Anxiety is thoughts. That’s it, just thoughts. Yes, they can cause terrible effects in the body, but they begin as thoughts. They run away with our minds and bodies and steal our energy for the present, because anxiety is almost never about the present. It’s about yesterday. It’s about tomorrow. It’s about what might happen or what already happened, but we actually live in now, what’s happening at this moment.
Recently I had a bout of acute panic attacks, and I used just about every technique I knew to survive them. My favorite was called grounding, and the specific method was 54321 grounding.
Now, I meant to blog about grounding and this method—and I will—but in my research, I realized grounding is a big word with some seriously negative uses. I also happened to read Colossians 2 at the same time, and God pointed out to me that He has a similar method for dealing with anxiety—and everything else in our lives—that can best be called rooting.
So this post is now a little bigger, about grounding and rooting. Ready? Let’s dig in.
Grounding, as I’m using the term, is simply pulling one’s thoughts off the ledges by focusing on the here and now. When the mind goes rogue, the best way to tether it to the present is through the senses, and that’s where the 54321 method comes in. Whether you are experiencing a full-blown panic attack or can’t sleep because of a mental spiral, this is a great method to restore a little balance.
It’s very simple. First, take some deep breaths. Make sure the belly moves with those breaths so they’re not shallow. The goal here isn’t to hyperventilate but to oxygenate. Got it? Breathing?
Now look around. What are five things you see? If you can, name them out loud. If not, simply observe. Really observe. What colors are they? What are they called? What are they used for? For a moment, your thoughts are fully on five things you see, one at a time.
Next, what are four things you feel? Go ahead and reach out your hands for this one. How about what you’re wearing? What you’re sitting on? How would you describe the texture? The temperature?
Now time to listen. What are three things you hear? Are they loud? Soft? Familiar? Once you really slow down to listen, are you aware of a sound you didn’t even know was there?
We’re down to two, and this is smells. This one is rough for me, because I have a lot of seasonal allergies, so sometimes I can’t smell well. I read an article that was very helpful and explains this method in even more detail, and she suggested smelling your skin. Your clothing. For me the Chihuahua curled up at my side. This one might take a little work, but that’s the point, to focus on your surroundings and step out of your mind.
The final sense is taste. Do you have a taste on your tongue or in your mouth from a previous meal or drink? Do you taste toothpaste? As a diabetic I keep small candies around, and I actually grab one for this part. A single candy corn or M&M won’t mess with my diabetes, and it gives me something solid to taste.
That’s the 54321 method of grounding during anxiety.
Now God speaks
In my research, I realized some see grounding as a metaphysical connection to the earth and its energy. Some see this as a spiritual experience with almost sacred connotations. Which got me thinking about the Christian spiritual experience and what connects us to the world.
That’s where Colossians came in. As I was pondering this, trying to separate the very helpful 54321 technique from the other things I was reading, God brought to mind the word rooted. I flipped over to Biblegateway.com, and there it was, the verse that had been in the back of my mind. It’s Colossians 2:6-7, and it goes like this:
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Colossian 2:6-7
When my panic was as its worst, I read and prayed Scripture a lot. I didn’t realize what I was doing, but it was this—I was sending down roots. Having been a Christian for decades, I already have roots, but a healthy plant is always making more. I might not have felt like a healthy plant at that moment, but instinctively I knew that I needed more roots.
Yes, in the face of the storm, I needed to put down more roots because I was blowing off center. The grounding might get me through momentary episodes of panic, but ultimately nothing grows on the surface of the ground. I needed something deeper, and Paul, in Colossians, tells me what I need is good, deep, solid, growing roots.
Okay, that’s a nice metaphor. Very fancy. But what does it mean? Terms like strengthened in the faith sound churchy, but we need practicality here, especially in the heart of anxious moments, when our minds aren’t always at their best.
Paul says to be rooted in Christ and built up in Christ. Rooted suggests a plant, which takes in nutrients through its roots. So we are feeding on Christ. He is the soil. And that’s the Word. What we know about Jesus comes through the Bible. Yes, the Spirit makes sense of it for us. And yes, sometimes we hear that Word through pastors or friends, but at its core, we root by knowing the Word. Backward, forward, and inside out.
He also says to be built up in Christ. That’s not a plant term. That’s more a construction term. And Paul uses that thought in more than one place. Here it is in Ephesians:
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. Ephesians 2:19-22
And Peter says something similar:
As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:4-5
Bigger than you imagine
Whoa. We went from trying to stand upright in the storm of anxiety to being part of a holy temple. I don’t know about you, but this feels big and important, and in the midst of anxiety I don’t feel that big or important.
Except the words are there, and the Bible is true. You have a spot in a spiritual building, a temple that pleases God and reaches the world. There is only one spot shaped like you. If you are missing, this temple has a hole.
So, be built up in Him. Just like rooting, this has to do with knowing God more through His Word. It’s also more communal than rooting. A plant roots for itself. But the stones of a building work together to make a wall. Find others to help you when you’re finding your spot in the wall.
During anxious moments, I get lost in the past or the future. Usually the future—“what if?” So help me, I should NEVER string those two words together, because they take my mind on some ridiculous rides. But if I am grounding in the present moment, rooting in the storm, and letting myself become part of a holy temple, growing into the space made for me, I have more power to ignore those words and do what God wants me to do.
Which can be different in different moments, but what God never wants me to do is waste mental space on worry and fear.
Full disclosure—I tend to gloss over verses that tell me to be strong. I have never felt strong. Sometimes I feel kind of smart. Occasionally I’ll cop to wise. But strong? Nope. However, Paul adds that to his verse. Part of being spiritually grounded in Christ, in rooting and building in Him, is being strengthened by the faith. This isn’t just being strong, it’s getting stronger. And stronger. And even stronger.
Okay, being a brick in a wall was hard enough, but at least there I have fellow Christians on either side to hold me up. This part where I have to be strong… I’m not sure I can do that. How can faith make me strong? Let’s let Paul explain himself, this time from Ephesians:
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:16-19
See what he says here? It’s not me. It’s not you. The strength is the Spirit, so even those of us who feel weak, who fall to fear, who can’t seem to win over anxiety—we still get the Spirit. Glorious riches from God, which is Christ dwelling in us.
Notice we’re back to rooting, too, this time in love. And where does that love come from? You guessed it. That’s Christ, too. The amount of stuff I DON’T have to accomplish on my own is staggering.
So being strengthened in the faith is simply inviting the Spirit to teach us and guide us more and more. It always comes back to the Word, because the Spirit uses that Word, gives it life, and uses it to change me.
Paul ends with a call to be thankful. Since I just posted about that a few days go, I’ll keep this short. We root, we build, we get stronger, and then we overflow with thankfulness. Like grounding, being thankful gets me out of my head and puts my focus elsewhere, this time on God, whom we can thank for all things. In fact, the act of looking for reasons to be thankful, especially in the midst of a difficult season, focuses the mind as well as the sensory focus of the grounding techniques. (However, in the heart of a panic attack, I think the grounding is easier, so start there.)
Being grounded and being rooted
Being grounded is great. Living in the moment—that’s completely Biblical. Jesus says not to worry about tomorrow. Granted, He follows that by saying today has enough trouble of its own, but He’s being honest. In this world we will have trouble, but He has overcome the world. So I can focus on now, learning, obeying, rooting, growing, establishing… There’s plenty to keep me busy today.
And rooting is sort of the natural outcome of knowing God. I was walking into Wal-Mart yesterday, of all things, and this post was in my head. The thought came to me was that it is impossible to feed on the Word and not grow. I believe that heart and soul. If I consume the Word, I will grow. Roots will form. I will begin to fit into my spot in the wall. It’s not complicated.
Yes, I have to act out what I know. That’s obedience. But it happens. One reason I blog and write Christian books is that it forces me to stay in the Word. And I do know more than I did a decade ago. Or a year ago. Or last month.
And then, when the storms come, I can stop, refocus on the physical world, bring my thoughts back into control, and trust the roots to hold me. Even better, I can reinforce those roots. Always. I never have too many. I can also hold tight to the stones around me in the wall and know I have a purpose, even when I feel like I’m not strong or powerful. All I have to do is latch on and keep standing.
I hope this post was helpful. It wasn’t meant to be a study of Colossians, but apparently God had other plans for me today. He wanted me to remind you that you are strong because of Him. You have a purpose and place in a kingdom, in a holy temple, because of Him. You can fail and come home again, time after time, because the work is His.
I hope you need 54321 for being grounded less and less as time goes by. I hope your root system continues to grow to the place where you stay engaged in the present easily, always busy with the things God has planned for you.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. And if you’ve ever used grounding techniques to restore a little balance in anxious moments, tell me how it went.