Why You Shouldn't Try to Get Rid of Your Anxiety

Most of us see anxiety as something bad that interferes with our happiness. But what if I told you that this is part of the problem? That we see anxiety as negative and assign it a bad reputation? By reading the information below, you will learn more about anxiety, acceptance. Hopefully this will help you better understand your relationship with anxiety.

Before we can reframe our anxiety, it’s important to understand why anxiety exists in the first place. Anxiety is an adaptation to keep us alive. When we’re anxious, it’s usually because our mind and body have determined that a potential threat exists. Anxiety prepares us to address that potential threat quickly and efficiently. It’s an emotion that helps us take action where needed. 

 

In the early days of humanity, people would feel fear when confronting a predator.  After experiencing this discomfort, they would likely seek safety. Their fear led them to change their environment. Once they were safe, they were rewarded with a feeling of relief. 

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Now imagine if that same group of people felt calm and relaxed around a predator. They might shrug off the predator and maybe even approach it.  Without fear, they wouldn’t feel motivated to seek refuge. This would likely result in a life-threatening situation. 

That said, anxiety isn’t always an indicator of real danger. Anxiety can present itself when there’s not an imminent threat to our survival. Currently, we tend to experience anxiety about loads of things that aren’t predators. Errands, to-do lists, and work responsibilities are a few that come to mind. When facing these stressors we experience anxiety but aren’t able to seek refuge like we did when our ancestors were facing predators.  We may worry, overthink, or panic about what might happen next. We want that same relief but feel helpless when we can’t take actions to reduce our fear. There are times where we might even start having anxiety about our anxiety.

This is where the idea of acceptance comes in.  Simply put, the more we try to get rid of our anxiety, the more we get. It’s almost like letting go of the rope in a game of emotional tug of war. When we stop resisting, we have a greater ability to address our emotions. When we have the willingness to accept our anxiety, we give it less power over our experiences.

Here’s a metaphor that can help with understanding this concept. Imagine you set out for a walk around your neighborhood. After you leave your home, you notice an annoying wrinkle in your sock has developed. You stop at the corner and attempt to remove the wrinkle from your sock. You take your show off, adjust your sock, and set out on your walk again. However, after another block, the wrinkle returns and you find yourself stopping again. You become increasingly irritated and remove your shoe for a second time, making sure that your sock stays in place this time. Unfortunately, this process continues block after block after block. Your short walk then turns into a long stressful experience. Instead of feeling refreshed when you return home, you are disappointed and angry that your sock ruined your whole walk. The attempts to resist the discomfort only amplified the struggle.

Alternatively, imagine you set out for that same walk. You still notice that same annoying wrinkle, but this time after attempting to fix it once or twice, you focus your attention on other sensations. Such as the sun on your skin, the wind in your hair, and the smell of a freshly mowed lawn. You are aware that your sock situation isn’t ideal, but you remind yourself that the annoying wrinkle is only one small part of this experience. Every now and then, you get distracted by that annoying wrinkle. But after acknowledging that it’s still there, you again shift your awareness elsewhere. In this example, we didn’t change whether or not there was a wrinkle. Instead, we changed our relationship to the wrinkle. 

This metaphor paints a picture of what the acceptance of our anxiety could look like. We can acknowledge its discomfort, focus on what we can control, and attempt to view our anxiety as only part of what is happening in the present moment. 

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Our goal here isn’t to accept unjust or unfair treatment or see our anxiety as a helpless condition. It’s not saying to yourself, “I’m an anxious person so there’s no use in trying to make changes in my life”. Rather, acceptance is a useful tool that can help when we are in circumstances that we have little control over. For example, it might be useful when we notice we are trying to change other people, change the past, or determine future events. It’s saying “I’m feeling anxious and this feeling will pass”. 

If you are interested in working with a therapist that could help you develop some of these skills, please reach out to us. We’d be more than happy to discuss how we may be able to help you.

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