Stop and Smell the Roses: Calming Anxiety with Breathing and Grounding

Sometimes we get caught off-guard with anxiety. Symptoms may “attack” when we are speaking to others, driving, at the doctor’s, or are triggered by what some may find innocuous (snakes! heights! an email with no subject!). While anxiety is common, sudden symptoms such as a racing heart, dizziness/vertigo, nausea, and a feeling of physical and mental disorientation can be unnerving and scary for many. I recommend ongoing anxiety management reduction through such tools as exercise, spending time outdoors, proper sleep and eating, reduction of caffeine, thought tracking/challenging, and mindfulness, among others. But what to do when you’re dreading a meeting and anxiety swoops in? You need tools that can work immediately. Here are some ways breathing and grounding (connecting the mind and body to the present and reminding us that we are here, now, and safe) can help.

– Try box breathing. This is slowly breathing in for 4 counts, out for 4, in for 4, out for 4 (picture the sides of a box). Deep breathing calms the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our fight or flight responses. Counting while breathing ads another element of focus.

– For kids, I teach “cupcake” breathing. I have them imagine they have a birthday cupcake in their hands (and have them chose a flavor) and breathe in deeply to smell the cupcake. They then breathe out deeply to blow out the birthday candle.

– Get grounded. If possible, sit down with your feet firmly planted on the ground and weight distributed equally. Push your feet into the ground. Feel the weight of your body against the floor and chair. You can also do a “body scan” and observe the sensations in your body from head to toes.

– Use your senses. Observe closely what you see, hear, feel (physical sensations), smell, and taste. Try and find 4-5 examples of each sense (smell and taste may not always apply).

– Drink a hot tea or a cold glass of water. Notice the feeling of the temperature in your hands and mouth. Hold a piece of ice in your hand and notice the sensation. Smell something sharp and bright, like an orange peel or a piece of ginger.

– Have a pet (or near someone else’s)? Pet it! Petting an animal is believed to lessen anxiety and increase feel-good chemicals like serotonin. For both of you!

– For kids: Have kids list everything they see that is, say, purple, or soft, or glittery. Send them outside for a nature walk and have them find a bug, a flower, something fuzzy, a smooth rock. Have them slow down and focus on what is around them and engage with their surroundings.

 

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