Cassie’s Note: My dear friend, Sarah Beth Adel of Sacred Rose Medicinals, is back today to talk about her suggestions for grounding techniques for anxiety. Sarah Beth is an herbalist, acupuncturist, and fellow anxiety sufferer. I can’t wait to put some of her tips below into action. Make sure to follow Sarah Beth on Instagram or Facebook. Enjoy.
Anxiety is one of the reasons that I began to search out acupuncture. In my thirties, I began to experience crushing anxiety and migraines. I connected with my health care professionals, and they tried to help, but in the end, Western medicine treatments were not helping, so I started exploring other options.
I found an Acupuncturist, and once I started having regular acupuncture treatments, my symptoms started to wane. It was then that I realized that I wanted to be able to bring this medicine to as many people as possible.
The Two Different Kinds of Anxiety
In my practice, I observe two types of anxiety that my patients experience. The first is the type of anxiety that we feel in our bodies: we may have a nervous belly, we may feel our shoulders get tight, we may feel a sense of rushing energy to our heads, we may notice our heart beating hard, we may feel nauseated, or we may feel a dry mouth.
The other type of anxiety is the kind that happens mostly in our brains. Our mind will ruminate over certain experiences, decisions, or statements that we’ve made. We may worry about one thing until it leads to a worry about another thing, and we end up following these rabbit holes to the depths of our anxiety. Anxiety can manifest in one or both of these ways.
However anxiety impacts you, trust me, I understand. And you are not alone. In my practice, I use acupuncture to help bring my patients’ energy back into balance so that they can feel grounded and calm. Anxiety is one of my favorite things to treat, because the results are so impactful and immediate.
That being said, I also give a lot of tips to my patients on ways to manage their anxiety without the need for needles. I like to think that I give them extra tools in their self care toolbox. The following are some tips that I give out to my patients, and have found some pretty good success with myself.
Grounding Techniques for Anxiety You Can Try
I recently had my first panic attack (this pandemic is no joke, folks), and I utilized a few of these techniques to get myself back into my body. I was grateful that my brain was able to function in a time when I did not understand what was happening to my body. The following tips may be useful to you if you struggle with anxiety.
Feel your body.
Try to feel the points of contact between your body and whatever surfaces it is touching while you’re sitting, standing, or lying down. Feel your body where it touches the chair, the floor, the couch, or the bed. If needed, lean against a wall if you are out in public. Just try to get your back against something so you can feel the points of contact. If it helps, you can speak to yourself or speak aloud the touch points. “I feel my back thigh touching the chair. I feel my elbow on the arm rest. I feel my feet on the carpet.”
Try some breath work.
Breath work when you feel anxious may sound cliché, but it’s cliché for a reason—it works! There are so many different strategies for breath work during moments of anxiety, I’ve personally gotten overwhelmed with all the different styles. The one that works most easily for me is to simply breathe in for a count of three or four (or whatever feels comfortable to you), and then exhale for double that amount. For me, this usually looks like an inhale for a count of three, and an exhale for a count of six.
There is a lot of research out there about earthing or grounding—which is literally connecting to the Earth through touch. There are a number of purported benefits of this, but in this instance, the touch of grass, soil, sand, or water can be incredibly soothing to an anxious body. This grounding technique for anxiety is one of the practices that I have to have in my day on a consistent basis.
There are a number of ways that you can ground yourself. I really enjoy putting my bare feet on the earth. You can also lie on the Earth face down with your hands on the grass. I will often lie on my back with my eyes closed and one hand on my belly and one hand on my heart. I also really love sitting against trees—I’m definitely a tree hugger! Anything that gets your skin literally touching nature—a shoeless walk on the beach, a swim in a lake, your bare hands in the soil while gardening—can help soothe your anxiety.
Use your senses.
I will often ask patients to go through an exercise with their senses to help themselves come back to the present moment. Here is the routine I offer them:
- Find something you can see, and say it aloud or to yourself. “I see a tree swaying outside the window.”
- Then listen for sounds that help bring you to the present moment. “I hear the sound of car on the street outside.”
- And then smell whatever smells you can smell. “I smell the hairspray in my hair.”
- Then taste whatever is in your mouth or on your lips. This could be the taste of the saliva in your mouth or you can put something in your mouth to stimulate the sense of taste. “I taste the peppermint of my lip balm.”
- Lastly, touch something so you can use the sense of touch to guide you back to the present moment. Notice the texture of your clothing, where your clothes touch your skin, or the sensation of the chair you’re sitting in. “I feel the silkiness of my shirt against my belly.”
You can repeat this process as many times and as frequently as needed to feel centered. The goal is simply to tune into your senses to embrace the present moment. Anxiety is often related to worrying about the future or ruminating on the past. Allowing ourselves to be present in the moment will help calm the sensation of anxiety.
Try painless, at-home acupressure.
Acupressure is an easy, painless treatment you can do at home that requires no special equipment. Acupressure works by stimulating the body’s response to a specific acupuncture point. To perform acupressure, simply locate the acupuncture point (it may feel slightly sore) and use something to rub, massage, or tap the point. You can use your finger, or a fancy acupressure pen/tool that is available online for purchase. If using your hands, simply press, massage, or tap the point for a bit.
Anxiety can be a result of several different diagnostic patterns in Chinese Medicine. I have found in my clinic that the following points are pretty successful in treating anxiety, regardless of the pattern:
- Kidney 1 is a great point to help you feel grounded, fast. It is located on the bottom of the foot just below the ball of the foot, roughly between the second and third toes.
- Liver 3 helps with anxiety, especially when it is due to stress. This point is located on the top of the foot between the first and second toe where they make a “V.”
- Spleen 6 is a great point for a lot of things, but because it addresses three important meridians, I use this point quite a bit. It is located on the medial (inside) of the leg, on the shin bone, one handbreadth above the medial malleolus (the pointy ankle bone). Please do not use this point if you are pregnant!
- Pericardium 6 is great for nausea and anxiety. This point is located on the palm side of the forearm, approximately three fingers above the wrist crease.
Soak your feet in warm salt water.
One of my teachers used to tell us that because salt is the flavor of the kidneys in Chinese medicine, and the kidneys are the most grounding organ, that soaking your feet in salt water would help ground your body’s energy.
The theory is that since the Kidney meridian starts on the bottom of the foot, by immersing the feet in salt water, it will help ground you and assist with sleep and anxiety. I have to be honest, I doubted it…and then I tried it. It really did help (who knew?!)!
And hey, even if you are still a skeptic about the powers of salt, you can at least agree that soaking your tootsies in some warm, cozy water is a nice, relaxing self-care moment.
If you’re looking for great quality salts for soaking, I highly recommend the salt from the shop at Sukhino Float Center and Salt Cave. I buy it locally and keep it on hand, but they also ship.
Get it all out on paper.
Cassie will tell you how much I love to suggest journaling. I only really started the practice five years ago, but there are days that I can tell you that it seems like it is the only thing that gets me through. Especially these days, because I spend a lot of my time alone as I’m single and live by myself. Not having a lot of outside human interaction leaves me to overanalyze myself to such a degree that sometimes I just have to put it all on paper.
If you tend to struggle with the type of anxiety that leaves you ruminating and going down all kinds of rabbit holes with your mind, sometimes it is really helpful to write all those things down and look at them objectively once they’re out of your brain and on paper. I’ve often found that a lot of my anxiety comes from my own self doubt. When I’m not feeling real sure of myself, I tend to doubt my decisions, and sometimes that leads to a worry spiral. Even if you don’t have a regular journaling practice, doing something like Worry Time can be a good activity to have at the ready for particularly anxiety-ridden times.
What’s Actually Working for My Anxiety
All of these tips and tools are a dime a dozen, but what about what actually works for me in the hamster wheel that is life? These times are tricky. The isolation, difference in routine, monotony, and stresses of the financial and health variety are all contributing to a collective state of anxiety and fear. It is normal for anyone to feel overwhelmed, stressed, and anxious during times such as these. So what has been working for me?
For me, a big thing has been anxiety prevention. In fact, I’ve been working as hard on preventing anxiety as I have been exploring tools to help treat it. Some things that have worked for me are:
- Exercise—Keeping my body moving is important for both my physical and mental health, but I also am very careful not to over-tax my body. You won’t find me running any marathons anytime soon. Strenuous exercise doesn’t make my mind or body happy.
- Attempting to stick to a routine—Having ritual in our days can be incredibly grounding. I believe that’s one of the reasons people love coffee so much in the morning (well, that and the caffeine). I try to stick to a general routine for my day, without being hard on myself if I don’t make it one day.
- Listening to my body—This sounds so simple, but with screens and notifications and the 24-hour news cycle, we’ve been trained to tune out our own bodies. Committing to Body Awareness is a great way to ground yourself. I go to the bathroom when I need to go. I sleep when I’m tired. I eat when I’m hungry. It sounds obvious, but you’d be amazed at how often we skip right past what our bodies are asking for.
- Eating healthy—What “healthy” looks like is different for everybody. But for me, it means avoiding dairy, soy, sugar, and shellfish (I’m allergic!), and focusing on a nourishing diet full of foods that make me feel good. You are the only person who knows what foods make you feel your best!
- Gratitude and grief journaling—I also journal my gratitude every day. I’ve had this practice for a long time, and recently during this pandemic, I’ve added the step of journaling my grief as well. In these moments when I have so much to be grateful for, I’ve also found that if I’m not honoring what I’m grieving at the same time, it feels very disjointed. During times like these, we are all mourning some sort of loss, and I feel like it’s important for us to acknowledge that.
I don’t expect any of these tips to cure your anxiety. My only hope here is to offer you some ways to feel some sense of control over the things that you’re experiencing. I know what this feels like, and my heart goes out to each of you who are struggling with anxiety during this time. I hope these tips are able to give you the ability to regain a sense of calm when you feel like you’re struggling. Take care of yourself. Be gentle with yourself. Be well. Stay healthy.