The 3 3 3 rule for anxiety states that whenever you experience sudden anxiety, you should name three things you see, three things you hear, and move three parts of your body. The 3 3 3 rule helps you reduce anxiety by shifting your awareness from your anxious thoughts to the here and now.
Keep reading to find out more.
The power of focus when dealing with anxiety
Usually, whenever you experience anxiety your mind becomes hyperactive. You have a seemingly endless stream of thoughts; you find it hard to concentrate; you worry about things that are very unlikely to happen. You also seem to have no control over your thoughts and feelings, even though you do.
Panic attacks, which are essentially episodes of sudden anxiety, are one of the most extreme cases of this. During a panic attack, you may think that you are about to faint or die, and your mind gets overloaded (if you or someone you know suffers from panic, I encourage you to read this article).
When your mind is all over the place, there is one simple thing you can do to change your physical and mental state in a matter of seconds. It’s free, and you always have access to it. All you need to do is to redirect your focus — make your mind focus on just one thing so it will be too busy to think of anything else.
Will this be as effective as taking pills? Probably not, at least not in the short term, but it won’t have any nasty side effects either, and you definitely won’t build a tolerance to it.
Plus, there are now many scientific studies showing that changing the way your mind works (for example, through meditation, or the 3 3 3 rule mentioned in this article) can be as effective or even more effective than medication when it comes to healing anxiety.
How the 3 3 3 rule works
Okay, so here’s how this technique works. Whenever you experience anxious thoughts, you can redirect your focus and calm your mind by paying close attention to the environment you are in, as well as your body and physical sensations.
To practice the 3 3 3 rule, you want to look at your environment and name three things you can see (for example, your desk, a pen, and a tree through the window). You don’t need to say this out loud — just name these three things silently in your head.
Then, you want to focus on and list three things you can hear. Finally, focus on three different parts of your body, and move them (for example, you can stretch your back, the palm of your hands, and your neck). This will shift your awareness from your anxious thoughts to the here and now.
Whenever you feel anxious, try this simple technique and notice how you feel afterwards. It may not be enough to eliminate your anxiety completely, but it will probably reduce it so it won’t be overwhelming.
Keep in mind, you can change the 3 3 3 rule however you like. You could, for instance, name three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and then touch two different objects. As long as you direct your focus to your environment and your body, it will work.
The 3 3 3 rule and meditation
Here is an interesting analogy to the 3 3 3 rule: when you practice this technique, it’s almost as if you were meditating. There are many different ways to meditate (I have listed the five easiest techniques here), but essentially the goal is always the same: changing your focus and awareness.
You may focus on your breathing, focus on your body, or silently count to 100; but the goal is the same. Just like the 3 3 3 technique, meditation helps you detach from your thoughts and understand that, whether you ever realized it or not, you are not your mind. You are not the stream of thoughts going on in your head.
You can think of the 3 3 3 rule as a super short mindfulness session, that can be practiced anywhere and whenever your anxiety seems to be overwhelming. Remember: you always have the power to change your focus.
Other tips to reduce anxiety
Avoid stimulants. And to be fair, if you suffer from anxiety or panic, you should eliminate stimulants completely, not just once in a while. Caffeine, cigarettes, chocolate, energy drinks can definitely boost your energy and mental alertness, but if you have a hyperactive mind already, that’s not what you want. When you eliminate stimulants, you will also find it easier to…
Get your eight hours. Sleep is essential for good health — we all know that. But what some people don’t realize is that by sleeping more, and achieving optimal deep sleep, your mental health will improve immensely as well. From this day forward, make sleep a priority because it is, and it will definitely help you reduce anxious thoughts.
Realize anxiety is normal. Here’s the thing: anxiety is one of the natural emotions we experience as human beings. If you are reading this article, you may experience an amount of anxiety that isn’t healthy, and you should definitely address that (for instance, by talking to a therapist). But the last thing you want to do when you’re anxious is to create unnecessary anxiety by thinking “it’s just me”, or “this isn’t normal”.
Practice meditation. We’ve already seen how the 3 3 3 rule is, in a way, a mindfulness session. But by practicing meditation regularly, you will notice much better, long lasting results. If you make meditation a habit, and practice it for at least two months, some areas of your brain will literally change, and your anxiety won’t be as overwhelming.
Reduce stress. No amount of therapy or self help books will change your existence if the life you’re living isn’t for you. Stress is normal and, in small doses, it can even give you that extra bit of motivation to achieve your goals. But stress caused by a lifestyle you are not meant to live, that’s a different story. So do anything you can to improve the overall quality of your life: you will be able to reduce your anxiety effortlessly.
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