I just need to get out of here. They’re too many people, too much stimuli. But leaving would be awkward, and I can’t make my feet move. I feel my heart racing and my breathing get faster, shallower. I look around for a familiar face, someone to feel safe with, but I can’t find anyone. So, I stand there making small talk and trying not to feel anxious.
These feelings of social anxiety are all too familiar to me and I suspect to many of you, as well. When I’m feeling anxious, my first response is often to ignore it. When that doesn’t work, as it never does, my next impulse is to remove myself from the anxiety-producing situation. Sometimes this simply isn’t possible, so I have to turn to a more fruitful coping mechanism. Here enter my two best friends, breathing techniques and grounding methods, the nemeses of anxiety.
One way to calm down the body and bring it out of fight or flight mode is through circular breathing. It’s simple. Breath in for a count of 4. Hold for a count of 4. Breath out for a count of 6. Repeat this cycle a few times or until you start to feel calmer.
While this is by far my personal favorite breathing technique, any form of focusing on the breath is beneficial in releasing the body from anxiety. You can breathe in through your nose and out through the mouth while focusing on the muscles you use to breathe and where you feel the breath in the body. You can breathe in for a count of 10, breathing in on 1 and out on 2.
As with breathing techniques, there are a multitude of grounding techniques and different ones work better for different people. One of the more common strategies, and the one that works best for me, is sensory grounding. Count two things you see, two things you hear, and two things you can touch. It’s a good way to connect the mind and body to each other and to your surroundings.
Another grounding technique that works well if you are feeling panicky or unsafe is to say your date of birth, your full name, your age, and where you are. It grounds you in yourself and in your present moment and can be an effective way of reminding your brain you are in a safe place.
Of course, why pick just one? If you’re feeling anxious, try focusing on your breath and grounding yourself. Hopefully, it will prove a helpful way to relieve your anxiety and help you be more present and at peace.