An Easy Grounding Technique For Times When You Feel Totally Overwhelmed

Photo by  nikko macaspac  on  Unsplash

Have you ever felt so out of the moment, so distressed that you could not connect with what was going on around you? Anxiety, anger, sadness, and other equally distressing feelings can do this to us. They can disconnect us from the present moment so effectively that it feels like we are a run away train, hurtling down the tracks with no stop button, no breaks. Everything around us a blur. All we can feel, all we are, in that moment is emotion. Overwhelming and terrifying emotion.

This is going to be my shortest blog post yet. Why? Because this is your go to, emergency procedure for those times.


The 54321 grounding technique

Look around you.

  1. Name 5 things you can see. Either say them out loud or to yourself. Really look, take your time. They can be anything in your visual field. There is no right or wrong answer. For example: “I can see a bus. I can see a table. I can see a…”
  2. Name 4 things you can touch. Touch them. Feel them under your fingers. Notice the sensation. Say them to yourself. For example: “I can feel the wood of the table, I can feel the fabric of my top, I can feel…”
  3. Name 3 things you can hear. You may have to really listen hard for sounds depending on your location. You can include your breath, your heartbeat. Notice the sounds. Say them to yourself. If a judgement comes up, notice it and move onto the next item. For example: “I can hear a car going past, I can hear…”
  4. Name 2 things you can smell. Purposefully smell something near you. You can smell your hand or top. Carry something strong smelling on you if you need to do this often. Name the things you can smell. For example: “I can smell cooking, I can smell…”
  5. Name 1 thing you can taste. If you don’t have a drink or other thing to taste, notice if your mouth has a flavour (like toothpaste). Otherwise, say your favourite thing to taste. For example, “I like to taste…”

That’s it

You may have to do this more than once. That’s ok. You are ok. You just need to reconnect with the now.

If you need to do this often, or know that you are going to an environment where you might become quickly overwhelmed… practice this in advance. As with all the techniques I write about they all become more effective with practice.

Also, you can carry a strong smelling scent that you like with you. Some people carry lavender, others perfume. A couple of people I know carry fresh limes with them. When times are really difficult the lime isn’t just for smelling. They bite it during the taste phase. The sudden sharp and sour taste yanks them back into the present.

TOP TIP: It can be really helpful to write down the 54321 game on a piece of paper, take a picture of it and make it your screensaver on your phone. This means you won’t have to try to remember it during your time of need.

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I am a Clinical Psychologist trying to get effective psychological advice out of the therapy room and into everyday life. Please share this article if you found it useful, or think it will benefit someone you know.

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Dr Soph