The 5-4-3-2-1 Technique

We often use simple techniques in therapy.  The secret is to practice them every day so that when you notice anxious feelings begin to appear you have a technique, which you know well, to help you.  With practice these techniques will become default responses for you.

Think about fire safety at home.  You can either wait for a fire to begin or you can install appliances which in case of fire will help e.g. a fire blanket, a smoke alarm etc.  Similarly, these techniques mean that in case of anxiety, rather than fire, we are confident in the preparation we have practised.

  • Don’t be a fire-fighter, be a fire marshall and be prepared.

  • The techniques seem deceptively simple; which is good because an anxious mind is an overwhelmed mind so the simpler the better.

  • Practise makes perfect and makes the technique more effective and with time they will become a default response for you.

  • Anxious minds follow the same pattern every time, you have the same sensations and symptoms. When we challenge anxiety with practised techniques we are causing a pattern interrupt which is necessary if we’re to going to begin to regain control.

  • During 5,4,3,2,1 we are taking ourselves out of our heads and moving our focus onto the external environment because anxiety likes to hide in your head.

  • We add detail to the lists in 5,4,3,2,1 because it distracts us for longer and means that we focus even more outside our heads.

  • Be proactive, not reactive. Be ready for the next anxiety attack.

  • Say them out loud if it’s appropriate because it’s a further way to engage the brain.

I encourage clients to write post-its and perhaps put them on their computer, their screen-saver etc. So they know what 5,4,3,2,1, means but nobody else does. This does two things a. it minds you to practice and it reminds you that you have a technique when anxiety begins to control you.

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