This is the third post in a series on Grounding Techniques for Anxiety. In Part 1, I explained the how anxiety works in the body and that while it is sometimes a necessary and helpful response to threatening situations, it often occurs when there is no threat in the present moment. In both Part 1 and Part 2, I gave you some grounding techniques to help you return to the present moment, find your support, and actively calm your stress response when it is not needed. Read on for the third tool in the series…
Tool #3: Focusing on Physical Sensations without Judgment
When feeling anxious, it can feel like a wave has come and pulled us under. We can become overwhelmed by the physical sensations.
The practice of observing and naming physical sensations can create some space between you and the sensations, allowing you to become a compassionate witness to your experience and learn to ride the wave instead of being capsized by it.
Simply observe what you’re feeling in your body, without judgment or trying to change it.
When doing this, it can be helpful to name the sensations either in your mind or out loud, without attaching to them. For example, if you feel a clenching in your stomach, you can say “clenching.” If your heart is racing, you can say “racing.” Or, If you get caught up in thought, you can say “thinking.”
This non-judgmental naming is quite different from saying “My stomach is clenching, it’s going to go on forever, it’s a bad thing and I need it to st
op!” Try just naming it with neutral language and acceptance. See if there’s a difference.
During an experience of anxiety, it can be difficult to focus on anything else. Similar to how it can be easy to focus on the negative aspects of our lives and to diminish the positive, it can be similar with body sensations. This practice can help you to notice what else you’re experiencing, besides anxiety.
By refocusing on any positive, or even neutral sensations that you’re experiencing isn’t to deny the feeling of anxiety, but rather, to help you to realize that there is more to your experience. It can also provide some support for the more difficult feelings of anxiety. Anxiety, when supported, can feel a lot less overwhelming than if we focus on it alone.
Notice if there is a place in your body that feels good, or at least not anxious. Is there a part of you that feels supported or relaxed? Is there a part of your body that feels neutral? That isn’t experiencing anxiety? Maybe it’s your big toe, or the weight of your back on the couch or chair. Whatever it is, if you focus on that, does your experience of anxiety shift?
While focusing on physical sensations can be supportive for some, for others it may not be. You know yourself best. If any of these exercises increases your anxiety level, let it go and try another one, or do something you know works for you. Depending on the severity of your anxiety or trauma history, you may need more support before being able to engage with these tools. If anxiety is impairing your everyday functioning, I encourage you to give us a call and get some professional support.
Stay tuned for the final blog post in this series of Grounding Techniques forAnxiety.