Feeling overwhelmed is more common than you might think. There can be many different triggers; it may be an upcoming important exam, additional workload or relationship problems with friends, family or a partner.  Sometimes, though, nothing has changed but it seems like little things start piling up. Then, we may be feeling overwhelmed in situations that we were able to manage easily in the past.

No matter what the trigger is, there is the 5-4-3-2-1 calming technique; this simple technique is an effective method for getting control of your mind, when things get difficult. By following the instructions, this brings you back to the present.

Start with some deep breathing; breathe in for five seconds, hold your breath for five seconds, breathe out for another 5 five seconds. Continue with this pattern until you notice your thoughts slowing down or until you feel it is necessary.

Notice 5 things you can SEE around you

Maybe it’s a pencil, maybe it’s a spot on the wall. However big or small, it can be anything you can see in your surroundings

Notice 4 things you can TOUCH or FEEL around you

It can be your hair, your hands, your keys, your chair. Whatever it may be, list four things you can touch or feel

Notice 3 things you can HEAR

This needs to be something external, don’t focus on your thoughts. It could be a dog barking, a clock ticking, a car passing by, even your stomach rumbling. Internal noises that make an external noise also count!

Notice 2 things you can SMELL

This one may be a bit tough if you are not in a stimulating environment, so if you can, walk nearby to find a scent; you can go to the bathroom and smell the soap, or go outside. Maybe you are at school or in the office and you can smell the ink of a pen, or maybe you are in your bedroom and you can smell a pillow 

Notice 1 thing you can TASTE

What does the inside of your mouth taste like? Could be chewing gum, or the last thing you had for a snack. Focus on the taste in your mouth as the last step of the exercise (if you can’t taste anything, say your favourite thing to taste)

This technique is short and can be used as psychological first aid. It incorporates all the five senses and it can look like meditating, that can be done wherever and whenever you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed as it does not have to last more than a minute. It has shown to be helpful in any overwhelming situation, from not being able to sleep and having cravings to living with a panic disorder and anxiety attacks.

If the duration or the intensity of your anxiety has a negative impact on your wellbeing, it may be a good idea to seek professional help.

If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.

Elena Marinopoulou is a Behaviour Analyst with Willingness Team. She works with children and adults and has a strong interest in parent training, sleep and feeding issues emerging during childhood, as well as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

Reference:Imran, A. (2020). Combat against Stress, Anxiety and Panic Attacks: 5-4-3-2-1 Coping Technique. Journal Of Traumatic Stress Disorders And Treatment, 9(4).