Poses & Techniques

Help Manage Stress after Stroke or TBI with the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Grounding Exercise





Stress in Today’s World

Stress is common emotion to experience in every day life, whether that be from work, school, family, or financial reasons. In fact, stress has a very important original role in our lives – to keep us safe and survive.


Stress elicits neurotransmitters that push our nervous systems from a rested and relaxed state, the parasympathetic nervous system, to a heightened stressed state so that we can appropriate react to danger. 

But too much stress isn’t good for bodies on a day to day basis. In fact, it can be quite harmful, resulting in negative physical and emotional outcomes. 

High levels of stress and anxiety are common after a stroke, traumatic brain injury (TBI)or the diagnosis of chronic illness. This can stem from physical changes like weakness or paralysis or the financial burden or toll that these take on the individual or family. The emotional and physical strain can feel overwhelming, so much so that you might feel like you ‘snap’ or lose control of your emotions. Or you might catch yourself ‘spiraling’, having negative thoughts or beliefs on repeat in your mind. 

But you aren’t alone and there are ways you can manage this overflow of emotions and stress to help you feel more grounded and in control. Some recommended options are psychotherapy, anxiety medication prescribed by your physician, or a meditation practice. 

While these are excellent resources to do on a consistent basis, an easily accessible option to help better manage stress and anxiety after a stroke or TBI is to practice grounding techniques! 

A favorite of ours is the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 exercise which we will outline how to do in this article. 


When do you use grounding techniques?

As mentioned above, grounding techniques are excellent tools to use when you feel stressed or anxious. They can help you feel calmer and more relaxed and in-control. 

The best part of grounding techniques is that most of them can be practiced anywhere or any time and are appropriate for stroke, TBI, or chronic illness. This includes at the bank, grocery store, in the car, or even when you’re home alone!

And those aren’t the only times to use grounding techniques. They can be used: 

  • Before bed
  • When you’re trying something new
  • Before public speaking or social events
  • Doctor’s visit (before the visit or while you’re there)
  • In the car or while in traffic (assuming you aren’t the driver)
  • During the stress of the holidays
  • At work

So next time you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, upset, or angry, whether that’s in public or at home, take a moment to try this exercise and see if it helps!

How to do the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Grounding Technique

Find a comfortable seated position with your knees gently bent and your feet firmly on the ground. Let your hands rest in your lap, palms up or down. Bring your attention to your breath first, focusing on your inhales and your exhales.



Name (out loud if possible) 5 things you can SEE. These can people, places, things, or colors. 



Name 4 things you can TOUCH. This can include things on your body or even the chair you’re sitting in



Name 3 things you HEAR. It could be your own breath, the sound of your partner, or something soft like a fan or air vent.



Name 2 things you can SMELL. Try to actually smell the items its appropriate (a pencil on your desk or a stack of papers). It can even be your own clothes! 



Name 1 thing you can TASTE. You can take a sip of water or coffee or even reflect on what the inside of your mouth tastes like by sweeping your tongue over your teeth and cheeks. 

Grounding exercises are only a few of the mindfulness practices that we teach in our online chair yoga classes for stroke, TBI, and impaired mobility. Find out more information on our classes here!


Sources: Harvard Health- Understanding the Stress Response


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