The mind of an anxious person can be very complex. When we begin to experience anxiety about something, it can be very difficult for us to see or hear anything else. We get into our own heads and a loop of “what ifs” which can take us down a path of negative thinking and catastrophising (the act of constantly imagining or expecting the worst case scenario).
With anxiety, the brain becomes used to a negative pattern of thinking and rumination and breaking this habit can be very difficult. When you are anxious or worried, you immediately imagine the worst case scenario and it can be difficult to believe that what you are thinking is not going to become a reality. This unfortunately, can be reinforced when something you dreaded does actually happen. Instead of chalking it down to life, you convince yourself that you were right all along and the world is truly a bad place and worse still you fear the reason this happened to you was because you spent too much time thinking about it and you determine to stop thinking about it but unfortunately for us, the minute we tell our brain not to think about something, the more it holds on to this thought. Rest assured, its not your thoughts that create events, if that was the case, I would long ago have won the lottery!.
However our thoughts have a powerful role to play in how we feel and what we think and ultimately in the way we behave so it is important that we learn a variety of techniques to help us cope with repetitive anxious thoughts.
There are several techniques that you can use for breaking this cycle and the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique, which is used by psychotherapists, counsellors and coaches has been found to be particularly useful. There are many different types of grounding techniques and they all work as coping strategies to reconnect you to the present moment and disconnect you from your negative and repetitive thoughts.
When we get stuck into our negative and anxious thinking, we are in effect not living in the moment as we are thinking either about something in the past that is making us afraid and therefore increasing our anxiety or we are worried about something in the future that hasn’t yet happened but in our heads, we are already imagining all the things that can go wrong. Using a grounding technique brings us back to the present time and can disconnect us from the anxious thoughts long enough for us to get out of our own heads and try to change our thoughts.
Before you begin a grounding exercise, think about how you are breathing, Our breath plays such an important part in how we feel. Try to slow down your breathing by taking slow deep breaths. Inhaling for 4 seconds and exhaling for 5 seconds up to 10 times should help calm you down and then you can start the grounding exercise.
5-4-3-2-1 are the steps you go through in each stage as explained here;
5: Acknowledge FIVE things you see around you. It could be a picture, toys, curtains , a stain on the wall, anything in your surroundings.
4: Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch around you. It could be your jewelry, a cushion, or the ground under your feet.
3: Acknowledge THREE things you hear. This could be any external sound. If you can hear your belly rumbling that counts! Focus on things you can hear outside of your body.
2: Acknowledge TWO things you can smell. If you are at home, you may be able to smell something that was cooked earlier or perhaps the scent of your perfume. If you need to move around to get a smell then do so.
1: Acknowledge ONE thing you can taste. What does the inside of your mouth taste like— your lunch, the soft drink you had or toothpaste from brushing your teeth?
By the time you have got to 1, you will find that whatever thoughts were making you anxious have been replaced by having to do this exercise.
This is one of many techniques that you can use to defuse anxiety. I also suggest writing things down in a journal especially when you get these anxious thoughts or panic attacks. If you write down things you were previously worried about and whether or not they actually happened, this can remind you that most of what we worry about actually never happens.
Of course, this is not to say sometimes bad things will not happen to you, the reality is that life is not always smooth sailing and there are going to be good days and bad days. However, remembering that most of the negative scenarios in your head actually do not come to pass can give you some measure of comfort.
In addition, it is also useful to combat your negative “what ifs” with positive ones. So, for example, say you are preparing for a job interview and you have anxious thoughts and are having thoughts such as “what if I do badly, what if I mess up, what if I do not get the job” and so on. You can change this narrative to “what if I do really well, what if I do not mess this up, what if I get the job”? The more often you do this, the easier it will becomes to not default to a negative thought pattern. As with all the techniques mentioned here, the more often you do this, the easier it becomes.
If your anxiety is something that you struggle with and it is affecting your quality of life, please speak to someone about it or contact your GP about getting support.