How to Accept Anxiety
For the majority of people experiencing anxiety, acceptance is the last thing on their mind. "Hey, I don't want to accept it. I want to get rid of it, comprende!?" Yes, I get it. Most anxiety sufferers believe that they need to fight their anxiety and get it to go away as quickly as possible. They will usually go to great lengths to figure out how to solve their struggle with anxiety. It is common for sufferers to be constantly looking for pieces of the puzzle to what seems to be an elusive mystery. Many describe it as being stuck inside a maze trying to find their way out. The issue is that anxiety is a counterintuitive problem. The harder we try to 'get rid' of anxiety, the worse it gets. This is where acceptance comes in, the elusive paradox that will help you to 'get rid' of your anxiety.
Understanding What Acceptance Means
For many people the word ‘acceptance’ has a number of connotations to it. Some believe that acceptance means that they are resigning themselves to a life of anxiety and mediocrity. Some believe that by accepting their anxiety that they are allowing the anxiety to win. Others believe that acceptance is about telling themselves that they accept their anxiety in the hope that their anxiety will immediately vanish.
To me, acceptance or stepping out of the maze means that we simply stop struggling with the sensations and symptoms of anxiety, we stop trying to avoid them, we stop trying to get rid of them, we stop trying to problem solve our way out, and we get on with living our lives regardless of how we feel, and regardless of the frequency and intensity of our symptoms.
Many people will tell themselves that they need to get rid of their anxiety before they can go about their lives in the way that they want. The very actions you take to try to get rid of your anxiety and the stories you tell yourself about why you can’t get on with your life is exactly what fuels your anxiety further. Now it may sound somewhat ironic to you, but it is only by getting back to living your life that will allow you to recover from your anxiety. Remember, anxiety does not stop you from doing anything, you stop yourself because you are worried that you will feel anxious when you do something. Acceptance in this context means to stop trying to escape from the maze and to simply do what you are afraid of and allow the feelings of anxiety to come along for the ride.
Building A Stronger Tolerance for Anxiety Symptoms and Stress Reduction
I have been there and come through the other side and I know from experience that trying to accept your anxiety and symptoms when your stress level is very high is virtually impossible. For example, If your anxiety symptoms are 10/10 and 24/7 then stress reduction is necessary. Acceptance alone is not enough. Therefore, what we need is a combination of building a stronger tolerance towards our anxiety and also reducing our stress as much as possible. I would highly encourage you to write a list of all the areas of your life where you can reduce your stress. This would include environmental, cognitive, behavioural, chemical, and physical stressors.
Reducing stress in any area of your life will have a knock-on effect in other areas of your life and how you feel. As your overall stress decreases, so too will the frequency and intensity of your symptoms. Imagine that your anxiety and your symptoms were only half as intense and half as frequent as what they are now and ask yourself, wouldn’t it be much easier to tolerate? If we can train ourselves to increase our tolerance, it will allow acceptance to come more naturally.
While it is not essential, establishing a mindful practice can really help to get in tune with how you are feeling. It could be traditional meditation, mindfulness, yoga, tai chi, walking in nature, etc. Any practice where you can tune into the feelings of anxiety, be aware of them, and simply allow them to be there without judging them or resisting. Yes, this may sound difficult, but what you are doing is training yourself to build up a tolerance towards these feelings.
Anxiety recovery and life itself is not about figuring out how to end our suffering. If we spent all our time doing that, the result would be further suffering. What we want to do is to get out and live our lives realising that suffering and anxiety is a normal part of life. Trying to escape from our anxiety or trying to problem solve our way out of it will not only cause us more anxiety and more suffering but it will also prevent us from having many wonderful life experiences and truly living our lives.
There is a much greater price to pay than a life of dealing with anxiety. That price is to look back at your life in years to come and realise that all that time has gone and that you can never get it back. This will fill your heart with more sorrow than dealing with anxiety ever will. Yes, you will feel anxious when you go about your daily life but it’s OK. It’s OK to feel anxious but try not to let those feelings stop you from living your life. It may seem ironic to you now, but you just might find that if you take this approach that over time anxiety will have less of a hold over you.
Reduce or Eliminate Stimulants
Now this may or not apply to you but if you are using stimulants and you are also dealing with anxiety at the same time then this an area that you might want to consider focusing on. This might include drinking, smoking, illicit drug use, and even caffeine. It has been consistently proven that people who regularly use stimulants experience higher levels of anxiety compared with those who either do not use stimulants at all or use them minimally.
Reducing or eliminating stimulants will often be overlooked and ignored by people who are trying to recover from anxiety disorder, but I can’t stress enough how important this is. This is a big part of the reason why people feel anxious even when they are not worried about anything. Their central nervous system has become overstimulated by ingesting these substances and no amount of self-talk, acceptance, or relaxation exercises will help them to calm down. Many people will not even draw the connection between their level of anxiety and stress with their stimulant use.
If you have ever seen the episode of Seinfeld where the character Kramer is drinking a lot of Café Lattes, then you will know what I am talking about. He is extremely hyped up and does not even realise that it is the caffeine that is doing it to him.
What Has This Got to do With Acceptance?
Now you might ask what all this has to do with acceptance. Well, if you can directly target your physiology by reducing or even eliminating stimulants from your life, then over time you will see a big difference in the level of stress that you experience. You will feel lighter, more relaxed, and this will positively impact how you feel, how you think, and you will also find that the intensity and frequency of your anxiety and anxiety symptoms will also reduce. As this happens, you will find it that much easier to tolerate and accept your anxiety. Over time you will notice that having anxiety symptoms is impossible with a calm physiology.
The true path to anxiety recovery is multifaceted but acceptance is one of the key factors that will help you on your path. On your journey there are many things to learn about anxiety disorder recovery but at the same time it is not simply an intellectual pursuit. You can not think your way out of anxiety disorder. It is not a puzzle or a riddle to be solved. Life is about participation and bringing all your emotions along for the journey. While you are sitting there trying to figure out how to get rid of your anxiety, life is passing you by. True freedom comes with accepting that you will feel anxious at times but that you will not let it stop you from living your life. Anxiety can not stop you from living your life, only you can. What choice will you make?
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