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  • GUEST POST: The Go-To Anti-Anxiety Tool Counselors Love

    This guest post is created by Travis Jeffords

    As a mental health counselor who specializes in working with anxiety, I want to share with you the number one coping skill that I share with individuals when they come to therapy struggling with anxiety.

    When to Use This Anxiety Coping Skill

    When you are anxious and begin to find yourself getting stuck in your head and pulling inside yourself – this is the time to utilize this coping skill.

    Here are some examples of situations in which this coping skill could be useful:

    ● You’re about to give a presentation at work, and as you’re waiting for the meeting to start, you notice yourself starting to become anxious.

    ● You sit down to take an exam at school, and your mind starts to shut down. Your heart is beating faster, but suddenly you start to go blank and can’t remember anything.

    ● It’s your first day at a new job. As you walk up to the office and open the door to go in, you start to become extremely nervous and worry about how everyone is going to judge you.

    ● You’re sitting on the airport tarmac about to go on vacation, when suddenly you feel your adrenaline kick in, you start breathing heavily and having images of the plane crashing.

    ● You’re at a coffee shop waiting to meet up with someone for a first date, and suddenly you just start getting ‘in your head’ and ruminating about saying the wrong thing on the date, and how terribly the first date is going to go.

    In those moments where you feel yourself start to collapse inward and starting to get lost in your thoughts…you need to GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD.

    You probably already intuitively know that. Lots of people tell me they need to get out of their head, but it can be tricky to know exactly what to do that can help in those moments.

    Here’s a way you can actually do it:

     The 5-4-3-2-1 Technique: A Coping Skill for Anxiety

    The 5-4-3-2-1 coping skill is a simple yet powerful technique used to manage anxiety and promote grounding in the present moment. It relies on engaging the senses to shift focus away from anxious thoughts and redirect attention to the present environment. This technique can be used anytime and anywhere, making it a convenient tool for individuals experiencing anxiety. The process involves engaging with the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. Here’s how it works:

    As soon as you begin to get anxious – do the following:


    Look around and identify five things you can see. Pay attention to details like colors, shapes, and textures. This exercise helps bring your attention to the visual cues in your surroundings, diverting your focus away from anxious thoughts.


    Next, pay attention to four things you can touch or feel. It might be the texture of your clothes, the sensation of a chair beneath you, or the warmth of a cup in your hands. Focusing on tactile sensations helps anchor you to the present, providing a tangible connection to the immediate environment.


    Third, listen carefully and identify three things you can hear. It could be the sound of birds chirping, traffic, or the hum of a computer. By tuning in to the auditory stimuli around you, you become more aware of the present moment and create a sense of grounding.


    Then, notice two things you can smell. It could be the scent of fresh coffee, a fragrant flower, or the aroma of a scented candle. Actively engaging your sense of smell helps redirect your attention away from anxious thoughts and enhances mindfulness.


    Finally, focus on one thing you can taste. It could be a sip of water, a piece of fruit, or even the lingering taste of toothpaste. Savoring the taste of something in the present moment further reinforces grounding and sensory awareness.

    Here it is again. When you’re anxious, notice:

    5 things you can see

    4 things you can touch

    3 things you can hear

    2 things you can smell

    1 thing you can taste.

    By sequentially engaging with the senses, the 5-4-3-2-1 coping skill helps anchor individuals to the present reality, interrupting the spiral of anxious thoughts, and promoting a sense of calm and focus. It serves as a valuable tool in managing anxiety by shifting attention away from worries and creating a connection to the immediate sensory experience. With practice, this technique can become a reliable coping strategy for navigating moments of anxiety and promoting emotional well-being.

    4 Tips for the 5-4-3-2-1 Technique

    The 5-4-3-2-1 Technique is pretty straightforward, but, there are a few tips that I share with clients that can make it more effective for you in the midst of your anxiety:

    1. Start with awareness of your breath, then move to observing with your senses.

    Right away when you start feeling anxious, begin to intentionally slow your breath down. Take several deep inhales through the nose, and exhale through the mouth. Be mindful of breathing low into your body.

    If you don’t know what ‘breathing low’ is all about, just image as you breath that you want to breath all the way down in your feet. That may sound weird, but you really can experience you breath as coming from low down deep within you. If breathing into your feet is too low, place your hands just below your belly button and notice the sensation of your breath moving in and out from that spot. Notice your shoulders. If your shoulder are moving up as you’re breathing, that’s a sign you can drop your breath even lower.

    Consciously slow your breath down, drop it down lower, and then, while continuing to breath low and slow, start to shift your attention outside yourself towards the 5 things you see and so on.

    2. Take your time

    The goal is not to race through the senses as quickly as possible. When we get anxious it can be easy to start racing through the skills quickly to try to finish, hoping that you’ll feel calmer at the end.

    The goal is not to finish the 5-4-3-2-1 technique, it’s to engage in the process with more and more of yourself.

    It’s like all those car commercials that talk about it being about the journey and not the destination…get lost in the journey of the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. Slow down and really spend time looking at a single object and taking in everything there is to see about it. THEN, move on to the next object, and so on.

    3. Do not try to shut down, push down, or stop your anxious thoughts.

    If your anxious thoughts or anxious physical sensations are present…that’s okay! When we try to fight those thoughts or sensations, our whole body is going to tense up, and the anxiety is going to continue or even increase.

    Instead, treat your anxiety like a shitty partner treats their spouse during a fight:

    Lots of times when partners still have work to do, they become non-responsive and tune their partner out during conflict. The more their partner tries to get their attention, the more distant the partner becomes. They don’t fight back or argue, they just totally ignore them altogether.

    This is definitely not helpful in a relationship – but – here’s where the metaphor works for anxiety:

    Don’t yell at your anxiety, fight your anxiety, or push back against your anxiety…just shift your attention onto whatever physical sensation you’re focusing on at that moment. Your anxiety may still be present, and that’s okay. Just allow it to be there doing its thing in the background, while you calmly shift your attention to the senses that you’re observing in the present moment.

    4. Adjust as Necessary

    It’s totally okay to make the technique your own and focus on what feels best. If it feels good to focus on touch, then keep touching things. If it feels good to look at different objects, then it’s okay to keep noticing more around you even after you’ve named 5 things. The technique is a tool to help you turn towards the present moment and your senses – feel free to change or adjust in whatever way is going to help you do that.


    Anxiety can manifest in various aspects of life, from work-related stress to relationship difficulties and personal insecurities. The 5-4-3-2-1 coping skill we discussed offers a practical and accessible technique to ground yourself in the present moment, shifting focus away from anxious thoughts and promoting a sense of calm. Practice this technique regularly and adapt it to suit your individual needs.

    With practice, it really can make a difference in your life.

    Are you a man dominated by anger, criticism, or anxiety? Do your relationships suffer because of them? Do you secretly hate yourself and think there’s something wrong with you? I’ve been there. I get it. I help men find peace with themselves and with others.

    Travis Jeffords | LCMHCA, MDiv

    Get more essential mental health anxiety advice at Travis’ website,


    The content provided in this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as a substitute for professional counseling or therapy. The information presented here is drawn from my professional expertise, personal experiences, and research, but it is not a replacement for personalized mental health advice. Each individual is unique, and the content may not be relevant to everyone’s particular situation. It is crucial to seek guidance from a licensed mental health professional concerning your specific concerns and to receive customized support tailored to your requirements.