How to be More Present When You're Feeling Anxious

By Bethany Nickerson, LMSW

Anxiety has a way of hijacking our brains and even our bodies. I’m not sure about you, but for me, when I am feeling especially anxious it's easy for me to forget all the many coping skills that can help me feel better. You hear phrases like, “centering yourself” or “grounding” but it can be hard to know how exactly to go about being more present. I like to focus on the body and the breath because those are two things you always have with you. Some of my favorite ways to ground myself when I am feeling anxious or stressed out have to do with using my senses. 

  1. Go on a walk. As you walk feel your feet on the ground, listen to the sounds around you, and take long deep breaths. Notice what you smell and what the temperature of the air is. 
     
  2.  Make a cup of coffee or tea. As you prepare it breathe in the scent and feel the temperature of the cup. Notice if the temperature is warmer or colder than you hands. Take a sip of the coffee and notice the sensations in the body as you swallow. 
     
  3. Rub your first finger and thumb together and notice the texture of your fingerprint. Taking notice of something that you normally pass right over is a great way to get out of your own head.
     
  4. Visualize you breath. Pick a color and imagine starting at the top of your head and slowly breathing the color down until you get to your feet. As the color reaches each part of your body see if you can give yourself permission to release any tension you hold there. If your mind starts to race just bring your attention back to the breath and back to the color.
     
  5. Take a chocolate kiss (or a hard candy) and focus on its taste and size as you eat it. If you notice that your mind starts to wander bring your attention back to the flavor of the chocolate and notice it getting smaller and smaller.

It's easy to get overwhelmed with anxiety and focus on past events and what you wish you had done differently, or worry about what the future holds. When that happens, tuning into your senses keeps your attention on the present and gives your thoughts a chance to slow down and return to what is happening in the moment.

Bethany Nickerson is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support with coping with anxiety or increasing mindfulness, visit cobbpsychotherapy.com to learn more about how therapy can help.