Tool #5: 5-4-3-2-1 Technique

Receiving a diagnosis of cancer can induce a variety of negative emotions: fear, anxiety, stress, anticipation, but…

Did you know that the physical chemistry in your body that leads you to experience an emotion lasts only 90 seconds?

I first learned of this concept of the 90-second emotion from Pema Chödrön, who explained that if you allow an emotion to exist in your body for 90 seconds without judging or resisting it, it will disappear.

Here are 2 techniques you can try when experiencing a negative emotion, that will help you to take advantage of this 90-second concept.

Dr. Ali Novitsky of Mind, Body, Marriage taught me this amazing technique and I want to pass it on to you, as it is truly a wonderful tool to ground you in the present moment.  It’s easy and portable! When you start to feel a negative emotion come on, simply notice the following:

5 things you see right now

4 things you can touch

3 things you hear

2 things you smell

1 thing you taste

These 5 steps are an easy way to bring you back to the moment and get you out of your head where you may have been overwhelmed with negative thoughts. Simply noticing your surroundings in detail, and redirecting your mind to right now will help to dissipate overwhelming negative thoughts and feelings.

Here is another idea for times when you have the ability to go somewhere alone. When you feel a negative emotion coming on, such as anxiety:

  1. Go somewhere alone and close your eyes.
  2. Relax your body one part at a time, starting with your forehead and moving down all the way to the toes. This can be quick, but just make an attempt to physically relax your body.
  3. Take 3 deep breaths.
  4. Say to yourself, “I notice I am feeling anxious.”
  5. Move toward the feeling mentally. It’s your friend. Get to know it. Don’t resist it.
  6. Develop a sense of curiosity, intrigue and fascination about the anxiety.
  7. Where do you feel it in your body? How does it feel? (It may help to write this down.)
  8. Mentally bring your awareness to that area of your body and describe the color, texture, shape, frequency, vibrations, constance or changing of the physical feeling of the emotion in the body.
  9. The goal is to get to know the emotion, taking the wind out of its sails.
  10. Then get up and move on with your day.

In my cell phone, I created a bulleted list using the reminders app called “Feeling an Emotion.” When I feel a negative emotion overtaking me, I pull up this list and methodically work through these steps. I suggest you give it a try! Once you get versed in feeling emotions in your body, you are more easily able to recognize them coming on and you begin to realize that there are no emotions that you can’t withstand, as they are all just sensations in the body of typically short duration.