Friday, August 3, 2012

A way through anxiety: Accepting ourselves

Imagine you’re holding an ice cube in your hand.
You concentrate on the sensations doing that causes.
Eventually, you begin to have thoughts unrelated to the sensations, thoughts like, “This is really uncomfortable,” or “How much longer do I have to do this?”
When those thoughts come, you notice them, acknowledge that you have them, and then go back to concentrating on the sensations of holding an ice cube.

Acceptance

That is an illustration that my therapist used to explain acceptance in terms of generalized anxiety disorder or any anxiety.
On my last visit, I told him about the increased anxiety I’ve had lately. I’ve felt revved up and unable to settle down and concentrate.
So he talked to me about accepting my anxiety. He said it’s not the same thing as liking the anxiety.
And it’s different from actually making the anxiety worse by worrying about the bodily sensations of anxiety, worrying about worrying, “catastrophizing” the fact that we feel anxious.
We can practice acceptance by focusing on the bodily sensations that come from feeling anxious. When an unrelated thought comes along, we can acknowledge it but then return our attention to the sensations.
With this mindfulness, we can begin to accept that our body is expressing anxiety.
Acceptance is to acknowledge what we’re experiencing and then to go on to something else.
Ironically, that makes the anxiety easier to deal with, my therapist said.

Mindfulness

The ice cube example also helps to illustrate the importance of mindfulness. We can choose to focus on our anxious feelings, but I’ve learned that we can also choose to focus on something like the breath, or our senses.
Every time we realize we’re thinking of something other than the breath or what we’re hearing, for example, we can bring our attention back. Usually I have to do this again and again
That puts me in the moment. It takes me away from my worries. It takes me away from worrying about my worries.
And even a little while away from the worries provides me with relief. And a little more acceptance.

What about you? Does accepting the anxiety make sense to you?

18 comments:

  1. Hi Tina! Hmm, accepting anxiety..well I accept the fact that I have it, so that's a step forward. I understand that when I become too anxious I need medication, and I'm aware of when I stress or feel frightened. It makes sense, but I can't handle it without medication, and even then sometimes, that doesn't work.

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    1. Susan, I think accepting our anxiety is just another tool in our toolbox of ways to deal with it.

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  2. Absolutely it makes sense. I know it seems counter-intuitive, but when anxiety comes, I just keep telling myself that my body is just over reacting to something, nothing more. I don't question it and or try to figure out why anymore. I will instead try to concentrate on what I hear, see, smell, etc., or I will just force myself to keep doing what I was doing. Basically, I usually just acknowledge it but I try not to give it any power. I tell myself it's just a feeling. Most of the time the anxiety goes away reasonably quickly. I sure don't like it, but I accept it as just a (yucky) part of my life.

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    1. Sunny, I like what you said about not giving the anxiety any power. That's huge.

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  3. I think it makes some sense. I mean, we can't help it so instead of adding more anxiety to the anxiety... it would be better to accept it?

    Truth be told.... I have a hard time with this. I see where it makes sense but I spend a lot of time trying to fight the anxitey and get it to go away (which it only does for short periods of time).

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    1. Elizabeth, I tend to just want it to go away, too!

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  4. It does make sense. It can be really hard to put that into practice but I have done it and feel better accepting the anxiety and riding it out than doing compulsive behavior to get rid of the anxiety. I am not always successful though..I think it will be a lifeline process for me.
    Personally, my childhood anxiety was all about trying to not to accept what I was feeling and even as a kid I did things to escape; to not be sad or frightened. It's not like I could express those feelings - those unhealthy habits followed me into adulthood and I think embracing how I feel now is really important to my mental health.

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    1. You make really good points, Krystal. I had a lot of childhood anxiety, too, which I tried to escape from in books, fantasizing, etc. I am trying to embrace how I feel, too. I agree that it's important to my mental health.

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  5. Kind of like a track workout. When you first start going to the track, it causes a different sort of pain to sprint than regular running. It's uncomfortable and creepy. But as you keep practicing, after a while you can handle it better, and it doesn't get you so worked up. Eventually, you can even embrace it to a certain degree, although I'm not sure I'll ever actually like doing track workouts (I do, however, like the results!)

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    1. That's a great analogy, Lisa! Practicing accepting the anxiety will help us embrace it--not like it or enjoy it, but accept it. Thank you!

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  6. I think it makes a lot of sense, and can relate how we should react to anxiety to other feelings as well. For example, if I stub my toe, I will certainly acknowledge how it feels, but then try not to focus on it. I'll just continue on with whatever I was doing before it happened. Not the best example, but it's just another way of saying the anxiety (or pain in the stubbed toe case) shouldn't be the main focus, though it needs to be acknowledged. Thanks for this, and all of your thought-provoking posts!

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    1. Thanks, Janet. I like your example. When we stub our toe, it does no good to continually bemoan the fact that we stubbed it. I guess likewise with anxiety.

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  7. I think acceptance is key. It doesn't mean we like it, and it doesn't mean we don't do what we need to do to work with it. It simply means we let go of judging ourselves, which creates a vicious cycle.

    As you know, I have a loved one who is in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). Mindfulness and radical acceptance are cornerstones of this therapy, and I've incorporated more of that into my life as well. Although not connected with DBT, Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach is a good primer on this concept.

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    1. I think you hit the nail on the head: we let go of judging ourselves for having anxiety, and that is very important.

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  8. I think the harder you fight the anxiety, the worse it gets, so acceptance is indeed very important, as you say Tina.
    I just was made to feel ashamed of it when I was a child, told "you're no hero" and so the shame feeling often times gets in the way of acceptance in my case. But I'm working on it.

    I love this post Tina, and the example of the ice cube!

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    1. Thank you, Klaaske. I'm sorry you were made to feel shame about having anxiety. I know it's hard to get over things like that, but you are working on it and that's important!

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  9. I agree with many of these other comments about acceptance. Meditation has been really great for me, and really key to helping me start to understand acceptance. The ice cube analogy is a good one, I haven't heard that one before.
    Adventures in Anxiety Land

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    1. I am finding that meditation is helping me, too.

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