Almost any problem that you're struggling with -- fear, anxiety, chronic pain, depression -- could be helped by taking a moment to sooth yourself. Even if the underlying emotion or pain is still there, when you are feeling grounded in the present moment, it will be far easier to deal with than if your mind is in the when, the then, or the coulda, woulda, shouldas.
We know that our nervous systems react to real or imagined threats in the same way: the sympathetic nervous system turns on and prepares us to fight, flee, or freeze. Try right now imagining some event that's been causing you anxiety. As you imagine, you might notice your heart start to beat faster, your breathing become more shallow, your muscles tense up, and your palms start to sweat. This is all extremely useful if there actually is an immediate threat that we need to escape from or to fight. But if this is happening as a result of our mind playing out painful memories or catastrophic future scenarios, it can actually erode our ability to deal with future threats when our nervous system is constantly stuck in the fight or flight response.
This is especially true with chronic pain. Pain that persists more than a week starts to result in a phenomenon called central nervous system sensitization, where our nervous systems grow increasingly sensitive to the sensations of pain. To counterbalance this, it's so important to regularly take steps to sooth ourselves, sending our nervous system the message that even if the pain is there, we are safe. One of the easiest ways to do this is through the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding practice I describe in this video.
Here are a few last things to know about this practice: 1) you can't mess this up. If you're predisposed to anxiety or depression, you might notice your brain worrying about whether you might do this wrong, and it's important to just let those thoughts be and do it anyway. 2) If at any point you're having trouble coming up with any of the numbered items (smell and taste are often particularly hard), no bid deal. The goal is just to look, giving your attention something to focus on in the present moment rather than occupying itself with worrying.
I also created this helpful infographic that you can save and keep on your phone in case you need a reminder of how to do the practice.