In the hustle and bustle of modern life, anxiety has become an all-too-familiar companion for many individuals. The constant pressures and uncertainties can leave us feeling overwhelmed, disconnected, and lost in a whirlwind of worries. Fortunately, there’s a lifeline that can help us regain control and find calm amidst the storm: grounding techniques.
Understanding Anxiety and Grounding
Before diving into one very specific and powerful technique, let’s grasp a deeper understanding of anxiety and how grounding can help us manage it. Anxiety is a natural response to stress, but when it becomes chronic and overwhelming, it can interfere with our daily lives and well-being. Grounding techniques are designed to anchor us in the present moment, pulling us away from anxious thoughts and redirecting our focus to reality.
When anxiety strikes, it often triggers a fight-or-flight response, flooding our bodies with stress hormones. Grounding techniques activate our senses and create a sense of safety, counteracting the fight-or-flight response and inducing a relaxation response. By engaging with our immediate environment, these techniques help lower stress levels, regulate emotions, and foster a sense of control over anxious thoughts.
The Power of Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Statistics and Findings
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a relaxation and grounding technique that involves systematically tensing and then releasing different muscle groups in the body. The process typically starts from the feet and moves upward to the head. By deliberately tensing and then relaxing muscles, individuals can become more aware of physical tension and learn to relax their muscles effectively. Regular practice of PMR is believed to reduce stress and anxiety, and promote overall relaxation and well-being.
Studies suggest that PMR is a popular technique for grounding and reducing anxiety levels. For example, in a study by Carver & O’Malley (2015), trainee nurses practicing PMR experienced significantly reduced anxiety compared to a control group. PMR has been tried with larger samples and specific populations, such as Covid-19 patients and people with schizophrenia, showing reductions in acute and chronic anxiety and improved sleep quality (Cougle et al, 2020; Liu et al, 2020; Chen et al, 2009).
Regarding counseling or psychotherapy, Mander et al (2019) found that PMR, mindfulness, and ‘treatment as usual’ all led to lowered anxiety levels, raising the question of whether clients can be helped to feel less anxious before starting a session.
In a study comparing anxiety reduction techniques including PMR, deep breathing, an adapted dive reflex technique, and using a weighted object, all four interventions were shown to reduce anxiety (Keptner et al, 2021). Another recent study by Steffen et al (2021) investigated the use of breathing techniques in psychotherapy, revealing clear physiological benefits in subjects using controlled breathing rates and soothing rhythm breathing compared to controls.
Overall, various forms of grounding techniques, like PMR and controlled breathing, appear effective in reducing immediate anxiety states.
Where Anxiety Comes From
Anxiety is a natural and adaptive response to stress or potential threats. It is part of the body’s survival mechanism, often referred to as the fight-or-flight response. When faced with perceived danger, the body releases stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, preparing the individual to respond quickly to the threat.
The origins of anxiety can be complex and multifaceted, involving a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Some common contributors to anxiety include:
- Genetics: Research suggests that individuals with a family history of anxiety disorders may be more susceptible to developing anxiety themselves, indicating a genetic predisposition.
- Traumatic Experiences: Traumatic events, such as abuse, loss of a loved one, or accidents, can trigger anxiety. The memory of these events may lead to heightened fear and apprehension about similar situations in the future.
- Environmental Factors: High levels of stress in the environment, such as financial difficulties, work pressure, or relationship problems, can contribute to the development or exacerbation of anxiety.
- Personality Traits: Certain personality traits, such as being highly sensitive, perfectionistic, or having a tendency to worry excessively, may increase the risk of experiencing anxiety.
- Chemical Imbalances: Imbalances in neurotransmitters (brain chemicals responsible for transmitting signals) may play a role in anxiety disorders.
- Cognitive Factors: Negative thought patterns, such as catastrophic thinking or a tendency to overestimate the likelihood of negative outcomes, can contribute to the experience of anxiety.
It’s essential to remember that anxiety is a treatable condition. Seeking support from mental health professionals, such as therapists or counselors, can provide valuable strategies and coping mechanisms to manage anxiety effectively and improve overall well-being. With the right guidance and support, individuals can learn to navigate and reduce the impact of anxiety on their lives.
Carver, M. L., & O’Malley, M. (2015). Progressive muscle relaxation to decrease anxiety in clinical simulations. Teaching and Learning in Nursing, 10(2), 57-62.
Chen, W. C., Chu, H., Lu, R. B., Chou, Y. H., Chen, C. H., Chang, Y. C., … & Chou, K. R. (2009). Efficacy of progressive muscle relaxation training in reducing anxiety in patients with acute schizophrenia. Journal of clinical Nursing, 18(15), 2187-2196.
Cougle, J. R., Wilver, N. L., Day, T. N., Summers, B. J., Okey, S. A., & Carlton, C. N. (2020). Interpretation bias modification versus progressive muscle relaxation for social anxiety disorder: a web-based controlled trial. Behavior Therapy, 51(1), 99-112.
Keptner, K. M., Fitzgibbon, C., & O’Sullivan, J. (2021). Effectiveness of anxiety reduction interventions on test anxiety: a comparison of four techniques incorporating sensory modulation. British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 84(5), 289-297.
Liu, K., Chen, Y., Wu, D., Lin, R., Wang, Z., & Pan, L. (2020). Effects of progressive muscle relaxation on anxiety and sleep quality in patients with COVID-19. Complementary therapies in clinical practice, 39, 101132.
Mander, J., Blanck, P., Neubauer, A. B., Kröger, P., Flückiger, C., Lutz, W., … & Heidenreich, T. (2019). Mindfulness and progressive muscle relaxation as standardized session‐introduction in individual therapy: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of clinical psychology, 75(1), 21-45.
Steffen, P. R., Bartlett, D., Channell, R. M., Jackman, K., Cressman, M., Bills, J., & Pescatello, M. (2021). Integrating breathing techniques into psychotherapy to improve HRV: Which approach is best?. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 624254.