Mindfulness technique: 5–4–3–2–1 (and reasons to practice mindfulness)
We often experience anxiety when we are living in a negative-future state (“What if something bad happens?”) or a negative-past state (“Did I offend her?” or replaying a painful experience from our past). One skill to build to help live more in the moment is mindfulness.
Mindfulness can be defined as bringing awareness to the present moment. Mindfulness isn’t meditation, it is simply being aware of the here-and-now. Practicing mindfulness (making a choice to be aware of the present moment) on a daily basis can help us be more open, lower our emotional reactivity, improve our empathy and emotional processing, decrease anger and anxiety, and even improve our attention span and our immune systems! Studies have shown that mindfulness can decrease the size of our amygdala (“fight-flight-freeze” part of our brain) and levels of cortisol (stress hormone).
Here’s a simple and effective way to start practicing mindfulness this very moment (note, if you can’t speak words aloud it’s ok to do them in your head, but I recommend speaking them when possible).
The 5–4–3–2–1 Technique:
Start by taking a nice slow deep breath in . . . and out . . . sending messages to your body and brain that it’s time to relax. Then:
LOOK for FIVE things that you can see. Name them aloud with a short description. You may be surprised at the detail you notice of the objects around you. Example: blue sunglasses, a yellow mechanical pencil, a floral file folder, a board game called Colt Express, an aloe plant in a grey pot.
Next, FEEL FOUR things around you and say them aloud as you feel them. Example: the texture of the couch, the feeling of my arm hair, the slightly bumpy case on my iphone, the surprisingly soft fabric of my sock.
Next, notice what THREE things you can HEAR and say them aloud . You may be surprised some of the sound around you. You may be surprised what you can hear if you give it a moment. If there aren’t three things to hear after giving it a couple moments, you can think of some favorite sounds that come to mind. Example: the heater behind me, cars in the street outside, the sound of a cat purring.
Next, say TWO things you can SMELL. If you can move, it’s ok to find something you can smell (like a spice you like). Example: the smell of the throw pillow, the smell of my shirt sleeve.
Then, notice ONE thing you can TASTE. Maybe it’s a bit of flavor left over from your last meal or when you brushed your teeth. If you can’t taste anything, imagine the taste of something healthy and delicious. Example: Throat coat tea.
Finally, take a nice, slow deep breath . . . in . . . and out and check in on how you’re feeling in your body.
Mindfulness, and its positive effects, improves with practice. I invite you to do this at least once a day, especially when you notice you’re experiencing anxiety that doesn’t serve you.
I’d love to hear your feedback — feel free to join me in the free Facebook group “Reframe Your Brain” at fb.com/groups/reframeyourbrain.
Note, I wasn’t able to track down who originally developed this technique but if you have this information I hope you will let me know so that I can give credit where credit is due!