Mental Health
What is the 333 Rule for Anxiety?

What is the 333 Rule for Anxiety?

7 min read


Caitlin Harper

Many of us have been struck by anxiety at some point in our lives. You might feel a heightened sense of anxiety before a job interview or a difficult conversation or when you’re going through a rough patch in life or work. For some people, the anxiety is more long-term and manifests as an anxiety disorder.

Despite the fact that so many of us are dealing with stress and anxiety, many people don't have go-to strategies for coping with the effects of anxiety and stress. 

Ready to find a therapist who specializes in anxiety? Complete our free, confidential questionnaire to easily and quickly match with three personalized therapists or coaches.

What causes anxiety?

​​Ever felt that knot in your stomach out of the blue? Or wondered why some people seem to worry more than others? Anxiety touches us all at some point in life. From our genes to the world around us, many factors play a role in why we feel anxious, including:

  • Genetics and family history
  • Brain chemistry
  • Stressful life events
  • Traumatic experiences
  • Early childhood experiences
  • Personality traits
  • Cognitive patterns

Understanding Anxiety Symptoms

Anxiety manifests in a variety of ways, affecting both our minds and bodies. While some people might experience occasional, mild anxiety, others wrestle with severe and persistent anxiety symptoms that disrupt daily life, from work to relationships and overall well-being. Here’s how  anxiety commonly presents itself:

Psychological Symptoms

  • Excessive Worry
  • Racing Thoughts
  • Irrational Fears
  • Anticipatory Anxiety
  • Panic Attacks
  • Difficulty Sleeping

Physical Symptoms

  • Shortness of breath
  • Increased heart rate
  • Muscle tension
  • Sweating
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Avoidance
  • Procrastination
  • Social Withdrawal

Untreated anxiety can have significant long-term effects on physical and mental health, potentially contributing to conditions like cardiovascular issues, digestive problems, weakened immune systems, depression, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation. For practical tips to relieve physical symptoms and promote relaxation, check out How to Relieve Physical Symptoms of Anxiety.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Each type of anxiety disorder has its unique features and triggers, but they all share significant distress and impairment in daily life. Let’s explore some of the most common types of anxiety disorders.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

GAD is characterized by constant and excessive worry about different parts of life, including work, relationships, health, and everyday situations. Individuals with GAD often experience heightened anxiety and find it challenging to control their worries, leading to significant distress and difficulty functioning. Not sure if you're experiencing normal worry or if anxiety is impacting your life? Take this Anxiety Test to find out.

Panic Disorder

Panic Disorder is characterized by reoccurring unexpected panic attacks--sudden episodes of overwhelming fear or discomfort. Those with panic disorder often live with fear of experiencing another panic attack, which can lead to avoidance behaviors and significant disruption to daily life.

Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)

Individuals with Social Anxiety Disorder may experience significant anxiety and self-consciousness in social settings, leading to avoidance of social interactions, public speaking, or performance events. 

Specific Phobias

Specific Phobias include an intense and irrational fear of a specific object, situation, or activity. Common phobias include fear of heights (acrophobia), fear of flying (aviophobia), fear of spiders (arachnophobia), and fear of enclosed spaces (claustrophobia). 

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD is characterized by intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors or mental acts (compulsions) performed in response to these obsessions. Common obsession examples include fears of contamination, harm coming to oneself or others, and a need for symmetry or order. Compulsions may include excessive handwashing, checking rituals, counting, or arranging objects in a specific way. 

Separation Anxiety Disorder

This anxiety is characterized by excessive fear or anxiety about separation from attachment figures, like parents or caregivers It may manifest as apprehension to leave home, nightmares about separation, or physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches when separation is anticipated.

Other Types of Anxiety

While the previously mentioned anxiety disorders are clinically recognized and formally diagnosed, individuals may experience several other types of anxiety:

Performance Anxiety

Performance Anxiety, also known as stage fright or situational anxiety, is characterized by intense fear or nervousness about performing in front of others like public speaking, giving presentations, performing on stage, or even engaging in activities such as sports or music performances. Looking for inspiration on how to cope with performance anxiety? Check out Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin's  journey of overcoming performance anxiety and depression.

Health Anxiety

Health Anxiety, also known as hypochondriasis or illness anxiety disorder, involves excessive worry and preoccupation with the possibility of having a serious medical condition. Individuals with health anxiety may constantly monitor their bodies for signs of illness, excessively research medical conditions online, or seek frequent reassurance from healthcare providers. This excessive focus on health concerns can significantly impact daily functioning and lead to unnecessary medical tests and appointments.

High-Functioning Anxiety

High-Functioning Anxiety refers to individuals who outwardly appear to have their lives together and may even be successful in various areas of life, such as work or relationships. However, internally, they experience persistent anxiety and worry and may overcompensate by striving for perfectionism, overachieving, or seeking constant validation from others. 

Comparison Anxiety

Comparison Anxiety, also known as social comparison or envy, involves feeling inadequate or inferior compared to others. Constantly measuring oneself against others' successes or perceived strengths can lead to feelings of insecurity, low self-esteem, and dissatisfaction.

Sex Anxiety

Individuals with sex anxiety may experience fear of rejection, performance anxiety, or concerns about sexual inadequacy. This anxiety can interfere with sexual desire, arousal, and satisfaction, leading to difficulties in intimate relationships and sexual dysfunction. Here are three ways to reduce sex anxiety

What is the 333 rule?

One coping mechanism almost anyone can use to deal with the effects of anxiety and stress is the 333 rule. So what is it, how can you use it to cope with anxiety, and what other options are there if you’re dealing with stress and anxiety and need more support?

The 333 rule is basically a grounding technique, an exercise or activity that helps you manage an intense emotion by helping you get out of your head — steering your attention away from distressing thoughts, feelings, or memories and zoning in on the present moment.

MyWellbeing therapist Gianna Volkes, an expert in grounding techniques, recommends the 333 rule as a go-to grounding technique for her clients. It’s an easy technique to remember and use in the moment, it’s available to us the majority of the time, and it can be a simple strategy to help us focus and ground when anxiety overwhelms. Put simply, you name three things you can see, three you can hear, and move three different body parts.

Name three things you see

When feelings of anxiety strike, pause, breathe, look at your surroundings, and name three things you can see. It can be anything; a cat, a lamp, your mug, a family photo—whatever catches your eye.

Name three sounds you hear

Next, listen to your surroundings and name three things you hear. It doesn’t matter what they are; traffic, water running, your coworker’s keys clacking, people talking, or your own breath.

Move three parts of your body

Finally, pick three parts of your body and move them one by one. You could shake your head, shrug your shoulders, and roll your wrists. If you want to be more incognito, you could smile, take a deep breath and feel your chest rise and fall, and tap your foot.

One of the best things about the 333 rule is that it can be done anywhere and anytime. You can even do it right in front of someone else and they wouldn’t even realize.

Does the 333 rule work?

You tell us! The next time you're feeling stressed out or anxious, try the 333 rule and see if it helps.

Even better, try doing the 333 rule for anxiety even when you're not feeling anxious at all. Using coping mechanisms for stress when we're not actually feeling stressed is a way to practice preventive self-care. Establishing the coping mechanism as a habit that we can go to without having to think about it will set us up for success when we’re actually feeling stressed.

You can try doing the 333 rule when you wake up in the morning, right before you walk out the door for the day, when you end your work day, or any other time of day that is consistent for you.

Coping mechanisms and grounding techniques like the 333 rule can help you move your focus from your internal dialogue to external stimuli

This deliberate move can ground us, stop the hamster wheel of repetitive thoughts, help us focus on our breathing and bodies, and put things in perspective. It's a small, simple tool that can have a big impact.

What are some other coping skills and mechanisms for anxiety

Sometimes, in the midst of an anxiety attack, you crave relief as soon as possible just to survive to the next moment. Sometimes, you need a tool (or two, or three), to ground enough to be able to engage in a growth process like therapy. In those instances, it’s good to have a few tools in your toolbelt. Here are some other coping mechanisms you can try.

Breathwork for anxiety

Breathing practice, also known as “diaphragmatic breathing” or “deep breathing,” is a mind-body practice that can help you deal with stress. Diaphragmatic breathing involves contraction of the diaphragm, expansion of the belly, and deepening of inhalation and exhalation. Studies have revealed breathing practice to be effective in reducing the symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress.

5-4-3-2-1 coping technique for anxiety

Before starting this exercise, pay attention to your breathing. Slow, deep, long breaths can help you maintain a sense of calm or help you return to a calmer state. Once you find your breath, go through the following steps to help ground yourself

  • Acknowledge five things you see around you.
  • Acknowledge four things you can touch around you.
  • Acknowledge three things you hear.
  • Acknowledge two things you can smell.
  • Acknowledge one thing you can taste.

Get grounded in your body to cope with anxiety

Sit down and actively press your feet into the ground. As you press your feet down, feel the muscles in your legs start to activate. Take a deep breath while you do so. Notice how it creates a sense of firmness and stability in your body. Use your mind to pay attention to that firmness in order to be, quite literally, grounded.

Use positive affirmations for anxiety

Positive affirmations are positive, realistic, concise, self-help statements that reflect our personal values and can move us into a more positive mental state.

Here are a few you could try:

  • I have anxious thoughts, but I also have the power to challenge and change them.
  • It makes sense that I feel discomfort, but it is temporary.
  • My anxiety is a temporary thought and I am safe.
  • I trust myself to navigate difficult or stressful situations.
  • Thank you, anxiety, for trying to protect me, but I’m up for this challenge today.

Like all coping strategies, if positive affirmations make your anxiety worse, they might not be for you!


Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment without judgment. By practicing mindfulness techniques, such as mindful breathing or body scans, individuals can learn to observe their thoughts and feelings without becoming consumed by them.


By practicing self-compassion techniques, such as self-soothing or self-encouragement, individuals can cultivate a sense of inner warmth and acceptance, which can help alleviate anxiety.

Anxiety Rings

Also known as worry rings or meditation rings, anxiety rings are wearable accessories designed to provide sensory stimulation and promote relaxation. By spinning the rings or feeling their textures, individuals can engage in tactile stimulation, which may help reduce anxiety symptoms.

If you’re struggling with anxiety and aren’t finding ways to cope, it might be time to talk to a therapist who specializes in anxiety.

How else can I reduce anxiety?

Coping mechanisms and grounding techniques are good ways to help us reduce anxiety on our own, but when it comes to anxiety disorders, seeking treatment is the best way to reduce anxiety.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition in the United States, affecting 40 million adults aged 18 and older every year. Despite how common they are, fewer than 40% of those suffering from anxiety disorders actually receive treatment. 

If your stress or anxiety does not respond to coping techniques you might try on your own, or if you feel that either stress or anxiety are affecting your day-to-day functioning or mood, consider talking to a mental health professional who can help you understand what you are experiencing and provide you additional coping tools. 

They can also help determine whether you may have an anxiety disorder, which is when anxiety persists for an extended period of time and negatively affects mood and functioning. Your healthcare provider will tailor a treatment that works best for you and will most likely consist of some combination of psychotherapy and medication.

Therapy for anxiety

While navigating anxiety can be daunting, therapy provides tailored strategies to manage it and reclaim control over your life.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

One type of psychotherapy that can help with anxiety disorders is cognitive behavioral therapy, a problem-focused, action-oriented style of talk therapy that teaches clients practical ways to identify, challenge, and replace unhelpful response patterns with adaptive, healthy thoughts, feelings, and behavioral patterns in order to help them cope with anxiety. 

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Some therapists might use a treatment option called acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) which is a type of therapy that helps people learn how to deal with their emotional experiences differently than they have in the past. Instead of pushing away negative thoughts or feelings, ACT teaches you how to accept them, so you can coexist with them without them controlling you or your life.

Neurofeedback Therapy

During neurofeedback sessions, individuals are connected to sensors that monitor their brainwave patterns in real-time. Through visual or auditory feedback, individuals learn to modulate their brain activity, promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety symptoms. This form of therapy is based on the principle that by training the brain to achieve specific patterns of activity, individuals can enhance self-regulation and improve overall mental well-being.

Regardless of which type of therapy you choose, finding the best therapist for you is actually the most important part. When it comes to finding a therapist who specializes in anxiety, asking the right questions during the phone consultation, being open and honest about what you're looking for and what you're struggling with, and staying committed to the therapeutic process can set you up for success.

Medication for anxiety

Benzodiazepines are the most common anti-anxiety medications, and while antidepressants are obviously used to treat depression, some can also be helpful for treating anxiety disorders. 

A psychiatrist or primary care physician can prescribe medication for anxiety. Sometimes it takes a little while to find the right medication, at the right dose, and in the right combination. 

Your healthcare provider will work with you to find the best treatment when it comes to medication, but it helps to be patient. 

While prescription medications are commonly used to manage anxiety, over-the-counter (OTC) options for anxiety are limited. Herbal supplements and certain sleep aids may provide temporary relief from mild anxiety symptoms for some individuals.

It's important to remember that medication does not cure anxiety, but it can help relieve some of the symptoms of anxiety.

Ready to find a therapist who specializes in anxiety? Complete our free, confidential questionnaire to easily and quickly match with three personalized therapists or coaches.

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About the author

Caitlin is an organizational change strategist, advisor, writer, and the founder of Commcoterie, a change management communication consultancy. She helps leaders and the consultants who work with them communicate change for long-lasting impact. Caitlin is a frequent speaker, workshop facilitator, panelist, and podcast guest on topics such as organizational change, internal communication strategy, DEIBA, leadership and learning, management and coaching, women in the workplace, mental health and wellness at work, and company culture. Find out more, including how to work with her, at

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