top of page

5 ways to manage when you are losing control of your thoughts, feelings and choices...

Updated: Nov 20, 2023

A. The 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique can be very effective for grounding during an especially stressful moment.

If possible, take a seat, close your eyes and take several deep breaths, then....

1. open your eyes and say out loud 5 different things you see in the space.

2. find 4 separate things you can touch, from your skin to your clothes, maybe the seat you’re in or a nearby book. Anything counts.

3. The next step is to focus on 3 things you can hear, birds, kids playing outside, distant music perhaps or the sound of traffic.

4. Then employ smell by attempting to differentiate between 2 different smells or scents in the space.

5. Lastly, is there 1 thing you can taste? Maybe you chew a piece of gum and think about its flavour or a piece of candy. Any food item can work.

If you notice the steps from 5 things to see and 1 thing to taste, they seem to get harder as they get closer to the last one. This is intentional because it engages the mind as the exercise progresses and diverts attention away from the cause of stress or anxiety. It’s quite easy to find dozens of things to see, but much more difficult to find more than one thing to taste.

B. Use Math and Numbers

Even if you aren’t a math person, numbers can help centre you.

Try: 1. running through a times table in your head.

2. counting backward from 100 3. choosing a number and thinking of five ways you could make the number (6 + 11 = 17, 20 – 3 = 17, 8 × 2 + 1 = 17, etc.)

C. Deep Breathing

Deep diaphragmatic breathing, or "belly breathing," sends a very strong relaxation signal to the brain that effectively turns down physiological arousal, and in turn, stress levels.

The first step in belly breathing is to sit or lie in a quiet room in a comfortable position with one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Begin by breathing in through your nose. When you breathe in, you should only feel your stomach expand. You will know that you are doing this correctly if the hand on your chest is almost motionless while the hand on your stomach moves outward.

Once you have taken a deep breath in, blow the air out slowly through pursed lips—similar to the face you would make blowing up a balloon—and feel your stomach fall back towards your spine. Again, only the hand on your stomach should be moving. Exhaling should take two to three times as long as inhalation. The relaxation that comes with deep breathing will kick in after a minute or two, but keep going for five, 10 or even 20 minutes for maximum benefits. During belly breathing, we experience a reduced heart rate, lowered blood pressure and more efficient breathing, each of which promotes a state of calm and relaxation.

D. Mindfulness Meditation

Once you have mastered the deep breathing technique, you may want to try mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation is the practice of noticing thoughts without judging them or pushing them away.

By practicing mindfulness meditation, we become more aware of our thoughts and become better at detaching ourselves from those thoughts and being more "arm's length" to them. By practicing this technique, we are less likely to be affected by troubling thoughts.

To practice mindfulness meditation, begin with the deep breathing exercise described above. As you are breathing, try to pay attention to the thoughts, sensations, fears, anxiety and worries that are passing through your mind. Simply notice these thoughts without trying to push them away. Notice what happens to these thoughts when you simply leave them alone and let them pass. Use deep breathing as your anchor throughout this exercise.

E. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)

PMR is an effective technique for reducing overall body tension as well as psychological stress. This simple technique involves the tensing and relaxing of all of the major muscles in your body in order from your head to your feet. By tensing your muscles before relaxing them, you enable yourself to relax more thoroughly after you release, letting go of physical tension more effectively. Fortunately, it can be easily learned and practiced anywhere.

Research shows that relaxing your body physically can also release psychological tension and stress, minimizing your stress reactivity and decreasing your experience of chronic stress. There are other effective ways to minimize psychological and emotional stress, but PMR can offer you one more tool, which can help you to build your resilience overall.

With regular practice, the relaxation triggered by the PMR technique can come more quickly and automatically, making it a great go-to technique for many situations that involve physical tension. As you reduce the tension you carry in your body, your whole being will feel less stress and you will enjoy increased physical and emotional health.

How to Do PMR Here’s how to get started:

  1. Find Some Time. Block off at least 15 minutes to begin. I recommend setting an alarm for yourself, in case you fall asleep. (This will allow you to relax more completely, knowing you won't lose track of time.) I also recommend finding a private place so you'll feel more comfortable with step #3.

  2. Sit and Make Yourself Comfortable. After finding a quiet place and time to practice PMR, make yourself comfortable. It's more effective to stretch out and lie down, but if you don't have room, sittng in a comfortable chair works well. Unfold your arms, however, and uncross your legs so that you have easy circulation and your body is able to really relax.

  3. Start With Your Face. Begin by tensing all the muscles in your face and scalp. Make a tight grimace, close your eyes as tightly, clench your teeth and move your ears up if you can. Hold this for the count of eight as you inhale.

  4. Let Go of Your Tension. Now exhale and relax completely. Let your face go completely, as though you were sleeping. Feel the tension seep from your facial muscles and enjoy the feeling. Take your time and relax completely before you move onto the next step. You can repeat this step until your face feels thoroughly relaxed.

  5. Move to Your Neck. Next, completely tense your neck and shoulders, inhaling slowly and counting to eight. Then exhale and relax. Again, this step can be repeated until you feel absolutely relaxed in this area.

  6. Work Your Way Down. Continue down your body, repeating the procedure with the following muscle groups:

    1. chest

    2. abdomen

    3. entire right arm

    4. right forearm and hand (making a fist)

    5. right hand

    6. entire left arm

    7. left forearm and hand (again, making a fist)

    8. lefthand

    9. buttocks

    10. entire right leg

    11. lower right leg and foot

    12. right foot

    13. entire left leg

    14. lower left leg and foot

    15. left foot

    16. face

    17. neck, shoulders, and arms

    18. abdomen and chest

    19. buttocks, legs, and feet

Additional tips

Grounding yourself isn’t always easy. It may take some time before the techniques work well for you, but don’t give up on them. Here are some additional tips to help you get the most out of these techniques:

Practice. It can help to practice grounding even when you aren’t experiencing distress. If you get used to an exercise before you need to use it, it may take less effort when you want to use it as a coping strategy.

Start early. Try a grounding exercise when you first start to feel bad. Don’t wait for distress to reach a level that’s increasingly difficult to handle. If the technique doesn’t work at first, try to stick with it for a bit before moving on to another.

Avoid assigning values. If you’re grounding yourself by describing your environment, concentrate on the basics of your surroundings, rather than how you feel about them.

Check in with yourself. Before and after a grounding exercise, rate your distress as a number between 1 and 10. What level is your distress when you begin? How much did it decrease after the exercise? This can help you get a better idea of whether a particular technique is working for you or not.

Keep your eyes open. Avoid closing your eyes, since it’s often easier to remain connected to the present if you’re looking at your current environment. Grounding techniques can be powerful tools to help you cope with distressing thoughts in the moment. But the relief they provide is generally temporary.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email Sally-Anne here. We look forward to hearing from you.

10 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page