Do You Need a Break from Trying to Reduce Anxiety?

Taking steps to overcome anxiety is a positive action, but do you need a break from trying to reduce your anxiety? Learning about anxiety, gathering tools to beat it, and using those strategies in daily life are healthy initiatives to take charge of your mental health and wellbeing. When you take these steps, you empower yourself to break free from anxiety.

Sometimes, though, intense anxiety-beating work can become overwhelming and actually increase your anxious thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. When that happens, you might need a break from trying to reduce anxiety. 

A Break from Trying to Reduce Anxiety Can Seem Counterintuitive

The idea of stepping away, even briefly, from all the hard work you're doing to manage anxiety can seem counterintuitive. It might also lead to new worries that if you slow down your efforts, all that work will be tossed out the window, and you'll have to start over at square one.

To quote what a psychologist once told me years ago, 

"What window would it go out of, how would it get there, and where would it actually go?"

Initially, his questions seemed ridiculous. I didn't even have a response, so I had to stop and think about his words. In that silence, I realized the wisdom of his point.

At the time, my concern was related to recovering from a brain injury and overcoming all that accompanied it, especially anxiety. I was afraid that if I did something wrong in the healing process or didn't exert my full effort all the time that I would fail. (Yes, I tend to be a perfectionist.) His questions made me realize some automatic negative thought patterns, especially all-or-nothing thinking (reducing anxiety must involve complete effort all the time or it won't be successful) and catastrophizing (if I take a break, everything will be thrown out the window). I experimented, gave myself a break, and I was amazed at what happened. 

I learned that taking a break from intense anxiety-reducing work can benefit anxiety levels and total wellbeing. How do you know if you need a break? Below are some indicators.

Signs You May Need a Break from Trying to Reduce Anxiety

Working on mental health and wellbeing can sometimes be overwhelming. Signs that you might benefit from taking a break include:

  • Increased frustration with yourself or your progress
  • Irritability or stronger-than-usual emotions (being quick to cry, for example) 
  • Feeling overwhelmed with all the anxiety-reducing information and strategies out there 
  • Experiencing a sudden setback in your progress, anxiety relapse, or flare-up despite using strategies that previously worked

Rest assured, these signs don't mean that anxiety has returned for good or that you'll never free yourself from it. These indicators might be your mind or body communicating they need a break for a while. 

How to Take a Break from Reducing Anxiety

First and foremost, remember that you are so much more than your anxiety. When you focus so much on a single aspect of your total self and life experience, it's easy to forget about the richness and depth of who you are. Also, even though overcoming anxiety is a positive goal, the focus is still on anxiety. This can cause you to remain glued to the issue you're trying to overcome. 

When this happens, defusion is in order. Defusion is a concept from acceptance and commitment therapy that refers to defusing, or ungluing, yourself from a problem such as anxiety. When you take a break from intense anxiety work, you create space within and around you. You make room for other things. You experience your full self outside of just anxiety. 

Taking a break to defuse from anxiety involves shifting your attention to other focal points. 

  • What do you enjoy? How can you do more of it?
  • What do you want more of in your life? What steps can you take each day to increase it?
  • What are you curious about? Give yourself permission and time to explore it.
  • What is happening right now at this moment? Use your senses to tune into it and experience it without judging or trying to change it.
  • What makes you laugh? Find some videos on YouTube or act silly with a friend or a child.

Shifting your attention to these uplifting sources, then allowing yourself to pursue them won't weaken your anti-anxiety work. You'll simply open the window to let in new experiences. In doing so, you just might find that it's your anxiety, not your work to reduce it, that goes out the window. 

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2021, February 11). Do You Need a Break from Trying to Reduce Anxiety? , HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 29 from

Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC, DAIS

Tanya J. Peterson 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, and Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps. She has also written five critically acclaimed, award-winning novels about life with mental health challenges. She delivers workshops for all ages and provides online and in-person mental health education for youth. She has shared information about creating a quality life on podcasts, summits, print and online interviews and articles, and at speaking events. Tanya is a Diplomate of the American Institution of Stress helping to educate others about stress and provide useful tools for handling it well in order to live a healthy and vibrant life. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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