If you've been suffering from anxiety disorder for some time now, you may have come across a term "anxiety acceptance." When I first heard about acceptance and nonresistance, my first thought was: “Why would I want to be defeated by anxiety? I’m a warrior and I should fight it!” So that idea didn't appeal to me at all, but I still decided to learn more about it and eventually gave it a try.
So how can you accept anxiety for it to disappear? The core idea of acceptance is that you stop fueling anxiety by embracing it as a manifestation of yourself. As a result, expectation of anxiety is followed by nonresistance, instead of fear and frustration that fuel anxiety and prevent recovery.
While it sounds good and easy on paper, there is a lot of work to be done in order to live it. So let me break it down into actionable tips that you can start benefiting from immediately.
Tip #1: Accept the Frustration
It's hard to resist the temptation of getting frustrated over anxiety. Especially when it returns after a long break. Frustration goes back to the idea of separation. The idea that anxiety comes to punish you and make you feel bad.
Now, let's change the perspective and look at it from the acceptance standpoint. Yes, anxiety came back, but it means that something in your life needs to be fixed, some source of tension needs to be removed, some old unresolved issues need to be addressed etc.
You see, anxiety is not a boogeyman that comes out of nowhere for no apparent reason. It serves as an indicator that you need to make positive changes in your life. This point is equally true for people with anxiety disorder and without it. Therefore, accepting anxiety means accepting the problem and fixing it, instead of pushing away or avoiding it.
Tip#2: Expect and Accept
Expectation is very tricky when it comes to anxiety. For example, expecting recovery may sound like a good idea, but in practice it won't take you far, because each setback will lead to frustration and eventually more anxiety. The good use of expectation in anxiety is the complete opposite of what you believe to be true - you should start expecting anxiety.
In fact, the more you expect it, the less it bothers you. This is the anxiety logic, which is no logic, and which is exactly why your attempts to use common sense to figure it out lead to more confusion. However, this one comes with a caveat - expectation should be followed with acceptance and not resistance. If you expect anxiety and get all tense up when it comes, then you're doing it wrong.
The good news is, you don't have to wait for the next opportunity to practice nonresistance. Simply become aware of how anxiety makes you feel and behave (tense shoulders, racing mind, search for distractions etc.) and observe these feeling and behaviors without getting involved in them. Remember that it doesn't have to be perfect – recovery is not pass or fail, it's just a practice.
Tip #3: Make No Effort
Keep in mind that recovery is so simple that your brain just can't believe it. That's why it keeps searching for different methods and techniques without dedicating itself to none of them. The truth is - the more effort you put into stopping anxiety, the more power you give it by making it relevant.
Anxiety is not the problem, it's just an indicator, an alarm if you wish. It points you in a direction and tells that you to address something. For example, when an alarm wakes you up in the morning, you don't start blaming it for everything that is going wrong with your life, or get frustrated over having it in the first place. You just dress up and go on to face your day, because this is how things get done in life.
Yet, this is exactly what you do when it comes to anxiety - you start getting frustrated over having it, feel like it shouldn't be there or try to silence it through avoidance and distraction. Anxiety is just an alarm. That's it. And that's exactly how it should be treated. Simply acknowledge the signal, dress up and go on with your day.
Tip#4: Accepting Symptoms
Accepting symptoms - I know that's what you want to read more about. I'm mean, let's be honest, nobody wants to feel or tolerate discomfort. Our body was designed to avoid pain, so how the heck can you even try to accept the symptoms? The answer is - you can't. I couldn't do it no matter how much I tried.
But guess what - the reason I made it the last tip is because it's the least important one. Anxiety thrives on your attention and there is no better way to capture your attention than to make you focus on symptoms. When I say focus on symptoms, I mean thinking that getting rid of symptoms is the way out of anxiety disorder.
Symptom are just products of high anxiety and they go as your anxiety level goes down. So accepting symptoms is not about saying "Okay, I have symptoms," it's about saying "I have symptoms, and it’s okay."
Frustration and resistance are born out of the idea that anxiety is separate from you, that it's an enemy. So you start expecting an attack of that invisible enemy, full of fear and tension. Fear and tension on the other hand, fuel anxiety even more, while keeping you trapped in the cycle of anxiety.
Most sufferers have this idea that acceptance of anxiety is a defeat, that could lead to life sentence in the prison of anxiety disorder. But when you stop resisting anxiety, you stop resisting the tension that is seeking a way out of your system. This is what nonresistance and acceptance are about. It's not about being weak, it's about become strong.
Will acceptance help me recover? Acceptance is a huge part of recovery but it's just part of it. Dropping avoidance is another important component of recovery and fortunately, they come in tandem with acceptance.
How long should I practice acceptance? Acceptance is something that's perfected with time and practice, so there no time limit on how long you should do it.
I just have a setback. How can anxiety help me? Setbacks are the main reason why acceptance is important. Setback will inevitably result in a lot of negative self-talk, which will strengthen your anxiety. However, accepting setbacks as part of the journey will help you see things from recovery perspective and you will you come back out of it faster and stronger.
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