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Dropping Anchor in an Emotional Storm

by | Oct 5, 2023

Dropping anchor is a powerful evidence-based tool that comes to us from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).

This exercise can help us calm our body and mind during times of high emotional distress so that we can lower our anxiety and learn how to ride out the emotional storm.

We start with two important concepts to help us focus our attention on the here and now and settle into the exercise:

1. Expanding awareness of the present moment.

Acknowledge the presence of your difficult thoughts and feelings and at the same time notice what you see, hear, touch, taste, smell. This is Not to distract from pain; but to notice that in addition to pain there is a lot happening here in the present moment; there is so much more present than these difficult thoughts and feelings that are currently dominating awareness.

2. Practicing mindful awareness of the body.

Move, stretch, change posture, sit upright, stand up, walk, sit down, breathe differently, push feet into the floor, push hands into the chair, push fingertips together, drink water, hug yourself, massage a tense spot, etc.

*Important Note: Dropping Anchor doesn’t make the storm go away, but it will hold you steady until the storm passes.

The storm may pass quickly, or it may pass slowly, or it may even get worse before it gets better. The anchor holds you steady during this time, so the storm doesn’t sweep you away. The great thing with this exercise is that you can practice it anytime, anywhere; you don’t have to wait until an emotional storm blows up. And, by practicing them during times when you’re not feeling a high emotion reaction, you’re more likely to remember to do them when you find yourself in a more emotionally reactive state.

How To Drop Anchor

Following is a ‘dropping anchor’ script that has been adapted and modified from Dr. Russ Harris’ work. Feel free to modify it to work best for you.

Acknowledge the Storm

“I notice there is an emotional storm inside me right now and it feels like I am going to be swept away by it. In this moment, I know that there is really nothing effective I can do about the situation or the issue I am dealing with, so I am just going to drop anchor and ride out the storm. The anchor doesn’t make the storm go away; the anchor holds me steady until the storm passes, in its own time. It is at that point, I can safely pull up anchor and set sail again.”

Drop Anchor

  • Plant your feet firmly on the floor. You are anchored here, grounded.
  • Notice how your body feels in this moment and allow it to just be what it is.
  • You are like a boat on the water in a storm. You have dropped your anchor.
  • The storm may feel scary at times, but you are safely anchored and can ride this out until it passes.
  • Just breathe and move with the storm. No need to fight it. You are securely anchored here.
  • Remind yourself that you are not your thoughts. They are a part of you, but they don’t define you. Your body experiences your feelings, but you are not your feelings.
  • Like a storm, feelings and thoughts are not permanent. Like a storm, they will pass.

As The Storm Calms

  • Silently and kindly acknowledge to yourself that you’re hurting, you’re in pain.
  • Push your feet hard into the floor.
  • Straighten your back; if sitting, sit forward in your chair.
  • Acknowledge the painful thoughts and feelings that are present, and also notice… there’s a body around that pain – a body that you can move and control. So notice your whole body now – hands, feet, back. … have a stretch. … Press your feet down.
  • Now look around the room and notice 5 things you can see. Really describe them in detail; color, texture, pattern, etc. Notice any sounds in the air and name what you hear.
  • Now notice your body… move it, stretch it. Notice there is space around you. Notice how you feel as you move.
  • Now come back to what you are doing in the present moment and re-engage by doing something that reflects the person you want to be.

A word of caution:

If you think to yourself “It isn’t working” as you do the exercise, 99% of the time what you mean is “The storm isn’t going away fast enough”, “I still feel pain”. This is not the purpose of this exercise. Dropping anchor doesn’t make the storm go away – it just holds you steady. The storm will pass in its own time.

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About Leigh | View Profile

Leigh is a psychotherapist who specializes in working with clients who experience a wide range of symptoms associated with anxiety, depression, and trauma.  She utilizes mindfulness-based and evidence-based treatments in her practice, including ACT, MBSR, DBT, CBT, and SFBT.

We offer in-person and virtual services – contact us today to learn more!

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