A simple tool for coping with overwhelm

We’ve all felt overwhelmed at some point in our lives. Perhaps it is an emotion that just feels too all-consuming to handle, a situation that causes our anxiety to rise, or thoughts that are stuck on relentless repeat… it just feels like too much. Bringing ourselves to the present moment, even just for a minute or two, can be really helpful. Here I share a simple grounding exercise you can do anywhere whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed.

What kinds of overwhelm can it help?

All kinds! This is a common tool used for anyone experiencing: 

  • Upsetting or negative thoughts that keep repeating

  • Anxiety or panicky feelings

  • Anger or frustration it can help prevent you from ‘exploding’ at people

  • Disturbing memories or flashbacks associated with trauma

Or any time you feel you’re ‘stuck in your own head’ or things feel ‘too much’.

5-4-3-2-1 Grounding exercise

This is simple but incredibly effective, and you can do it anywhere, anytime.

Take a deep breath to start.

notice 5 things you see

It might be the carpet, your shoes, a crack in the wall, the curtains and your cat.

notice 4 things you can feel

Maybe it’s the back of your chair, your shirt touching your skin, your feet on the floor and a breeze on your face.

Notice 3 things you can hear

Perhaps you can hear traffic, conversation, and the air conditioner.

Notice 2 things you can smell

This one may be trickier depending on where you are, but that’s good as you’ll be even more present as you search for two scents! If you’re outdoors perhaps you can smell grass and rain. If you’re indoors, go find two scents - soap, food, flowers, a plant, or closely smelling any object!

Notice 1 thing you can taste

Do you taste your coffee or meal from earlier? Maybe it’s simply saliva you can taste, but if you concentrate you might be able to define sweet, sour, salty? Just the act of pondering is bringing you into the present.


This tool gets easier with practice. Of course it’s not a magic trick suddenly making everything ok, but you may be surprised by how grounded and present you feel. It doesn’t work for every situation and for every person, so please offer yourself plenty of self-compassion if you find it’s not helping. Try a second time, or try again a different time, and if you’re regularly overwhelmed and it’s making life tough please reach out to a professional.


by Jodie Arnot

Jodie is a registered counsellor with a Masters in Counselling from Monash University. She provides counselling via telephone, Skype, and in person, and is passionate about helping women to feel good about themselves and live a life they adore.


Resources, Self-careJodie Arnot