Major events, such as divorce, unemployment, moving, and bereavement, or a series of small stressors that build on top of one another, like feeling overwhelmed with work or arguing with family, can cause stress. Even though stress is common, it is important to tackle it as soon as it begins to affect your health and well-being.
When we experience stress, our thoughts race, and sometimes we focus so much on the feeling that we hardly notice anything else going on around us. When this happens, a grounding exercise help keep your focus on the reality of the present moment rather than on being overwhelmed by emotions and getting lost in thinking.
In this grounding exercise, called “The 5-4-3-2-1 Stress Reduction Technique” (see Fig. 1), you will practice paying deliberate attention to your senses – sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste – so that you can “ground” yourself in the here-and-now. This will help you get out of your head and slow down those racing thoughts by connecting to the present moment.
Step 1: Five things you can see
To begin, take a few calming deep breaths. Breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, and exhale slowly for 5 seconds. Now, look around you for five things that you can see in your immediate surroundings and say them out loud to yourself. For example, “I see my computer sitting on my desk; I see a blue marker pen; I see a green, metal park bench; I see white and grey clouds in the sky; I see a landscape painting on the wall.” Think about how each thing looks to you and acknowledge them out loud.
Step 2: Four things you can feel
Now, look around you for four things that you can feel, remembering to say them aloud. For example, you could say, “I feel the soft cushion I am sitting on; I feel the warmth of the sun on my face; I can feel a cool breeze coming in through an open window; I feel the fabric of my clothes against my skin.” If the situation allows, spend a moment touching these items, paying particular attention to the way objects feel in your hand or against your skin. Notice the textures and even the temperature of the surrounding environment.
Step 3: Three things you can hear
Now, name three things that you can hear around you. Take a few moments to listen to any noises you can hear in your immediate surroundings, for example, the sound of traffic passing outside or birds chirping on a nearby rooftop. Maybe you hear the hum of air conditioning, the sound of typing, or the sound of your tummy rumbling. Let the sounds remind you where you are.
Again, if possible, say these three things out loud. To illustrate, you might say, “I hear a woman’s voice and laughter outside my window; I hear my dog barking in the garden; I hear the sound of someone jingling their keys in the corridor.”
Step 4: Two things you can smell
Now, name two things you can smell in your surroundings. To illustrate, maybe you notice the smell of the paper coming out of the printer, freshly brewed coffee, newly mown grass, or lavender-scented soap. When you notice a fragrance, take a deep breath, and note its qualities. Is it sweet, spicy, sharp, citrusy? As you notice each scent, say it out loud. For instance, “I smell the lemon and ginger in my tea; I smell the sweet fragrance of my perfume.”
Step 5: One thing you can taste
You will now name one thing that you can taste right now at this moment. Again, say it out loud if the situation allows you to do so. Perhaps you taste lingering minty toothpaste after brushing your teeth or the sandwich you had for lunch. To illustrate, you might say to yourself, “I taste the fruit tea I had at breakfast” or “I taste the mint I had after lunch.”
Step 6: Reflection
- How do you feel after completing this exercise?
- What part(s) of this exercise did you find most challenging? Why?
- How did you overcome this challenge?
- What did you enjoy most about this exercise?
- On a scale of 1 (not stressed at all) to 10 (extremely stressed), how would you rate the stress you felt before completing this exercise?
- On a scale of 1 (not stressed at all) to 10 (extremely stressed), how would you rate the stress you feel after completing this exercise?
You can use the audio file below to do the 6 min exercise..