The 333 Rule for Managing Anxiety

Anxiety creates racing thoughts and chaotic internal dialogue that is difficult to get under control. When you are experiencing anxiety alone or in public, trying to manage it sometimes creates more anxiety. Fortunately, there are hacks and techniques available that can be implemented easily and effectively to help you deal with feelings of overwhelm and racing thoughts. One recommendation to help you manage feelings of anxiety and panic “in the moment” is to implement different grounding techniques such as the 333 Rule. The great thing about the 333 rule is that it can be done anywhere and anytime, even in a public place, and can be done privately without anyone else being aware that you are doing it.

What is the 333 Rule?

According to science, three is the smallest number necessary to create a pattern. Research states that the memory can pull three or four items at a time. The media uses this pattern and so do movies and books. The theory is that people can remember things better when grouped in things of three. During times of anxiety and panic, trying to remember anything can be a struggle. The Rule of 3 is easy to remember and can be done anywhere using whatever is around and nobody else needs to know.

The goal of using a grounding technique is to pull your thoughts away from internal chaos and repetition to the external present world and moment.  Anxiety can create wild and racing thoughts that build momentum which creates you more anxiety.  It is very hard for you to slow down the hamster wheel of repetitive thoughts long enough to jump off so learning this technique and practicing it before it’s necessary is invaluable.  When you practice a technique before you need it, it’s ready and available in your toolbox of techniques. You don’t have to think about how to do it or if you are doing it correctly because you’ve have practiced the simple exercise in advance.

Steps of the 333 Rule

The goal of the 333 rule is to collect and redirect your thoughts and ground them in the present moment by combing the senses of sight, sound, and touch. You can also use your sense of smell. Whatever you choose to focus on, one thing to remember is to think of their descriptions objectively and not to feel anyway about them, as the goal is to redirect your emotional energy to something boring and mundane.

The steps of the 333 Rule are simple and can be done anywhere.

  1. Pause and look around you and pay close attention to three objects. Look at them closely and study them as if you were seeing them for the very first time.  Choose whatever is within your visual field. It doesn’t matter if it’s a rock, a glass of water, a bug, or a tree, describe three things about it and repeat the same process with two more objects.
  2. Next, scan the environment for three sounds and repeat the same process. The sounds can be peaceful, repetitive, soothing, random, loud, or soft. Pay attention to the rhythm, pitch, and cadence of the sound. It is important to keep your eyes open to make certain that your focus remains external.
  3. The last action is to engage your sense of touch by choosing three body parts that move. Wiggle your toes, tap your fingers, do neck stretches or circles or some other kind of soothing action to engage your tactile sense. Again, it is important to keep your eyes open.

The 333 Rule enables you to focus on boring real-time and real-life external stimuli.  Anxiety is characterized by chaotic internal dialogue. Simply moving your thoughts deliberately to the outer world can help bring a different perspective and stop the momentum of repetitive thoughts. This technique can be used anywhere by anyone because it uses whatever is in a person’s field of vision and hearing. The 333 Rule can be an invaluable tool to help individuals deal with anxiety or panic.

If you are someone who experiences anxiety, then you know you that you really have little control over when it will pop up. That is why being able to use the world around you, wherever you are, as a grounding technique is really a useful tool.

In addition to implementing helpful techniques such as grounding, it is important to include other recommended lifestyle and behavioral modification techniques that focus on healthy living. When anxiety is crippling or seriously impacting an individual’s daily functioning, professional help is always recommended and encouraged.

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