you’re shaking, and you just want to RUN from that place.

calming down in group

As someone who has suffered from social anxiety for many many years, I know this scenario all too well. Your mind is racing so fast and you’re losing control, but everyone else seems so calm.

“Why is this happening to me”, I always thought.

I just wished I could find out how to calm down when anxious. That way I could act normal and interact like everyone else.

I didn’t just accept the way I was. I wanted to change that. I wanted to get to the root cause of why this was happening and I spent years and years studying psychology and self help methods. One technique I discovered that brought success was grounding.

Grounding – why it makes you calm

Grounding is a great way to slow your mind down. A lot of people with social anxiety are just in their heads too much. We tend to overthink, over-analyze, replay regrets, and worry about the future constantly. We need to learn how to get out of our head!

Grounding brings you back to the present moment and focuses on what’s happening to you physically. This works because anxiety is caused by thinking of the past and the future. If you’re grounded in the now, focused on your surroundings, you will be focused on that instead of feelings of worry and anxiousness.

vicious cycle of anxiety

The vicious cycle of anxiety

When we are introduced to a stressful situation (party, meeting, insert your social fear here), our amygdala springs into action. This is the part of the brain that is responsible for our emotional responses (including fear).

The amygdala is great when there is a real emergency, but for those of us with social anxiety, it jumps into action way too often. It thinks everything is a threat! As you know, most of the time there is no threat at all.. we are just afraid, but there is actually no real danger.

This fear based response elicits a perpetual cycle of negative thoughts about certain situations and when we have those negative thoughts, we get the corresponding physical changes – racing heart, fast breathing, muscle tension, etc.

Once we have the thoughts and the physical proof to back it up, our amygdala goes into overdrive and thinks, holy shit, there is a real threat here – “RUN!!!”

Yikes.

Now, you can probably see why it is so hard to break out of this vicious cycle. It reinforces itself and it tricks you. What you can do before it spirals out of control is to focus on your body and what you’re feeling in the moment.

Grounding techniques to help you calm down when anxious

These techniques will help you divert your attention away from your negative thoughts and into your body. By doing this, you can break the cycle of anxiety. Continually do this and you will essentially reprogram your mind to feel fine in social situations that you may fear right now.

Practice these techniques before you need them so that you can use them effortlessly when called upon.

1 – The 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique

calm down anxiety

Use all your senses to be fully in the present moment.

Sit comfortably, take a couple deep breaths, and if possible, close your eyes. Now, open your eyes and out-loud (if possible), say:

  • 5 things you can see.
  • 4 things you can feel (the chair you’re sitting on, your feet on the ground, the pencil on your desk). You can pick something up and feel it if needed.
  • 3 things you can hear (the fridge, traffic, AC, etc.).
  • 2 things you can smell.
  • 1 thing you can taste (have a mint or chocolate near you if possible or get up and grab a piece of candy).

Take a deep breath and relax. By eliciting all your senses, you will feel completely immersed in the present moment.

2 – The Grounding Chair

This one is simple, but effective. Sit in a chair and relax. Place your feet on the floor, close your eyes, and focus on your breath. Breathe in slowly for a count of four and then breathe out slowly. Next, focus on your body’s contact against the chair. Feel the chair against you back, against your behind, and against your arms (if you have an arm rest). How does it feel? What’s the texture like?

Next, push your feet into the ground. Connect with the floor and imagine all the energy leaving your mind and going into the ground. Try and visualize and feel the energy moving down your body (could be light or a specific color), down your legs, and into the ground. Your body should feel relaxed and heavy after this. Allow the heaviness to do the same as the energy… allow it to move down the body, (almost like you’re draining a tank) and out into the ground.

3 – Distract yourself

This one is pretty well known in the social anxiety community. Distracting yourself from your negative self talk helps you break the cycle of anxiety. Two of the best count backwards by 12 or pick a color.

Count backwards by 12 from 100 – You can pick any combination of numbers to count backwards from. Some like to use 6 or 7 from 100. Just use a number that is challenging (not 5 or 10!). This will force you to think about math instead of any anxious feelings.

Pick a color – Let’s say you pick brown. Look around the room and see how many different shades of that color you can find. If it worked a little but still feeling stressed, pick another color.

4 – Let your thoughts come and go.

This one is easier said than done, but with some practice and some meditation, you can become better at letting thoughts come and go. Whenever we force ourselves to stop thinking of something, we are pretty much guaranteed to think of that thing! Instead of forcing yourself to not think about something, become the observer of your mind.

Watch your thoughts come and go like a bystander. Watch your mind without judgement. Becoming the observer allows you to take a step back, it lets you detach a bit. Imagine you are an ocean and that your thoughts are simply just waves on that ocean. You are much more than your waves… you are the whole ocean! Observe the waves. Let them come and go as they please.

5 – Hold something in your hand

I used to have a worry stone that I would keep in my pocket and it really helped me take the focus from my crazy thoughts to the object in my hand. I would feel the smoothness of it and become very focused on that sensation.

It doesn’t have to be a worry stone, it can be anything. Find something interesting and bring all of your senses into it – Look at the colors of the object, feel the weight of it, feel the textures.¬†Again, this is another great way to remove you from your mind and into the present.

6 – Get physical

If you’re way too high energy to sit still and focus on something around you (like some of the examples above), then you need to release that excess energy through some exercise.

Run, walk around the block, go up and down the stairs, clean the house, dance, do some push ups or pull-ups. You can even try some Yoga (extremely exhausting!).

This works well for me because once I have pushed myself physically, I am spent and able to be very calm. Once I’ve expended all that energy, I can try some of the other grounding techniques.

7 – Focus on your inner body

I like to focus my attention on the area just below my belly button. This really gets me out of my own head and grounded in the present moment. It gets me in my body and that helps to stop the continuous stream of anxiety thoughts from taking over my mind.

Conclusion

Try one of the techniques that resonates with you. Practice it a few times and the next time you feel those feelings of anxiety rising up, become grounded. You may find that different techniques work in different situations.

It’s important to keep practicing so that it becomes easier and easier to get into this grounded state.

Once you start doing this, you will break the anxiety cycle because:

  1. You’re stopping the mind from racing and spiraling out of control.
  2. You’re beginning to challenge the thoughts you are having.
  3. You’re able to look at the whole event more rationally which will reduce the fear of that situation in the future.

Related: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Becoming grounded is just one of many techniques used to calm down when anxious. Feel free to browse some of my other articles and sign up to my newsletter to receive my best social anxiety and shyness tips. As someone who has been there, I truly know what works and what doesn’t work.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *