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Why You Should Lean into Your Anxiety

July 26, 2020 George Abitante

How often have you tried to lean into your anxiety? If you're like me, you've probably tried at one time or another to avoid anxiety as much as you possibly could. Unfortunately, trying to avoid anxiety tends to perpetuate it rather than relieving it. This conundrum has perplexed me many times in my own life, and I'm guessing you've experienced the same challenge.

What I've found is that the most helpful way to move past regular anxiety is to push myself to seek out thoughts that provoke my anxiety. This probably sounds like the most unpleasant strategy to cope with anxiety, but it really can be helpful in certain cases. Just like we use physical exposure to scary situations (fear of taking the elevator, or walking by dogs), mental exposure to intrusive, repetitive, anxious thoughts can be the unintuitive solution to your anxiety. 

Leaning into Anxiety Makes You Get Familiar with It

Leaning into your anxiety can be unpleasant, but it can also be a crucial step before you can reduce your anxiety. In the same way that we tend to be afraid of what we don't know or understand, we can be afraid of anxious thoughts because they are initially unfamiliar to us. When we try to escape those thoughts, we lose the opportunity to grow accustomed to them. If those thoughts remain unfamiliar, then whenever they come up again, those thoughts will continue to produce and perhaps exacerbate anxiety.

Familiarity, on the other hand, can allow us to get used to anxious thoughts and reduce their power to produce anxiety. A good comparison for this process of familiarity is how we grow accustomed to new smells. Initially, a bad smell might be extremely strong and unpleasant, but when we stay exposed to it, we end up being unable to smell it at all after a while. On the other hand, if every time we encounter that smell, we run away from it, then we never get used to it, and so any time we smell it in the future, it's going to be really unpleasant again. This is why leaning into anxiety and growing accustomed to it can be so important. 

Getting familiar with your anxiety can take a while, so it's important to be consistent and patient. Just like with a strong smell, you're going to notice your anxiety distinctly and this will probably be uncomfortable, but over time it will get easier as you get used to it. For intrusive, anxious thoughts, try thinking them repeatedly until they don't feel uncomfortable anymore. While trying this, try to remember that every time you feel anxious, you're getting better at coping with those thoughts and reducing their hold on you. This progress-oriented, positive mindset will help you stay focused and confident. 

Do you lean into your anxiety? Do you struggle with doing exposures? Please share your experiences below.

APA Reference
Abitante, G. (2020, July 26). Why You Should Lean into Your Anxiety, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, September 27 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/treatinganxiety/2020/7/why-you-should-lean-into-your-anxiety



Author: George Abitante

George received his Master's degree in Clinical Psychology from Northwestern University and is pursuing his PhD in Clinical Psychology at Vanderbilt University. Find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @AbitanteGeorge.

Lizanne Corbit
July, 28 2020 at 6:47 pm

Consistency and patience are huge with this but the practice of "leaning in" can be so valuable, and empowering! I love that you say how this is progress-oriented because that is exactly what leaning in will lead to. Anxiety is one of the easiest things for us to want to pull away from, try to ignore, or hide or push against, but this only exacerbates the feelings. When we face our anxiety, acknowledge it, and see what it is trying to call our attention to we can experience great growth, presence, and indeed, progress.

July, 29 2020 at 12:14 pm

Hi Lizanne,
Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment! Growth, presence and progress are great things to focus on when leaning into anxiety so we can use the future benefits to keep up motivation in the present!
George

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