• As the world continues to change around us, we may find ourselves constantly looking outwards, fuelling our anxiety and panic around our uncertain present

  • Therapist Dora Darvasi shares a grounding exercise to help you tune into your body and own experience instead, to calm anxious feelings

  • If you need to talk to a therapist about anxiety or panic, start your search here 

During these uncertain times, it is more important than ever to be able to regulate your emotional experience. It is crucial because you need to stay intact, for yourself and others. We are all impacted differently, some of us to a lesser degree, some of us more directly. Uncertainty and crisis will trigger different responses in all of us. Remind yourself that on an emotional level, there is no right way of responding to crisis. You may feel anxious and worried, but you may also feel strangely calm and practical. Try to not judge your response and the responses of people you love, but notice them instead.

If you do feel calm, then the chances are you are better equipped to support people who are anxious around you. Try and not judge their anxiety but don’t absorb it either. Own your calm and use it. No emotional state is permanent so if you feel differently over time that is OK too. Attempt to connect to others in whatever ways you can but there are ways of engaging with each other that are less helpful and ways that are more nourishing.

Reaching out to someone in panic frequently without any sense of what you are doing it for, will only add to your anxiety. Try and put time constraints around when you engage with others and don’t be ashamed sticking to it. Do the same with the news. It is important to stay informed so you can better protect yourself and others. Exposing yourself to the same information over and over again however is not good for your immune system. Your anxiety rises and it clashes with your powerlessness, collapsing in on itself. All this energy builds up inside you, but there is nowhere for it to go. This process can gradually weaken not just your vitality but your physical health too. And you need your immune system to be OK right now.

The following exercise is designed to support you to be more in contact with your body. It can regulate your breathing and can help you to be more present. It is working on the premise that anxiety is fuelled by escalating thought processes and rather than focusing on those thought processes, it invites you to open your awareness to the rest of your body. It aids you to feel your senses more and utilises your natural, physical support functions.

You can do it as long as you need to and as frequently as you need to. You may decide to do it with someone together where you are either doing it in silence or take roles in talking each other through it. You can also do this on your own, wherever you are.

Grounding exercise for panic and anxiety

Sit on a comfortable chair and close your eyes. Push your bum to the back of the chair, so your spine is supported. Bring your attention to your body. Notice where your body and the chair meet, the points in which the chair is in contact with your body.

Now bring your attention to your spine. There is a point on your spine, roughly behind your navel, where you can tap into the meeting place of two opposing tensions – an upward pull and a downward pull. And just surrender into gravity. 

Notice how the bottom part of your body feels heavy and how the top part of your body is almost stretching upwards, it is paradoxical like that. So, you're not holding yourself up artificially but not hunching either, it is almost as if you were suspended. You might feel a slight tingle, a burning sensation on your spine when you tap into that place on it – you'll know when you feel it.

Notice your breathing, notice where the most amount of air enters your system, whether it is through your left nostril, your right nostril or through your mouth. And notice where the air goes, whether it goes into your chest, or whether it goes to your abdomen. At first, just notice. Allow yourself to become aware of this organic, automatic movement. 

If you find yourself breathing into your chest, then allow yourself to use your agency and gently support the air to go towards your abdomen. The way to do this is not to try and push the air down but make more space in your abdomen – expanding the muscles in your abdomen – and the air will naturally find its way down. We tend to hold anxiety and tension, which can develop into chronic tension in our chests and shoulders, so you want to breathe under the tension.

Now bring your attention to your skin. We take in so much information through our skin yet rarely attend to it. It is easier to feel it as it comes into contact with something physical, so see if you can feel your shirt on your shoulders or your pants on your thighs, your socks on the top of your feet. And see if you can also feel the air on your skin where it is exposed, like your hands or face. Just become aware of how the air is gently circulating around your skin.

Now shift your awareness to outside of your skin and notice any noise around you first. Try and listen to it like a baby listens to noise, don't try and figure out where it is coming from but just hear it and absorb it. Almost as if you wanted to imitate it in some way.

Whenever you are ready – take as much time as you need – open your eyes. Do take your time; let your eyes rest on the space in front of you – maybe you see an object, or light and shadows, or you notice different colours? As you return to the room, make sure you keep attending to how you feel in your body, so it is not immediately lost but simultaneously attended to. This is how you can begin to develop your capacity for dual awareness – that sense of engaging with something through your senses whilst staying in contact with yourself as a separate being. This is not easy, so even if you can only do this for a few moments, give yourself credit for it. Developing this dual awareness can also support you to not collude with others’ emotional state and therefore be more empathetic and available in a way that is safe.

Dora Darvasi is a verified welldoing.org therapist

Further reading

Anxiety and panic: how keeping them close helps them go away 

How to avoid spreading panic in this pandemic: Philippa Perry's advice

Boosting emotional resilience in the face of coronavirus

Therapist advice if coronavirus has triggered health anxiety and OCD

The psychological impact of Covid-19