What is the 333 rule for anxiety? Grounding yourself and other ways of coping with anxiety

Anxiety can take your emotions from stable to elevated and nearly out of control very quickly. This can mean anything from feeling disproportionate worry to having panic attacks. That’s why it’s important to have solid coping and grounding techniques to help yourself either avoid these situations or bring your emotions back down when they start getting ramped up and feel uncontrollable. 

The 333 rule is one such grounding technique that brings focus to an individual’s immediate surroundings to take attention away from their spiraling emotions.

What Is the 333 Rule?

The 333 rule is a grounding technique that redirects attention from intense and uncomfortable symptoms of anxiety like worry, unwanted thoughts, or even panic to the present by shifting focus to three bodily senses: sight, hearing and touch/movement.

Using the 333 rule, you intentionally take in information about your environment using your senses: In practice, it looks something like this:

  • What are 3 things you can see? Look for the specific qualities of your surroundings, such as colors, shapes, or other remarkable characteristics. Try looking for things that you have never noticed before, such as different shades of blue or various patterns.
  • What are 3 things you can hear? Listen for specific sounds happening around you. Isolating sounds that you normally tune out can enhance the experience.
  • What are 3 things you can touch or move? Exploring the qualities (weight, texture, etc.) of tangible objects near you are a great way to feel grounded. Analyze them—how would you describe them? What is the sensation of touching them like?

Does the 333 Rule Help With Anxiety?

Many people find the 333 rule to be helpful with anxiety. The 333 rule combines the benefits of a grounding technique with a memorable title, making it easier to remember and reach for, even in a panicked or overwhelmed state.

One way of thinking about anxiety is that it’s like your body’s emotional alarm system. It lets you know when there is danger, so when it is going off and causing distress, it may require relief to make the alarm turn off.

The 333 rule is an easy method to remember to help reduce the uncomfortable symptoms associated with anxiety. It creates space between you and whatever is triggering the worrisome thoughts by shifting focus to your physical environment as received through the senses. 

It’s also helpful to use measured breathing alongside any grounding technique. You can use your breath to anchor yourself by steadying your breath to a slow, rhythmic pace as opposed to forcing breaths “in and out.” This technique can also help alleviate anxiety.

Why Does the 333 Rule for Anxiety Work?

Grounding techniques such as the 333 rule are helpful techniques for anxiety because they help us stay in the present moment by engaging with the details of our environment and using our brains in a different way. It allows us to give our brain a break by taking us out of our head and giving our body time to come down from where it was working itself up to.

What Is the 54321 Technique?

The 54321 technique is another grounding technique that is very similar to the 333 rule. It also helps to redirect attention to the present and draw it away from unpleasant anxiety symptoms by engaging all 5 senses.

  • What are 5 things that you can see? Challenge yourself to go beyond the obvious.
  • What are 4 things that you can touch? How would you describe it?
  • What are 3 things that you can hear? Practice hearing without judging, simply observe.
  • What are 2 things that you can smell? Is there a feeling associated with that scent?
  • What is 1 thing that you can taste? What are tastes that might be lingering on your tongue?

Much like the 333 rule, the 54321 technique’s purpose is to pull you away from uncomfortable or overwhelming feelings so that you can focus on the present, mitigating them before they become too much.

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What Immediately Helps Anxiety?

Because anxiety is a reaction to danger, the best way to diffuse it is to figure out what your mind thinks is the source of the danger.

There are a few ways to proceed from there, depending on what the issue is. Sometimes, anxiety disorders cause someone to react intensely to something that is not in fact dangerous or life-threatening. Other times, anxiety can make normal problems and issues feel insurmountable.

Common strategies for relieving anxiety include:

  • Challenging thinking errors. If your response is disproportionate to a situation (i.e. anxious response to a non-threatening situation) it may help to challenge your thoughts. The thoughts we have racing through our minds aren’t always facts, and it’s good to make a point to distinguish the two (thoughts and facts) when you feel anxious. What feels like facts could be a case of jumping to conclusions or you trying to read the minds of others. Consider instead taking a perspective of positivity and seeing if your position or thoughts change.
  • Apply problem-solving skills. This approach encompasses many strategies, including coping skills (journaling, listening to music), relaxation skills (deep breathing, grounding), and enlisting support (talking to someone). Each of these can be helpful in different situations where your anxiety is making it hard to assess problems and come up with solutions.

What Are 5 Coping Skills for Anxiety?

People use a variety of coping skills to reduce their anxiety and quiet their mind. Some of the most common coping strategies are:

  • Relaxation techniques such as grounding techniques, mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Expressing yourself, whether that be through journaling, talking to someone, having a laugh, crying, or through creative expression like art.
  • Shifting your perspective by trying to develop another skill or finding ways to put your attention elsewhere. 
  • Physical activity such as taking a walk, lifting manageable weights, or dancing.
  • Participating in a hobby. What are things you enjoy or used to enjoy doing?

You can use any combination of skills to help with your anxiety—whatever feels most natural and most effective will likely be the best options for you. A good way to find out what works best would be to discuss techniques with a mental health professional. They can give you expert suggestions and help you assess what options are most healthy for you.

What 3 Things Should You Stay Away From to Escape Anxiety? How to Stop Anxious Thoughts

There are many ways that our minds can lead us to anxiety that we should try to avoid, but there are three categories that encompass most of them:

  1. Leaning into unhelpful thoughts. Anxiety can often cause your mind to catastrophize or underestimate your ability to handle what’s on your plate. By leaning into and believing these thoughts, you can start to believe them as true instead of seeing them as thoughts rather than facts. Try thinking through your past accomplishments or implementing some problem-solving strategies to help yourself work through what you’re facing and believe in yourself more.
  2. Having a poor self-care routine. Things like a lack of sleep, poor eating habits, and inactivity can contribute to the development of anxiety symptoms. Even though it might feel difficult to change your routine, try adjusting one thing about your daily routine, whether that be incorporating a walk into your day or going to sleep an extra 30 minutes early. Even small changes can make a difference in the intensity of your symptoms.
  3. Unhealthy coping techniques. When you haven’t been taught how best to treat your anxiety symptoms, you can start to develop unhealthy coping techniques on your own to help yourself deal with your symptoms. This might look like oversleeping or catastrophizing, or more serious like undereating or substance abuse. Each of these can feel like they help your symptoms in the short term but will eventually worsen them in the long run. It’s important to work to implement healthy coping techniques whenever you can in order to truly lessen the intensity of your anxiety symptoms.

If you need help sorting through your unhealthy coping techniques, want more support or guidance as you work to improve your symptoms, or could use help unraveling the reasoning behind your anxiety, consider talking to a mental health professional. They are experts in dealing with mental health problems like anxiety, and anxiety therapy can help you feel supported, safe, and well cared for as you work toward your healing goals together.

Table of contents

What Is the 333 Rule?

Does the 333 Rule Help With Anxiety?

What Is the 54321 Technique?

What Immediately Helps Anxiety?

What 3 Things Should You Stay Away From to Escape Anxiety? How to Stop Anxious Thoughts

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Laura Harris, LCMHC in Durham, NC

Laura Harris, LCMHC

Laura Harris is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC). She specializes in anger, anxiety, depression, stress management, coping strategies development, and problem-solving skills.

Christine Ridley, Resident in Counseling in Winston-Salem, NC

Christine Ridley, LCSW

Christine Ridley is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who specializes in adolescent and adult anxiety, depression, mood and thought disorders, addictive behaviors, and co-dependency issues.

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Hannah DeWitt

Hannah is a Junior Copywriter at Thriveworks. She received her bachelor’s degree in English: Creative Writing with a minor in Spanish from Seattle Pacific University. Previously, Hannah has worked in copywriting positions in the car insurance and trucking sectors doing blog-style and journalistic writing and editing.

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