Try Greeting Your Anxiety With the 4 Rs
When I’m in the middle of an anxiety spiral, it feels almost like I’m swimming against a current.
The more I try to fight it and pull myself out, the worse it gets.
So for years, my M.O. has been to let it all wash over me—the negative thoughts, the shoulder-clenching nervous energy, all of it. I’d hunker down and wait for the tides to change, so to speak.
But when I came across an Instagram post from therapist Elizabeth Earnshaw, it felt like someone was throwing me a buoy.
In a series of graphics, Earnshaw breaks down the 4 Rs: relabeling, reattributing, refocusing, and revaluing—a therapy technique developed by psychology Jeffrey Schwartz that’s often used in treatment for OCD.
In her post, Earnshaw reframed the tactic, explaining that taking a beat to relabel, reattribute, refocus, and revalue can work wonders for managing anxiety, too.
“I use the tool with individuals that are struggling to overcome their anxious thoughts and urges,” Earnshaw tells Shine. “The tool teaches people that they can manage their distress, and that they do not always need to immediately respond to it.”
The 4 Rs work by giving you some much-needed distance from an anxiety spiral.
“Anxious thoughts often create cognitive distortions—we begin to think of catastrophic possibilities or in black-and-white terms,” Earnshaw explains. “Because of this, we give into reactivity of the anxiety and often will do things we later regret. The 4 Rs slow down the response to anxiety and teaches a healthier way to respond to it.”
Here’s how to put them into action.
Start by labeling what you’re dealing with.
Maybe it’s a negative thought (“applying for these jobs is such a waste of time—I’m an idiot for thinking it would work out”) or a powerful urge (“ugh, I should just quit now before everyone realizes what a failure I am”).
I know that for me, when I’m managing a sudden wave of anxiety, the onslaught can feel overpowering and all-consuming. Slapping a label on what you’re dealing with can help put some of the power back in your hands, turning a rogue wave into something a little more manageable, or at least identifiable.
We’ve all had thoughts and urges, and we’ve all gotten through them.
Once you’ve ID’d what you’re feeling, it’s time to reattribute.
Your brain may be screaming that what you’re experiencing is because you’re underprepared, or weak, or even unlovable. But in reality? It’s your anxiety.
There may be (and probably are) other factors at play, but those sweaty palms and whirling thoughts are a result of your anxiety—not your deep failures as a person. Remind yourself of this.
Now that you’ve gotten a handle on what you’re experiencing and why, it’s time to refocus your mind.
Instead of picking your life choices apart piece by piece, simply switch to another activity. If you’re at work and panicking about an overdue project, take 15 minutes to catch up on emails. Convinced your S.O. is about to call it quits? Spend the next 15 minutes planning a night out with your closest friend.
Refocusing could mean doing a quick meditation, going for a walk around the block and listening to a podcast, or even journaling about what you’re going through.
You want to give your brain something to do besides spouting negative thoughts and train your mind to handle anxiety by coping, rather than spiraling.
After relabeling, reattributing, and refocusing, it’s time to revalue.
Now that you’ve gained a little perspective, ask yourself:
●︎ How accurate were my thoughts and urges?
●︎ What would have happened if I gave into them?
●︎ And what would I like to do now?
With 15 minutes of distance and a new grasp on things, you can view your experience for what it really is, rather than what it may have felt like in the moment.
Maybe your negative thoughts had a grain of truth in them, and it’s time to call off the job search for now. You might realize that your fears about your partner ending your relationship, on the other hand, were just your brain’s attempt to protect itself by avoiding intimacy—and a deep convo is in order.
After taking a little time, revaluing can help you plot what comes next.
When practiced from start to finish, Earnshaw says, the process might look like this:
●︎ I’m having an urge to text my ex.
●︎ Relabel: This is a compulsion.
●︎ Reattribute: This is my anxiety.
●︎ Refocus: I’m going to take a walk for 15 minutes then I’ll revalue this.
●︎ Revalue: After you take the walk, ask yourself: “Should I text them? How helpful will that be?”
The 4 Rs look different for everyone, but the result is the same: a calmer, more in-control you.
Read next: How the 5x5 Rule Changed My Anxiety For Good
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