Countdown to calm

Keeping calm and counting on five fingers

On a Sunday evening a couple weeks ago, I got stuck in an elevator with a friend and his six-year-old kid. Panic was inevitable.

My anxiety transformed into a super power in that elevator, though (so much practice halting my own downward spirals!). And I wanted to share the straightforward trick that helped me and that six-year-old avoid a full meltdown.

The purpose of this exercise (it’s kinda a meditation) is to interrupt negative thoughts. To bring you out of your anxious mind and re-ground you in the present moment.

Five senses grounding technique

Sometimes I do this exercise very quickly in my head and it takes less than a minute. Other times, I say the words out loud and slow the process down. There’s lots of potential for variances, but the basics couldn’t be easier.

How to do it

  • Either out loud or in your head:
    1. Identify five things you can see
    2. Notice four things you can hear
    3. Channel your attention to three things you can touch
    4. Focus on two things you can smell
    5. And become aware of one thing you can taste
  • If you feel like it, finish off with a big breath

If there’s nothing in your immediate vicinity that fits for a step, just draw on your memory — what can you remember tasting? smelling? seeing?

There’s no right or wrong way to work through the senses. You can start with any of ’em or even leave one out. I entirely forgot one of the senses while the six-year-old was in my lap and my friend came to the rescue by sniffing like crazy. But the exercise would still have worked without smell. We could’ve simply repeated one of the other four.

It can be extra grounding to use your thumb and fingers to count down from five, but it’s entirely unnecessary. Do what feels best in your own body.

The important thing is to shift attention from your whirling, ungraspable thoughts. To focus on the sensations within your body and the real-ness of your environment.

The happy ending

Between me and my friend (who, thank god, speaks Swiss German), we were able to communicate with the elevator maintenance people and keep the six-year-old (and us!) from hysteria.

We were liberated within half an hour. And the kid is now an expert in what to do if you’re trapped in an elevator!

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4 thoughts on “Countdown to calm”

  1. What great advice Laura- a good technique for any anxiety inducing experience. Your friend’s son was lucky you were there

    1. Thanks Phyllis 🙂 I was really pleased to use a technique I practice myself to transform being stuck in an elevator into a not-so-terrible experience!

    1. Love the idea of ‘reflex-handy’! It’s also a fun way to spot unexpected things while out and about. I’ve noticed many cool shoes and odd smells on public transit 😉

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