54321 Technique: How to Use 54321 Anxiety Grounding Exercise [Step by Step Guide]

May 10, 20245 min
54321 Anxiety Grounding Technique

The simplest way to explain anxiety is that it is a feeling of lack of safety. We feel anxious because, at some level, we feel unsafe. Karen Horney, a psychoanalyst, proposed that all of us have a baseline level of basic anxiety which comes from being dependent on adults for our survival and safety as a helpless infant.

While in adulthood, we may not be dependent on our parents or caregivers in the same way, we’re still dependent on many factors like money and job security, cultural expectations, family dynamics, friendships, and so on, for our sense of safety. Some amount of anxiety is a normal part of life, and can even help protect ourselves from harm.

But sometimes, anxiety can become too much, or manifest in a way that makes it difficult for us to cope. Anxiety can show up as physical symptoms  like indigestion, headaches, dizziness, elevated heart rate, breathlessness and such. Or, it can show up as emotional or psychological symptoms like overthinking, excessive worry, or fearing the worst-case scenario.

Anxiety can be triggered by many different scenarios, some of which may be unique to your individual life experiences. But, in general, when we feel anxious, it is because we feel unsafe in some way - it’s either a lingering feeling from the past that repeats itself in the present moment, or a fear of an unknown future that we can’t shake off.

As anxiety is often a feeling that comes up because of a past experience or a future worry, practices that help us reconnect with the present moment can be quite helpful. One such technique is the 54321 technique or the 5-senses meditation. Personally, this is my absolute favourite grounding technique to practice and recommend for someone who’s feeling anxious or may even be in the throes of a panic attack.

Let’s see why…

What Is The 5 4 3 2 1 Technique?

We perceive our surroundings and connect to the present moment through our five senses - sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. When we’re feeling anxious, we’re not able to feel connected to the stimulation we are receiving from these five senses. It’s almost as if our attention is diverted away from it, and toward whatever thought is occupying our mind.

The 54321 Technique engages our five senses, and through this deliberate shift of attention, we can connect with the present moment. In simple words, in a 5-senses meditation, you bring your focus to your sensory experience in the here-and-now by naming things you can see, touch, hear, smell and taste. It’s an easy practice you can do anytime, anywhere you are. 

Let’s do it together right now… 

Explanation of the 5 4 3 2 1 Technique [Step-by-Step] Guide

Think of 54321 technique as a five-step technique wherein you engage your five senses one by one. Here are the steps;

Step 1 - Name 5 Things You Can See: 

Take a moment to look around you and name five things you can see. Right now, in my surroundings, I can see the following five things - a water bottle, my earpods, my laptop, a plant, and a lip gloss. 

Step 2 - Name 4 Things You Can Touch:

What can you physically touch? Take a moment to touch four objects around you, and notice the texture, shape and how they feel against your skin. This can include the clothing you’re wearing. These are the four things I can touch in my surroundings at the moment. My linen pants - they feel a bit rough, but airy. My table - hard, unpleasant. The water bottle - it’s smooth to the touch. A net pouch - I find the texture interesting. 

Step 3 - Name 3 Things You Can Hear: 

You can close your eyes for this one if that helps. I can hear birds outside my office, a bike revving up its engine, and the soft whirring of my air conditioner. 

Step 4 - Name 2 Things You Can Smell: 

If there is something scented you can access right now, go ahead and find it and take a nice long sniff. If not, notice the scents in your environment and try to describe them. Or, imagine the scent of your favourite flowers. I can sense a faint scent of jasmine from outside my window, along with the scent of paper from my books. 

Step 5 - Name 1 Thing You Can Taste: 

What does your mouth taste like right now? Is there something you can take a small bite of and savor the taste of? If not, perhaps you can have a sip of water and notice how it feels in your mouth. I am having a sip of water, and enjoying the sensation of my mouth feeling hydrated.

Scientific Basis and Effectiveness of 5-4-3-2-1 Coping Technique

The 54321 technique is one of many grounding techniques we can use to feel calmer when we’re anxious. But, what is a grounding technique? Quite literally, it is something that grounds you in the present moment.

It’s a mindfulness practice wherein we immerse our minds fully in the here and now. Mindfulness-based interventions are used widely to treat and manage anxiety and depression, with positive results. 

Practical Applications Tips of 54321 method

The 54321 technique, in particular, is useful because of the ease with which we can do it. We can practice this no matter where we are, and that’s what makes it so great! You can do this before a presentation at work, on a first date, or in a stressful family situation, without anyone knowing. 

Having said that, I encourage you to develop a mindfulness practice regardless of your mental health status. Mindfulness is a way of being. It simply means that we engage with our daily lives and activities with full attention. Living mindfully is great for our well-being and can help us build resilience and prevent emotional distress when something challenging happens in our lives. 

We got covered one more grounding technique its called 333 rule for anxiety.

Why does the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 coping technique work? 

The 5-senses meditation works well because it helps us connect with our senses and the present moment. It’s a quick fix to manage anxiety symptoms and acute stress. It helps reset the body from flight or fight response to a feeling of safety.  

4 Limitations of 5 4 3 2 1 Anxiety Grounding Technique

If you’re experiencing emotional distress, it’s important to spend some time looking within and understanding the deeper patterns and relational or emotional wounds that may be behind it. While grounding techniques are helpful in the short term, in the long term, all of us can benefit the most from introspection and self-awareness.

With the help of a mental health professional, we can cultivate self-awareness that will help us navigate difficult situations and stay well in general, too. Keeping this in mind, here are a few limitations of the 54321 grounding technique: 

  1. It helps only in the moment 
  2. It doesn’t help us gain insight into our long-standing patterns 
  3. It doesn’t help us work through relationship or attachment wounds that may be impacting us at a deeper level 
  4. It is a calming technique and doesn’t help with improving our self-esteem, confidence, and self-awareness 

Conclusion

54321 Meditation is a quick and easy technique to help us feel calmer and more present. It’s a helpful technique to have in our toolbox if we’re prone to feeling anxious. However, to work through our anxieties and emotional distress in a meaningful way, working with a mental health professional is always recommended. 

References: 

Grounding Techniques: Exercises for Anxiety, PTSD, & More. (2022, June 23).

Hofmann, S. G., & Gómez, A. F. (2017). Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Anxiety and Depression. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 40(4), 739–749. 

Pervez, N. (2022). The study of mindfulness as an intervening factor for enhanced psychological well-being in building the level of resilience. Figshare.com, 13. 

‌Pikörn, I. (2020, June 29). The 54321 Grounding Technique To Cope With Anxiety. Insight Timer Blog. 

‌Somatic Experiencing® Therapy:Benefits,Cons,Approach[2024]. 

Suarez-Angelino, L. (2022, July 6). The 54321 Method: Benefits & How to Use It. Choosing Therapy. 

What Are Grounding Techniques? | Psychology Today. (n.d.).

Author's Profile picture
Prachi Gangwani
Therapist | Yoga Teacher | Author of Dear Men: Masculinity and Modern Love in #MeToo India