The 333 Rule for Anxiety and Other Coping Strategies

The 333 rule is a common and informal technique for coping with anxiety. Its purpose is to help you ground yourself and calm down in a moment where you are feeling particularly anxious or overwhelmed.

The 333 rule involves looking around your current environment and:

  • naming 3 things you see
  • identifying 3 sounds you hear
  • moving or touching 3 things, such as your limbs or external objects

While there is no formal research into the effectiveness of the 333 rule, many people find it to be a helpful and simple technique to handle anxiety. Although it won’t completely get rid of your anxiety, it can be a useful tool to manage it in the moment.

The 333 rule is not a substitute for treatment, no matter how helpful it may be to you or how frequently you use it. We’ll review other methods for coping with anxiety aside from the 333 rule and common treatment options for anxiety and anxiety disorders.

Along with treatments like medication and therapy, you can try other coping techniques for anxiety. These coping techniques can be helpful if:

  • You are in between therapy sessions.
  • You choose not to take medication or cannot take medication.
  • You are looking for additional ways to manage anxiety in the moment.

General coping techniques can include:

  • Take a time-out: Remove yourself from the situation and do something different, like listening to your favorite music or doing some stretching.
  • Minimize alcohol and caffeine intake: Both alcohol and caffeine can make anxiety worse and cause mood shifts.
  • Laugh more: Humor naturally relaxes us.
  • Take care of your body: Make sure to get enough sleep and eat balanced meals.
  • Try mindfulness: Mindfulness involves focusing on the present moment and the feelings passing through you.
  • Pay attention to your breathing: Use breathwork, which refers to different breathing techniques that can help reduce anxiety and stress.
  • Meditate: Practice meditation to calm and re-center your body and mind (this activity could include breathwork and mindfulness, but not always).
  • Lower stress: Try other stress reduction exercises like tai chi or yoga.
  • Ease physical tension: Consider trying massage or acupuncture to address physical tension anxiety creates in your body.

Many of these coping strategies may also fall under the lifestyle changes treatment approach for anxiety.

Lifestyle modifications can help you manage anxiety. While these are not the same as medical treatment, they can complement a treatment regimen to reduce the effects of anxiety on your day-to-day life.

Most people feel occasional anxiety — it’s a common part of life. People have temporary anxiety about their work, health concerns, family, or relationships. For example, maybe you get particularly anxious or nervous before a big presentation or event.

When anxiety becomes overwhelming or chronic, it can interfere with your ability to function in daily life and lower your overall quality of life as a result. This can lead to avoiding responsibilities, activities, and people. It can also cause tension at work, school, and home.

If anxiety affects your life to this degree, it may be more than occasional anxious feelings. You may have an anxiety disorder.

According to the National Institute of Mental Healthcommon anxiety disorders include:

  • General anxiety disorder (GAD): GAD is a general, persistent feeling of anxiety.
  • Panic disorder: Panic disorder is when you have frequent and recurring panic attacks.
  • social anxiety: With social anxiety, you may have a strong, persistent fear of being judged or observed by others, which may impair your ability to be in social situations.
  • Phobia-related disorders that involve irrational fear of a specific thing: These include agoraphobia, acrophobia, or claustrophobia.

If you believe you or a loved one are exhibiting signs of an anxiety disorder, it may be time to get help. You’re not alone, and anxiety is very treatable.

While many of the coping strategies mentioned earlier are helpful, they don’t address the underlying cause of anxiety, and they may not be enough to fully treat it.

Therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes are considered the gold standard treatment.

Therapy is an effective treatment for many different types of anxiety. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, types of therapy that can be helpful for dealing with anxiety include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT focuses on identifying, understanding, and changing thought and behavior patterns.
  • Exposure therapy: In exposure therapy, you will be slowly exposed to a feared situation to help the fear response diminish over time.
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT): This type of therapy uses strategies of living in the moment and refraining from judgment, along with behavior change, to cope with anxiety.
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT): DBT combines CBT techniques with meditation concepts.
  • Interpersonal therapy: This is a short-term supportive talk therapy that focuses on resolving interpersonal (or relational) problems.
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR uses bilateral stimulation through eye movements, tapping, or tones to help heal from past experiences.

Medication is typically used along with therapy for the best possible outcome. Commonly prescribed medications for anxiety include:

  • Antidepressants: Healthcare professionals may prescribe certain kinds of antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). This can include sertraline (Zoloft).
  • Anti-anxiety medications: Anti-anxiety medications may be prescription drugs from the benzodiazepine class, like alprazolam (Xanax).
  • Beta blockers: These can be used for certain situations, like social anxiety. They are blood pressure medications.

Some people with anxiety find a combination of medications works best for them. Always inform your doctor of any other medications you take to prevent adverse drug interactions.

Anxiety can significantly impact your life, especially if it becomes a severe, chronic issue.

The 333 rule for anxiety is an easy technique to remember and use in the moment if something is triggering your anxiety.

It involves looking around your environment to identify three objects and three sounds, then moving three body parts. Many people find this strategy helps focus and ground them when anxiety overwhelms them.

If your anxiety is constant or interfering in multiple areas of your life, you may need more than temporary coping strategies. Anxiety disorders can be treated with medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes.

If you are experiencing anxiety symptoms regularly or with intensity, talk with your doctor. They can help connect you with the right mental health resources and figure out an individualized treatment plan that works for you.

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