Sonya Thomas lcsw

Working with Anxiety – Part 3

Anxiety is something most of us experience at least some of the time.  It could appear in work or professional settings.  Public speaking, performance reviews, and mastering new job responsibilities are just some of the work-related situations that may lead to anxiety or even panic.  Our personal lives also offer ample opportunity to feel anxious or panicky.  Waiting on the results of that medical test, going on a first date, entering a party in which you know hardly anyone, or waiting on your teenager who is out past his curfew and won’t answer the phone are just a few of the adrenaline pumping scenarios that many of us experience.  And then there are the specific phobias that some of us have – spiders, heights, flying, vomiting, etc.  If you have a phobia to a specific trigger, you know the distress that can ensue when exposed.

We can benefit by having an arsenal of tools in our proverbial belt to head off anxiety and panic.  Here is one to practice the moment that you notice anxiety, or perhaps implementing it as soon as you know you are in a situation that will likely lead up to feeling anxious.  The 5-4-3-2-1- exercise can help to ground you in the present when your mind is bouncing around between various anxious thoughts and your central nervous system is going haywire.

Before starting this exercise, pay attention to your breathing. Slow, deep, long breaths can help you maintain a sense of calm or help you return to a calmer state. Once you find your breath, go through the following steps to help ground yourself:

5: Acknowledge FIVE things you see around you. It could be a pen, a spot on the ceiling, anything in your surroundings.

4: Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch around you. It could be your hair, a pillow, or the ground under your feet.

3: Acknowledge THREE things you hear. This could be any sound. If you can hear your belly rumbling that counts, too!

2: Acknowledge TWO things you can smell. Maybe you are in your office and smell pencil, or maybe you are in your bedroom and smell a pillow. If you need to take a brief walk to find a scent, then do so.   You could smell soap in your bathroom, or nature outside.

1: Acknowledge ONE thing you can taste. What does the inside of your mouth taste like—gum, coffee, or the sandwich from lunch?  If you need to find something to taste, do so.

It may take more than one round of the above exercise to feel more grounded.  That is ok.  The goal is to slow down the central nervous system and pull the focus away from the runaway train of thoughts that are the fuel for anxiety.  When you are trying to tackle such a formidable opponent, you may have to work extra hard.  Your peace and equanimity are worth it, though.

Until next time, peace.