What Is Defusion and How Does It Reduce Anxiety?

Thursday, September 28 2017 Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Defusion is a tool to help you reduce anxiety by separating yourself from anxiety. Read more about what defusion is and how you use it to 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.

Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps, and four critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges. She speaks nationally about mental health, and she has a curriculum for middle and high schools. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

View all posts by Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC.

What Is Defusion and How Does It Reduce Anxiety?

October, 5 2017 at 1:05 pm

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 :)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

January, 10 2018 at 10:17 am

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!

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