Anxiety rocks can help you calm nerves immediately. Here's how they're used and how they can help you.
I don’t remember when I first heard of grounding stones, or anxiety rocks. I like to think I might have invented them. In reality, versions of mindfulness or soothing rocks for anxiety have been used for many decades.
Sometimes these are called worry stones, anxiety stones, or healing rocks. Whatever you call them, they can be a great tool to help you stop anxiety quickly. The process works through a mindfulness activity called grounding.
I first learned about mindfulness in meditation class, and then later as a DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) therapist. Calming through sensory awareness is a staple in DBT.
How Mindfulness Calms Anxiety Quickly
Mindfulness is proven to help with depression symptoms, pain management, and anxiety. MRI studies by Harvard researchers have shown that mindfulness activities calm the amygdala. The amygdala activates when the mind is dealing with stress and worry. Over time, the benefits of mindfulness seep into everyday life, even when the subject isn’t meditating.
More recent research in Denmark has shown that daily practice of mindfulness, in this case use of the Headspace app, helped change brain focus. Those who used the app had an easier time forgetting their fears, compared to those who would continue to focus on them (who didn’t use the app).
As I taught mindfulness to more clients, even after moving on from CBT, I would run into a specific problem. Many people were suffering from high anxiety and trauma symptoms, which I most often treat. When your mind is in a constant state of anxiety, rumination, or stress, it’s pretty hard to focus on breathing.
In the DBT program we would often use lotions to notice physical sensations and smells. This was a great introduction to mindfulness. We would look for colors, or even hold cubes of ice. All of these were helpful at times.
Perhaps I learned the rock technique from another therapist in DBT, as it expands on this process of using real items. Or maybe it was my turn to teach mindfulness in class and I brought rocks that day.
In any case, the idea of using, teaching, and decorating grounding stones was born. It became a staple of my practice.
You might have heard of kindness rocks, inspiration stones, or healing crystals. Any and all of these can be used as grounding stones.
Steps to Use Your Anxiety Stone
Here’s how I teach grounding with stones in my office (or these days via telehealth).
Choose a stone if one is available. (If it’s not, then simply choose a nearby small object and modify the instructions for the alternative object.)
Close your eyes. Simply notice the stone in your hand. Be aware of the feeling, texture, and weight of the stone. Notice what your hand feels like holding it. Notice its temperature. Spend about one minute on this step.
Next, continue to hold the stone. Now, notice any sounds around you (not necessarily related to the stone). Often we tune out sounds. Bring back any sound inside the room, or outside the room. Just be aware of them.
Now, open your eyes and look at the stone. Look for any strange lines, imperfections, colors, textures, etc. We often see things but don’t look at details. Bring all of that into your awareness.
Finally, bring your attention back to the physical sensation of the stone. Notice the feelings in your palm and fingers.
Notice what it was like to bring your attention to the stone. Do you feel any different?
Around 50 to 75% of my clients find this activity helpful. For many, it offers a tangible alternative to the usual mindfulness process, which often involves visualizing or focusing for long periods of time. Grounding stones are sometimes easier to use, and the physical sensations are easier to focus on.
There’s an added bonus to using an anxiety rock. If you use it enough, and practice calming while you do, then pretty soon it will trigger a calmer response. Your nervous system will become conditioned to calm down simply by holding the rock.
Grounding rocks are also an easy tool to carry with you. You can keep them in your pocket, your office area, or car, and use them when needed.
Thinking of the history of rocks makes them all the more meaningful to me. I often gather rocks at a childhood creek where I used to visit. The creek is my “safe space,” in real life and in my imagination.
The Grounded History of Rocks
Millions of years ago the creek was a seabed (known due to fossils in this part of the world). I imagine these rocks being there, in one form or another, for all of that time. They’ve made it through dinosaurs, meteors, changing climates, civilizations, and more.
The oldest rocks in the world are around 4 billion years old. My creek rocks might be that old, or might be just a mere 2 billion years old. Holding something that old in your hand brings a whole new meaning to the term grounding!
Some believe certain rocks and gems have healing properties. While science hasn’t proven this, it seems like a fairly harmless practice, and worth trying. Some might find that using a specific rock as a grounding stone takes on an additional meaning.
You can often find these gems, in all sorts of shapes and colors, at local mystical and alternative spirituality stores. Commonly used stones for healing purposes include:
Even if you don’t believe in the energy theories about stones, simply choosing a stone that’s appealing and attractive to you can be helpful. This can also add an interesting element to your noticing during the mindfulness practice.
Decorate Your Anxiety Stone for Added Benefits
Another way to increase the fun and appeal of grounding stones is to decorate them. My clients often add words, images, or abstract decorations to their rocks. This can help remind them of a specific practice, or the purpose of the exercise. Common phrases used include:
All is Okay
Fortunately, there are never ending ways to decorate rocks. You might have seen the kindness rocks movement of the last several years. Local towns decorate and leave rocks throughout the community. Those who find the stones can re-hide or keep them. Many communities require finders to replace their kept rocks with new ones.
Those who participate in kindness rocks, or who otherwise decorate stones, have developed unique methods. One of my favorites is the mandala drawing or dotting techniques.
Mandalas have a surprisingly long history in psychology and mental health. Carl Jung, an early pioneer in psychology and dream interpretation, loved mandalas. He believed they were a manifestation of the inner self. No two created were alike, much like snowflakes.
Many artists use pens, markers, paint, or dotting tools to create rock mandalas. The result is often quite beautiful and awe-provoking. These are frequently offered on crafting sites like Etsy, or you can create your own.
I often use simple writing tools to add words and decorations to my stones. Fingernail polish also works quite well. You can simply paint patterns and words, or you can drop the polish into a bowl of water and dip in your rock. If it works, a fun abstract pattern will stick to your rock.
Other ways to decorate rocks include simply painting them, using stencils or engraving tools, or specialized pens and markers.
I also once had a client who used a tumbler machine to smooth out rocks. This gave them a particularly comforting and soothing texture.
Alternatively, rocks themselves can be pieces of art. They might be used to create the mandala (like in the photo below), or as stacks or designs on the beach. These activities can also be grounding and help calm anxiety.
Alternatives to Anxiety Stones
If rocks aren’t your thing, or you don’t have one with you, here are some alternatives that can work as a substitute.
Small stuffed toys
A favorite pen
A piece of hard candy