Simple Ways to Ground Yourself When You Are Feeling Anxious
We are living in an anxious time. We find ourselves in territory that we have no map for. We were unprepared to be thrust into the midst of a pandemic. Each of us is finding our way the best we can, but there are times when some of us become overwhelmed and despondent. Anxiety levels are going up and we need to find ways to find some stability, some ground under our feet.
Honoring our feelings is the first step. Feeling anxious when the world is in chaos is pretty normal and we should not try to just push those feelings away. Acknowledging our despair with a hand to our heart and some soothing words is a great first step to settling our nerves and beginning to find ground. Then it helps to move into some practical ways to shift our energy, shift our perspective and bring a sense of calm back into our day.
Here are a few things that I find help, and maybe you can spin off of these and create your own go-to list for those times when your anxiety is spinning out of control.
Step away from the news and clean something.
I have been polishing my mother’s silver flatware. My mind finds a resting place as the tarnish begins to fade and the spoons begin to sparkle. I am focused on the task and I have a little mini-vacation from the chaos and noise of the world. I think about how long these spoons and forks have been in my family and how many people have enjoyed using them around our table. I imagine my mother as a young bride choosing her pattern for her registry. I think about how nice it will be to open the drawer and set the table when all the flatware is gleaming again.
Gladys Taber, writing in the 1950’s, another time of uncertainty for our country and our world, says “Tranquility is something we must reach for in ourselves. I have a friend who says when she is too keyed-up, she irons. Ironing would never make me feel tranquil, but she says it is very calming. Most of us have, I think, some refuge from this exceedingly disturbed era in history, but it is an individual matter. I find, for myself, washing the milk class is good medicine!”
We all have some go to task like this that brings a sense of satisfaction. Washing windows always changes my outlook, as does putting away piles, and re-shelving books. Whatever task is before you, do that. When we put our hands to the work of ordering our small world, it makes the chaos of the bigger world seem less frightening. Control what is within your power to control, and let the rest take care of itself for a while. Your worry isn’t changing anything anyway.
Spend time on the floor
Remember when we were kids and our favorite place to be was the floor? Lying on the floor we watched television, cut out paper dolls, read books, and scoured the Sears Wishbook for the things we wanted Santa to bring us. (I know I am dating myself.) The point is that the floor gave us a sense of security. It was grounding. It connected us to the earth and we didn’t even know it. We just thought it was fun to be on the floor.
If you are able to get down on the floor, try it. If you want to roll out your yoga mat, go ahead, but even if yoga is not your thing you can benefit from being on the floor. Stretch out like a cat, lie in corpse pose, allow yourself to rest. When we are on the floor there is no agenda. We need some time to be free from the sense that there is something we should be doing. Let yourself do nothing. Just hang out on the floor. See if it doesn’t make you feel a little less anxious.
If you can go outside and lie in the grass, all the better. The energy of the earth will lower your center of gravity and calm you. Plus, there is emerging research that being in contact with the earth’s electrons can cause a shift from your sympathetic (fight, flight, freeze) nervous system to the parasympathetic (rest, digest and restore) nervous system. As a bonus, the world looks less scary when you are lying there looking at the elephants and ducks in the clouds.
Remember to breathe!
I’ll bet if you were to pay attention you would realize that a good part of the time you are holding your breath or breathing shallowly. Set a reminder on your phone every hour to check in with your breathing. Stopping to take 3 or 4 deep breaths in and letting them out slowly can activate your parasympathetic nervous system. A few deep breaths can bring a sense of calm. So many of us are staying activated in the fight or flight response right now, and this can lead to chronic anxiety, sleep problems, and other health issues. Simply remembering to breathe into our bellies every hour or so can go a long way to restoring a sense of control.
Put it all in perspective.
Yes, these are really difficult times we are living through. Some would say “unprecedented.” But the reality is, difficult times are not unprecedented. Humans have been through hard times before. There have been wars, and plagues and, yes, even pandemics before.
Gladys Taber was writing when the arms race was beginning and the US was testing atomic bombs in the desert. No one knew what the long term affects of the fallout would be, and the fear of a nuclear war was real. Citizens were encouraged to prepare to survive an atomic bomb attack. Here are her words about that frightening time.
“This is a time of anxieties, scary headlines, turmoil. Many people have resorted to tranquilizing pills to get them through the days and nights. But I have decided that it is my business to live my life as best I can. In season we plant. In season we harvest the crops. In season we pile the apple logs on the fire. And here at Stillmeadow we try to live every day as if it were a fresh gift from God. The sun shines, the rain falls, the snow blots out the windows still. Birds come as usual. They nest at the same time. And in so far as we are able, we help our neighbors.” (From Stillmeadow Sampler)
Carrying on the best we can seems to be the way that humans survive these difficult times. Here is another take on it from poet David Budbill.
Little Poem Written at Five O-Clock in the Morning
All this violence: wars and cruelties —
collective and individual —
carnage of all kinds,
now as always
back to the beginning of time.
Our kind endlessly slaughters itself;
its appetite for self-destruction is boundless.
Yet and still every day the sun rises,
white clouds roll across the sky,
vegetables get planted and grow,
and late in the afternoon someone
sits quietly with a cup of tea.
It’s the “yet and still” that brings me up short every time. Yet and still there are meals to prepare, people to love, toys to pick up and put away, and tea to sip in the quiet of an afternoon. It is these things that keep us grounded. We are going to survive. We are resilient.
Finding ground is really pretty simple. Doing the everyday things that keep life running smoothly, remembering to breathe, spending time resting, and remembering that we have been through these kinds of things before are all actions that are easy and accessible. Get back to the basics of life and you will find ground under your feet again. The simple pleasures and everyday joys are still ours to take if we will just turn toward them. Yet and still each day is a fresh gift from God.