Embracing Anxiety Could Help You Manage It

By Ema Simpson, Graduate Intern

One of the most frustrating parts of navigating anxiety is that the more determined you are to control it, the worse it seems to get. Your heart starts racing, breathing becomes harder, and suddenly your hands aren’t working the way they’re supposed to.

You’ve felt this way before and you hate it, so you very sternly tell yourself to calm down or try to stuff it down and ignore it. And what happens? All those sensations you were trying to avoid immediately intensify. It’s an endless loop that only seems to get worse the more you try to make it stop.

As counterintuitive as it seems, trying to stamp out your anxiety could leave you stuck in that endless loop rather than offering you relief. You’ve spent all this time trying to build a Fort-Knox-like protection system in your mind, but your anxiety keeps finding a way to pick your highest-tech, most expensive mental locks. So maybe it’s time to try something new.

Maybe it’s time to unlock the door and invite your anxiety in for a chat.

Talking with Your Anxiety

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), founded by Steven C. Hayes, takes this approach of acknowledging all your stressful feelings while working to give them less power over your choices and your life. In other words, you get comfortable with being uncomfortable. And that can be key to lessening the impact of anxiety on your life.

There are six basic components to ACT that you can leverage to help you better navigate your anxiety:

  1. Step into the moment and be present. Let yourself feel what you’re feeling, even if it’s unpleasant. Sometimes, just feeling the anxiety and related physical sensations will allow them to lessen – and even dissipate – on their own.
  2. Practice distancing. Try not to scold or yell at yourself for feeling anxious. Instead, offer yourself compassion and acceptance of what is happening in the moment. With that compassion, see if you can take just a tiny step back from the feelings of anxiety and loosen just a little bit of its control.
  3. Work on accepting that anxiety is unpleasant. Open yourself up to the fact that anxiety feels uncomfortable, and that’s okay. No one can feel good all the time, and we all regularly go through a roller coaster of emotions – that’s part of the human experience.
  4. Remind yourself that your feelings are just one part of you. If you observed yourself, you might notice some anxiety, but you can also notice that you’re kind, funny, and conscientious. What you’re feeling is just one of your many facets and doesn’t define who you are. Remind yourself that you feel anxious; you’re not anxious.
  5. Think about your values in the situation. Are you anxious because you’re giving an important speech and you fear public speaking? Or are you upset because your anxiety about that speech – very understandably – caused you to lash out at a friend or family member? If what you’re doing is difficult but important to you, it could be worth accepting that these anxious feelings are going to stick around for a while. But if you’re experiencing anxiety because your actions aren’t in line with your values, it might be time to choose another path.
  6. Commit to acting on those values. You may hate public speaking, but you recognize you need to make the speech in order to get the promotion you’re angling for. In that case, the discomfort might be worth it, and you can seek out tips and tactics to help you regulate your emotions and navigate through the anxious feelings.

Anxiety Is Part of Life

Anxiety lives in all of us – there’s no magic cure, and sometimes it’s even useful. That adrenaline rush can help you deliver an excellent presentation! But, if you feel that your anxiety has started to control your thoughts and emotions, it could be time to explore ways to get anxiety out of the driver’s seat.

If you’d like to learn more about how to implement this approach in your life, let’s schedule a time to talk. You can reach me at ema@sunstonecounselors.com or at 804-396-3249.

Filed under: Anxiety

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