How Can I Feel Safe?: Grounding Techniques for Anxiety

Anxiety can be overwhelming. It can be hard to stay grounded and connect with ourselves when our heads are swimming, our hearts are pounding, and we’re drenched in sweat. In those moments, it can be difficult to soothe ourselves or find any sense of safety. Having a “grounding toolkit,” or strategies we’ve practiced ahead of time when we’re not feeling anxious, can make a huge difference in how we manage our anxiety!

Grounding methods are exercises to help you return to the present moment and feel safe. Oftentimes, we ground ourselves by connecting with our environment, or our actual physical surroundings. Rooting into the present moment can be really helpful, especially when your anxiety wants to take you into what could happen in the future or what has already happened that you can’t change. Here are some practical, actionable ways to ground yourself when you’re feeling anxious.

The 5-4-3-2-1 method. This grounding method involves naming 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell, and either something you can taste or a positive affirmation. This concrete tool can be really helpful for some, as it can be difficult to think creatively when we are in the midst of anxiety or panic. Returning to the 5-4-3-2-1 method can help us have a solid plan for connecting with the present moment, even at our most anxious times.

Soothing self-talk and self-affirmations. When we are feeling anxious, it can be helpful to intentionally speak to ourselves kindly and calmly. When we do this, we’re not bypassing our negative emotions – that would be engaging in “toxic positivity” – but rather, communicating to ourselves that it’s okay to experience our feelings. We can also use soothing self-talk to communicate to ourselves that our feelings are real and that they will pass.

Soothing self-talk is my favorite strategy for calming myself when I am anxious. I speak to myself how I would speak to a dear friend or to a child, with kind words and a calming tone. Soothing self-talk works by helping us settle an activated limbic system (how our bodies react to a perceived threat). It’s my favorite because it allows me the chance to validate my feelings, while I’m also helping myself recover from them.

Sensorial stimulation through having ice cubes or textured rocks on hand! In the midst of an anxious moment, it can be helpful to grasp something. Some might enjoy an ice cold sensation in their hands to bring them back to the present moment, and others may enjoy simply having rocks with an interesting texture to run their fingers over.

Besides the 5-4-3-2-1 method and soothing self-talk, there are other ways to ground yourself when feeling anxious. Making time to be in nature, even if it’s on a neighborhood walk where you pay extra attention to plants and trees, can be really helpful. It can also be therapeutic to simply focus on the sounds and colors around you. For me, focusing on what I can see and smell helps ground me into the present moment in an often enjoyable way.

Another way to ground yourself is through mindful attention to everyday tasks, like cooking or cleaning. While making a meal, you can notice the way the ingredients feel while preparing them; when it’s time to eat, take extra care to savor your food and enjoy how it smells. While doing the dishes, set the water to a warm temperature and give some mindful attention to the way the soapy water feels on your skin.

Practicing mindfulness and using grounding techniques is a creative space. I often encourage my clients to connect to their five senses in ways that feel good to them. Your favorite way of grounding yourself may be different than my favorite way to ground myself. Feel free to get creative! Working on your “grounding toolkit” with a therapist can also be helpful. If you’d like support while finding your strategies for dealing with anxiety, please reach out at (323) 388-5578 or

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