We all experience anxiety at some points throughout our life. It can be related to a career change, having to present in public, or just going through a stressful period in one’s life. An anxiety attack can cause you to feel distressed or restless, have an increased heart rate, shortness of breath or nausea and migraines among other symptoms. This is why it is crucial to know how to cope with anxiety when it comes up.
The 5-4-3-2-1 method is a simple yet effective grounding technique that can easily be remembered in moments of distress and can be taught to both adults and children.
Start by taking note of 5 things you see around you. This could be something as simple as curtains, a window, a glass of water, a book and a bottle.
Move on to 4 things you can feel/touch. For example bed sheets, the clothes on your body, the sun on your skin, an object you can pick up in your hand.
Next focus on 3 things you can hear. With anxious thoughts, it’s easy to tune out so listen carefully to what is around you. Traffic, wind, leaves blowing, a clock ticking?
Try now to notice 2 things you can smell. Like an air-freshener, perfume, cooked food, the air if just rained.
Finally focus on 1 thing you can taste. What do you taste in your mouth? Coffee? Sweets? Gum? If you have sweets or small snacks nearby you can have some and focus on the flavours and sensations in your mouth.
While this sounds simple, the reasoning behind it is that our senses essentially act like an anchor and bring us back to reality (taking us out of our heads, where the anxious thoughts are increasing), thus helping us to regain clarity.
Michaela Pace is a Psychology graduate from the University of Malta. She has worked with children and adolescents within the social sector and currently works as a Triage Officer and Volunteer Manager within Willingness Team, while pursuing a Masters in Gestalt Psychotherapy locally.