It is no surprise that most working Americans experience some form of daily stress or anxiety. Looming deadlines, long hours, and workplace politics can all contribute to stress. While a certain amount of stress is considered normal, persistent and excessive stress can interfere with worker productivity and performance.
In the U.S., stress has reached epidemic proportions, with 65% of workers reporting chronic levels of stress. According to a national survey put forth by the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA), anxious employees frequently report difficulties managing everyday problems; setting and meeting deadlines; managing others; maintaining personal relationships, and participating in regularly scheduled meetings.
During episodes of moderate to severe stress or anxiety, the brain’s pre-frontal cortex – the executive center – goes offline making it extremely difficult to focus or concentrate. In these moments, grounding techniques can be especially helpful in keeping workers more present in the moment. By learning how to remain present, anxious workers can strengthen their self-awareness and regain mental focus.
Laura Manderino-Martins, a licensed psychotherapist and owner of May You Find Peace LLC, describes the struggle workers may experience…”Feeling anxiety or the symptoms of a panic attack at work can be really difficult. Feeling the fear of other people noticing your symptoms can make the symptoms worse, and not having a lot of options to help in the moment can also increase the fear response loop.”
As a trauma and crisis-trained professional, Laura recommends the following grounding techniques for people who find themselves experiencing panic or anxiety while at work…
“I recommend doing something to ground yourself in the moment using your senses and surroundings. For example, if you are at your desk, try to bring up a photo of a favorite vacation spot, or a photo of your family, that brings up feelings of familiarity.
Now, look at this photo, and have a conversation in your mind stating only facts. An example of this would be, ‘this is a photo of myself and my friend. I am wearing a blue shirt. She is wearing a yellow shirt. I am carrying a black bag in this photo. There is a person in the background wearing a hat.’ Really study the photo and ground yourself by speaking of facts you see.
While you hear the emotional chatter in your mind in the background, speak over it with facts about what you see in front of you. You can also do this with your surroundings, and not just a photo. If you are in a meeting, and not at your desk, you can use your surroundings to ground yourself. For example, you can look around the room and notice the color of each person’s shirt. You can note how many people are wearing open-toed or close-toed shoes. It may sound like, ‘I see this person is wearing open-toed shoes, I see that person is wearing black fancy shoes.’
Having a conversation in your head about the facts in the moment can bring you back to center. During this time, try not to push the feelings of anxiety out of your mind. Picturing them flowing through you, in one ear and out the other, while you stay in the moment with what is right in front of you. Allow the anxiety to exist, but talk over it, acknowledging what is right in front of you and knowing it will pass.
And remember, you are not the only person experiencing anxiety at work. Just as you don’t notice other people experiencing anxiety, it’s likely your co-workers don’t notice you either, as everyone is operating from their own experience and within their own bodies. Be gentle with yourself and remember you are not alone.”
There are many different types of grounding techniques and some may work better than others. By practicing different techniques, you will quickly learn which ones work best for you. Remember to keep these strategies in mind to help mitigate any future episodes of stress or anxiety.
33 Quick & Simple Grounding Techniques to Reduce Anxiety
- Observe your environment using all five senses. Name five things that you see, four that you feel, three that you hear, and two that you smell or taste. Follow that up with naming one thing you are grateful for.
- Take a mental inventory of everything around you. Make a list of everything you see around you. Count the pieces of furniture in the room. Notice all the colors and patterns you see. This exercise helps by directly connecting you with the present moment.
- Take several deep breaths. Breathe slowly and steadily from your core. Make sure to exhale longer than you inhale. Imagine yourself letting go of fear and worry with each breath you take.
- Ask yourself present-focused questions. Ask yourself where you are, what day of the week it is, what month it is, what year it is, what season it is, how old you are, etc. Bring up today’s date on your phone or computer if you have to.
- Focus on one word. Repeat a calming mantra over and over to yourself.
- Use your body to ground you in the present moment. Feel your feet firmly planted on the floor or the weight of your body in your chair.
- Change your body positioning. Wiggle your fingers, tap your feet. Pay attention to the movements.
- Practice progressive muscle relaxation. Starting with your toes, flex and relax each part of your body. Feel the stretch in your muscles and the tension and relaxation as you move up your body.
- Use rhythm to relax. Tap your feet on the floor or drum your fingers on your desk. Create a rhythm and repeat it, staying focused on the beginning and end of each sound you create.
- Practice belly breathing. Place one hand on your stomach, and the other on your chest. Breathe slowly and deeply into your belly, trying to raise your hand like you are filling up a balloon with air. Try to keep the hand on your chest still, breathing only into your stomach. Slowly breathe out, feeling the hand on your stomach lower like the balloon is deflating.
- Eat or drink something. Notice the temperature and taste. Is it hot or cold? Sweet or sour?
- Find the light. If there is a window nearby, take a look outside. Count the number of trees and street signs you see.
- Take a break and get outside for some light exercise. Walk around the building or do some light stretches.
- Distract yourself with others. Find a friendly coworker and have a quick chat.
- Count numbers. Count by 3s, 6s, or 7s. Try to count as high as you can.
- Count backward. Try counting backward from 100 by 3s, 6s, or 7s.
- Change the scenery. If you are in your office, go to the break room or walk the halls. A change of scenery can do a lot of good.
- Drink a very cold glass of water. Feel the coldness in your throat and against your hand.
- Drink hot coffee. Feel the warmth in your throat and against your hand.
- Get your blood flowing. Do some jumping jacks or a few sit-ups or push-ups. Jog in place. Get your blood flowing.
- Walk around slowly. Notice each footstep, saying “left,” “right” to yourself with each step you take.
- Engage your mind. Try to think of as many facts as you can that relate to a specific theme. Or pick a word or your name and see how many other words you can make from the letters in it.
- Try labeling objects. Choose a category of objects (e.g., types of sports, cities, etc.) and try to think of as many objects as possible that fit into that category.
- Pick a color and look for objects of that color. Notice subtle differences in the shades of color.
- Say or think the alphabet backward. Or try to alternate letters and numbers (A1, B2, C3, D4, etc.).
- Think of the words to your favorite song. Try to recite words to something that you enjoy. This can be a song, poem or inspirational quote.
- Describe an everyday event or process in great detail. Try listing all of the steps in order and be as thorough as possible (e.g., how to get from your house to your place of work, how to cook your favorite meal, etc.).
- Focus on a calm/safe place. Describe a place that you find very soothing (perhaps the beach or mountains, or a favorite room); focus on everything about that place—the sounds, colors, shapes, objects, textures. Imagine being there.
- Create a mental container. Think of an image of some type of container (e.g., a safe, Tupperware, trunk, file cabinet, etc.). Make sure the mental container either has a tight lid or lock. Imagine putting uncomfortable feelings away in the container and locking it up. Then imagine walking away from the container.
- Think of things you are looking forward to in the coming weeks. Perhaps you have plans with family or friends or are looking forward to the release of a new movie.
- Write it down. Grab a pen and start doodling or drawing. Write down your favorite inspirational quote. Try writing down your feelings or thoughts, being as descriptive as possible. Then try to challenge any negative thoughts.
- Join in on conversations around you. Try participating in conversations going on around you. Engaging fully with another person can help take the focus off of your own anxiety.
- Finally…try using humor. Find something that makes you laugh. Humor is one of the most fail-proof ways to get more grounded during periods of extreme stress or anxiety. Like they say, humor is the best medicine.