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5-4-3-2-1: Count down to ground that anxiety

5-4-3-2-1: Count down to ground that anxiety

Experts suggest this `number game’ to tackle and overcome anxiety
Hands raised in the air
Representational image | Shutterstock

If you were ever chased by a violent dog you may still recall how your heart had raced, and your body went hot and sweaty as you ran for your life, breathless and in panic.  

Then it was completely natural for your body to have gone into a `fight and flight‘ mode leaving you super anxious about escaping a wild canine.  

But on a different day, if the same level and signs of anxiety crop up when there is no dog or other peril in the picture, it is time to look the feeling in the eye and tame it. 

Last year Anmol Kaur, 30, a fashion designer from Ludhiana, contracted COVID-19. She has recovered from it but continues to suspect that she caught the virus when she went to shop at a local grocery store. Even now just the thought of visiting that store gives her the jitters. “If I go to that grocery shop once again, I am sure I will get infected again,” she insists. 

Returning to the present 

Anxiety is no stranger to most of us, be it over a past event, upcoming situations like a job interview, new job responsibilities, public speaking and performance reviews – causes that can easily churn the calmest of minds. 

Vandana S, counsellor and psychologist at mental health startup Psychoflakes in Bengaluru, says anxiety can take individuals either into the past or into the future. The individual’s thinking gets affected when fearful or traumatic memories return and the person loses track of the present. 

“When [such] persons are in the present moment, they become more rational, logical, and can decide what they want to do”, she added. Therefore, it is critical for either close associates or therapists – as the case may be – to draw the person’s mind back to the present moment by grounding the thought process. Only then can psychotherapy be applied and be effective. 

A feeling of deficiency 

According to Dr Kishore Kumar R, professor of Ayurveda, Department of Integrative Medicine, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, anxiety stirs u a sense of lacking and fills the mind with irrational thoughts.  

He says, “There are many good things about oneself and positive thinking can help bring those positive feelings back. To accomplish positivity it is important to take time to address your feelings, particularly the positive aspect.” 

Making sense of thoughts 

Vandana S says that before applying any psychotherapy like cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT, the first thing to do is make the person relax and bring their thought process back to the present.  

This is called the grounding technique and can be done using the sense organs – eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin.  

Grounding technique cuts into unhealthy thought patterns and is a tool that can be exercised by anybody, at any time, anywhere and without anyone’s help – whenever the mind is stuck in a worry. And it works effectively in calming anxious persons and their overwhelming thoughts.  

A 2020 study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress Disorders mentions the grounding technique as a simple yet effective method for regaining control of the mind. However, the study also emphasises that this technique is not some magic that can make our problems disappear, or distract a hyperactive mind; but it helps to train the mind to be grounded and in the present. 

Five steps to regain calm 

Here is the countdown to driving anxiety out. While trying it, mentally say 5,4,3,2, and 1.  

  • Five things to SEE: Observe and note the things that you can see. It could be a clock on the wall, the pen in the hand, the plant on the next desk, a spot on the ceiling, or passing clouds.
  • Four things to touch and FEEL: Let yourself be aware of things you can physically touch with your hand, feet or body. It could be the ground you are standing on; the rise and fall of the chest as you breathe; a flick of the hair, the bench or chair you are sitting on, the mobile phone or the computer that you are working on; the wallet, or the hand of the supporting friend next to you.
  • Three things to HEAR: Be mindful of the sounds around and within you. Concentrate on the common sounds that you may normally ignore: the ticking of the clock, cars whizzing by outside street, or the steady humming of the refrigerator, breathing, the click of the keyboard, the buzz of the air conditioner or printer, chirping birds, crackling of the leaves.
  • Two things to SMELL: If you cannot automatically catch a scent, walk around until you get any whiff. A nature walk for a scent of flowers and grass; a favourite soap,coffee, wood, pencil, newspaper or a book. Take out the perfume bottle’s cap and sniff its fragrance.  Simply put, smell anything around you.
  • One thing to taste: What taste do you have in your mouth? Asking this yourself will let you relive the taste of the food you last had. However, you may also try to perceive the taste of  freshening gum or coffee, go out, suck in some fresh air and think of its taste.  

Experts also suggest ending the exercise with one positive thought about yourself.  

On a parting note, they say – enjoy your successes, small and big; stay positive and spread positivity. Let your family and friends know how you are trying to ground yourself and put them out of their anxiety about you. And do tell us how the exercise worked for you. 

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