Five acceptance-based strategies to help you become anxiety-resilient
It can often feel like anxiety is controlling us. Anxiety can intrude on everything from social events to private relaxation time, sometimes catching us when we least expect it. Anxiety triggers our brain’s fight-or-flight response, meaning it causes our brains to act from survival mode rather than a rational perspective. By the time we realize that our anxiety might be irrational, our bodies are already reacting and it becomes difficult or impossible to talk ourselves down.
One effective strategy is to regulate our brains by using deep breathing. This lets our brains know we are in a safe situation and it’s ok to shut off the fight-or-flight response. But what about techniques we can use before we get overwhelmed by anxiety? Techniques based in mindfulness and radical acceptance can not only stop anxiety but actually give us a sense of control over our experiences and sensations. Here are five ways to use acceptance to take control of anxiety. Keep in mind that some of these might be challenging to practice and the help of a professional counselor could be useful.
Accepting that we are experiencing anxiety.
When dealing with anxiety, our first instinct is usually to push against it. We tell ourselves things like, “why is this happening to me?” and “anxiety is ruining my life.” Unfortunately, the more we refuse to accept anxiety, the larger it will grow. Accepting anxiety does not mean we want to be anxious and it does not mean we are resigning ourselves. It means accepting that anxiety is a life experience. We might not want it in our lives, but it’s here right now. This means that anxiety is probably responsible for most of our worries. Knowing anxiety paints a darker picture than what reality actually is, allows us to let go of our worries. Accepting that anxiety is present lets us to see it as something outside of ourselves, that we can understand and, ultimately, control.
Getting to know our physical sensations.
When we feel physical anxiety symptoms, like racing heartbeat, chest pains, or dizziness, our fears can be supercharged. Our brains amplify each sensation and we can’t stop wondering what is wrong with us. We might be convinced we are going to pass out, throw up, or even die. Telling ourselves that we are fine rarely works, as we are held captive by waves of panic. An alternative strategy is to decide to observe the physical sensations. Imagine you are a scientist, a natural observer, and it is your job to document the phenomenon of these anxiety symptoms. Observe each sensation through an objective lens and label what is happening and how it feels.
Practicing accepting possibilities.
This one can be particularly challenging but effective. Anxiety leads us to think of a million “what ifs.” We can imagine a range of catastrophic scenarios, which can all seem equally possible when we are in the throes of anxiety. Typically, we think of how awful it would be if any of these bad scenarios actually played out. That thinking increases our anxiety. A more effective strategy is to practice accepting the idea of the bad scenarios happening. It might seem counterintuitive, but it takes the power away from anxiety.
When we dare anxiety, we say we are refusing to be terrorized by frightening possibilities. We are saying, “bring it on,” because we know we are strong and can handle whatever anxiety throws our way. Whether it’s scary physical symptoms or worrisome thoughts, we can conquer whatever anxiety throws at us so we tell anxiety to bring it on. This is a choice to show anxiety our power.
Connecting to our humanness.
We have to remember that anxiety is a human experience. We are not alone in our anxiety. When we feel anxious and like we are the only ones, we need to remember that many other people feel similarly, even though we don’t know it. If we are nervous speaking to someone, that person might be nervous too. Anxiety is a protective mechanism that sometimes goes haywire. That means that anyone can feel anxious and that, while it might be uncomfortable, the experience is completely normal. This is not to say that everyone’s experience is the same or even similar. There are levels of severity and different consequences for different people. But it is important to remember we are not strange or doomed if we experience anxiety. We are human.
Anxiety might trick us into thinking we have no control over it, or our lives in general. The truth is there are a lot of techniques we can use to conquer anxiety. When we regularly practice these tools, we realize we have the power to control how we feel, making us more resilient when anxiety does visit us.
Meet the author
Vassilia Binensztok, Phd, LMHC
Vassilia Binensztok, Phd, LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, specializing in anxiety, relationships, and complex trauma. Her approach combines understanding the root of our problems, identifying the patterns in which our problems continuously appear, and employing practical cognitive and behavioral strategies to help people take control of their lives. Vassilia maintains a private practice, teaches counseling and psychology at the university level, and regularly writes and gives presentations about mental health topics. You can learn more about her and get mental health information on her Instagram @junocounseling or at www.junocounseling.com.