The world is a busy place with lots of distractions. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed on a regular basis. Once you feel overwhelmed it’s not easy to move yourself to a better mental space without knowing how to do so.
However, learning to deal with overstimulation and anxiety is a skill that you can learn and develop. With enough practice, you can quickly get yourself back on track from any negative emotional state.
Each of these techniques require you to pause. The power of pausing to help you regulate your emotions is extremely beneficial. It allows us to bring ourselves into the moment, lower our stress levels and formulate our next steps with a calmer and clearer mind. Pausing allows you to bring yourself back into the present moment.
Know how to ground yourself under any circumstances! Follow these strategies:
1. Hold something in your hand. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, pick up an object. The more interesting the object, the better it will work for this exercise. Nearly anything will work: A pen, a flashlight, saltshaker, paper weight, even a shoe or a hairbrush are all fine.
Hold the object in your hand and focus on the texture. Avoid looking at the object. Just feel it in your hand.
Move the object around in your hand and imagine the shape of the object as you’re feeling it. Try to form a mental picture based on what you’re feeling.
Describe the texture and shape to yourself. Try holding a small piece of ice. What does it feel like at first? How long does it take to start melting? What changes in sensation do you notice when the ice begins to melt?
2. 5-4-3-2-1 Technique. This is another technique that forces you to focus on your senses. But this time you’re going to use all of them.
- Look around your environment and describe something you see. You can do this aloud if you like. Describe its physical appearance in detail for 10-15 seconds. Repeat this until you have described five items.
- Now, describe four things you feel. This can be an object in your vicinity. It can also be a physical sensation, such as the chair beneath you, the temperature of the air on your skin, or your itchy nose.
- Next, describe three things you can hear. You might have to close your eyes and really concentrate, but you can always find at least three sounds in your environment if you try.
- What are two things you can smell? Pick something up and smell it if necessary.
- What is one thing you can taste in your mouth right now? Have a drink if necessary.
3. Call a trusted friend. One of the best ways to deal with feeling overwhelmed is to reach out to a friend and have a chat. You don’t want to call that friend that always seems to complain about everything. Call an upbeat friend that knows how to make you feel better.
4. Focus on your breath. Feel the air go in and out of your body. You can only think about one thing at a time. If your attention is on your breath, it can’t be on whatever is making you feel overwhelmed. Long, slow, controlled breaths in, then equally as long, slow, controlled breaths out.
5. Distract yourself. If all else fails, distract yourself in a non-harmful way. Play a quick game on your phone. Read a few pages of a book. Watch a video of a squirrel snow skiing. Dance around the room. Go for a quick walk. Do whatever it takes without harming yourself.
- Avoid using food, drugs, alcohol, and tobacco as distractions. Also, be aware of how much time you’re spending on your distractions.
6. Describe what’s around you.
Spend a few minutes taking in your surroundings. Take a mental note of what you see. Use all five senses to provide as much detail as possible. “This bench is brown, but the bench over there is yellow. My skin feels warm from sitting in the sun. The seat feels rough where there are knots in the wood, but there aren’t any splinters. The grass is green and the air smells fresh. I smell a BBQ cooking nearby. I hear kids having fun and a dog barking.”
Ideally, you’ll use these grounding techniques before your feeling of overwhelm is at a high level. Ground yourself as soon as you feel your emotions starting to head south. It’s easier to stop a moving train while it’s still moving slowly.
Practice these techniques and be patient. This is a real skill. Focusing your attention purposefully isn’t an easy skill to master, but it’s well worth the time and energy.