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What Is the 3-3-3 Rule for Anxiety and How Does It Work?

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What is the 3-3-3 Rule for Anxiety? Everything You Need to Know

Anxiety is a psychological disorder that can make situations in life feel impossible. It can come in bouts, stay for a while, or become a chronic condition. Everyone gets anxious sometimes, but an estimated 6.8 million Americans have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

Feeling lost and helpless is a typical result of anxiety, but surprisingly few seek treatment. According to Mental Health America, 54.7% of people with a diagnosed mental health condition fail to seek treatment for one reason or another.

If you find it difficult to cope with anxiety, try the 3-3-3 rule for people with anxiety. But what is the 3-3-3 rule for anxiety? Here’s what you need to know.

What is an Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety is a part of life, ingrained into us to help detect dangerous situations. It’s normal and natural for all humans to feel anxious in certain circumstances; however, it can become overwhelming if not managed properly.

An estimated 31.1% of Americans will experience some form of an anxiety disorder, but nobody can honestly say they have never felt anxious.

However, anxiety can arise both from real threats and imagined ones. The problem is that the human brain isn’t very good at differentiating between the two.

Anxiety is a complex issue and can be experienced by anyone. Most individuals feel anxious at specific points in life. Still, for some, this anxiety becomes so severe it’s classified as an anxiety disorder — characterized by overwhelming thoughts and emotions that are seemingly out of control.

The two most common anxiety disorders are:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder – A state of worry about numerous aspects of life, including relationships, work, and finances. It tends to be associated with restlessness, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping.
  • Socialized Anxiety Disorder – This type of anxiety is more specific because it involves excessive worrying about social situations. Someone with social anxiety often exhibits low self-confidence in social settings and worries about saying or doing something embarrassing.

Anxiety can arise from many situations, internal and external, with recent years focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) noted a global increase of 25% in anxiety and depression in the first year of the pandemic.

The impact has been most noticeable in young people. Even before the pandemic, anxiety and depression were becoming more common in children and adolescents. According to the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, anxiety and depression rose 27% in children and 24% in adolescents from 2016 to 2020.

What is the 3-3-3 Rule for Anxiety?

Many people have expressed that the 3-3-3 rule for anxiety has helped them cope with anxiety episodes. This simple yet effective trick is a go-to for many seeking relief and moments of respite from everyday stressors.

Here’s how to properly follow the 3-3-3 rule for anxiety:

  • Name three things you can see.
  • Identify three sounds you can hear.
  • Move or touch three things.

Does the 333 rule with anxiety work? No formal research has been conducted into the effectiveness of this trick, but there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence online espousing its benefits.

Here’s a 3-3-3 anxiety rule manifestation method example for how to do it.

Let’s say you’re at a party, and you’re feeling anxious about all the people around you.

  • Take a deep breath and let your internal monologue name three things you can see. It might be the chandelier above your head, the tables filled with drinks, or the marble floor.
  • Next, think about what you can hear. It could be the drum beats of the music, the indecipherable chatter in the background, or the door slamming.
  • Finally, engage your touch. Feel the stem of the wine glass in your hand, flex your legs, or clench your fists.
    It’s that simple.

Best Tips for the 3-3-3 Rule

If you’re considering using the 3-3-3 rule for an anxiety/panic attack, note that this rule isn’t a substitute for formal treatment. It’s simply a handy mind trick for you to use on yourself when you’re in a situation where you’re feeling anxious.

So, what can you do if you’re trying this for the first time?

  • Start at home when you’re in a safe space. Practice noticing your senses and moving your body.
  • Take a deep breath before engaging in this technique.
  • Don’t be afraid to excuse yourself if you’re in a social situation and need to try this.
  • Pause and imagine the world slowing down.
  • Rinse and repeat multiple times, if needed.

As always, this 3-3-3 rule anxiety guide is only a starting point. Over time, you’ll find your own tactics and techniques for leveraging its potential.

Other Coping Methods

Knowing the 3-3-3 rule for anxiety is an excellent starting point, but it’s not the only option in your toolbox. Many people leverage several techniques to cope when they feel their anxiety rising.

The following coping techniques are helpful when you’re outside of therapy if you’re not taking medication or looking for real-time ways to manage your anxiety.

Some of the best coping techniques include:

  • Removing yourself from the situation and doing something different.
  • Reducing your alcohol and caffeine intake.
  • Laughing more.
  • Getting enough sleep, eating right, and engaging in regular exercise.
  • Trying to develop mindfulness by letting feelings pass through you while focusing on the present.
  • Using breath work to reduce stress.
  • Starting a meditation practice to center your mind and body.
  • Lowering your stress.
  • Easing physical tension by trying massage or acupuncture.

Many coping strategies involve lifestyle changes. You may have come across the 333 anxiety rule handout for patients online and already started applying it. Whatever way you use it, combining it with lifestyle modifications is always recommended. Addressing triggers and sources of anxiety and depression can have massive long-term benefits.

Types of Anxiety

When anxiety takes control of your life or becomes chronic, it can lower your quality of life and prevent you from doing the things you love. Whether it’s avoiding responsibilities, activities, or people, if anxiety impacts your life to this degree, you likely have some type of anxiety disorder.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the most common anxiety disorders include:

  • General Anxiety Disorder – Persistent feelings of anxiety.
  • Panic Disorder – Frequent and recurring panic attacks.
  • Social Anxiety – Persistent fears of being judged or observed in public, leading to difficulties coping with social situations.
  • Phobia-Related Disorders – This category of anxiety disorder includes irrational fears of specific things, such as fears of enclosed spaces (claustrophobia) or fear of heights (acrophobia).

If you or someone you know struggles with an anxiety disorder, it may be time to seek professional help. Anxiety is a highly treatable mental health condition; you’re not alone.

Treating Anxiety

Using the 333 rule for anxiety vs. depression isn’t a long-term solution to your anxiety. It’s a coping mechanism designed to provide a quick fix. Anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues require a tailored approach to treatment, combining therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes.

According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, some treatment options for anxiety include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – Designed to identify and change common thought and behavioral patterns.
  • Exposure Therapy – Gradual exposure to a situation that causes anxiety to help lessen the fear in the long run.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) – Involves strategies emphasizing withholding judgment, changing behavior, and living in the moment to treat anxiety.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) – Brings together the principles and methodologies of CBT with meditation.
  • Interpersonal Therapy – Talk therapy to resolve relational issues.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) – Bilateral stimulation via tones, tapping, and eye movements to bring about healing.

These types of therapy may also be combined with various medications, including antidepressants like Zoloft, anti-anxiety medications like Xanax, or beta-blockers.

Find Support for Anxiety with The Mighty

Now that we’ve answered, “What is the 3-3-3 rule for anxiety?” hopefully, understanding how it works can help you during an anxious moment. But anxiety treatment must go further.
At The Mighty, we bring people together with 700+ dedicated, moderated online communities for you to connect, share, and support others going through similar experiences to you.

Join our anxiety community at The Mighty. Our online anxiety support groups can help you better understand the condition in a safe, non-judgmental space. Start now!

Getty image by Yana Iskayeva

Originally published: March 30, 2023
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