Five things you can see.
Four things you can feel.
Three things you can hear.
Two things you can smell.
One thing you can taste.
If you're feeling anxious, take a deep breath and tell yourself these things.
This is a simple yet very effective grounding technique I've been using for years. The best things about it are 1) it takes less than a minute to do, and 2) you can do it anywhere with no one noticing.
I can't remember where I first learned about it. There are so many grounding techniques that therapists have taught me over the years, such as:
Take three deep breaths.
Feel the weight of your body in the chair and your feet on the ground.
Remind yourself of the day of the week, the month and the year, and what you're doing (e.g., "It's Wednesday afternoon, it's January 2022, and I'm walking home from the grocery store.").
The list goes on.
I like the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique because I find it super easy to get into. I'll simply pause for a moment and start with, "Okay, well what are five things I can see, even though I feel like my whole world is collapsing?" It gives me a point of focus amidst emotional chaos.
It's nice to have a mindfulness activity to do in the middle of an internal apocalypse on a Wednesday afternoon.
Making Your Five Senses Your Ally
A few days ago, I was walking home to my friend's place in Burlington, Ontario, with whom I'm staying temporarily (technically I'm homeless, due to a small existential crisis and the foolish belief that I can make a living from my writing, but that's another TedTalk) and I felt the onset of intense anxiety. I decided to put the good ol' 5-4-3-2-1 into action.
"Okay, I see that tree, the sky, the sidewalk, that snowbank and that house."
Already, I started feeling slightly less panicky.
"I feel my feet in my boots, my hands in my gloves, the cold air on my face and my lips pressed together."
"I hear my boots walking on the sidewalk, a bird making a weird noise in a tree - what kind of bird is that? - and that car going by."
"I don't really smell anything. The smell of the outdoors?"
I rarely am able to smell two things. Sometimes I don't smell anything at all. But asking yourself if you smell anything is itself grounding.
I was feeling much better by this point.
I couldn't decipher or describe a taste in my mouth as I was approaching the house.
But it didn't matter. All I knew was I felt calm.
The Bad News and the Good News
It doesn't last long. The feeling of calm.
The 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique just helps you in a moment of stress (or distress, which is more my vibe) by bringing you back to the present, and back to yourself, so you can think more clearly.
Another difficult moment will happen - maybe in five minutes, maybe in five hours. Another trigger will present itself. The moment of calm you were able to achieve in 5-4-3-2-1 will feel like a distant memory.
But remember this: as impossible as it is to remember ever feeling calm when you're feeling distressed, it's equally impossible to remember ever feeling distressed once you feel calm. Emotional states can change dramatically in a moment, for worse or for better, even when you're convinced you'll be stuck there forever.
With practice, you'll be able to pull this grounding technique out of your pocket and give yourself a hand in getting out of your head. You'll be in your body and in the present moment again, instead of feeling like you're a drifting consciousness out in space.
The ground is always there to welcome you back.