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.
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, name three things you can hear, and move three different body parts.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the midst of an anxiety attack, you might crave relief as soon as possible just to survive to the next moment. Sometimes, you need a tool (or two, or three), to ground yourself enough to be able to engage in a more transformative 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.
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.
This is almost an extension of the 333 technique. 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:
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.
Here are a few you could try:
Like all coping strategies, if positive affirmations make your anxiety worse, they might not be for you! 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.
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 do 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.
One type of psychotherapy that can help with anxiety disorders is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), 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.
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.
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.
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, so if medication is something you're interested in, start with your therapist or doctor. 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.
It's important to remember that medication does not cure anxiety, but it can help relieve some of the symptoms of anxiety.
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.
That said, if you're struggling with chronic stress and anxiety, it can help to speak to a professional and get to the root of the problem. Working with a therapist can get you the mental health support that you need so you can tackle whatever life throws at you and support your own well-being.
Caitlin is MyWellbeing's Content Lead, a writer, speaker, communication coach, and the founder of Commcoterie, a communication consultancy. She teaches teams how to use professional coaching communication techniques in their everyday conversations, helps leaders engage their teams with effective and inclusive communication, and partners with service providers to activate their programs and offerings with their own clients through inspiring communication strategies. Find out more, including how to work with her, at www.commcoterie.com.