• Eileen Ward

Grounded in Memory: Using the Five Senses Exercise

Panic and anxiety take away our ability to see the whole picture and shrink it as you feel the panic climb up your throat. These anxiety and panic attacks can be life-altering and until I understood what was happening to me, they were. Dialectical Behavior Therapy has some great techniques for helping recognize what is happening in your body, and through practice, using these techniques to redirect your thoughts can calm the psychological response to stress.

The 5 senses technique is exactly what it sounds like; you use your 5 senses to force your body to be aware of more than just the anxiety. You can experience what your senses are experiencing in the present or think back to a comforting memory. I like to use happy or calm memories to not only help when I’m anxious, but as a grounding technique to remember times when I feel calm and happy.

For this example, I’m going to use a memory of sitting on a dock at the ocean shore, as my memory. I go through each of my senses and focus on what my senses experienced when I was on that dock.


I see the small weather-beaten wooden dock under me and the larger metal dock that attaches to it, far enough away from the shore that boats can be docked at it, the angle changing with the tide. I see the rocks that I climbed as a child, and the shore covered in rocks, barnacles, and long strings of seaweed. I see the waves lapping against the side of the dock, and a sandbar exposed by the ever-changing tides. I see seaweed reaching up from the ocean floor. I see rocks and exposed wood covered in mussels and barnacles. I see the lobster trap buoys riding the waves, and the small boats attached to their buoys as well.