Dropping Anchor (or ACE) Technique
Sometimes, when we experience challenging thoughts or feelings, we can get caught up in an emotional storm that makes it difficult to think clearly.
This can be a result of our body perceiving a potentially threatening situation and activating our survival system of fight, flight, or freeze in response.
To help navigate through these moments, the Dropping Anchor (or ACE) Technique can be a simple exercise to centre yourself and connect with the world around you.
This technique is especially useful when you're feeling overwhelmed by a swirl of thoughts and feelings. It’s a simple exercise to centre yourself and connect with the world around you (to drop anchor).
What is Dropping Anchor?
Dropping Anchor is a grounding skill. It can support you to make contact with the present moment and open up to the thoughts and feelings you’re experiencing, while choosing to consciously engage in the activity or situation at hand.
Dropping Anchor shifts you away from autopilot mode, pulling you out of thoughts about the future or dwelling on the past. It provides a stable foundation and acts as a means to interrupt unproductive mental patterns.
Who Dropping Anchor is For
The Dropping Anchor skill is valuable for anyone aiming to cultivate mindfulness of their mental processes, enabling them to create space for actions within their control (such as managing their movement, posture, or breath) and actively participate in the present moment.
Therapeutically, this skill has proved helpful for people who are seeking support with behaviours that are impulsive, compulsive, aggressive, addictive, chronic pain, or any kind of emotional turmoil that is causing distress.
Dropping Anchor relies on a straightforward acronym, ACE, complemented by an analogy that enhances its understanding.
Picture yourself as a boat, caught in the turbulence of the sea. The stormy weather symbolises the external storms or crises beyond your control, as well as the inner emotional turmoil you might be going through.
Instead of getting tossed in all directions by these turbulent waters, you DROP ANCHOR - stabilising both your boat and yourself.
Lowering your anchor will keep you steady until the storm subsides. It won't stop the storm – the weather is still in motion – but it will minimise its impact on you. This is why we anchor down: to maintain stability as the storm runs its course.
How to Drop Anchor
A: Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings, and/or bodily sensations
One approach to achieve this is by taking a moment to pause and observe what's emerging within your inner realm (something you can sense, but that remains hidden to others). Another method is to shift your self-talk from saying, "I am feeling..." or "I am thinking..." to expressing, "I'm noticing I'm having the thought..." or "I'm noticing I'm feeling..." or "I'm noticing a sensation of..."
As you acknowledge your thoughts and emotions (please note, this is not a distraction technique but a practice of creating space for the present moment), you can then transition to the 'C' step.
C: Come back into your body
There are several approaches you can take to achieve this. If you're seated, you can begin by directing your attention to the sensation of your feet on the floor — press them firmly into the floor or wiggle your toes. Afterward, lengthen your spine, perform arm stretches, or release tension from your shoulders with a shrug. You can also incorporate mindful breathing at this point, such as taking a deep breath in through your nose and exhaling through your mouth (with or without a sigh), or engage in a few deliberate breaths in a manner that has been effective for you in the past.
In this step, the focus is on expanding your awareness beyond the thoughts and emotions that are emerging, recognising that you also have the ability to engage your body. This serves as a reminder of the control you possess over the movements you can initiate with your body.
E: Engage in what you’re doing or with where you are
You could take a moment to observe your surroundings and truly take in what you see in the room you're currently in. Alternatively, if you're in a meeting at work, actively participate by listening attentively to the discussion and directing your focus to the present task at hand.
You can do this in as little as 30 seconds, or as long as 10 minutes, or anywhere in between.
Engage in Dropping Anchor practice when you are not in a distressed state to cultivate the skill and create a memory of how to perform it. By doing so, it becomes more accessible when you need it.
Integrate this technique into your daily routine through small, frequent moments. Take a moment to anchor yourself during your day — before you begin your workday, after you finish work, before responding to an email, when sitting down to eat, and so on.
By regularly practicing this technique, even briefly, you'll consistently calm your nervous system, making it easier to access when confronted with emotional turbulence.