I get asked about tools for panic attacks about 2x a month, so I thought I would post this, as a peer and colleague and not a therapist. Please comment and add your knowledge to the discussion.

Grounding as a Method to Address Panic Attacks

Self-care becomes important when we are grieving. We are the best expert to take care of ourselves and provide ourselves what we need.

You can take care of yourself when you feel a panic attack coming on. You absolutely can have the knowledge and tools to keep yourself settled and calm.

Please read this thoroughly. You may want to print out these instructions and keep them available.

The Idea Behind This Technique:
As the name implies, "grounding" is a particular way of coping that is designed to "ground" you in the present moment. In doing so, you can retain your connection with the present moment and reduce the likelihood that you slip into a state of panic, flashback or dissociation. In this way, grounding may be considered to be very similar to mindfulness.

General Instructions:
To ground, you want to use the five senses (sound, touch, smell, taste, and sight). To connect with the here and now, you want to do something that will bring all your attention to the present moment.

To Begin:
Sit or stand with both feet firmly on the ground. Say to yourself: "I have everything I need to get through this feeling." Repeat that a few times.

3 deep breaths at the beginning and end of the exercise. Remember, if someone is lightheaded or hyperventilating they should breathe in and out into a paper bag 10 times. 

Then start the 5's... Specific Instructions:

* 5 Sounds:
Listen for 5 discrete sounds that are different and identify them. For instance: a fan, a dog barking in the distance, the refrigerator humming, your own breathing and crickets chirping. And as a result, your attention will be directed to that noise, bringing you into the present moment.

* 5 Sensations:
Touch 5 discretely different surfaces - look for warm, cold, rough, smooth - forcing you to stay in touch with the present moment.

* 5 Smells:
Smell 5 discretely different odors - fruity, floral, green, spicy, herbal - forcing you to stay in touch with the present moment.

* 5 Tastes:
Taste 5 descrete tastes - sweet, sour, salty, cold, hot - tastes can force you to stay in the present moment.

* 5 Sights:
Take an inventory of 5 things around you. Connect with the present moment by verbally listing 5 things around you. You could identify 5 colors you see. Count 5 pieces of furniture around you. Taking an inventory of your immediate environment can directly connect you with the present moment.

(Personal note: I used to wake up in the middle of the night with panic. I had two plastic pill sorter trays by the bed. One had tastes in it: salt, sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon and vanilla powder. One had cotton balls in with different scents in each compartment. This way I could use the 5's right at my bedside. I would sit up in bed, swing my feet over and place them firmly on the ground, open my bedside drawer and pull out my trays and then start my routine.)

Essential oils are great and you can keep on hand to help relax if panicking: specifically lavender and neroli. Clary sage can help relax someone (don't use with alcohol). Lavender is definitely the cheapest alternative and easiest to procure.

That is a start - this system, given to me by my best friend who is an EMDR therapist, absolutely worked for me...


Kim Gosney