Don’t Fight Your Anxiety, Accept It!
Your active wish to escape anxiety becomes the wind in its sails
THE ONLY WAY FORWARD IS TO FULLY EMBRACE ANXIETY
How do you typically act when that all-too-familiar sensation of anxiety creeps up on you?
Do you react with excitement and acceptance, or would you say you react with fear and discomfort?
I can’t say I blame you if your natural reaction is to fight and reject your anxiety whenever it dares to show itself. I’ve been there, I understand.
A wish to avoid discomfort is entirely reasonable, and I think you’ll agree that anxiety comes with its fair share of discomfort.
But what if I told you that this is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing?
What if I told you that the only way forward is to not only accept anxiety, but in fact to fully embrace it.
You’d probably call me crazy, and understandably so, but please hear me out.
You might believe that your frantic resistance is the only thing keeping anxiety at bay. I understand your concerns, and I hear you…
“Won’t anxiety rob me of all control if I let it slip behind my defenses?”
This sounds like a reasonable assumption, something I say with confidence because I’ve wrestled with this very thought myself… But I was wrong, and I believe I’m not the only one.
Anxiety is certainly far from enjoyable, and it can make you feel like you’re going crazy, like you’re about to lose your mind any second.
But I promise you that this won’t happen, even during the worst panic attack imaginable. No matter how much anxiety throws at you, trust that you will always remain in control of your actions.
IT’S NOT A GOOD IDEA TO FIGHT OR RUN AWAY FROM ANXIETY
Anxiety is often the product of our fear, worry, overthinking, stress, and tension.
And the more mental strain we add to this mix, the stronger our anxious response gets. It’s the last thing we would want happening.
Yet this is exactly what we achieve when we raise our defenses. You can muster up all the mental strength in the world to push anxiety away, and it still won’t budge the slightest bit.
Instead you’ll fuel the fire and make it ten times worse, your active wish to escape anxiety becomes the wind in its sails.
But that’s not all. I’m willing to bet your thoughts start going a hundred miles per hour when anxiety hits you.
And if you view anxiety as something to be fought, avoided, and escaped you’re probably very familiar with the thoughts below:
“This anxiety is ruining my life!”
“I don’t want to feel like this.”
“This is so uncomfortable, I can’t handle it!”
“What’s wrong with me?”
You might also, like me and many others, react with fear and worry.
“What’s happening to me?”
“What if someone sees me freaking out?”
“Why is my heart beating so fast, is this safe?”
“I’m having a difficult time breathing!”
I promise you that anxiety can’t harm you and that you’ll be okay. The only thing to fear is fear itself.
And what happens when we introduce more fear through overthinking and worry? You guessed it!
Anxiety flares up, it grows stronger and more intense!
Now imagine the opposite. If your immediate reaction to anxiety was not to resist, to run, and to fear.
But it was instead to calmly accept your anxiety and greet it like an old friend?
Knowing what we know, does it not make sense that this approach might have a calming effect?
OPT INSTEAD TO EMBRACE AND ACCEPT YOUR ANXIETY
The answer you seek, although not immediately intuitive, is to stand your ground and to accept and embrace anxiety.
Do this and you’ll find very quickly that the monster we’ve all made anxiety out to be doesn’t actually exist.
But what I’m asking you to try is not easy. For many it might be the most difficult choice they ever decide to make.
And in the moment when anxiety strikes, you probably have a thousand reasons to not react with acceptance.
It’ll be very uncomfortable, and it’ll be very scary.
But keep in mind that you’re not doing this so you can feel better there and then.
You’re doing this so you can feel better next month, next year, and for the rest of your life.
I’m asking you to sacrifice short-term comfort so you can be one step closer to long-term recovery.
THE ART OF CULTIVATING ACCEPTANCE
From the age of twelve I remember spending a number of years avoiding patches of tall grass and fearing every dog I laid my eyes on.
Because one day while strolling home from school I decided to stupidly investigate why there was a tail wagging through the tall grass to my left.
It turned out to be a rather loud and aggressive-looking dog that found great enjoyment in chasing me up and down the street.
That spectacle couldn’t have lasted more than 30 seconds from beginning to end, yet it buried itself into my mind, and it tormented me for years to come.
If not for binge-watching the Dog Whisperer and being forced to interact with dogs, I suspect I would still be avoiding them to this day.
But let’s get one thing clear. Absolutely nothing would have changed if I lacked the willingness to face my anxiety and test my beliefs.
No amount of Cesar Milan can cure a phobia of dogs if the anxiety is never challenged. In fact no anxiety will ever be cured unless directly challenged and questioned.
BE CONSCIOUS OF YOUR THOUGHTS AND BELIEFS
It was through challenging my anxious belief that I learned how distorted it was.
I was certainly correct to run away and to fear the aggressive dog that chased me, but I was entirely wrong to then assume every other dog should be feared.
Test your anxious beliefs and you’ll quickly find that they are equally unreasonable.
But to test your anxious beliefs you’ll first need to know what they are. That’s why the first step is to become more conscious of your thoughts.
As soon as you start feeling anxious, you want to scan your mind for thoughts and beliefs. Search for anything related to the anxious feeling, and once found, write it down.
Writing them down is of vital importance, so don’t skip this part. The next step will be to examine and challenge them, and having captured them on paper is the only way to remain truly objective.
These exercises are known as thought journaling and cognitive restructuring, and are both taken from cognitive behavioral therapy.
If you want to learn more about these exercises, I recommend looking into my course The Relaxation Bible, where I cover them in depth with plenty of examples.
THE BENEFITS OF ACCEPTANCE
The benefits from learning to accept and embrace anxiety instead of fighting it can be quite remarkable.
You’ll quickly find that anxiety loses much of the control it once had over you. It’s in fact the constant fighting and avoidance that gives anxiety this control to begin with.
Dr. Claire Weekes, in her book Hope and Help for Your Nerves explains how this habit of fighting and resisting anxiety causes something called “second fear”.
The “first fear” is unavoidable, it’s simply a reaction to a trigger which is typically outside of our control. But the “second fear” is much more severe, and it comes from us riling up and fueling the fires of anxiety with our out of control thinking.
The first dose of anxiety is completely natural, it happens now and then, and it has no power over us. Left to itself, it quickly fades and won’t disturb you in the slightest for more than a couple of seconds.
But the anxiety from second fear, the one that originates and keeps being fueled inside your mind can quickly ramp up and make you feel at loss of control.
What you find once you stand your ground in the face of anxiety is that it loses all of its potency and power, because you’re no longer adding any second fear.
The next time anxiety makes a visit, before resisting, fighting, and running away, try to simply acknowledge and accept its presence. Observe your thoughts and symptoms without getting caught up in them.
You might just find that you have far more control and power over anxiety than you previously assumed.
Be sure to let me know how it works for you if you decide to give it a try, I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below!