13 Anxiety Lessons from “The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety”
I walked away with so much valuable information I’m not even sure where to begin.
I’ve been diving deep into acceptance and commitment therapy lately (ACT), and I’m simply loving how much sense it makes.
ACT teaches acceptance, mindfulness, and value-oriented behavior, and as it turns out… This is pretty much perfect for treating anxiety and panic.
One of the latest books I read on the subject, The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety, does a great job explaining how.
It was an absolute joy to read from beginning till end, and I walked away with so much valuable information I’m not even sure where to begin.
But one thing I know is that I can’t wait to share it with you.
So here’s 13 of the most important takeaways from The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety!
1) Anxiety Only Becomes a Problem When We Try to Control It
Everyone experiences anxiety, fear, panic, and worries. It’s an unavoidable part of life.
It’s first when we start viewing these unavoidable parts of life as somehow bad, dangerous, unwanted, etc that we get a problem.
If not for the resistance we put up, and the drive to control or avoid the uncomfortable sensations, we’d never give it a second thought.
Anxiety would come and go, and that would be it. But instead we resist and struggle, fueling the fire, making it worse and prolonging the discomfort.
2) All Forms of Anxiety Has Something Very Important in Common
If you’ve ever googled anxiety disorders, chances are good you’ve seen just how many forms it can take.
- Generalized anxiety disorder,
- social phobia,
- panic disorder,
- and the list goes on.
On the surface it might look like these have very little in common.
What could social phobia, a fear of rejection, possibly have in common with PTSD for example.
Well quite a lot as it turns out. The most important commonality being that every anxiety disorder involves an unwillingness to experience the uncomfortable sensations caused by anxiety.
What really differs between the forms of anxiety is what triggers the uncomfortable sensations, but the unwillingness to experience them is always there.
“People with anxiety disorders struggle with, avoid, and run away from their fear and anxiety.
This tendency defines the actions of just about every person with an anxiety disorder.
And struggle turns out to be THE most toxic element that constricts lives and transforms anxiety from being a normal human experience into a life-shattering problem.”
3) Worrying Is a Coping Mechanism
Worrying isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If anxiety pushes us to focus on and plan for a potential problem, it might just be avoided.
But when worrying is used to avoid anxiety instead of solving a real problem it’s no longer healthy.
When used to avoid uncomfortable thoughts, images, and sensations, worrying is more likely to ruin your life than help you overcome future obstacles.
In fact, in generalized anxiety disorder worry is the primary avoidance strategy and coping mechanism.
4) Thoughts Are Just Thoughts
Thinking happens all of the time, whether you want to or not.
I invite you to try to clear your mind for the next 30 seconds if you don’t believe me…
What you’ll find is that thoughts will come and go, probably more frequently if you try to actively not think.
And thoughts are very difficult to ignore, especially when they tug at our feelings.
Let’s say that you randomly get the thought: “Does my husband really love me?”
What’s the chance you ignore this thought as just a thought? Just a series of words. A collection of symbols and sounds. Pretty low, right?
But what good does it do you to buy into this idea?
How about the thoughts:
- “I can’t stand all of this anxiety, I’m going crazy”
- “My chest hurts and my heart is racing, is this what dying feels like!?”
- “I’m never going to make it, I’m just not good enough”
Seriously, what reason do you have to believe any of these statements? Not every thought needs to be honored and believed.
You can’t control whether or not you think, and you can’t control the content of your thoughts. But you can control whether or not you tune into them!
“The critical question here is this: must you respond to experiences as though they are what your mind says they are,
or can you just treat them as actual sensations, as thoughts consisting of words, or as fleeting memories or images of the past?”
5) Resistance Is More Expensive Than You Think
You probably don’t know how much struggling against anxiety has cost you, but it’s likely more than you think.
Tally up all the lost opportunities, the pain and suffering, the disappointments and let downs. It really starts to add up.
And here’s the important point, as long as you keep struggling and resisting, you’ll continue to pay dearly.
6) Striving to Change Your Thoughts Isn’t the Answer
The CBT approach to treating anxiety involves changing and replacing irrational thoughts and beliefs.
There is probably a part of anxiety that will respond well to this type of treatment, specifically the one born in the thinking part of the brain.
But anxiety can also be born in the amygdala, and this part of the brain doesn’t respond to words and reason.
“The oldest part of the brain is very similar to the brain structure of more primitive creatures like snakes and crocodiles.
Have you ever tried arguing with a snake or crocodile? Probably not because if you had, you wouldn’t be sitting here reading this book.
It wouldn’t have worked. You’d be dead.
You can’t talk a snake or crocodile into doing anything. Likewise, you can’t change your unpleasant emotions by arguing them away.”
7) The Alternative to Resistance Is Mindful Acceptance
“Mindful acceptance is a stance toward life: watching the struggle without judging it, feeling the pain without drowning in it, and honoring the hurt without becoming it.
It’s not a feeling or an attitude. It doesn’t come from crystals or insight.
As Tara Brach (2004) teaches us, the practice involves a willingness to experience one’s self and one’s life just as it is.
Mindful acceptance is a skill that will offer you moments of genuine freedom from suffering.”
8) Self-Descriptions and Labels Are Limiting and Unnecessary
Whenever you label yourself, others, or anything else really, you’re placing things into boxes that are never good representations of reality.
Getting too hung up on these labels can be dangerous as it directly influences the way you see yourself and your surroundings.
“Our mind just makes up all of these I am this or that statements, when the only truth and reality is that I Am – period.”
“Answering the question Who am I really? with a simple, disarming “I Am” allows you to drop all those evaluative self-statements your mind constantly dishes out to you.
No more arguments, explanations, justifications and so on. I am that I am!”
9) Getting Too Caught up in the Mind Leads to Nothing Good
When we get too caught up in our thoughts, feelings, or anything else the mind offers, we start making some really bad choices.
The actions we take when stuck inside our minds typically won’t align with our values.
Take for example the way resisting anxiety can make you run away from or avoid many of the things you really wish to do.
Not surprisingly, this causes a less happy and fulfilling life.
The ultimate goal of ACT is learning ways to get unstuck whenever we get too caught up in our minds.
We can then use this mental freedom to choose actions that align with our values.
10) Anxiety Doesn’t Have to Be Something Painful and Intolerable
Millions (probably billions to be fair) of people feel anxious everyday. But they choose to not let that stop them from living life.
There’s no reason why you can’t do exactly the same, it’s entirely possible to feel anxious and panicky, and still move forward.
You can learn to live your best life with anxiety.
“At some point you’ve probably said something like “I’d like to go out, BUT I’m afraid of having a panic attack.” Snap – you just got caught in the “yes-but” trap.
Now imagine what would happen if you replaced the word “but” with “and”.
“I’d like to go out, AND I’m afraid of having a panic attack.” This little change can have a dramatic impact on what might happen next.
If you put it that way, you could actually go out and be anxious and be worried all at the same time.”
11) The Feeling of Anxiety Is Temporary, It’ll Pass
“All emotions are wavelike and time-limited. They ebb and flow.
Like waves, emotions build up, eventually reach a peak, and drift away.
Worries, anxiety, and fears come and go in a similar way. They don’t last forever, even if it feels as if they will. […]
That’s how anxiety works if you don’t try to control or block it, just allowing the waves to run their course.”
12) Being a Good Person Is More Important Than You Think
Being kind and compassionate toward yourself, others, and your surroundings is an incredibly powerful and often overlooked tool.
“Practicing acts of kindness toward yourself and others is a behavioral antidote to anxiety, anger, regret, shame, and depression.
This practice will make it easier for you to stop fighting with your mind and body.
It’s a simple thing you can do to bring more peace and joy to your life. […]
Make a commitment to practice at least one act of kindness toward yourself every day. Start each day with this commitment.”
13) Knowledge Means Nothing Unless Put to Use
You could have all the knowledge about anxiety recovery available in the world, and you’d still be anxious if you didn’t put it to use.
It doesn’t matter if you
- skim through this article,
- read the book it mentions,
- listen to a podcast,
- or watch youtube videos.
Unless you put the knowledge you gather to use through actual practice, you’ll never get anywhere. Nothing will change until your actions change.
That means the next time you come across a good strategy to improve your mental health, don’t just note it down for use some obscure time in the future.
DO IT NOW. Immediately would be preferable, or at the very least, schedule it for later today.
So if anything in this article inspired you to try something new, I trust you know what to do!
And of course, needless to say, I highly recommend The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety.
If you end up reading the book, please let me know in the comments below what your favorite takeaways were.