The 333 Rule for Anxiety

Dr. Jenni Jacobsen, PhD
Author: Dr. Jenni Jacobsen, PhD Medical Reviewer: Morgan Blair Last updated:

There are a number of methods for coping with anxiety, ranging from self-help strategies to professional treatment. One self-help strategy that can be beneficial for managing anxiety is the “333 rule.”

What is the 333 rule for anxiety?

The 333 rule for anxiety can calm the mind during an anxious moment by bringing a person back to the present. To follow the 333 rule, simply name three things you can see, name three sounds you hear, and move three parts of your body [1].

The 333 rule is based upon principles from mindfulness, which can be described as nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment. Mindfulness interventions are widely used in psychology to treat conditions like depression and anxiety [2].

By focusing on things one can see and hear, and then moving parts of the body, a person can become more aware of what is happening in the present moment, rather than being fixated on whatever is making them anxious.

Examples of the 333 Rule for Calming Anxiety

The 333 rule can be helpful in various situations in which anxiety strikes. For instance, if you are experiencing a sudden panic attack, practicing the 333 rule can help you to get through the attack by focusing on the present, rather than worrying about physical sensations like racing heart and shortness of breath.

It can also be useful in specific anxiety-provoking situations, such as visiting the dentist’s office or being in social settings that bring anxiety. For example, if you’re sitting in the dentist’s chair, nervously awaiting your examination, you might consider naming three things you see in the examination room, thinking about three things you hear, and then engaging in movement of three body parts.

On the other hand, if you find yourself becoming anxious in a social setting, such as at a crowded party where you know very few people, practice the 333 rule to bring you back to the present, and away from your tension and nervousness.

How effective is the 333 rule for anxiety?

Research with mindfulness practices sheds some light on the effectiveness of the 333 rule. Numerous studies have found that mindfulness interventions provide a simple, cost-effective method for reducing anxiety [3]. The benefit of the 333 rule is that it is something you can practice on your own in everyday life, making it readily available and useful in stressful moments.

Mindfulness techniques like the 333 rule have been found to be just as effective as cognitive behavioral interventions, which are delivered by licensed mental health professionals, for reducing anxiety [3].

What other techniques can be used to calm anxiety?

The 333 rule is not the only self-help technique for anxiety. Some other techniques that can be beneficial include:

  • The 54321 rule: Similar to the 333 rule, the 54321 rule for anxiety involves naming five things you see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste [4]. This strategy allows you to develop a more mindful awareness of the present.
  • Practice yoga: Studies have also found that yoga can be beneficial for alleviating anxiety [5]. This is not surprising, given that yoga focuses on developing mindful awareness of bodily sensations. You can attend a yoga class at a local gym or fitness center or follow a video from home.
  • Meditate: Following a meditation video or soundtrack can also be helpful for reducing anxiety [5]. You can find many meditation resources on the Internet.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR): Also beneficial for reducing anxiety, PMR involves contracting the muscles and then releasing them to relieve tension. Starting at the top of your body with your face and neck muscles, work your way down the body, contracting and releasing each muscle group [6].
  • Deep breathing: If you’re feeling overly anxious or panicked, deep breathing is also a self-help method for alleviating your distress [6].

When to Seek Professional Help

While self-help methods can be beneficial for reducing anxiety, some people may find that they need professional help. If you’ve tried several self-help methods but continue to experience anxiety, it’s probably time to reach out for professional intervention, especially if anxiety interferes with your daily life and activities.

If you’re seeking professional help for anxiety, reaching out to your doctor or a mental health professional like a psychologist, counselor, or clinical social worker is the first step. Once you seek professional help, anxiety is likely to be treated with the following methods [7]:

  • Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy, often referred to as “talk therapy,” is commonly used to treat anxiety. Working with a therapist can help you to correct negative thinking patterns and learn new coping skills. A specific form of therapy called CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) can help patients to correct distorted thinking patterns that lead to anxiety. Exposure therapy, which gradually exposes people to triggers for anxiety, can also be helpful.
  • Medication: Several types of medication are beneficial for reducing anxiety. A doctor can help you to determine the best medication for you, based upon your needs and symptoms. You may have to try a few medications before you find the one that works best for you. Medications commonly used to treat anxiety include SSRIs like fluoxetine or paroxetine, SNRIs like venlafaxine and duloxetine, benzodiazepines like alprazolam, and a mild tranquilizer called buspirone. Anxiety can also be treated with tricyclic antidepressants, as well as beta-blockers such as propranolol.
  1. Region 7E Adult Mental Health Initiative. (2017). Managing and reducing anxiety. Retrieved June 24, 2023, from,the%20present%20moment%2C%20Chansky%20says.
  2. La Torre, G., et a;. (2020). Yoga and mindfulness as a tool for influencing affectivity, anxiety, mental health, and stress among healthcare workers: Results of a single-arm clinical trial. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 9(4), 1037.
  3. Singh, S., & Gorey, K.M. (2018). Relative effectiveness of mindfulness and cognitive behavioral interventions for anxiety disorders: Meta-analytic review. Social Work in Mental Health, 16(2).
  4. University of Rochester Medical Center. (2018). 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique for anxiety. Retrieved June 24, 2023, from
  5. Saeed, S.A., Cunningham, K., & Bloch, R.M. (2019). Depression and anxiety disorders: Benefits of exercise, yoga, and meditation. American Family Physician, 99(10), 620-627. Retrieved from
  6. Toussaint, L., et al. (2021). Effectiveness of progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and guided imagery in promoting psychological and physiological states of relaxation. Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.doi: 10.1155/2021/5924040
  7. Chand, S.P., & Marwaha, R. (2023). Anxiety. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved June 24, 2023, from
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Dr. Jenni Jacobsen, PhD
Author Dr. Jenni Jacobsen, PhD Medical Reviewer, Writer

Dr. Jenni Jacobsen, PhD is a medical reviewer, licensed social worker, and behavioral health consultant, holding a PhD in clinical psychology.

Published: Aug 22nd 2023, Last edited: Nov 10th 2023

Morgan Blair
Medical Reviewer Morgan Blair MA, LPCC

Morgan Blair is a licensed therapist, writer and medical reviewer, holding a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Northwestern University.

Content reviewed by a medical professional. Last reviewed: Aug 21st 2023