Grounding techniques for panic attacks can help people with substance use disorders protect their recovery. They work by distancing you from flashbacks, negative emotions, and unwelcome memories.
Panic attacks can be devastating, especially to someone in recovery. For example, they can compel someone attempting to stay sober to look for quick relief in a drink or a drug. A single panic attack can disrupt months of work to stay clean and lead to the cycle of drug and alcohol abuse. Responding to panic attacks in healthy ways can come through learning some basic grounding techniques before the next one occurs.
Using your senses while touching or tasting something is a form of physical grounding, and describing what’s in your surroundings is a form of mental grounding. By returning yourself to a sense of safety in healthy ways, you can avoid igniting a craving for more of the substance (a.k.a. the “physical allergy”) that would come from using drugs or drinking as a way to cope with anxiety.
PANIC ATTACK SYMPTOMS
Panic attacks appear suddenly and show up in a variety of ways. You may experience similar symptoms each time, or they may change on occasion. The symptoms include a sense of impending danger and a fear of death. You may feel your heart rate increase and a tightening of your throat. Some people sweat, tremble, and feel chest pain. Chills or hot flashes are possible. You may experience a headache, dizziness, or faintness. Nausea or abdominal cramping may develop. Numbness and tingling sensations are not uncommon. You may not consciously know why you’re panicking, and it may leave you feeling disconnected from reality.
We can divide grounding techniques into two broad categories: physical and mental. Physical grounding techniques are experiences with you using your five senses. Mental grounding techniques rely on you using your thoughts and imagination. Combining these two types of techniques can be helpful as you explore what works for you personally during a panic attack.
Physical Grounding Techniques
- Pick up a small object. Explore how it feels in your hands. Look at its details or color.
- Put your hands in water. Turn on a tap and feel the temperature and flow against your skin.
- Take a bite of food and focus on its taste and texture. Describe it to yourself.
- Pick a point to walk to and give yourself an activity to do along the way. Count your steps or look for specific colors on the route.
- Take a deep breath and exhale immediately. Repeat this four times. Check your heart rate and repeat if necessary.
- Pick up something with a distinct scent, such as a piece of fruit or a candle. Close your eyes and focus on the smell.
- Turn on music and move to it. Any movement you’re comfortable with is perfectly fine. Pay attention to the music and listen for patterns in it.
- Close your eyes and listen to sounds in your environment. Name the different sounds you hear or order them from softest to loudest.
- Be mindful about how your body feels. Pay attention to tightness in your shoulders, neck, or back.
- Use all five senses in order. Name five things you hear, four things you see, three things you can touch, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
Mental Grounding Techniques
- Test your memory. Look at a painting or a picture, then look away and recall what details stood out to you.
- Count backward from 100 to 0, or try some other activity involving numbers. It could be counting to 100 and skipping every mention of 7 along the way.
- Visualize a place you like to go. Spend time walking around in your mind and looking at what you love most about your special place.
- Describe a task you know well. Think in terms of simple steps. It could be as simple as making coffee or driving to work.
- Imagine the face of someone who knows and likes you. Identify the details you see, including hair and eye color.
- Plan an activity to do alone or with a friend. Be specific in your plans and think about what you need to buy or bring and where you need to go.
- Imagine ten objects that bring you joy or pleasure. It could be something you wear, a gift you were given, or an item you assembled.
- Replace one word in every movie title you can think of with a funny or absurd option.
- Pick a kind phrase to repeat to yourself and say it until at least one of the words starts to sound odd.
- Imagine packing up your emotions in a large container and dropping it off a cliff. Take the time to name each emotion as you imagine placing it in a box. Seal the box and watch yourself pushing it off the cliff.
WHEN TO SEEK HELP
Grounding techniques may not be enough to manage intense and recurring symptoms associated with trauma and other serious mental health conditions. If panic attacks and anxiety have interfered with your ability to work, attend school, and maintain relationships, a more comprehensive form of treatment is recommended. Trauma therapies can help you identify the source of origin of your anxiety and help you learn to manage panic attacks in healthy ways. A treatment program for substance use and mental health disorders can be a valuable way to understand how these two disorders are connected and affect each other.
Origins Counseling is a program in Dallas, Texas, made available by a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We provide a comprehensive diagnostic assessment and evaluation, as well as renowned clinical care for addiction. We have the compassion and professional expertise needed to guide you toward lasting sobriety. For information on our programs, call us today: 561.841.1264.