Grounding 54321: The Technique That Helped Me Manage My Anxiety

Our web editor Victoria put this anxiety-controlling method to the test.

girl with anxiety

Anxiety may be one of the most common mental health issues in Ireland, but despite its prevalence, it can be an alienating and frightening experience all the same.

For me, anxiety goes a little something like this: it’ll start out as a sense of unease; a building tension that starts on the back of my shoulders and gradually works its way around to a tight feeling in my chest. Then the erratic breathing will start, until eventually I erupt into a bout of uncontrollable crying.

It can be pretty terrifying – and I don’t feel myself for hours afterwards.

It’s a scenario that’s relatable for many. “I always tell myself there’s nothing to worry about,” says STELLAR reader Claire, “but still I can’t seem to shift that anxious feeling when it comes on. It can be pretty terrifying – and I don’t feel myself for hours afterwards.”

Reader Ciara agrees. “It’s not often I have a full blown panic attack. More often than not, I’ll just start to feel this intense feeling that something bad is going to happen,” she tells us. “It can be hard to shift and it’s a pretty horrible thing to have to contend with on a daily basis.”

So what’s the cure? Personally speaking, I’ve tried pretty much everything to lessen my anxiety, from medication prescribed by my doc to breathing techniques and practicing mindfulness, all with varying degrees of success. But it wasn’t until I was discussing the issue with a friend that I really found a technique that helped to make my anxiety more manageable.

My friend Lisa – who’s suffered from anxiety since her early teens – introduced me to the Grounding 54321 game; a technique that works by taking your focus off your anxious feelings and causing you to focus on your surroundings instead. Essentially, it’s a distraction trick that – with a bit of effort – takes your mind away from your feeling of uneasiness and brings your focus back to reality. “It’s really helped me,” Lisa said. “When I play the game, I definitely feel more calm after a couple of minutes.”

Here’s how to do it:

  • Name five things you can see in the room with you.
  • Name four things you can feel.
  • Name three things you can hear right now.
  • Name two things you can smell right now.
  • Name one good thing about yourself.

Gradually, as I distracted myself from feeling anxious, I started to feel the tension lift and feel more calm.

I was sceptical at first; could these five steps really help me feel more calm? It turned out they could. When I felt that familiar uneasy feeling coming on, I put the technique to the test. I spent about five minutes focusing on what was around me, looking for the things I could see, feel and hear in the moment, before following up with one thing I liked about myself. Gradually, as I distracted myself from feeling anxious, I started to feel the tension lift and feel more calm. The trick had worked.

Since trying out the technique for the first time, I’ve used it to lessen my feelings of anxiety on three more occasions. Each time, by focusing on the here and now, it’s helped me to feel more grounded.

Sure, every case of anxiety is different and what works for me might not necessarily work for anyone else, but as far as techniques go, I’ve found the Grounding 54321 game the most effective in getting my anxiety under control. By making a conceited effort to pay attention to what’s around me, I’ve been able to distract myself from what’s going on internally, and feel more calm.

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