Many of us have been there: faced with an overwhelming backlog of work, we spend hours on social media sites, snack uncontrollably, or otherwise try to escape our stresses. After all, procrastination is a common coping mechanism, and it can sometimes feel like the easiest thing to do in the face of anxiety.
But what if instead of reaching for phones or food, we pressed pause and returned to the present moment?
This is the goal of grounding, a collection of techniques used to push past distressing mental health experiences and reclaim calm. By paying more attention to the world around us, specifically through using our five senses, our minds become more focused in the present moment, empowering us to overcome distractions and live as our best selves.
Below are some exercises you can use to get back in touch with yourself.
Sight. Using only our eyes, we can discern an incredible amount of information, from color and shape to texture and more. Wherever you are, look around you. What are the lighting conditions like, and how does this affect what you perceive? What stands out to you the most? Do you prefer some shapes or colors you see more than others? Briefly close your eyes before opening them again; does your environment look the same or different than it did before?
Sound. A favorite song, a friendly voice, or even your own breathing — any of these sounds might bring you comfort. See if you can identify all of the sounds around you now. What is the loudest sound you can hear? What is the softest sound you can hear? Can you pick out each individual sound, or do some seem to blur together?
Touch. Pay attention to anything you are in contact with: the clothes on your skin, hair on your neck, a chair or the floor beneath you. Next, scan downward from the top of your head all the way to your toes for pain or tension in any of your muscles. Then, notice the temperature of the air and surfaces you may be in contact with: do different areas feel like they are different temperatures?
Smell. Take a deep breath in through your nose (and out through your mouth). Are you able to pick up any scents in the air? If you have anything scented around you, you are welcome to pick it up and take a whiff. What are five words you could use to describe this smell?
Taste. Find a snack or other morsel of food; place a small amount on your tongue and allow yourself to explore its shape and texture. What’s the first taste that meets your mouth? Are there any subtler flavors you can discern, and how do they contribute to your overall experience?
The next time you feel distressed or itching for a distraction, see if you can take thirty seconds to explore each of your senses. When you’ve finished, ask yourself: How do I feel now?