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Anxiety can pack a punch. I would know: I’m one of an estimated 40 million Americans who deals with it.
Unlike the stress of everyday life, anxiety has a way of sneaking up on you. It can happen anywhere — being delayed in a hot, loud subway car or walking home after a long day of work. I’ll start to feel dizzy or my heart will start to race. I know I need a second (or a few minutes) to re-center.
It's been worse in the past. In the year following the loss of a dear friend in college, I had to skip a Habitat for Humanity trip because of an overwhelming sense of fear. While racing against the clock in an important final, I had to take a 10-minute break in the hall to quietly slow my breathing.
There’s no one-stop solution to improving your mental health, everyone is different and what works for me, may not work for you. Though, following a healthy diet, exercise and therapy are a few of the things that have helped me manage my anxiety. There's also one exercise that really helps me reduce anxiety in the moment.
The best part is, it only takes a few minutes.
It’s called a grounding exercise, and it comes straight from my therapist.
Here’s how it works:
Take a seat. (If you can’t find a quiet place, don’t worry about it. The exercise is designed to help you wherever you are.)
Put your feet on the floor and place your hands either on your seat or on your knees. In this step, you are physically grounding yourself to the floor and your seat. The stable position is to help you feel more secure.
Take a deep breathe and keep your eyes open.
Focus on something you see or sense around you. It could be the texture of your pants, how the seat feels, the light glimmering through the window or even the colors of the shoes people around you are wearing.
Continue to breathe deeply and just think about what’s around you. Slowly, your mind will start to tune out the anxiety.
Alternatively, you can recall a time when you felt happy and relaxed. Think about that time, and focus on the details. Were you at the beach? What did the sand feel like? What color blue was the water?
Do this for a few minutes, and repeat as needed.
The routine is one of several types of grounding exercises. All of them are designed to work anywhere: at work, home or in a shopping center.
Sharon Martin, a clinical social worker and psychotherapist, said that grounding exercises have worked for many of her patients.
“When we are in those (anxious) states, our minds are somewhere else. We’re worrying about the future or ruminating about what didn’t go so well in the past,” said the California-based therapist, who has been practicing for more than 20 years.
“When we do grounding exercises, we bring our focus, our attention to what’s happening to right here and now,” she said.
She recommends rating the level of your negative feelings before the grounding exercise and afterward to see if it’s effective. If you don’t feel like doing that, you can just notice your physical systems, like the rate of your breath.
“It is a way taking your brain and shifting it from one thought process to another one,” she added. “It forces you to slow down.”
A recent study on 77 people found that grounding techniques were more effective in reducing anxiety than simply relaxing. Mindfulness exercises (like anything) become effective with time, research has found.
I hope it helps you!