Grounding exercises for strong emotions

By Paige, a love is respect Advocate

We’ve all been there—sweating, heart racing, hyperventilating, thoughts spiraling out to envision worst-case scenarios. Panic happens when your sympathetic nervous system activates to prepare you to fight or flee a potentially life-threatening situation. While the acute stress response can be useful in an actual life-or-death situation, what do you do when it strikes during times you’re actually safe, such as the middle of your calculus test, waiting for your partner to text you back, or after a traumatic memory is triggered? Grounding, or mindfulness, techniques aim to mitigate the panic response by activating your parasympathetic nervous system to bring you back to the present moment.


Take some time to catch your breath.

You can practice these methods during a calmer time, or write them down for easy access next time you need some help feeling grounded.

Exercise 1:

Start with an inhale of 3 counts, hold the breath for 3 counts, then exhale for 3 counts. Repeat, slowly working your way up to 8 counts.

Exercise 2: 

Look around you. Name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. It might also help to focus on details, such as color, texture, or shape.

Credit here.

Exercise 3:

Put your emotions into words, verbally or in writing. Labeling feelings decreases emotional reactivity in the brain.

Credit here.

Still can’t breathe?

  1. Put your hands together like you’re praying, cup them over your mouth/nose, and create a small opening on the other side with your hands. The smaller airflow is much like breathing into a paper bag.
  2. Create a small opening to breathe through by pressing the sides of your lips together.
  3. Try to breathe with your stomach/diaphragm. Laying down flat on your back can help.  Move to a firm surface if you’re still having trouble.

You’re doing great!

Everyone has moments of high emotional distress at one point or another, and it certainly is not an uncommon experience for persons in unhealthy and abusive relationships. After repeated trauma and prolonged distress, these high emotional states can become more frequent and sometimes reach a point of being intrusive and impairing.

If what’s causing your panic is a romantic relationship, reach out to our advocates 24/7/365.


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