What Is Defusion and How Does It Reduce Anxiety?
Defusion means becoming unstuck from something, in this case, anxiety. Anxiety often looms large. It consumes our thoughts and emotions and it impacts our actions, too. Anxiety sticks to us, and we to it when all of our time and energy, thoughts and feelings, actions or lack of action are fused with anxiety. To reduce anxiety, we need to separate ourselves from anxiety. In acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), this is called defusion. Defusion can really help with anxiety.
When we’re fused with our anxiety, it’s as though our anxiety is part of who we are. We come to believe, because it feels real, that our brains are full of anxiety and anxious thoughts. French philosopher Rene Descartes stated, “I think, therefore I am.”
Anyone with anxiety can take this to a new level: "I think anxious thoughts, therefore I am my anxiety." This fusion with anxiety holds us back.
Using Defusion to Reduce Anxiety
We can struggle against difficult thoughts and experiences, or we can let them be and choose to behave in ways to move us closer to where we want to be. —Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 Steps
When we struggle against something, where is our focus? Hint: it’s on whatever it is we’re struggling against. When we struggle against our anxiety (which of course is a natural thing to want to do), we are focusing on it. We’re stuck to it and can do little else. We are giving anxiety power and control.
What Is Defusion?
Defusion is like coming unglued, in a positive way. You are loosening yourself from a strong adhesive and creating space between you and your anxiety. The anxiety is still there, but now you have room to breathe and to move and to pull back and look at things from your own perspective.
Defusion allows your actions, choices, and commitments to impact the quality of your day. Anxiety is no longer the one who decides what your day or a certain situation will be like.
When you’re defused, you can focus on those things that you can control. Anxiety tries to stick to you to keep you from feeling empowered. When you’re not stuck to anxiety, you can shift your thoughts, feelings, and actions to what you can control.
How To Use Defusion To Reduce Anxiety
A good way to defuse from, and thus reduce, anxiety is to repeatedly remind yourself, “I’m having the thought that_________.”
For example, rather than sticking to the thought, “I’m afraid that I offended my best friend and now we won’t be friends,” remind yourself, “I’m having the thought that I offended my best friend.”
The anxiety is there in both statements. The difference is that in the first one, you are fused with it and fully believe that it’s true just because you’re thinking it. In the second one, you are defused and have some space between yourself and your thought. In that space, you have room to make choices and take action.
Another way to defuse is to keep reminding yourself that thoughts, feelings, physical reactions, and behaviors are your anxiety. They’re not you. Whatever your anxiety is, it’s, of course, legitimate, but it doesn’t define who you are. Sure, something you’re worried about might happen. But it won’t define you in the long run. You can deal with it, whatever that anxiety is, and keep going.
Defusion is a very subtle approach to reducing anxiety, but it is an extremely powerful one. You absolutely can use defusion to reduce anxiety.
Defusion: How to Separate Yourself from Your Anxiety
I discuss a bit more about defusion in the below video, including my personal rule: Don’t put on sunscreen in the wind. I invite you to tune in.
Peterson, T. (2017, September 28). What Is Defusion and How Does It Reduce Anxiety?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, November 24 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2017/09/what-is-defusion-and-how-can-you-use-it-to-reduce-anxiety
Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
I have been trying this with not much success. Some concepts I can trap easily "There goes that dependent thought again" but some like "I'm angry that I went off my meds (I call it "the Decision) meets the ACT "real" category. It was a threat to me because it unraveled an anxiety disorder that I have yet to overcome. My therapist just says "Defuse from it" and nothing more. I'm not able to universally apply this and feel like I'm wasting my time or not just "getting it". I don't know how to defuse from "the decision" and he gets frustrated and the therapy bills just keep coming in. I need some help
It sounds to me like you've got defusion down very well. A very important aspect is differentiating the thoughts that are fairly easy to catch and separate from and the "real" thoughts, the bigger issues that are causing problems. So often with anxiety and anxious thoughts, everything seems huge and "real," so part of the process is recognizing what really is problematic for you. That can be difficult, and it seems like you've figured it out. Now that your dealing with the very real decision. Defusion can be helpful here, but being told to "defuse from it" would be frustrating (it would frustrate me, anyway). Defusion is a skill that must be learned and practiced. It's not something that comes naturally to the human brain, especially when anxiety is involved.
Some things you can do to separate yourself from "the decision" is to describe/define your life as it is right now. Start by brainstorming and jot down everything that comes to mind. The next step is to sort it into categories. You might use "positive aspects," "negative aspects," "anxiety-related," "non-anxiety-related," "things/people I enjoy," "things/people I no longer enjoy." Use categories that are meaningful to you. There isn't a set number of groups, nor is there a right or wrong way to do it. The key is to sort out important life areas so you can get them out of your head and onto paper where you can deal with them. When you've grouped aspects of your life, go through each one and identify the ones that are affected by "the decision" and the ones that aren't. To what degree has your life been negatively impacted by discontinuing anxiety medication? Positively changed? Neutral? With this information, you can begin to defuse (defusion is a process rather than a single act). Acknowledge those things that weren't hurt by your decision and tell yourself something like, "I only think these things were damaged, but that's just anxiety talking. Those beliefs aren't true." This frees you to deal with the "real" aspects, life areas that were negatively affected by going off anxiety medication. You can consider the options you have and create an action plan (with little steps at a time) to create your vision of your anxiety-free self and anxiety-free life. An important aspect of defusion that can help you do this is to remind yourself that "the decision" didn't ruin your life, you can change things that you don't like, and that, with time and action, this decision might end up being good.
Defusion is an intentional decision/process. "Just defuse" doesn't work because that alone either doesn't make sense or doesn't work. Hopefully this information helps. You can change it in any way that makes it more useful to you, and it might spark different ideas you'd like to try. One final thought about defusion. Reminding yourself that your decision is in the past and your life is right now, in this moment, can help you reduce anxiety and anger in the present and going forward.
I love this concept. I just explored this concept with my therapist today, and it was like a light was shining on a doorway I didn't know existed. I've always felt so trappy and like I needed to accept that anxiety-ridden is just who I am. It's not. Thanks for writing :)
I just discovered your comment. I hope you are notified that I replied. I love it when something pops out at me from multiple sources in a short time span -- like your exploring defusion in therapy and then finding an article. I love your description of a light shining on a doorway you didn't know existed. I hope that you have passed through the doorway and are enjoying the other side. And keep using defusion and other things you're working on!