How Grounding Techniques Can Help You Manage Anxiety
Since the beginning of this month, a Buzzfeed News article called How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation has been circulating the internet and has had an impact on us at My Wellbeing. In that article, the author Anne Helen Petersen acknowledges and explains the high incidence of burnout among millennials today and states that burnout and anxiety co-exist.
At My Wellbeing, we see that about 70% of people who use our service report that they’d like their provider to have experience working through anxiety.
In this week’s post, NYC therapist and My Wellbeing community member Abbi Klein educates us about grounding techniques and explains how they can be helpful for managing anxiety.
About the Author: Abbi Klein is a NYC licensed clinical social worker, yoga teacher, and anxiety advocate. She combines her training as psychotherapist with her studies of Eastern philosophy and related healing practices. Her goal is to help individuals learn to feel more comfortable in their bodies, have a better relationship with their mental and emotional states, and thrive in all aspects of living, holistically. Outside of her passion for understanding the mind-body connection, she loves snowboarding, exploring the outdoors, cooking mindfully, and being present with her kitty, Celine.
You can email Abbi at email@example.com or learn more about her here.
“Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.”
“Grounding techniques,” “mindfulness,” “here-and-now,” “be present” - All phrases that are often thrown around to individuals struggling with symptoms of anxiety and panic.
But what do these concepts mean? And how are they a part of therapy?
Grounding, in its most literal form, means connecting to the Earth.
As you read this, take a moment, and actively press your feet into the ground. As you press your feet down, feel the muscles in your legs start to activate. Take a deep breath while you do so. Notice, how it creates a sense of firmness and stability in the body. Use your mind to pay attention to that firmness.
Notice how just for that moment, you are completely present, only in the experience of what your body is doing physically. Notice how that takes the pressure away from the thoughts in your mind. Thoughts that have to do with things that happened at a previous time, or things that might happen later.
Anxiety is an experience all humans have; it occurs when we are engaging in circular thinking, worrying about future events and consequences, and even spills over to a physical experience of nervousness, tension in the body, difficulty regulating breath and blood pressure, and an overall feeling of discomfort.
Anxiety is an experience characterized by a sense of airiness- like a tornado of air swirling around, lifting you into a state of dizziness, spinning in circles.
For many with anxiety, talk therapy can be difficult. Talking about our worries, fears, and deeper emotions can often lift us back into that state of dizziness, continuing to chase our problems without feeling supported by the rest of our bodies.
Talk therapy traditionally can take a “top-down” approach: starting with thoughts in the mind and experiences based in words and language- very subtle and intangible things. Grounding work can introduce a “bottom-up” approach: starting with creating a sense of stability and relaxation for the body, where thoughts will then eventually follow.
Starting with the most tangible, gross layer - the physical body in the present moment- can be most accessible for managing the distress that accompanies anxiety.
In my decade long experience of working in a variety of mental health settings, with individuals of all ages, and in my own personal experience, one of the most prominent things I have learned is that processing complex emotional experiences is impossible if one does not feel safe physically.
If someone is in distress, only talking about the problem can sometimes exacerbate anxiety. (Think of a time when you were so upset that it was hard to think or talk at all).
So I learned how to take a deep breath, for real.
And then I learned how to become a yoga teacher to learn how to ground down and be in my body, and teach others how to do this, too.
Here are some ways grounding can support you, in and out of therapy:
Focus on Your Breath
It’s the only “real” tangible thing that is happening when you are sitting or standing. Oxygen being pumped in through the lungs on an inhale, and carbon dioxide being released on an exhale. Keeping you alive and well.
Press Your Feet Into The Earth
Root down to feel the muscular stability of your body and safety that comes with it.
Pay Attention to Your Physical Surroundings
A clock on the wall (or time on your phone), colors of things around you, scents. Use all five of your senses to connect to your external environment.
The first step to mental and emotional stability is awareness of our bodies and, ultimately, the connection between our physical experience and mental experience.
We are complex, multilayered individuals- so let’s honor that and start with the outermost layer.
From there, therapy will be a safe and constructive place, with the support of your therapist, to go deeper.
Thank you, Abbi, for sharing your perspective and helping us to learn more about what grounding is and how grounding techniques can be helpful for managing anxiety and “going deeper” in therapy.
Other thoughts, questions, or feedback? We'd love to hear from you. Reach our team any time at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow us on social @findmywellbeing.