How to Stop Struggling Against Anxiety

January 15th, 2013
By: Dr. Anoosha Avni
Registered Psychologist

In my previous post, I talked about why your anxiety isn’t getting better, no matter how much you exercise, sleep, eat better, or take vitamins or anti-anxiety medication. The reason is because these strategies teach you that anxiety is abnormal and should be avoided or managed in order to live a rich and fulfilling life.

So what are you supposed to do when anxiety starts to creep up on you?

The most important step you can take is to stop struggling against anxiety. Stop trying to control unwanted thoughts, feelings, images, fears, and worries. Stop the relentless tug-of-war. Allow yourself to feel the anxiety just as it is, in its entirety, without judgment, and without beating yourself up. One way of doing this is by practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness involves paying attention to your present experience on a moment-to-moment basis in a curious, open, and nonjudgmental way. It involves being aware of what’s going on in your mind, body, and heart. Mindfulness is about connecting with yourself and appreciating the richness and fullness of each moment of life (yes, even those anxiety-filled moments!).

Mindfulness can help you learn to experience unwanted thoughts and feelings AND learn how to distance yourself from them so you can keep doing what you want to do, like go to the movies, ride on an airplane, take an elevator, meet new people, etc. Mindfulness can help you live a rich and full life, in spite of anxiety and fear.

When you’re no longer struggling against anxiety, you’re doing three things:

1) You’re acknowledging the struggle itself

2) You’re allowing yourself to experience just how exhausting and pointless that struggle is (and has been and will continue to be)

3) You’re facing how the struggle has kept you stuck in the same place for months, or even years. This can be an incredibly liberating experience

No longer fighting or running away from your anxiety is probably one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. Yet trying to control your anxiety will make your life worse, not better. Practicing mindfulness can help you become aware of what you’re avoiding while allowing you to experience unpleasant thoughts and feelings safely while developing self-acceptance and compassion for yourself.

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