No one needs to tell you to look for more anxiety in your day. Our brains are hardwired to notice stressors, because it was a matter of survival for our ancestors to pay more attention to a lion (bad!) than a flower (good!). You can’t remove stress from your life for good, but you can learn to deal with it effectively.
Health.com contributor Claire Hannum says she deals with anxiety. She can go weeks without noticing it, but when it does make its way to the surface, it hits her hard. That’s why she uses the “rule of three” a therapist told her about every day—not just when she predicts an anxiety attack is on its way.
“When I’m feeling stressed, I only allow myself to devote energy worrying about three things at any given time,” Hannum writes. “I visualize a tree with three branches on it, with one worry assigned to each branch. After the tree is full, that’s it—no additional worries are able to take over my mental space.” Don’t miss these other 15 five-second tricks for letting go of stress.
No, Hannum isn’t saying you’ll never have more than three things to worry about at a time. Goodness knows you could find way more than that if you took just ten seconds to think about it. The trick is not letting them all eat at you at once.
For instance, let’s say you’re having a hard day at work and keep mulling over tomorrow’s big presentation and the looming deadline for another project. Those are two branches down already. Amidst your job stress, you keep thinking about how you haven’t called your mom in ages. That’s your third. Now when you get home, you realize you don’t have chicken, which was the key ingredient in the dinner you’d planned.
At that moment, you’ve got four separate stressors whizzing around in your head. To keep with the rule of three, you need to either let go of one of those first three, or choose not to stress over the new one. So maybe you’ll remind yourself you’re as prepared as possible for that big presentation. Let that go. Or maybe you can go with the flow and grab a can of beans from the pantry for tonight’s protein. That solves that! The point is, you aren’t overloading your system with more than three things at a time.
As you start letting go of your anxieties, you’ll get perspective about what in your life is actually worth the stress. “By thinking about my fears in this straightforward way,” writes Hannum, “it becomes obvious that while some of my problems have actionable solutions and others are completely out of my control, worrying does very little to help either.” So if you’re stressed about all the housework you need to do, take ten minutes to tackle some clutter and pat yourself on the back. Is it wondering whether your kids will get into the schools of their choice? Once the applications are in, all you can do is wait.
Whenever you feel like you just have way too much on your plate, remember the rule of three. Pick the ones that are most important and have potential solutions, and let the rest of your worries fall away. For an extra boost, use these 14 phrases to instantly calm your anxiety.