Overcoming Anxiety With the 5-4-3-2-1 Method
Anxiety is another type of stressor that many people and leaders face.
In fact, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting over 40 million adults.
Anxiety interferes with the brain’s decision-making operations, but not for the reasons you might think. It appears that people at risk for anxiety have lower activity in a region of the brain responsible for complex mental operations, according to the results of a study at Duke University.
These research findings also showed that people whose brains exhibit a high response to threat and a lower response to reward are more at risk of developing symptoms of anxiety and depression over time. The individual configuration of the brain has a direct impact on one’s propensity to incur anxiety.
Hence, signs of anxiety and the stresses associated with anxiety impact the brain’s decision-making functionality. However, these signs may also be an indicator of a reduced activity level occurring in the brain’s dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the brain’s executive control center which assists in focusing attention and planning complex actions.
When anxiety strikes, even at moderate or low levels, it can seem impossible to stop the downward spirals of worries, fears, and self-doubt. In her book How to Be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, Boston University clinical psychologist Ellen Hendriksen shares a mindfulness hack that can help you stay in the moment when anxiety asserts itself.
Called the 5-4-3-2-1 method, this mindfulness technique can be used any time you find yourself ruminating over particular worries or feeling anxiously overwhelmed. The technique incorporates all five senses in order to ground yourself in the present moment by having you name:
- Five things you can see.
- Four things you can hear.
- Three things you can feel via the sense of touch.
- Two things you can smell.
- One thing you can taste.
The relationship between the quantities and each particular sense does not matter. It is only important that all five senses are incorporated. So feel free to mix up the above example if you want (i.e. four things you can feel and three things you can hear). Again, the most important thing is that you scroll through all five senses, using your powers of observation to get the brain to focus on 15 specific things rather than the spinning thoughts concerning your worries or concerns, fears, or anxieties.
Once you are firmly rooted in the present moment through this technique you will be in a better position to deal more thoughtfully with those worries and concerns.
For the past few weeks I have been sharing with readers how stress leads to poor thinking and bad decisions, and shown various ways to reduce stress in order to create better decisions, thinking, and outcomes,
If you have missed these earlier posts, please see:
In the series of posts, starting next week, I will share with you some facts and myths about our brains.
This article is partially excerpted from my award-winning book Better Decisions Better Thinking Better Outcomes: How to go from Mind Full to Mindful Leadership, available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. The book is the recipient of a Silver Award from the Nonfiction Authors Association for bringing “a comprehensive plan of action for improving life through recognizing decision-making patterns that don’t serve us well, don’t enrich our lives, and don’t bring us to our goals and dreams.”