Returning to the Present Moment in 5-4-3-2-1

5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique for Shifting out of Overwhelming Emotion

The strategy I’d like to share with you here is helpful for shifting out of strong emotion. It is considered a “grounding strategy”. Being ‘grounded’ simply refers to the notion of being emotionally and mentally present in the here and now.

Known as 5-4-3-2-1, the underlying technique here originates from trauma therapy. It is used to help individuals be present in the moment: it can slow racing thoughts, stop flashbacks, minimize addictive cravings, ease ruminating, and lessen anxiety. And, it is incredibly easy to learn and apply. If you catch yourself and your child/teen arguing and the situation seems to only be escalating, excuse yourself for a few minutes (just say you need a few minutes to calm down), and use this technique to ground yourself so that you can return to the present situation. In your mind (or out loud if you are alone), focus on the following things in great detail:

  • 5 things you can see (such as different colours, or items in the room you are in)
  • 4 things you can touch (such as things you can physically feel with your hands, or feet, or the temperature),
  • 3 things you can hear (listen carefully!),
  • 2 things you can smell, and
  • 1 thing you can taste

This grounding strategy can help you to shift your focus away from internal, emotional experiencing, to external distraction (the trick is to get out of your head and into the present moment!). Focus on external details as you talk through the sequence. Notice your breathing will slow from when you first begin the strategy to the time you complete it. Allow the the full cycle (from 5 down to 1) to take a few minutes; take your time and truly allow yourself to be distracted from your inner chatter.

Try this strategy if you find that you are feeling over-whelmed, emotionally flooded, or even just very spacey and not able to focus. Once you complete the cycle, check in with your inner processing and try again to resolve the situation with your child/teen.

This article was originally posted on October 20, 2010, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge


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