This is Ears, Tufts’ student run anonymous talk-line. We hope that this period before finals does not get too rough for everyone. The stress is real so we thought it might be a good idea to have a post on various grounding and breathing exercises that we are trained in. This is not to discourage people from contacting us, we love to talk to everyone and we love to talk through these techniques. We’re posting them so that everyone can access these great resources. And, if anyone has any breathing or grounding techniques that they find useful, please message us, we’d love to expand this list!
Also, quick advisory, though we really wish that this was the case, not all these techniques will work for everyone. Everyone’s brains and bodies are different so some might not be helpful 🙁 but hopefully at least a few of these techniques will be useful additions to your self-care toolkit.
General note: The breathing exercises require some time to be effective. Trying these techniques for 30 seconds or a few minutes will not be as effective as doing them for 15 minutes or even longer if possible.
Breathing Technique: Diaphragmatic Breathing
Instructions: Place one hand on your chest and one hand over your belly button. Try to breath so that only the hand on your bellybutton moves.
Diaphragmatic breathing is a useful technique to promote deep breathing and it can be very helpful for returning the body to a more calm state after hyperventilation. This technique, first off, gives the person an awareness of their own breathing. The hand that rests on the chest monitors for quick shallow breaths as these cause the upper chest to puff up. The hand on the belly button monitors for deep breaths that push air further into the body. Focus on taking breaths that move the belly-button hand and not the chest-hand. These breaths will be full deep breaths that can help the body return to a more calm state. This technique also can be useful as a personal check in; if a person is busy doing things and notices that their chest-hand is moving, they could consider taking a moment to focus on their breathing.
Breathing Technique: Box Breathing
Instructions: Use a finger to draw a square in the air. Time each side to take 5 seconds to draw. While drawing the first side, inhale. Hold your breath while you draw the next side. Exhale while drawing the third side. And hold your breath while drawing the last side. Then start again, making sure that each inhalation, exhalation, and holding is being done for at least five seconds.
This technique can be helpful for both getting to a slower breathing rate and for maintaining a calm breathing rate. It is similar to many other breathing exercises in that it provides a set time for inhalation, holding and exhalation. This kind of technique offers a structure to breathing and this can be a big help. It is probably helpful to have a watch or clock around to help stick to 5 seconds.
Grounding Technique: 5 senses
Instructions: Say 5 things you see. Then, say 4 things you hear. Then, say 3 things that you can touch. Then, say 2 things you can smell. Then, say 1 thing you like about yourself.
This technique can be helpful for someone in a state where they no longer feel connected to their body or to reality which can occur as a part of a panic attack or an anxiety attack. Like other grounding methods, 5 senses is meant to hold a person to their body. By communicating the physical reality – noises, smells, sights – around them, a person can reinforce their connection to it. This activity can be lengthened to 6 things you see, 5 things you hear… etc; combined with diaphragmatic breathing or followed with a breathing technique.
Grounding Technique: Ice Cubes
Instructions: Hold onto an ice cube. Or, dunk your head in ice water. Or, take a cold shower. Or apply a cold compress to your neck or forehead.
This technique is a little different and requires some outside resources. Though it sounds a little strange, holding onto an ice-cube is a well documented grounding technique. The cold feel of the ice is something physical and real to focus on. And this same principle is followed by applying a cold compress to your neck or forehead. Dunking your head in ice water is a more powerful version of these techniques but requires you to dunk your head in ice water. Dunking also engages the dive reflex which slows the heart rate; so it is a breathing technique as well.
Some other techniques to try:
- Some people find tapping fingers together to be an effective grounding mechanism.
- Tap your thumb to each of your fingers. Like from your pointer to your pinky and back to your pointer.
- Tap your thumb to each of your fingers in some kind of pattern. Like pointer, ring, middle, pinky and restart on pointer.
- Try to tap with your other hand
- Try to tap with both hands simultaneously
- Blowing bubbles can help control breathing. *This technique requires bubble soap
- Blow bubbles and watch them float away and pop