Regardless of anxiety, when we encounter a countdown, we can be fairly sure the status quo is about to change.
Think about the shot clock in basketball. The team with the ball has to take a shot before the clock counts down to zero or the other team automatically gets the ball.
Think about rockets. The enormous space vehicle sits on the launch pad until the countdown concludes, and then it blasts upward with incredible power.
Think about New Year’s Eve. The end of the countdown matches perfectly with the end of one year and the beginning of another.
Think about Top 40 countdowns. The whole point is to see if there is a change in the top spot (though admittedly sometimes it seems like the status quo at the top of the charts will never actually change).
Let’s take a look at another kind of countdown—one that is intended to change your personal status quo from anxious to calm.
Engaging the Senses While Counting Down from Five to One
The 5-4-3-2-1 technique is an effective way to address an anxiety attack—those moments when your heart is racing and your stress level is on the rise and it feels as though things are totally out of control.
Your five senses are at the heart of the strategy. By refocusing your attention on what you can perceive through your senses, you can interrupt the thought patterns and emotional states that fuel an anxiety attack.
It can be helpful to start with a deep breath—or perhaps several deep breaths. Then it is time to turn your attention to the world around you.
- FIVE: Name five things you can see. Don’t worry about what they are. Any five things will do. Just take care to focus on each of the five objects for a moment rather than rushing from item to item. It can be helpful to name each of the five things you see out loud.
- FOUR: Name four things you touch in your immediate environment. The same process we suggested above still applies: Take a moment to focus on each of the four things you can touch (or feel—like a cool breeze), and perhaps say their names out loud to ensure you don’t speed through the list.
- THREE: Name three things you can hear. Take a moment to really listen to what is happening both near you and further away. Maybe there’s a radio playing or the birds are singing or you can hear the murmur of a conversation down the hall. Pick three distinct sounds you hear and name them aloud.
- TWO: Name two things you can smell. Maybe you can smell your cup of coffee or tea. Perhaps you have a flowering plant you can sniff. Maybe there is a scent on the breeze you can detect whether you are outdoors or it comes in through your window. Don’t rush. Pause and focus on the scents around you.
- ONE: Name one thing you can taste. This can be a tricky one if you don’t have a beverage or a snack handy. For that reason, it can be a good idea to have some hard candy, some chocolate, or a pack of gum around to help you complete this countdown exercise.
Now, take another deep breath or two. Check in with yourself. Has the status quo changed? Are you feeling calmer? The odds are pretty good that you will find that you feel at least a little calmer. If you need to, you can start at the beginning and count down again—starting and ending with those deep breaths.
You May Need to Count on Treatment if Anxiety is Frequent
The countdown technique can be quite effective when it comes to short-circuiting an anxiety attack. But if you are experiencing anxiety frequently or persistently, it is important that you talk to a doctor or a mental health professional. If you have an anxiety disorder, a combination of therapy and medication can help you manage the issue.
No Need to Worry: Peak View Behavioral Health Can Help
Mental health disorders—including anxiety—can be especially frustrating because the disorder itself can make it difficult for some individuals to seek out the help they need. But finding a way to take that first step can be life-changing.
At Peak View Behavioral Health in Colorado Springs, we provide personalized treatment for anxiety and panic disorders, the various types of depression, disorders grounded in traumatic experiences, and more. If you are struggling, we can help you reclaim your quality of life.