Updated February 10, 2023
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What is the 3-3-3 Rule for Anxiety?
The 333 rule is one of the most common grounding techniques that can be used to deal with anxiety and panic attacks. This technique can be done anywhere, at any time, to use in the moment, and can help to calm the body and mind. It is a very easy technique to remember and use.
Using this easy tool, someone struggling with an acute episode of anxiety can shift their focus back to their senses and physical surroundings and away from the intrusive thoughts and panic enveloping them.
Using the 333 Rule for Anxiety
Before you use this simple technique, you should aim to get more relaxed first. One technique is to use the following breathing technique:
- Take a deep breath through your nose, counting to three as you do so.
- Hold your breath for a count of three.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth, counting to three as you do so.
- Repeat this process three times, maintaining cadence.
Once you have completed this breathing exercise, you can begin the 333 rule.
Here’s the quick version of the 333 rule:
- Name 3 things you see, then
- Name 3 sounds you hear, then
- Move 3 parts of your body
Okay, let’s discuss these three steps in detail…
Step 1: Look around your immediate vicinity and name three things you can see
By doing this, you are consciously re-focusing your attention on the world around you.
It does not matter which object you should focus on – it could be the chair in front of you, the window, the wall, the coffee machine, the pen in your hand, the laptop keyboard…anything.
This act removes you from the mental “chatter” that keeps you in this stressful place.
Step 2: Identify three sounds you hear
Like Step 1 above, this conscious act diverts your attention away from the mental stress and pinpoints your focus on your immediate environment.
Again, the objects of your attention could be anything – the steady tick-tock of the clock on the wall, the swaying of the leaves outside the window, traffic passing by, the gentle chatter of your office colleagues next door, the hum of the breakroom fridge, etc.
Step 3: Direct your attention to three physical objects where you can engage your sense of touch
Finally, find three things you can physically touch or move. These could be three parts of your body – tap your fingers, wiggle your toes, legs, etc. Just like the previous two steps, this is meant to direct your attention away from your anxiety attacks at the moment and help you “reset” yourself.
One of the benefits of the 333 rule is that it is easy to remember and can be done quickly, making it a helpful tool in times of anxiety or panic.
Additionally, the deep breathing involved in the 333 rule helps slow the heart rate and relax the muscles, which can help reduce racing thoughts and panic, and bring you back to the present moment.
It’s important to note that the 333 rule does not replace professional treatment for anxiety or panic disorders.
If you are experiencing frequent or severe anxiety or panic attacks, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional.
However, the 333 rule can be a useful tool to help you manage your anxiety at the moment and can be used in conjunction with other treatments.
Here are some tips for using the 333 rule effectively:
- Find a comfortable position. You can sit or stand, but it’s important to be comfortable so that you can focus on your breathing.
- Close your eyes if it helps you to focus. This can block distractions and allow you to focus on your breathing fully.
- Try to clear your mind. The 333 rule is not about thinking about anything in particular but rather about directing your focus away from your mental stress.
- Practice regularly. The more you practice the 333 rule, the better you will use it in times of anxiety or panic.
- Use it as needed. The 333 rule may be used as often as needed to manage anxiety. If you are experiencing anxiety, take a few deep breaths and try the 333 rule to see if it helps.
In addition to the 333 rule, other techniques can help manage anxiety. These include:
- Progressive muscle relaxation: This involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in the body, starting at the feet and working up to the head. This can help to relax the body and reduce tension.
- Mindfulness meditation: This involves paying attention to the present moment and letting go of thoughts about the past or future. This can help to calm the mind and reduce anxiety.
- Exercise: Regular physical activity can help to reduce anxiety and improve overall mental health.
- Healthy eating: A healthy diet can improve physical and mental well-being and relieve anxiety.
- Getting enough sleep: Adequate sleep is important for overall health and can help to reduce anxiety.
Living with Anxiety
Anxiety is a common and often overwhelming emotion that affects people of all ages and backgrounds.
According to the World Health Organization, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorder worldwide, with an estimated 301 million people affected globally.
In 2020, the number of people living with anxiety rose sharply due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is estimated that there was a 26% increase in people struggling with anxiety disorders in just that year.
Anxiety is characterized by feelings of worry, nervousness, or fear that can interfere with daily activities and quality of life. It can manifest in various forms, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and social anxiety disorder, to name a few.
I delve into these specific types of anxiety disorders, including PTSD, in my article here.
While it is natural to experience anxiety in response to certain situations, such as public speaking or taking a test, anxiety becomes a disorder when it becomes excessive or out of proportion to the situation.
It can also persist even when there is no apparent trigger or reason.
Anxiety can have physical symptoms, such as increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, and muscle tension, as well as emotional symptoms, such as difficulty concentrating and irritability.
It can also lead to avoidance behaviors, as people with anxiety may try to avoid situations or activities that trigger their anxiety.
How to recognize and identify the triggers that cause anxiety
Identifying the triggers that cause anxiety can be an important step in effectively managing and treating the disorder. Here are some tips for recognizing and identifying the triggers that cause anxiety:
- Keep a journal: One way to identify triggers is to keep a journal of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This can help to identify patterns and potential triggers for anxiety.
- Pay attention to physical symptoms: Physical symptoms of anxiety, such as increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, and muscle tension, can signify an anxiety trigger. Paying attention to these physical symptoms can help to identify the trigger.
- Notice your thoughts: Negative thoughts and worries can trigger anxiety. Paying attention to these thoughts can help to identify the trigger and address it more effectively.
- Look for patterns: Triggers for anxiety may be related to specific situations, events, or people. Identifying patterns in the timing and circumstances of anxiety can help to identify the trigger.
- Talk to a mental health professional: A mental health professional can help to identify the triggers for anxiety and offer strategies for managing them.
By recognizing and identifying the triggers that cause anxiety, it is possible to take steps to address and manage the disorder more effectively. This can help to reduce anxiety and improve the overall quality of life.
The importance of taking a break when feeling anxious
Taking a break when feeling anxious can be an important and effective way to manage the disorder. There are several reasons why taking a break can be beneficial for managing anxiety:
- It allows time to regroup: Taking a break can give you time to step back from the situation or activity causing the anxiety and regroup. This can help to reduce feelings of overwhelm and provide a sense of control.
- It can help to refocus: Taking a break can allow you to focus on something else, which can help to take your mind off of the anxiety-provoking situation.
- It can help to reduce physical symptoms: Anxiety can cause physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, and muscle tension. Taking a break can give your body time to relax and reduce these symptoms.
- It can help to practice self-care: Taking a break can provide an opportunity to practice self-care and engage in activities that promote relaxation and well-being, such as deep breathing, meditation, or exercise.
Overall, taking a break when feeling anxious can be an important and effective way to manage the disorder and reduce feelings of anxiety. It can provide a sense of control, help to refocus, reduce physical symptoms, and provide an opportunity to practice self-care.
Suggestions for activities or techniques to use during the break:
There are many activities or techniques that can be helpful to use during a break to manage anxiety. Here are a few suggestions:
As mentioned in the 333 rule above, deep breathing is a simple and effective relaxation technique that can help to calm the mind and reduce anxiety.
To practice deep breathing, try to inhale slowly through your nose, filling your lungs completely, and exhale slowly through your mouth.
You can also try counting to three as you inhale, holding your breath for a count of three, and exhaling for a count of three (or a count of four for all the steps above…whatever works for you!).
Meditation is a practice that involves focusing the mind on a specific object, thought, or activity to train attention and awareness. It can help to reduce stress and anxiety and improve overall well-being.
There are many different types of meditation, including mindfulness meditation, loving-kindness meditation, and transcendental meditation.
Exercise is a great way to reduce anxiety and improve mood. It can help to release endorphins, which are chemicals that can improve mood and reduce stress. Exercise can also help to reduce physical symptoms of anxiety, such as increased heart rate and muscle tension.
Take a walk
Walking can be a great way to take a break and reduce anxiety. It can provide a change of scenery and a chance to get some fresh air. Walking can also be a form of exercise, which can help to reduce anxiety and improve mood.
Engage in a hobby
Engaging in a hobby or activity you enjoy can be a great way to take a break and reduce anxiety. It can provide a sense of accomplishment and a sense of purpose, which can help to reduce anxiety.
Overall, there are many activities or techniques that can be helpful to use during a break to manage anxiety. It is important to find what works best for you and to make self-care a priority.
The importance of refocusing after taking a break:
Refocusing after taking a break is an important step in managing anxiety and improving overall well-being. There are several reasons why refocusing is important:
- It helps to get back on track: Taking a break can help manage anxiety at the moment, but eventually, it is important to get back to your daily activities and responsibilities. Refocusing can help to get you back on track and make progress toward your goals
- It can help to reduce anxiety: Refocusing on the present moment and taking positive actions can help to reduce anxiety and improve overall well-being
- It can help to prevent avoidance: Anxiety can lead to avoidance behaviors, as people may try to avoid situations or activities that trigger their anxiety Refocusing after taking a break can help to prevent avoidance behaviors and encourage a more proactive approach to managing anxiety
- It can improve productivity: Refocusing after taking a break can help to improve productivity and reduce feelings of overwhelm
Overall, refocusing after taking a break is an important step in managing anxiety and improving overall well-being. It can help to get back on track, reduce anxiety, prevent avoidance behaviors, and improve productivity.
Tips for refocusing, such as setting goals or priorities, practicing gratitude, or finding a positive perspective:
There are several tips for refocusing after taking a break to manage anxiety:
- Set goals or priorities: Setting goals or priorities can help to refocus your attention on what is most important to you and give you a sense of purpose. This can help to reduce anxiety and improve overall well-being.
- Practice gratitude: Focusing on the things you are grateful for can help to shift your perspective and reduce anxiety. Try writing down a list of things you are grateful for or sharing them with someone else.
- Find a positive perspective: It can be easy to get caught up in negative thoughts and worries when feeling anxious. Finding a positive perspective can help to reduce anxiety and improve overall well-being. This can involve looking for the silver lining in a difficult situation or focusing on the good things in your life.
- Engage in self-care: Engaging in self-care activities can help to refocus your attention on your own well-being and reduce anxiety. Examples of self-care activities include exercise, relaxation techniques, and hobbies.
Setting goals or priorities, practicing gratitude, finding a positive perspective, and engaging in self-care are all effective ways to re-center after taking a break and manage anxiety.
It is important to find what works best for you and prioritize self-care.
There are many potential causes of anxiety, including genetics, life experiences, and chemical imbalances in the brain. It is often treated with a combination of therapy, medication, and self-care techniques.
It is important for those experiencing anxiety to seek help from a mental health professional, as left untreated, anxiety can lead to serious physical and emotional health problems.
With proper treatment and self-care, it is possible to manage anxiety and live a fulfilling life.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) is a nonprofit organization that promotes the prevention, treatment, and cure of anxiety, depression, and related disorders.
The ADAA recommends various treatments for anxiety, including cognitive therapy, medication, and self-care techniques.
Non-pharmacological management of anxiety
One of the most effective treatments for anxiety is therapy, also known as talk therapy or counseling. This is firmly and unequivocally backed by decades of formal research.
Many different types of therapy can be helpful for your anxious thoughts, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to anxiety. It involves identifying and challenging unhelpful thoughts and replacing them with more realistic and positive ones.
CBT is an EXTREMELY effective treatment and the cornerstone of most non-pharmacological management programs for anxiety disorders. Many mental health professionals consider it the gold standard treatment for anxiety and major depressive disorder.
Many dependable companies provide professional CBT and other talk therapy services online in secure, private sessions, with convenient scheduling and payment options.
Gaining immediate access to a licensed mental health counselor or therapist professionally trained in CBT treatment modalities is easier than ever.
One such reputable online service provider I highly recommend is online-therapy.com. Click the image below to learn more about this wonderful and confidential service and to get 20% off your first month.
Exposure therapy is a type of CBT that involves gradually exposing a person to the thing they fear in a controlled and safe environment. This helps them learn to cope with their anxiety and eventually overcome it.
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is a form of therapy that helps people accept their thoughts and feelings rather than trying to control them.
It teaches people to focus on their values and goals and to take action toward them, even in the presence of anxiety.
Additionally, becoming actively involved with a local or online panic and anxiety community support group can be very effective in getting you back on the path to health and wellness.
Pharmacological management of anxiety
In addition to therapy, medication can also be effective in treating anxiety. Several types of medication are commonly used for anxiety, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and benzodiazepines.
SSRIs and SNRIs are types of antidepressants that help to balance chemicals in the brain that affect mood and emotions.
They are often used to treat anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic disorder.
Benzodiazepines are a type of medication that works by calming the brain and nerves. They are often used for short-term treatment of anxiety and are most effective when taken as needed, rather than on a regular schedule.
In addition to therapy and medication, the ADAA recommends incorporating self-care techniques into a treatment plan for anxiety. Some examples of self-care techniques include:
- Lifestyle: Making healthy lifestyle changes such as eating a well-balanced diet and exercising regularly can help to reduce anxiety and improve mood
- Deep breathing: Doing a simple deep breathing exercise can help to calm the mind and reduce anxiety in your daily life
- Sleep: Getting enough sleep is important for managing anxiety
- Relaxation techniques: Techniques such as meditation, yoga, and progressive muscle relaxation can help to reduce anxiety and promote relaxation
Concerning the use of supplements, there is emerging clinical evidence supporting the role of cannabidiol (CBD) in possibly helping ease anxiety, among other disorders.
My extensive article discussing its benefits can be found here.
It is important to work with a mental health professional to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for anxiety.
With the right combination of therapy, medication, and self-care techniques, it can manage anxiety effectively and improve your quality of life.
In conclusion, the 333 rule is a simple and effective technique for coping with anxiety in the moment.
It involves focusing on your current environment and naming, listening for, and feeling or moving three things.
While it is not a replacement for professional treatment, with practice, the 333 anxiety rule can be a helpful tool for managing anxiety and can be used in conjunction with other techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness meditation, exercise, healthy eating, and getting enough sleep.