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5-4-3-2-1: A Simple & Effective Strategy to Manage Anxious Moments

"There were many terrible things in my life, but most of them never happened" - Montaigne

How often do you say things like this to yourself?

* I'll never get all of this done today.

* If it isn't perfect, I might as well not even bother.

*Why is he late? And now he's not answering his phone?? I hope nothing happened to him....

* I don't think my child is doing ok in school/sports/with friends/at home....

* Why did my boss ask me about the project like that; she must be upset with me.

* It's my fault that the presentation bombed, I should have been better prepared.

* I'm going to embarrass myself if I even try.

* I should really be helping out more at home/kids' school/sports teams etc...

* Ughh..... I have nothing to wear! None of my clothes even fit me anymore.

* How could I say/do something so stupid?

We humans have a complex and seemingly endless range of things that worry us, create stress, and make us feel anxious.

Side note! MOST of these things never even happen.

What keeps me up at night might not even cross your mind. What makes your chest squeeze with panic, might not even register for someone else.

The common thread?

The feelings themselves are universal.

When we’re in a state of worry or stress, we are caught up in negative self-talk and the unhelpful chatter of our minds.

Sometimes the best way out of that spin cycle, is to get a little space from your thoughts.

To work with challenging feelings, we need to first understand how they show up in our bodies. Then we can bring attention out of our heads and into our bodies, where there is safety, security and trust. .






You cannot effectively manage what you are not aware of.

Being aware of how nervousness, worry and anxiety show up in your body is an important first step to being able to handle it when it comes up.

So, our work is to first listen to our bodies, and identify those early signs that worry is setting in, so we can effectively manage them when they do.

We're not used to paying attention internally like this. We're so accustomed to looking for outward signs that we're ok, or this is wrong, or I'm not doing it right.

But that's not where the answers are.... they are within.

So we check in regularly. We keep coming back over and over again. There is no right or wrong way to do it. Just get quiet and notice.

Do any of these sensations show up for you? What do they mean? What else can you add to the list? Write it down so the physical signals of stress and worry are so crystal clear that you would know the symptoms from anywhere.

* Clenching in the chest

* Tightening of the jaw

* Feeling dizzy or lightheaded

* Tired or lethargic

* Increased heart rate

* Rapid breathing

* Queasy or upset stomach

* Tension in the fists, arms and shoulders

* Sweating or feeling flushed

* Chills or shakes

* Generalized sense of dread or doom

These are the physical signs that your body needs your attention.

Pay attention early and often; act on what you hear.

The practice below will guide you to develop deep inner trust as you listen to your body and act on what you hear.

Remember, "An anxious mind cannot exist in a calm body."

Note: This is a strategy to utilize during moments of acute stress and worry. It does not, and cannot, replace formal therapy that might be needed for more challenging, and/or chronic anxiety or other mental health concerns.


5 - 4- 3 - 2 - 1 GROUNDING TECHNIQUE


A popular Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) technique; this one is an oldie but a goodie.

It’s a simple and effective practice to ground you in the present moment and remind you that you are safe and in control.

This practice is easy to remember (just go through the 5 Senses), always available, and effective. You don't need a lot of time or any special equipment, no one needs to even know you're doing it.

The next time you feel the familiar sensations of worry, panic or anxiety kick in, note the following (out loud if possible!) to yourself:

5 Things You Can SEE

What is visible in your environment? A pen, the mark on the floor, the circle of light from the sun shining in through the window

4 Things You Can FEEL

Your shirt on your arm, your heartbeat, the smooth skin of your face, you pet's curly fur, rain on your skin, your feet on the floor

3 Things You Can HEAR

The refrigerator running, the tv in the other room, other noises in your environment, your breath as it flows in and out

2 Things You Can SMELL

Fabric softener on your sweater, dinner cooking on the stove, the scented candle you just lit, your shampoo

1 Things You Can TASTE

Coffee you just drank, apple you ate earlier, toothpaste,

That's it. Repeat as needed.

The more we add practices like this to our lives, the more tools we have to touch in and find that safety that’s already there.

PS! If you swap the senses and name 5 things you can hear and 1 thing you can see etc... who cares? The point is not to do this exactly the 'right' way, the point is to bring your attention out of your anxious mind into your body. If listing 5 things you taste does that for you, then it's a win.

** PRO TIP!! Practice this with your children as a way to help them manage big thoughts, feelings and worries. Come back to this regularly in low stress times, so the practice is easily available to them when worry sets in.

Try it at bedtime - which can be a stressful time for small children (and wimpy adults like me when my husband is away, and there are random noises and/or raccoons in the house!).

Some other scenarios that might benefit from this include: test taking, sports or competitions, giving a presentation at work, flying in an airplane, caught in traffic and you're already late etc...

Hope this helps the next time you feel that familiar sense of worry or panic set in.

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