Most of the folks that I see who suffer from anxiety say something along the lines of, “I’d like to feel less anxious,” or “I’d like to get rid of my anxiety.” Let me start off by saying, I get it! Simply put: Anxiety kind of sucks. It’s uncomfortable, and when it gets really high it can make you feel like you’re going to lose control. Anxiety can also make it more difficult to engage in important aspects of life, such as being at work and spending time friends. Here’s the thing though: Your anxiety isn’t going anywhere! There’s no way to get rid of it, and the pursuit of that is a losing battle. Now, this may sound hopeless, but let me introduce you to an alternate approach.
Anxiety Is Not the Problem, but Your Struggle With It Is
For the most part, if we take anxiety at face value and don’t assign any judgment or meaning to it, it’s pretty tolerable. It may be uncomfortable and it may not be the emotion that we prefer to experience, but it really isn’t dangerous or impairing on it’s own. It’s when we add meaning to it, and we see anxiety as indicating a danger or a threat of some kind, that anxiety becomes an actual problem. If we perceive anxiety as a negative thing, then we will likely struggle with it.
What’s the result of struggling with anxiety? Doing so might lead to experiencing a variety of other distressing feelings. We might get depressed and believe that our situation is hopeless, because we cannot get rid of anxiety for good. We may feel ashamed that we cannot get rid of anxiety when out in social situations, even though we try really hard!
Think of it like quicksand: the more you struggle when you’re in quicksand, the faster you’ll sink! Interestingly, the way to stop sinking if you’re in quicksand is to simply lie back, spread out your arms and legs, and float on the surface. It’s a counterintuitive approach, but ultimately it’s what works.
Similarly, if we openly accept anxiety and are willing to experience it, it can seem counterintuitive. This approach may not “feel right,” because there might be a sense of uncertainty and uneasiness about just letting anxiety be present. That’s likely because accepting your anxiety and dropping your struggle with it is an approach that is outside of your comfort zone. Anytime you let go of your usual coping strategies and you try something radically different, you’re going to feel a sense of uncertainty (at least at first). However, you are just exercising your mental and emotional muscles; it’s a good thing! As you become accustomed to allowing anxiety to be present, without struggling with it, you will likely come to the realization that anxiety is relatively harmless. As an added bonus, you might even find that if you don’t struggle with anxiety, it will decrease on it’s own.
Another thing to take into consideration is that we really don’t have as much control over our thoughts and emotions as we think we do! I will address this aspect in more detail in a future blog post, but for now just remember that a lot of what we think and feel happens automatically. We can have thoughts that are pretty irrational or strange, and we can dislike some of our thoughts, but there they are anyways.
If you are currently in treatment with a counselor, and the idea of dropping your struggle with your thoughts and emotions seems interesting to you, then bring it up to your counselor. You can learn strategies for opening up to the present moment and doing what matters in your life, as opposed to struggling with yourself!