5,4,3,2,1 Grounding Exercise

In this post we will cover the 5,4,3,2,1 grounding exercise.  This exercise is a great coping skill for anxiety in general and panic attacks in particular.  I’ve worked with people who have found that this grounding exercise helps them not only better control but, in some cases, stop their panic attacks.  As the name implies the exercise is meant to “ground” you (help you feel more connected to your surroundings) and keep you from getting lost in your anxious thoughts. 

The technique involves using your 5 senses to notice things in your surroundings.  Describe to yourself the details of the things you notice.  For example, instead of just seeing a wall, describe its color and other details you may notice (marks on the wall, visible textures, etc.).  To practice this exercise simply notice and describe to yourself in detail:

5 things you see

4 things you feel

3 things you hear

2 things you smell 

1 thing you taste

There may not be enough things in your surroundings to notice as you are doing the exercise.  If that’s the case, just imagine something you like for the sense you are on until you hit the required number of “things” to sense.  For example, you may only be able to smell one thing when you do the exercise.  In that case, just imagine a second smell that you like.  If you can’t smell anything, imagine two smells that you like.  Also, people often don’t taste anything unless they’ve eaten recently.  Typically for the taste step you will need to imagine a taste you like. 

Practice the exercise and see if it is relaxing for you.  If it seems like it could help you control anxiety or panic you may want to print or write down the steps so you have them handy.  Going through the exercise several times in a row often leads to the largest reductions in anxiety!

-          Bill McCadden, MSW, LCSW

Bill McCadden