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Anxiety Reigns - Grounding

Adele sat slumped in the corner of the room. Her head was swirling and in a fog, heart rate pumping and it was as if she could hear every pulse of blood far louder than her own thoughts. She could feel the tightness in her muscles and her shoulders felt so heavy. Her breathing was increasing and shallow and she could feel an overwhelming sense of panic washing over her. She knew what was coming, panic was enveloping her like a heavy mist. There was so much going wrong, so much she needed to sort but so little time and she felt it was all her responsibility. She felt like she couldn’t breathe and she grabbed for her bag to find her inhaler. The reassuring pop of the lead as she grasped her breath in with the pump of the inhaler. Her mind remained whizzing and then she remembered the words of her coach, remember your blue inhaler. It was a metaphor for the actions she needed to take when she felt her anxiety rising. She knew the first step was to ground herself.

As a coach, I see an increasing amount of people suffering from anxiety where it feels like it is reigning over them. The trick is to grab hold of the reigns and gain control again. The physical symptoms of anxiety, as we saw last week, is a physiological reaction to the mind perceiving a threat. Rising heart rate, breathing tightening and muscular heaviness are a bi product of the body preparing for a flight, flight or freeze response. When we feel out of control, because our mind has perceived all of the possible things that could go wrong in the future, the first step is to ground ourselves in the present and think about the things we can do and can feel in control of in the here and now.

As I have been reflecting on simple tools to help people with anxiety, I have landed on 3 key words that will help readers with each element of getting the reigns on your anxiety. It is 3 steps of 1) Read; 2) Realise; 3) Respond. This week’s blog is looking at the issue of ‘grounding’, of being able to ground ourselves in the present as our mind starts to over futurise to try to make things feel safer but ironically ends up increasing anxiety. Our three steps to getting a reign on anxiety are

  • Read – Read your body feelings and name the emotion you are feeling

  • Realise – Realise the body feelings and emotion come from your mind worrying about the future and what is not in your control at this time

  • Respond – Ground yourself in the present and then think of 1 thing that you are in control of and can do now

Read your body & emotions

Steve Peters, in his brilliant books Chimp Paradox and Path through the jungle, help us understand how to manage our emotional part of our brain, the limbic system, which he calls our ‘chimp’. Two key steps to this are a) acknowledge our emotion and b) remind yourself of a time it has been ok. In order to acknowledge our emotion, we need to first recognise how we are feeling.

So, the first step is to start to be present with your body. If you are feeling anxious, take a moment to think about your body feelings. What is happening with your heart and breathing? How is your head feeling? How are your shoulders and neck muscles? What is this telling you? Then ask yourself what emotion am I feeling that is leading me to this? As we mentioned in last week’s blog, sometimes we find it hard to identify our emotions. This is where books like Atlas of the heart by Brene Brown and her list of emotions can be helpful. Then acknowledge this to yourself. Eg I am feeling tense and breathless. I am feeling panic and worry.

Realise that you are in the future

Next step is to realise that the mind is racing and staying in the future. The emotional chimp brain is there to look our for threat, it is its job. Sometimes it over works and examines all of the future problems and it can then lead to an emotion of overwhelm. No-one can control the future. You can only control what is in the present. So realising that is where our mind is, in the future where it can’t do anything, is the next step.

Respond with grounding & control

Anxiety often comes when we feel out of control and so the trick is to take the focus off what we can’t control, eg in the future and focus on what we can control, eg in the present. The first part of this is to bring our mind back to the present through our body. I find the ‘5’s helpful here.

  • What are 5 things that you can see now?

  • What are 5 things that you can hear now?

  • What are 5 things that you can feel now?

  • What are 5 things that you can be thankful for here and now?

  • Next try the 5’s for breathing. Breathe slowly in for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds and then breathe slowly out for 5 seconds. Repeat this slowly for 5 times.

These 5 things will only take you about 3 minutes and it will firstly start to ease some of the body symptoms, secondly help to reduce cortisol, the stress hormone. This will also bring you back to the present. There can be other simple techniques that some of my clients have found helpful. Standing as Wonder Woman for 3 minutes with hands on hips, feet shoulder’s width apart and pushing shoulders back can just help bring you present too. Taking a break from what you are doing and going for a little walk away from the desk can also help bring you to the here and now.

You can now begin to take the reign of control back.

The next part is to consider 1 or 2 things that you are in control of that you can do. This can be as simple as

I can control how I respond with kindness and integrity

I can write a list of who could help me

You may want to think about what is the most important thing at this time, what is the best outcome I could hope for and what are my first two steps that I need to take to head towards that.

Get the reigns back

Anxiety can feel like a wild horse where you don’t have hold of the reigns anymore and it feels like it is reigning you. Grounding is a way to just slow down the wild horse and just get a feel of the reigns again.

Can we help you?

We hope this blog has been helpful and if you would like some more targeted support to explore anxiety emotions and gain better insight then Everyday Leader is here to help you. Our clients find their coaching empowering, as we help them gain a full perspective and find a way forward. If you have a challenge and you would like our support, then do get in contact with us. Give us a call on 01449 710438 or email if you would like us to help you explore this and empower you.


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