End Your Panic Attack: Use This Grounding Technique To Breathe Normally Again

grounding technique

Your heart’s racing, your breath’s spun out of control, and you feel weak. And no, you didn’t just complete a marathon. You were sitting there, engaging in no physical activity whatsoever, and something stressed you out. You’re on the verge of, or already in the throes of, a panic attack. Remembering how to manage what’s happening, or what grounding technique to use, can feel a million miles away. 

You might be triggered by any type of stressor. Someone told you sad news. You thought about that looming final exam. Or it’s April 13th and you still haven’t gathered myriad documents you need to file taxes in just. two. days. Aaaaah. While many people don’t exhibit or react to stress by having a panic attack, countless people do. And in any case, you do. The question is, how can you recover from a panic attack in the easiest, quickest way?

One answer: Use a grounding technique. 

You might think of a grounding technique like your Yogic Mountain. You stand straight with your bare feet rooted on the mat, pull your arms to your sides, facing hands forward with fingers stretched open, suck your belly in and draw your tailbone down, drop your shoulders and square your hips, and stare straight ahead, staunch in your Mountain. Yes, having your feet literally grounded and your body confidently posed does help, and you can try that. But that’s not the grounding technique we’re talking about.

We’re talking about an exercise to ground you emotionally, not physically. To focus you in the moment. To draw your attention inward, instead of stressing on something outside of yourself. To create your own personal safe space, right here, right now.

My go-to grounding technique for panic attacks is the 5-4-3-2-1 Method. It’s structured, and easier than managing your breath, which – hello? – who can manage breathing if you are in the middle of a panic attack, when your breathing feels like it’s taken on its own, fast-paced life, dragging you away with it?

 

The 5-4-3-2-1 Method goes like this:

5: Name five objects or sights you see around you.

4: Name four tangible things you feel (the clothing against your skin, the bangs on your forehead, the floor you’re standing on).

3: Name three sounds you hear

2: Name two scents you smell

1: Name one thing you taste

Now, let’s make it even simpler. What if you can’t remember all of these counts, and in which order? Which one was five, and which one was 2? Like I’m in the middle of a panic attack, and no one’s there who knows this method, and it’s not like I save the instructions as my phone’s home screen. Come. On.

So try this: Choose TWO of these items above. The two that speak to you most, that make you feel the most calm, that focus you best. Practice them in your daily life, when you’re in normal mode, not panic mode, so they’ll be at your lips, ready to count when you feel panicked.

This grounding technique helps align your thoughts and awareness back to the reality of your physical space, rather than your limitless, anxiety-ridden imagination. It secures you into the present, as opposed to the past or future, where anxiety is based. Being mindfully present causes your brain’s physiological response – your “calm” hormones – to reactivate. Once you’ve engaged your brain in structured calm, deep breathing or other deescalating techniques are more effective. In other words, now you can breathe again.

So, call this your 2-Out-of-5 Method. Choose your favorite two grounding “counts” now, and repeat them a few times daily. This way, if you do have a panic attack in the near future, you’ll immediately be able to ground yourself. In fact, knowing you have a coping technique ready to go might even stave off impending anxiety.

 

Find out about harnessing anxiety to maximize wellness: Get the Amazon best-selling book Hack Your Anxiety, sign-up for the free Hack Your Anxiety mini-ecourse, and subscribe to the Hack Your Anxiety newsletter. For more help with Covid-19 and mental health, consult the following online resources. 

 

Alicia H. Clark, PsyD

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