Soothe Anxiety with this Simple Technique

Post Written By: Corinne Carter, Relationship Therapist

This week, I wanted to write about a simple self-soothing strategy for coping with anxiety, stress, fear, and overwhelm called the 5-4-3-2-1 Technique.  I first learned about this technique several years ago and have since shared it with many clients.  I've also used it personally to help quiet my brain, calm my nerves, and reconnect with my body in moments of stress or sleeplessness!  This method of relaxation calmly draws your attention to the present environment around you, which is helpful when worries start to carry you away in mind and body.  The next time you need some relaxation, give this a try:

1) Get yourself in a comfortable position, seated or laying down.

2) Breathe normally or practice diaphragmatic breathing (i.e., breathe like a baby, from your belly!  Click here for a quick guide on how to breathe from your diaphragm).  If you're not used to belly-breathing and you think it might distract you from the rest of the exercise, just breathe as you normally would.  Let your gaze fall softly on nothing in particular.

3) Now, connect to your senses; in particular, your sense of sight, sound, and touch.  Begin by noticing 5 things that you see around you in detail and, if you can, say each thing you notice out loud (e.g., "I see my purple throw blanket").  Stay with each object for a moment before moving to the next.  Once you've noticed 5 things you see, move on to noticing 5 things you hear (e.g., "I hear the sound of cars driving by") and 5 things you feel (e.g., "I feel my head on my pillow, I feel my socks on my feet"...).  As you go through the exercise, don't worry if you name something more than once!

4) Once you've named 5 things you see, hear, and feel, move on to naming 4 things you see, hear, and feel...then 3, then 2, then 1.

Check in with yourself - how do you feel?  If you want to repeat the exercise, take a few deep breaths to re-set and begin again.