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Overcome Panic Attacks: Discover the Power of Grounding

Do you ever find yourself panicking for “no reason”? I know I do, especially after being at home for so long during the pandemic. The outside world and social interactions are becoming increasingly triggering. Sometimes it can be downright debilitating!

Let’s say you’re in the grocery store, and for some unknown reason, you begin to feel overstimulated and overwhelmed. Maybe you start noticing how bright the lights are, how narrow the aisles are, or how close people are to you. 

If you find yourself focusing on how heavy you’re breathing, how your clothes feel, or you become hyper-aware of everyone around you, you may be experiencing anxiety. This can even escalate into chest pains, lightheadedness, stomach pains, exaggerated breathing, and shaking. When it gets to that point, that’s what we call a panic attack.

Although it’s important to seek professional help if you are consistently dealing with these things, getting in quickly with a mental health professional isn’t always an option. It’s a good idea to have a way to help yourself in the moment, something free and simple to calm yourself down.

What is a Panic Attack?

Before we get into it, I think it’s crucial to first understand exactly what a panic attack really is. A panic attack is a reaction to perceived danger. It happens when there are no real dangers, and the threat is imagined (likely caused by something harmful you have experienced in the past) 

It is important to remember that even though panic attacks are due to “imagined” stress or triggers, it is still valid to be uncomfortable and scared, and it can be hard to deal with because people are less understanding of dangers they cannot prove or see.

So what do we do when we are experiencing this? 

Oftentimes when we are panicking, it’s easy to focus on the “threat”. As humans, we operate using “fight, flight, or freeze”. Regardless of the danger, our bodies react in the same way.

Whether it’s an animal chasing you, you’re in a loud area and just overstimulated, or you see someone tall, and it reminds you of someone who scared you when you were a kid, your brain can’t really tell the difference. Once our brain detects danger, it’s completely natural to panic. It’s a good thing that our brains do this because it allows us to react and survive in extreme situations. 

But since, more often than not, we are NOT experiencing the threats we are equipped to avoid (such as animal attacks that historically posed much more of a threat), we have to find a way to convince our brain to just tone it down a little! 

In order to remind our brain that we are just experiencing a lot of fear, that isn’t due to real danger; it’s a good idea to be mindful of your body and surroundings.  

Using the Grounding Technique

The technique that helps me, and many others, is called “grounding.” There are many methods of grounding, but they are all rooted in the same basic idea: making your brain focus elsewhere.

The first grounding technique I will teach you is simple, and it helps you focus on specific things around you rather than the physical reaction you are experiencing from stress.

This is the 5-4-3-2-1 method, which involves acknowledging things you can sense in your immediate presence. All you have to do is think about:

  • 5 Things you can see
  • 4 Things you can touch
  • 3 things you can hear 
  • 2 things you can smell 
  • 1 thing you can taste

That’s it! It is fairly simple. The reason this method works is that it makes you practice mindfulness. When it comes to panicking, mindfulness is key. It reminds your brain that other things exist besides fear.

I will admit, the first time I tried this one, it felt a little weird to be looking for things I could sense… but it got easier with practice. Eventually, you train your brain to look for those things automatically. Another method you can try, which may be even simpler than the previous one, is just to focus on breathing! You know, that thing we are constantly doing? Sometimes it can help just to take ten slow breaths. 

One of the first things I notice when I feel a panic attack coming on is that my breathing gets faster, my heart speeds up, and sometimes I even hyperventilate. 

Breathing deeply and slowly is a powerful tool often overlooked when we get flustered. If possible, breathe in through your nose and fill your lungs up, and then slowly exhale through your mouth. This can be very therapeutic and calming. 

Pro Tip: practicing breathwork on a regular basis can even help you prevent the onset of a panic attack! We love a preventative tip!

The final method is easiest when you are at home, or somewhere you can move around or grab things. This method involves focusing on a foreign object in relation to how it feels.

This could include things like holding ice, petting an animal, touching a soft blanket, walking barefoot outside, and feeling the ground with your feet. 

When we panic, it is easy to focus all of our attention inward. Sometimes getting your mind focused on what you’re feeling on the outside and not the inside makes all the difference.

Ultimately, how you choose to deal with your panic attacks depends on what works for you and your anxiety. Everyone is different, and it is not one-size-fits-all.

Anxiety is a Natural Occuring Phenomenon

If you take anything away from all of that information, let it be this: Anxiety is a naturally occurring phenomenon that happens to almost everyone at least once. It is more present in some people, and by “some,” I mean that over 30% of the population struggles with it. There are a handful of ways to lessen the severity. You are not alone in the struggle, and there ARE solutions. 

For more information on navigating panic and anxiety, you can visit Frontier Behavioral Health, which has multiple offices around Spokane and Spokane Valley, or visit their website here.

You can also visit this website for a more in-depth look at grounding techniques.

April Gilbreath

April Gilbreath has a degree in integrated community services (social work) and is returning in the fall for a second degree to pursue her Bachelor’s in Integrated Community Services. She has researched mental health for personal edification and has been to therapy and would love to share what she has learned with others.

read more from april here.

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6 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed reading this article about grounding! I’m hoping we get to read more articles from April. Mental health is so important specially nowadays and I don’t think it gets talked about enough, or at least how to help deal with issues a person might have! Well done April!

    1. Thank you! I’m so happy to help spread knowledge and support where I can, especially when it comes to mental health! 🤍

  2. I have had anxiety and panic attacks since I was young and reading this article has given me some things to try. It’s nice getting tips from someone who has experienced the same things and with no judgement. Great article April!

    1. I wish you the best of luck in battling your anxiety! I hope these tips were as helpful to you as they were to me!

  3. Thank you April for such an informative, easy to understand article!
    So much of the information available online is too complicated and time consuming to sift through in order to get what you need out of it. Your clear description of each of the grounding techniques was invaluable. They worked so well for me! I also love how you include your own experiences with anxiety and what has worked for you. Your compassion truly comes through in every word. I can’t wait to read more articles from you!

    1. Thank you for the feedback! I’m so glad I can be helpful in giving you tools to deal with anxiety and I’m so happy to hear that my compassion shines through. I have struggled with it for a long time and it means the world to me to be able to help spread this information and hopefully help others as well and offer understanding and insight!

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