Therapies & Solutions

The 3-3-3 Rule for Anxiety

Emma Loker, BSc Psychology

Written by

Emma Loker, BSc Psychology

Last updated June 30, 2022

The 3-3-3 Rule for Anxiety

Anxiety is a psychological disorder that can pose problems in everyday life. The pervasive feelings of worry and unease associated with anxiety disorder can impact your quality of life, relationships, and professional achievement.

There are many tips and tricks on managing anxiety out there - it’s like a minefield. But one technique that shows promise is the 3-3-3 Rule for Anxiety.

And before you ask, no, we’re not talking about stopping, dropping, and rolling. The 3-3-3 Rule for Anxiety focuses on tuning into your senses to bring you back into the present moment.

Before we delve into the 3-3-3 Rule for Anxiety, let’s discuss how anxiety disorder differs from regular anxiety.

What Is An Anxiety Disorder?

If you asked any group of people if they get anxious, chances are they’d all say yes (unless they were lying!). Anxiety is a natural human emotion triggered by a stressful or dangerous situation.

Anxiety alerts us to potential threats, so it was a handy mechanism to have back in the day when we had to escape predators. But now, anxiety tends to stem more from perceived, imagined threats than real ones.

The trouble is, our brains don’t differentiate between the two, which means you could be lying in bed in complete safety, but your stress response may be going haywire because you’re worried about a presentation you have to give at work the next day.

So, if anxiety is normal, what is an anxiety disorder? It’s considered an anxiety disorder if your anxious thoughts and feelings are constant, and you struggle to control them. In other words, your anxiety keeps triggering your stress response system when it doesn’t need to, and you can’t get it to stop.

Two of the most common types of anxiety disorder are:

  1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  2. Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)

GAD is a constant state of worry about numerous aspects of your life, including work, social relationships, finances, etc. This type of anxiety disorder is usually associated with restlessness and anxiety, difficulty concentrating or sleeping, and elevated heart rate and dizziness. However, the symptoms differ from person to person.

SAD is similar to GAD but relates specifically to social settings. Someone with SAD may worry excessively about what others think of them and what they say to people in a social situation. They may show low self-confidence in social settings and worry about saying or doing something embarrassing.

You can find more information about anxiety and its symptoms here.

If these symptoms sound familiar to you, or your anxious feelings are milder but still intrusive in your life, you’ll likely benefit from the 3-3-3 Rule for Anxiety. But what is this technique exactly?

The 3-3-3 Rule For Anxiety

The 3-3-3 Rule for Anxiety is a technique that uses emotional grounding to alleviate anxiety. Effectively, it gets you to focus on the present, steering you away from your worries.

Negative thoughts tend to live in the future or past, so by focusing on the here and now, you escape negative thoughts and can gain some clarity on and distance from them. This may help you think about your thoughts more clearly, and ask yourself, “do I really need to worry about this?”

This is an excellent short exercise to incorporate into your daily routine or in moments when you are particularly stressed or anxious.

The technique uses a 3-pronged approach - no shock there, given its name! Let’s take a look at the 3 steps involved.

  1. See

If you feel anxiety swelling in your body, or you begin to experience intrusive, anxious thoughts, pause. Take a look at your surroundings, focusing on some of the physical objects in your vicinity.

Pick out 3 of these objects, and take a closer look. Focusing on one at a time, hone in on its individual details. If you’re focusing on a garden ornament, what is it? An animal, a sculpture? What do you think it’s made from? Is it painted?

  1. Hear

The next step is to listen. You can close your eyes if this makes it easier for you to really focus on the sounds around you. What can you hear? Is there traffic nearby? Do you hear the distant sound of a car horn or siren? Maybe you’re surrounded by birdsong?

Like with the first step, pinpoint 3 sounds that you can hear. In turn, think about each of these sounds in more detail. Is it a high pitch or a low pitch? Is the sound shrill or relaxing? What do you think is making the sounds? Can you imagine what it looks like?

  1. Touch

The third step of the 3-3-3 Rule for Anxiety is to engage your sense of touch. You do this by choosing 3 parts of your body, then focusing on them one at a time. If possible, try to get a little movement in that area.

If it’s your neck, gently roll your head back from side to side. If you’re focusing on your feet, wiggle your toes. Notice their contact with your shoes or the surface on which they are rested. If you chose your stomach, you could gently arch your back to give yourself a slight stretch.

Top Tip When Using the 3-3-3 Rule for Anxiety

It’s important not to rush these 3 steps. Take your time with each object, sound, and touch sensation. Explore them fully. Ensure you are entirely immersed in the sense. Then, and only then, you’ll be able to completely distance yourself from your anxious thoughts.

You can find more tips on managing anxiety here.

Final Note

Anxiety disorder is characterized by extreme worry that is tricky to control.

The 3-3-3 Rule for Anxiety is a straightforward technique that can temporarily relieve anxious thoughts and feelings.

And it can be done anywhere! There will always be things to see and hear, whether on the train, in your garden, or at your desk. And you'll always have parts of your body to move!

What are you waiting for?

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