Panic attacks are sudden episodes of intense fear. They can be frightening and upsetting and are accompanied by overwhelming and distressing thoughts and intense physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, sweating and shaking or trembling. Many feel that they are detached from reality during these episodes.
One technique that can be helpful during panic attacks as well as PTSD flashbacks is known as the 5-4-3-2-1 coping or grounding technique. Grounding is a diversion that can help reduce your symptoms. It can help you get out of your head as your thoughts race and get you to connect to the present. When we are grounded we feel calm, centered and in the moment. This 5 step grounding technique is simple to do and can give some immediate relief.
First, before using the grounding technique, it is important to focus on your breathing as this is the quickest way to move toward getting calmer. To start breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds and breathe out through your mouth slowly for 4 seconds. Try to do at least 5-6 rounds of this breathing but you can certainly do more.
Once you have slowed your breath you can use the 5 steps:
5: Observe Five things you can see. Maybe it’s a picture on the wall, a cup or a pen. State 5 things you can see.
4: Observe Four things you can touch. It can be your hair, your shirt or a piece of furniture. State 4 things you can feel/touch.
3: Observe Three sounds you hear. It should be something outside of yourself not your own thoughts. Perhaps you can hear the clock ticking, a car driving by or birds chirping. State 3 things you hear.
2: Observe Two things you can smell. This may be hard depending on the environment you are in. If there is not something right there to sniff you may need to move around to find something to smell. Maybe there is a lotion close by or some soap or you can walk outside to smell something in nature. State 2 things you smell.
1: Observe One thing you can taste. What tastes do you notice in your mouth? Perhaps gum or the coffee you had earlier. Focus on this as the last step.
It may be helpful to practice this technique at various times even when you are not anxious so that you feel familiar with it and will easily come to mind when you need it the most.