Dropping Anchor

This is a helpful mindfulness-type technique to help you to stabilise yourself during an ‘emotional storm’. I will describe this technique making reference to the work of Dr Russ Harris (Author of the ‘Happiness Trap’). Dr Harris explains that this technique can help with the following:

  • Dealing with difficult thoughts, feelings, memories, urges and sensations.
  • Stopping automatic responses to a situation.
  • Staying grounded in difficult situations.
  • Disrupting rumination (repeatedly playing things over in your mind).
  • Controlling obsessing and worrying.
  • Breaking the cycle of impulsive, compulsive, aggressive or addictive behaviours.
  • Focusing your attention on the task at hand.
  • Developing greater self-control.

It can also be a first step in managing experiences such as flashbacks, chronic pain and many other issues.

Dr Harris refers to the acronym ACE when describing how to ‘drop anchor’:

Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings – silently acknowledge whatever thoughts, feelings, memories, sensations or urges have shown up in your internal world.

Come back into your body – continue to do the above and connect with your physical body, here are some suggestions for doing this:

  • Slowly push your feet into the floor
  • Slowly straighten your back, if you are sat, sit forward in your chair
  • Slowly stretch your arms or neck and shrug your shoulders
  • Slowly press the tips of your fingers together
  • Breath slowly

The key is that you are not trying to avoid these unpleasant feelings, stay aware of them and acknowledge that they are there and at the same time be aware of your physical body while moving it.

Engage in what you are doing – continue to acknowledge your thoughts and feelings and connect with your body and refocus your attention on the activity you are doing. Here are some ideas for doing this:

  • Look around you and notice 5 things you can see
  • Notice 3 or 4 things you can hear
  • Notice thing you can smell or taste
  • Notice whatever it is you are doing at that time

Try to go through the ACE cycle at a slow pace 3-4 times so it becomes a 2-3 minutes exercise. Don’t skip any of the stages. It is a good idea to practice the cycle at times when your internal experiences are less difficult so you can build up your skills.

Audio Sessions from Dr Harris

Dr Harris has been kind enough to offer freely available audio recordings of varying length to help you to ‘drop anchor’, the link is below:


His voice is very soothing! I would recommend giving them a go. This may also be a good way to introduce the activity to your child when they need support with difficult thoughts and feelings.


Produced by Dr Victoria Tyrer-Davies, Principal Educational Psychologist, Flying Colours Educational Psychology Service Ltd. © All Rights Reserved.




Harris,R. (Producer). (2020). Self-compassion: building blocks and barriers


Harris,R. (2019). ACT Made Simple (2nd Ed): an easy to read primer on acceptance and commitment therapy. Oakland CA: New Harbinger Publications Inc

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