The 5 Second Rule May Be Your Anxiety Solution
We all worry from time to time, but when your worrying becomes an automatic habit, that is when you run into problems.
When your habit of worrying spirals out of control, you have anxiety. There are many forms of anxiety, but this worry habit is the mechanism that gets it going and keeps it so strong.
I used to be anxious all the time – mostly in social situations (social anxiety). I would never speak up. I would constantly worry about how I would look to others, how others would judge me when I said something uninteresting, and even worry about worrying!
The one thing that worried me the most was that someone would see that I was anxious and nervous. They would notice that I’m shaking, or that my heart is beating so fast that it’s about to rip out of my chest, or that I would blush. I knew if they noticed, then I would be judged harshly for it. I understood this wasn’t logical, but I simply couldn’t help feeling that way.
I was stuck in my mind in this endless spiral and I couldn’t get out.
My natural tenancy to get rid of the anxiety was to fight it and bottle it up, but this only made it worse… much worse. I had conditioned myself to respond in the same way over and over again to certain situations.
For example, let’s say I’m in a meeting. Even before the meeting, I would have negative thoughts about it. I would think that I’m going to draw negative attention to myself and make a fool of myself. I would worry that I would get anxious. It may be the same for you, just in a different context (at a party, at school, shopping, etc.).
Then in the meeting, I would have a negative thought and I would think, “OH NO, IT’S STARTING!” Quick, push the anxiety way down.. hide it at all costs, and act natural. I would go through a million thoughts in just a few seconds and it would all spiral out of control. It’s a terrible feeling. It felt like the walls were closing in on me.
I would do the exact opposite of what I needed to do to overcome my social anxiety. This only increased the power of my anxiety.
Have you ever felt like this?
Have you ever felt so anxious and lost that you felt frozen or felt like running away from the situation?
I always hated not knowing what to say, not living in the moment, and being trapped in my own mind. If you can relate, then I have good news for you. You can find a way out of this mess. There is a solution! You don’t have to live your life in fear.
Stabilizing your Thoughts
What you need to do is learn how to stabilize your thoughts. Seems obvious enough, but in the face of fear and when you’re in one of those anxiety inducing situations, this is easier said than done.
As I mentioned before, your brain goes into auto-pilot (fight, flight or freeze) when confronted with whatever fear it is that you’re facing. You’re not engaging your prefrontal cortex (the thinking part of the brain) to validate or confront those automatic responses.
When you see or think of something you’re scared of and your mind goes into panic mode. Once your mind races off into panic mode, it’s not long after that your body starts to reflect those anxious thoughts. You start shaking, breathing rapidly, sweating, feeling nauseous, and on and on.
This is an ongoing cycle that you won’t be able to break out of unless you engage the prefrontal cortex.
How do you do that?
Mel Robbins’ 5 Second Rule.
As Mel stated,
You use the rule in combination with what we call an anchor thought – a thought that makes you happy. It’s a thought that will help you stabilize your brain. The moment you feel yourself starting to worry, the butterflies are kicking in, you’re starting to go Niagara Falls under your armpits, 5- 4- 3- 2- 1.
The 5 second rule does wonders for anxiety! First, think of something that makes you happy or joyful… or think of something that excites you. Still having trouble? What makes you laugh? This will be your anchor thought.
Now, as soon as you get that first anxious feeling, you literally count (out loud if you can),
5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1
Then, you think of your anchor thought.
This seems pretty simple, but it does 2 very important things:
1 – You break the habit loop that anxiety thrives on. When you start having that barrage of negative anxiety thoughts, it’s very easy for your mind to spiraling out of control. The 5-4-3-2-1 counting switches your brain from the habitual part (amygdala) to the frontal cortex.
2 – You stabilize your thoughts. Now that you have broken the habit loop by counting 5-4-3-2-1 and engaged the thinking part of the brain, you will be able to accept a new idea or thought (anchor thought).
The result: Your fear of the event (whatever it may be) will diminish over time because you won’t have anxiety attacks during said event. You’ll think, “Hey, I can do this without being anxious”. You’re taking action and doing the thing you fear (and doing it well) – you’re building confidence. This is the best way to crush your fear.
For example, those meeting I feared (because it triggers my anxiety) don’t seem so scary anymore because I don’t lose my mind at meetings anymore. I don;t spiral out of control. Now that I can break the worry habit loop and replace it with a positive anchor thought, I can learn to enjoy those meetings.
Fear, Being Present, and Anchoring
I don’t fear the meeting anymore and that is the key to stopping anxiety – not fearing the things that trigger it. It may take a little time to for you to be completely free of it because you likely spent years and years reinforcing your fear of it, but over time, it will fade away.
This technique is also powerful because it allows you to be fully present in the moment. When you are constantly worrying and anxious, you will not be able to think clearly. If you are reading this, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. When you’re anxious, it’s like your brain freezes! It just makes everything worse and that is why anxiety is so tricky.
We fear it because we know how devastating it is, but that fear only feeds it even more. It makes us resist it even harder, but again, that is the wrong move.
The anchoring method works so well because your body can’t tell the difference between excitement and anxiety. Your body feels the same way in both cases. What gives it context is your mind. It’s what your mind says it is, so trick your mind that you are excited instead of nervous.
It seemed ridiculous, but I have tried this technique and it actually works. The next time you’re about to do something you think will make you anxious, pump yourself up by saying, “I am excited, I am excited!”
Other Applications of the 5 Second Rule
The 5 second rule can be utilized for more than just anxiety. You can apply it to almost any area of your life!
Can’t get out of bed in the morning? When that alarm clock goes off, count out-loud, 5-4-3-2-1 and then take action! Get out of bed.
Can’t approach that girl and ask her out? Count 5-4-3-2-1 and then just go for it. Don’t hesitate! Just go do it.
The more you let your worries stop you from doing something, the more you are reinforcing that habit of worry.
Mel Robbins 5 Second rule summed up for every day use: when you have an impulse, you must take physical action within 5 seconds, or your mind will hit the emergency brake (stop you from doing it/talk you out of it).
So, the next time you have an impulse to do something (something positive of course), count down from 5 to 1 and then do it! Take action. Do not give your mind the chance to talk you out of whatever you want to do. If you give it more than 5 seconds, your mind will find a way to talk you out of it because it resists change.