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How Grounding Can Relieve Anxiety

Substance use disorders and anxiety often go together. One large study of more than 43,000 people found that nearly 18 percent of respondents with a substance use disorder also had an anxiety disorder. And that study didn’t include PTSD, which is a major risk factor for developing a substance use disorder. People with anxiety disorders often come to depend on substance use as a way to cope with symptoms. What’s more, anxiety is a common withdrawal symptom and may persist through the early weeks and months of recovery, perhaps leading to cravings. Any plan to deal with anxiety should include therapy as well as healthy lifestyle changes, especially regular exercise and adequate sleep. However, when dealing with an episode of anxiety, a technique called “grounding” is often useful.


What it is

Grounding is an incredibly simple technique: You simply pay attention to something in your immediate physical environment. For example, a common grounding technique is the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. You look around your immediate environment and name five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. You don’t have to them in exactly that order but the complexity of following the exercise is part of why it works. You may find that one sense grounds you more powerfully than another. For example, you may feel calmer by noticing your weight in your chair than by listening to the sound of passing cars. That’s fine, you can spend a little more time with that sense. 


Another common method of grounding is to notice your breath. Feel the sensations of breathing in and breathing out. Where do you feel it the most? Your nose? Your stomach? Somewhere else? An added bonus of using the breath for grounding is that it tends to make your breathing slower and deeper, which helps you relax.


How it works

When you feel overcome by anxiety, there are typically two things going on. First, you’re focused on something that will happen–or might happen–in the future. Second, you either consciously or unconsciously have negative beliefs about that future event. So, for example, maybe you’re worried about a test next week and that worry is compounded by your belief that you won’t do well on the test and that will cause you to get a bad grade and not get into law school and ruin your life and so on. None of that is real but it feels real in your body because it occupies all of your attention. 


Grounding is a way to remind yourself to be in the present. You focus on the sensations of the things in your immediate environment. The complicated structure of the 5-4-3-2-1 technique demands even more attention. When you’re focused on your immediate environment, you are less worried about the future. 


Studies show that most people who struggle with substance use issues have co-occurring mental health issues. Getting these under control is crucial for a long-lasting recovery. At Tree House Recovery of Orange County, California, we help men overcome addiction on the mental, physical, and emotional levels. To learn more about our holistic treatment program, call us today at 855-202-2138.

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