A Simple Yet Surprisingly Effective Tool to Manage Anxiety

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I have something a little different for you today. I want to share a practical tool I use with some of my clients to help them manage their anxiety.

I know from personal experience that chronic pain and anxiety can come hand in hand. When things are constantly going wrong, it can become easy to get in a mindset of dreading the next day or simply feeling panicky in the moment because the pain is burgeoning out of control.

What I am going to share with you today is an extremely simple coping skill that I has helped many of my clients get through moments of intense anxiety.

We should certainly turn to Scripture and prayer and seeking God when we are anxious. But, I also think that certain distraction and grounding techniques can be exceedingly helpful in calming us to the point where this even feels possible.

This technique is especially helpful for individuals who feel a sense of depersonalization or dissociation during difficult bouts of panic or anxiety. If during your anxiety you feel like you are floating out of your body or looking down on your experience as an outsider or somehow distant from what is going on around you, this tool may be especially worth trying.

When you feel your anxiety start to surge, this tool simply asks you to engage your five senses.

  1. Look around you and identify five objects that you can see. Any objects at all. The chair across the room, a book sitting on the table, the light switch on the wall, or perhaps, a particularly pleasant wall hanging.
  1. Consider what your body can physically feel and touch. Touch and tactilely engage with four things that you can feel. The sweater you are wearing, the feel of the chair you are sitting on, the pages of the book lying next to you, the softness of the carpet on your toes.
  1. What can you hear? Listen for three different sounds in your environment. Perhaps the air conditioner or heating system is running. Maybe children are laughing outside, someone is typing on a keyboard, or you can hear the gentle breathing of the person sitting across from you.
  1. Engage with two different types of taste. Grab a drink of water or a snack and think about the nature of what you are tasting. Brush your teeth, suck on a mint, or eat a piece of chocolate.
  1. Finally, what is one thing you smell in your environment? If needed, go out of your way to find a pleasant scent. The whiff of a sweet-smelling candle, the savory steam of soup bubbling on the stove, a favorite essential oil, or any other number of scents.

Experience your five senses at work and then consider how you feel. Make a note of whether this activity has affected your anxiety in any way. If so, how?

When this activity works for people it is because it is grounding them to the present moment, taking their mind away from anxious thoughts and settling them in the now.

At times it is extremely important to engage with your anxious thoughts instead of distracting yourself using coping skills such as this. However, this activity can be especially helpful when you are in a situation such as at work where it would not be practical to engage with your anxious thoughts.

Think of this tool as a band aid that will help you get through the day. It is likely you are dealing with deeper issues that need to be dealt with in terms of your anxiety, but sometimes we need an extra boost to get us through to the end of the day when we can more fully engage with what is going on.

Check out the first booklet in the Chronic Pain and the Christian Life series, But God Wouldn’t I Be More Useful to You If I Were Healthy, on Amazon.com. 

2 Comments

  1. Hi Esther, thanks for that. I shared it with a friend. I usually focus on one or two things but I like this different approach for more intense anxiety and/or longer calming time.
    I would add that if you are a hypersensory sensitive person (senses themselves make you anxious due to how overwhelming they become to your whole body), focusing on PLEASANT senses out of all the jumbled senses is key. If triggered by noise for example, I focus on breathing or even have silence be my best friend by turning off fans and stuff. Silence is a sound to me that is reassuring.

    Also, visually focus on what is pleasing and not triggering anxiety. I say that because the example above mentions a light switch. In our new home, those actually trigger anxiety because they are old and all need changing and I get worried about fire electricity hazards. So, let’s say pleasing, reassuring, warm things connected to senses.

  2. I agree with many of the suggestions you make to relieve anxiety, although I tend to think of it as Stress which I find especially debilitating to my multiple sclerosis.

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