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You Can't Resist Anxiety to Reduce Anxiety

January 30, 2020 Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

It is tempting to resist anxiety to try to reduce it, but that's not the way to go. No one wants to live with anxiety because it's controlling. When anxiety invades our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, it traps us in its cage and lives our lives for us. When trapped, people instinctively fight back. Not wanting to remain stuck, it's natural to resist anxiety by arguing with anxious beliefs. However, to argue requires thinking about those anxious thoughts and ruminating over them, which keeps us focused on them. Struggling against anxiety tightens the trap door. When we relax enough to shimmy out of anxiety's tight grasp, we can open the door of the cage and fly free. Doing so involves a different approach. 

How to Stop Resisting Anxiety, and Reduce It Instead

To resist anxiety is to struggle with anxiety. To replace anxiety with inner peace requires a shift away from struggle and resistance to one of a relaxed presence. Truly and deeply reducing anxiety involves something that might seem uncomfortable at first but with practice becomes second nature. To replace anxiety with a sense of ease with yourself and your life, allow it to just be there while you become still and shift your focus to better, more relevant things. 

This concept comes to us from the millennia-old tradition of mindfulness. Mindfulness is practiced in its own right, as a stand-alone way of existence, and it has been incorporated into modern mental health approaches such as acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). In ACT, mindfulness is an integral part of the skill of acknowledging problems like anxiety, separating from them, and focusing on what is present in your real, tangible world (as opposed to intangible anxious thoughts). These components that form part ACT are known as acceptance, defusion, and being present (mindfulness). They offer an approach to reducing anxiety that helps us relax rather than resist the anxiety. 

Acceptance involves recognizing your anxiety--the negative thoughts you're having, the emotions, and things you are doing or not doing because of worry and fear. Once you're aware of it beyond a vague, albeit strong, feeling of agitation, you can accept its presence. Just acknowledge that you are experiencing anxiety, and accept that this anxiety exists. Of course, this won't make your anxiety disappear. What it does is position you to become freer. 

Defusion is de-fusing, or un-attaching, yourself from your anxiety. You've accepted that its there and let go of your need to struggle against it. Now you can separate yourself from it. You are not your anxiety. You are so much more than worries and fears. Those are things that you deal with; they're not who you are. When you're struggling against and resisting anxiety, though, you fuse with it. You're stuck to it. It feels like it is you. It is not you, but it has attached itself to you. It's time to get it off. This is a process rather than a one-step, quick fix. One powerful component of defusion is mindfulness.

Mindfulness helps with defusion, but it also stands on its own. Mindfulness is a way of living your life, moment by moment. Rather than being caught in your anxious thoughts and worries, you choose to let them be there and detach from them by shifting your focus on the present moment. You live where you are, and you live it fully because you are paying attention to real things and people rather than worries about them. Look at, truly see, what's going on around you. Listen to it. Feel it and smell it. If it's edible, taste it. With mindfulness, you're immersed in your life rather than stuck ruminating about worries and fears. 

Acceptance, defusion, and mindfulness work together. Each one allows the others to happen. The more you consciously accept, separate, and attend to the present, the more natural it becomes. Anxiety is so strong and, in many cases, has been around for years, and shifting your way of being and focusing isn't always easy. When you become aware that anxiety has resumed control, gently accept that fact, separate yourself from the content of your thoughts, and immerse yourself in your present moment. 

Resisting Anxiety Isn't as Helpful as Relaxing to Reduce Anxiety

Mindfulness, acceptance, and defusion work because they allow you to relax. I invite you to watch the video for more on why resisting anxiety isn't helpful. 

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2020, January 30). You Can't Resist Anxiety to Reduce Anxiety, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, September 27 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2020/1/you-cant-resist-anxiety-to-reduce-anxiety



Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson delivers online and in-person mental health education for students in elementary and middle school. She is the author of numerous anxiety self-help books, including The Morning Magic 5-Minute Journal, The Mindful Path Through Anxiety, 101 Ways to Help Stop Anxiety, The 5-Minute Anxiety Relief Journal, The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps, and five critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges. She also speaks nationally about mental health. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Lizanne Corbit
February, 4 2020 at 5:33 pm

You had me on the title alone! This is so true, and such a huge shift in perspective to realize. I love the visual used in the video -- spot on! Your parts about the acceptance (and then defusion and mindfulness) hit the nail on the head. Anxiety wants to be acknowledged, it wants to be heard, but it doesn't have to be fed. I think many worry that if we even address our anxiety we are feeding it and will only make it worse, but by attempting to ignore it or push against it, that's what actually causes it to grow. Very well thought out.

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