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5-4-3-2-1 Grounding in the Present

By December 17, 2022March 27th, 2024No Comments

This is one of 3 posts where I share my favourite practices or tools to bring out when feeling scared, panicked and ungrounded.

Mindfulness for me helps me to remember choices that are still available to me even in the midst of the most difficult moments. While mindfulness practice is its essence is not concerned with changing anything of our experience. And yet, with awareness we can make choices about how to act wisely in our everyday moments. Sometimes these choices might be remembering ways we can steady ourselves in the face of panic, nightmares and flashbacks.

These practices help us to connect with the here and now by connecting with our sensory and soothing systems.  You can practice them anywhere without any special equipment or conditions. When we bring our attention to our senses, we unhook from unhelpful thinking loops that can be spiralling out of control and increasing our anxiety and panic.

With this one –  5-4-3-2-1 – we become aware of our physical space using our major senses in a particular way and remind ourselves that we are safe now. We pay attention to things outside of ourselves. This might be one to try out if paying attention to your internal experience like your breath, feels like it is fuelling panic thoughts and feelings further. After traumatic experiences, we can feel unsafe in our bodies even after the danger has passed. Paying attention to our external environment in the here and now can help remind us, to get the new evidence that you are safe now.

There is no right or wrong here. Adapt as is most comfortable for you. Try for yourself, listen to how your body responds and see what connects for you. It might take a few gos.


  • Begin with one or two full breaths in though the nose and out through the mouth.
  • Seeing … name five things you can see, for example, a lamp, a desk, a plant, a window and a chair – taking your time with each one, maybe breathing out long and slow after each one and before moving on …
  • Feeling … name four things you can feel or touch, for example, air on your skin, the chair on your back, feet firm on the floor and your hands heavy on your lap. Breathing out slowly and moving on …
  • Hearing … name three thing you can hear … listening and waiting with patience … heater, birds, silence. Breathing out and moving on …
  • Smelling … name two things you can smell … coffee, laundry detergent … breathing out slowly and moving on ..
  • Tasting … name one thing you can taste … toothpaste … breathing out slowly and moving on ..
  • Take another few full breaths in through the nose hand out through the mouth and let your breath return to its own natural rhythm.
  • If it feels helpful, reminding yourself that you are safe now or inviting this possibility, simply saying the word ‘safe’.
  • Repeat a few more rounds as needed. Moving about your room if that feels helpful too.

You can also try out more focused-breathing practices to add to your toolbox –  +2 breathing and box-breathing.