The 5-4-3-2-1 Exercise is a quick way to dispel anxiety. It is nothing more than a concentration exercise. When using it, you focus on non-threatening things around you. Doing that pushes anxiety-producing thoughts aside.
Better Than Counting Sheep
The exercise was originally a technique to help a person get to sleep. I re-purposed it and named it the 5-4-3-2-1 Exercise to give clients who experience fear of flying a way to break out of the vicious cycle in which an anxiety-producing thought triggers the release of stress hormones which keeps the person focused on the anxiety-thought, which, of course, releases more stress hormones, etc.
Can It Stop A Panic Attack?
The 5-4-3-2-1 can stop a panic attack if it is used early. This means a person must sense when they are headed toward panic. Not everyone can do that. If the 5-4-3-2-1 is used too late, panic can take hold. Then, in a state of overwhelm, any effort to attempt to stop the panic increases the overwhelm. Used early enough, it stops panic. Used late, it makes panic worse.
Go With The Flow?
Years ago Australian Claire Weekes pointed out that, once a panic attack has started, the best way out of the attack is to go along with the ride. She advised panic sufferers to let panic run its course without resistance. Resistance – because it increases the overwhelm – makes the attack last longer. Going with the flow – if the flow is a panic attack – is easier said than done.
The Better Way To Stop Panic.
I’ll teach you how to do the 5-4-3-2-1, but don’t stop there. If panic hits without warning the 5-4-3-2-1 won’t stop it. A newer exercise, the Strengthening Exercises, can. Instead of hoping panic won’t happen, train you mind to keep panic from happening at all. This more advanced exercise is taught in my book, Panic Free.
How To Do The 5-4-3-2-1.
Sit or recline comfortably. Focus on some object in front of you. Keep your focus on it throughout the exercise. If your eyes drift off, just bring them back. Do the exercise out loud first. Then, try it silently. See if one works better for you than the other.
- Say “I see” and name something in your peripheral vision, such as “I see a chair.” Then, say “I see” and name something else in your peripheral vision. Continue until you have made five seeing statements.
- Say “I hear” and name something you hear, such as “I hear a car outside.” Then, say “I hear” and name something else you hear. Continue until you have made five hearing statements. (If there are not five different things you can hear, repeat something you have already named.)
- Say “I feel” and name something you feel physically, not emotionally, such as “I feel my arm on my leg.” Continue until you have made five feeling statements.
That completes the first cycle. It takes intense concentration. That is exactly what is needed. Just concentrate on non-threatening things, and as the stress burns off without being replaced, you become more relaxed.
What about the second cycle? If you always made five statements, you could do the exercise without intense concentration. Your mind might drift back to troubling thoughts. To keep the concentration intense, instead of making five statements, make four statements. Then, in the third cycle, make three statements. Then, in the fourth cycle, make two statements. Then, in the last cycle, make one statement.
It is OK to name the same things. Same or different is fine. Just say whatever comes to mind. If you lose count, that is good because it means you are relaxing.
Please don’t do this when driving, or as they say, when operating heavy machinery!
When you are as relaxed as you want to be, just stop. If you want to be more relaxed, or to fall asleep, repeat the exercise starting at five statements.
Here’s A Video That Teaches The 5-4-3-2-1.