How to Calm Anxiety In Others: Our Sneaky Grounding Technique
Crises come and go, but the best things in life can be tapped into anywhere at anytime.
I used to volunteer at a crisis line for a year, starting right at the beginning of the pandemic. Callers quadrupled in a mere matter of months. Change is tough, and sometimes it comes with crises.
To say it was stressful would be a mammoth understatement.
I worked from home, several shifts a month, including early mornings, mid afternoons, and lengthy overnights. It was a tremendously difficult role, being a crisis responder, but I learned more from my time in that organization about how to help others than I did in my standard undergrad classes that would dissect human behavior and come up with conversational dialogue to follow "by the book."
I used to get repeat callers, and one of them was having a particularly rough time at the moment that they called. None of the usual stuff worked: guided breathing, mindfulness meditation, grounding techniques, casual conversation, a listening ear, a safe space for venting, sharing helpful links, etc.
How could I help this person? Nothing "by the book" stuck!
At some point during our call, the caller mentioned offhand that they were working on a creative project.
They were painting mushrooms.
Deciding to use this as an anchor amidst the sea of swirling negativity, I asked them what their 3 favorite mushrooms were.
There was silence for a bit, but then they slowly started to list them off.
I then asked what their 3 favorite things to paint were.
More silence followed, and I started to think the connection was lost or that they hung up on me. But, then they started speaking again and listed off the things a little bit more quickly than the last few.
Narrowing in on someone's interests, hearing the responses to each question in detail, and continuing this in a repetitive fashion seems to work wonders in terms of an effective distraction approach. This act of directing focus to one topic and carefully considering 3 responses to it helps to slow down racing thoughts.
It's like a sneaky grounding technique, one that decreases anxiety and stabilizes breathing without actively directing focus to these things. Instead, it's more of a silly, playful game, and not a debilitating crisis situation to have to de-escalate.
We all still have our inner child within us, and they love repetitive improv stuff like this.
So, what kind of questions should you try answering yourself or asking someone else?
Here are some examples below of 3 favourites:
3 Favourite Senses
- Think of 3 of your favourite hues (ex. teal)
- Think of 3 of your favourite smells (ex. vanilla)
- Think of 3 of your favourite drinks (ex. hot chocolate)
3 Favourite Interests
- Think of 3 of your favourite exercises that help you feel better (ex. Pilates)
- Think of 3 of your favourite morning practices that help you feel more awake (ex. cold shower)
- Think of 3 of your favourite plants that you like to paint (ex. wild mushrooms)
3 Favourite Animals
- Think of 3 of your favourite bears (ex. sun bear)
- Think of 3 of your favourite pets (ex. brown tabby house cat)
- Think of 3 of your favourite fish (ex. Nemo)
Sometimes focusing on a crisis as a crisis doesn't actually work. Sometimes helping can be as simple as asking someone what their 3 favourite things are. Focusing on the unimportant is essential.
This list is not limited to the items I've come up with here, and you can easily create similar prompts of your own! They're easier to come up with when you're in a calm state. You can print or write out some of these on a sheet of paper and stick it up on your fridge, or store it as a photo to refer back to on your phone. The latter is especially useful for when you're on the go and need quick access to these items.
Looking for more?
Check out The Self Care Bucket List for a wealth of ideas and activities to engage in.
I hope you find this helpful! Let me know in the comments what your answer may be to any of these!