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THE 5-4-3-2-1 METHOD

The 5-4-3-2-1 method is a mindfulness exercise that allows you to anchor yourself instantly in the present moment in order to escape emerging or established stress. The technique consists of focusing your attention on your 5 senses. This forces the brain to focus on basic information by distracting it from the ideas that cause the anxiety state.

woman relaxing into grass

The 5-4-3-2-1 technique was developed by Dr. Ellen Hendriksen, a clinical psychologist from the Center for Anxiety Disorders at Boston University and has become a benchmark in the United States. . In addition to having studied at length the origins of this malaise that is sometimes difficult to identify, she has evaluated and tested various simple techniques capable of stopping the negative thoughts that lead us into the spiral of anxiety. When a person is overwhelmed by stress, they create what is called a "survival reaction" in which their heart rate increases while their breath shortens. Other symptoms may appear: pain in the chest, tingling in the limbs, sweaty hands... These reactions are caused by cortisol, the stress hormone, which spreads in the brain creating a "survival" reaction. sometimes inappropriate. Among the techniques she has experimented with, Ellen Hendriksen has developed the technique called "5-4-3-2-1", an exercise based on the five senses: sight, hearing, smell, the taste, and the touch that we solicit gradually in order to divert the brain from negative and sometimes obsessive thoughts. The goal is to force the brain to focus on what is happening outside of us rather than inside. It is an ultra simple mindfulness exercise that can be practiced anywhere and at any time.

The technique

In the event of a panic attack or if we feel a certain amount of stress, we immediately solicit our five senses one by one in the following way: a. sight: we carefully observe our environment and we choose 5 "things" that surround us (a tree, a painting, a vase, a carpet, etc.). b. hearing: we listen and we focus on 4 distinct noises or sounds (the chirping of birds, a dripping tap, the discussion of our colleagues, the radio, etc.) c. touch: we now choose 3 materials around us that we knead or caress. (his sweater, the leather of his watch, his chair, a plaid etc.) d. smell: we look for 2 smells and we observe the sensations they evoke in us (a home fragrance, a simmering dish, smoking coffee, etc.) e. the taste: this last step is based on the taste. We swallow 1 food: we drink a glass of water or we eat a candy etc. We savor and we become aware of the flavors, of each particle that makes up the food that we are swallowing.

Our opinion

This technique of letting go is relatively effective in calming immediate anxiety. Diverting our attention from useless and often arbitrary thoughts to focus on something concrete demonstrates the sterility of ruminating thoughts. On the other hand, the method does not solve the basic problems at the origin of these deep-rooted anxiety attacks. We also recommend closing your eyes to focus on the stages of hearing, smell and taste and fully savor the present moment.

The author

portrait du dr ellen hendrickson
© matthew guillory

Dr. Ellen Hendricksen is the author of several books on stress management. The 5-4-3-2-1 method is exposed in her book How to Be Yourself, released in March 2018. Ellen Hendricksen created and hosted the podcast The Savvy (in English) which rose to #3 overall on iTunes.

Notes et suggestions!

In no case the information and advice offered here are likely to replace a consultation or a diagnosis made by a doctor or a health professional.


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