Stress and anxiety are evil twins, and most of us know their faces. For some, it’s a case of nerves before an important event, with accompanying physical symptoms like sweaty hands or a rapid heartbeat. For others, it’s a chronic sense that something is wrong. These mental states show up differently, but the universal truth of both is that we want them to stop — now.
If you’re experiencing these symptoms, you’re not alone. Research shows that women experience stress and anxiety at almost double the rate of men. Fortunately, there’s an effective technique you can use to stop stress and anxiety in their tracks: The five senses grounding technique.
How is anxiety different from stress?
Before we jump into the grounding technique, it’s important to understand the difference between stress and anxiety (so you can learn how to manage them). Stress and anxiety are defined differently, but they both lead to the same thing: discomfort! Stress is defined as a response to a specific trigger. Anxiety is described as a chronic condition that often doesn’t have an identifiable cause.
Stress and anxiety happen on a spectrum and can look different for everyone, but there’s one thing about these common mental states that are universal: We just want them to stop. With all our daily demands, that’s a tricky thing to do. But you can take charge of it when it happens with the five senses grounding technique. It can stop your anxiety in its tracks and help ease stress for you or someone you love.
What are grounding techniques?
The term grounding doesn’t just apply to what happens to teenagers when we want to teach them a lesson. It’s also a psychological technique that can be used by a therapist, coach, or even yourself to distract the mind from distress. To ground oneself means to engage in a behavior that brings your body and mind into the here and now. That means right now. Right now, you’re reading this article. But when you finish reading, your mind might go back to that to-do list that only seems to be getting longer. You might worry about something that might happen in the future, or think back on something that’s happened in the past.
Grounding techniques are meant to gently guide your mind back to what is happening in the present moment. For example, you have an event coming up on your calendar that whenever you think about it, your stomach tightens and your pulse starts racing. It could be a social event, a work obligation, or a doctor’s appointment.
Grounding techniques are meant to ease any physical or mental discomfort you might experience when stressed or anxious. Many grounding techniques involve your five senses: Sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste.
What is the five senses grounding technique?
The best thing about the five senses grounding technique, also known as the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique, is that anyone can do it. The technique is used by kids, grownups, and anyone in between. Plus, it’s easy and can be done almost anywhere! There are no ‘right’ answers to this exercise — it’s all based on your own sensory observations.
Here’s how to do it:
- Start by taking some deep, slow breaths.
- Notice FIVE things that you can see around you. (Are you sitting outside? Maybe you see green grass.)
- Notice FOUR things that you can touch around you. (Are you in your living room? Maybe you can touch the sofa or chair you’re sitting on. How does it feel against your hand?)
- Notice THREE things you can hear in the sounds around you. (Even if you’re doing this exercise in a quiet place, try and listen for underlying sounds, like a fridge humming, etc.)
- Notice TWO things you can smell.
- Notice ONE thing you can taste. (What does the inside of your mouth taste like? Mint gum? Coffee?)
It might sound too simple to actually work, but it’s one of the most effective calming techniques out there. Try it, and see for yourself!