If you’re dealing with anxiety, you’ve probably spent a lot of time searching online for ways to cope with your anxiety. In those late night Google searches, you may have come across the 3-3-3 Rule for Anxiety. But what is the 3-3-3 rule for anxiety, and does it actually work?
The 3-3-3 Rule for Anxiety is a breathing and awareness exercise that asks you to slow down your breath and focus on three things you can see, three things you can hear, and three actions that engage your sense of touch. The aim is to pull you out of your anxious thoughts and keep you in the present.
The beautiful thing about the 3-3-3 Rule for Anxiety, which I’ll expand further on in a moment, is that you can put it into practice anywhere at any time. This rule is a grounding technique, and I’ll explain why it works so well in the rest of this post.
The 3-3-3 Rule for Anxiety, In Depth
It’s bedtime and when your head hits the pillow, BAM! Your negative thoughts kick into high gear and you’re overanalyzing how you ordered your coffee at the cafe that morning. Your sense of fight, flight, or freeze is activated. It becomes increasingly difficult to quiet your mind and think positively. Maybe you have a physical response as well, such as breaking into a sweat, panting, or your heart pounding.
Once the anxious brain triggers fight, flight, or freeze, our focus isn’t really on the present moment or environment. In that moment we are living in the negative thoughts that got us into this state in the first place. The 3-3-3 Rule for Anxiety and how it engages your senses is your lifeline back to a centered mind.
- Step One: Sight – Take a few slow and deep breaths, all the way down into your belly. List three objects you can see around you. Observe them closely, one by one. Really pay attention to the colors, textures, and the way the light hits them.
- Step Two: Sound – Continue breathing slowly and deeply. Turn your focus to three things you can hear in your environment. Listen carefully to them. Where are they coming from? How close or far away do they sound? Is it a normal sound for this time of day?
- Step Three: Touch – Breathe even more slowly and deeply if you can. Turn your awareness to your body and work through three actions that engage your sense of touch. Are you wearing a ring that you can twist around your finger? Can you tap your foot on the floor? Whatever actions you take, focus on the sensations that come with it, and pay attention to the temperature and texture of what you touch.
Why it Works
Those of us who struggle with anxiety know that it’s not something that ever goes away. It’s something we must cope with on a daily basis. Grounding techniques like the 3-3-3 Rule for Anxiety are effective and positive coping skills because they encourage mindfulness and interrupt the body’s physiological process of the fight, flight, or freeze response.
Mindfulness practices mitigate the brain’s role in anxiety. Being able to acknowledge a thought, let it pass, and return to the present moment is an invaluable skill. The 3-3-3 Rule for Anxiety helps strengthen your brain’s ability to let a negative thought go and redirect back to the present moment instead of getting carried away.
The physical side of the 3-3-3 Rule for Anxiety, the breathing and the touch step, is effective because it manages the body’s response. Slowing down our breathing automatically slows our heart rate and generates a sense of peace. Combining that with the intense focus on touch and sensation helps to interrupt the fight, flight, or freeze response triggered by the brain and returns your body back to a normal state.
This grounding technique is one of the most powerful in managing anxiety because it combines mindfulness practices to calm the brain with physical exercises to calm the body. This dual approach leaves no bases uncovered and allows you to navigate your life with relative ease. I hope that the next time you have brunch with a potential client, or anything you’re anxious about, you give this a try. If you do, get in touch with me and let me know how it worked for you!