How The 3-3-3 Rule Lowers Career Anxiety And Calms The Mind

Anxiety is a natural emotion for all of us, but in extreme cases, it can be debilitating and distract us from our career path. The 2024 results of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) Annual Mental Health Survey show that American adults are feeling increasingly anxious. In 2024, nearly half (43%) of the U.S. population say they feel more anxious than the previous year, compared to 37% in 2023 and 32% in 2022. Anxiety symptoms include a feeling of foreboding or pessimism, even when nothing anxiety-provoking is in sight. Feeling restless and irritable is common. Sleepless nights, decreased appetite, rapid breathing, rapid heartbeat, and the inability to concentrate at work often accompany anxiety.

What worries Americans

If you’re an employee, there are a lot of things to worry about, from a personal level to broader workplace issues and global concerns. You may be concerned about return-to-office mandates, layoffs, and the impact of AI as it infiltrates the workplace. Or you could be anxious about a tight work deadline, the boss looking over your shoulder, or the stress of waiting for the results of a job interview.


On a personal level, your intimate relationship could be in danger, a loved one could have a medical problem, or you could face financial difficulties. Globally, the APA study finds that Americans say they are anxious about current events (70%), the economy (77%), the upcoming US presidential election (73%), and gun violence (69%). ).

The APA study also revealed additional issues that people are concerned about:

  • Keeping themselves or their families safe, 68%.
  • Keep your identity secure, 63%.
  • Your health, 63%.
  • Pay bills or expenses, 63%.
  • The opioid epidemic, 50%.
  • The impact of emerging technology on daily life, 46%.
  • Climate change, 57%

How to apply the 3-3-3 rule to mitigate anxiety

When you are anxious, your ability to focus on tasks is compromised, you may ruminate about the future or regret a mistake you made in the past. Psychologists now use what are known as mindfulness techniques to help people return their attention to the present moment. Mindful awareness reduces mental distractiong and errors at work.


During a stressful situation, the mind takes us out of the here and now. Your anxious thoughts wander and get stuck on worries about the future or regrets about the past, making you feel out of your body or disconnected in some way. There are many ways to practice mindfulness meditation that you can find here.

But one of the easiest and simplest tools to return to the present, reduce anxiety, and calm the mind is a mindfulness tool called the 3-3-3 rule. When you notice bodily sensations, mental processes and feelings that arise moment by moment, this practice connects you and helps you focus. As you practice the three steps, take a minute for each and do it slowly. You can repeat the exercise as many times as you need to reach that calm state of the present moment.

  1. Listen for a minute. Pay attention to three sounds you hear around you. With your eyes closed, you may hear ambient noises, such as the rumble of thunder, the hiss of traffic, or laughing voices in the distance, or the immediate sound of an air conditioner humming or your own stomach gurgling.
  2. Observe for one minute. Name three objects that you can see around you. Take the time to notice its shapes, colors, and any other details as vividly as you can in your mind.
  3. Touch for one minute. Look at three objects that you can touch and notice how each one feels. You can run your hand across the chair at your workstation, the objects on top of your desk, or the screen you’ve been looking at. Notice whether the texture of each object is smooth or rough, warm or cold, heavy or light.


The science behind the 3-3-3 rule

When you are anxious, the brain becomes myopic and focuses on the threat or anxious thoughts of survival. While threatening thoughts circle your head like a school of sharks, anxiety hijacks your nervous system and disconnects your prefrontal cortex (or rational part of the brain), overshadowing the bigger picture you would normally see when you’re anchored in the present moment. .

The 3-3-3 rule taps into your brain’s social circuits and resets and recharges your mind during the workday. Break the cycle of anxious thoughts, ruminations or obsessive worries. It takes you out of the story of your sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight or stress response), activates your parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest or calming response), and anchors you in the present moment where there is no anxiety. . And it allows you to be more efficient and productive and calmly deal with workplace problems.

It keeps your attention on the flow of the process, rather than focusing on the completion of the task. You are able to draw curious, non-judgmental attention to yourself, your work, and your relationships. Plus, it helps you master busy schedules, difficult work relationships, and new technologies (like AI) instead of becoming slaves to them. It relieves you from work stress, business failures, job loss, or worry and anxiety about career goals.


If you practice this three-step, three-minute rule once or twice a day regularly, it will have long-lasting effects. It expands your zone of resilience and, over time, prevents anxiety from taking over when you face professional challenges.

But the best part of all is how moment-to-moment mindfulness makes you feel on your skin. You begin to internalize the understanding that the past is gone, that the future never comes, and that the present is the here and now, where life really happens. Calming down and centering yourself there allows you to thrive and experience life as it happens, enjoying yourself, your work, and your friends and loved ones to the fullest.

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