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Anchoring techniques

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What is anchoring?

Anchoring techniques are mindfulness techniques that help you to focus on the “here and now.” Being mindful just means consciously focusing your attention on the internal (emotions, thoughts) or external (ambient sounds, temperature of the air) events in the present moment, without judgment. Someone who is drowning in intense emotions can feel paralyzed and out of touch with their surroundings. Anchoring techniques can help them regain control by focusing their attention on the present moment.

When are anchoring techniques used?

Anchoring techniques can be useful for someone who is

  • in a dissociative state (i.e., who has lost touch with reality, feels disconnected from their environment and/or their mind)
  • having a panic attack
  • experiencing flashbacks.
What technique should you use?

The effectiveness of the different techniques varies depending on the person. Some people might find that a certain breathing technique has no effect on them, but it might be “miraculous” for someone else. What’s important is to find the technique that works for you.

There are many different anchoring techniques. Here are three examples:

Anchoring phrases

This technique consists in composing one or more sentences in advance that you can repeat when you feel overcome by an emotion. The phrases must be your own; the possibilities are endless. The important thing is to find the words that help you to return to the present moment.

Example: My name is (first name). I am (age) years old. The date is (date). The time is (time). I am in (city), in/on (a building, street, form of transportation, etc.). What I am presently feeling will pass. I am safe. I am strong. I will get through this.

Method: Write down your phrases on a piece of paper or on your phone to make sure you always have them with you. Read them as many times as you need to, or ask someone you trust to read them out loud to you. You can also listen to a recording of yourself reading them.

The Five Senses

This technique helps you to ground yourself in the present moment using your five senses.

Method: Out loud or in your head, acknowledge five things that you can see around you (a plant, desk, coffee cup…). Then acknowledge four things you can touch or feel (the ground with your feet, the sun on your skin, your stomach gurgling…). Acknowledge three things you can hear (birds singing, a car engine  running, rain falling…). Acknowledge two things you can smell (a scented candle, something cooking in the oven, flowers…). Finally, acknowledge one thing you can taste (chewing gum, a drink, a piece of fruit…). The more precisely you can describe all these things, the better. For this technique to be really effective, it’s important that you be in a safe, neutral, trigger-free environment.

The Rainbow 

This technique is based on the same principle as the Five Senses, but focuses solely on vision.

Method: Out loud or in your head, look for and identify five red objects around you (whether in your living room, on the street or on the subway). Then find five yellow things, five blue things, five green things, and so on until your feeling of anxiety has passed.

While some people prefer to be alone when going through a panic attack or dissociating, others feel better when they are with one or more people they trust, either in person or on the telephone. In such cases, it can be helpful to express exactly what you need when experiencing an attack (such as “I need you to squeeze my hand really hard” or “It would be helpful if you could tell me what day it is and where we are”).

Then what?

Someone who has just experienced a panic attack or flashback may not be capable of returning to what they were doing right away. It is perfectly all right to allow yourself—insofar as is possible—a quiet moment to take care of yourself. It might be useful to keep a list of the things that make you feel good (writing to a friend, listening to a podcast, petting an animal, imagining a place where you feel happy) and to refer to it when you need to.

The counsellors at the Sexual Violence Helpline are always available to listen to and support people who want to try an anchoring technique. They are also familiar with different techniques and can walk you through them. Asking for help is the right thing to do. It’s what we’re here for.

Talking to a health professional about invasive emotions can also be very helpful.