Responding to Anxiety With Willingness
In my previous blog Fears For Today, Worries For Tomorrow: Understanding Anxiety, I mentioned a natural tendency to avoid the discomfort of anxiety and the related consequences. In fact, avoidance leads to more discomfort and contributes to the maintenance of anxiety rather than eliminating it. A willingness to face the fear is the only way to achieve the goal of eliminating that fear. It is a paradoxical move—toward the very source of the anxiety—for the purpose of alleviating anxiety.
What is Willingness?
Willingness is a state of mind as well as a choice. It is choosing to do something with an accepting attitude, in this case to face the uncomfortable experience of anxiety. It is allowing the associated feelings to be present without fighting them or turning to avoidant behavior. For example, accepting the fact that your heart is racing, you are sweating, your breathing has quickened and your mind is telling you to escape. Willingness and acceptance in no way implies you should enjoy or even like the experience, but if you allow those feelings and thoughts to exist without placing judgment or attempting to stop them, you will find they have far less impact. By practicing a willing mindset, you will begin to notice the frequency and intensity of the anxiety decrease.
Are You Willing?
I can only imagine how your mind is responding to this question. If your mind were anything like mine, it would say, “Willing? Why would I ever willingly choose to make myself uncomfortable…you know, my symptoms are actually not that bad…let’s hold off until I feel ready…I am already feeling stress, why add to it?” In psychology we call this justification. Our mind constantly chatters in attempts to justify our avoidance, and when it comes to anxiety this type of justification does not help us resolve our symptoms. The bottom line is if you are waiting until the feared situation no longer causes discomfort, you will be waiting a very long time.
Willingness is a present-moment choice, which means your willingness may fluctuate on a day-to-day or moment-to-moment basis. This means there are many opportunities to practice choosing to willingly face your fears and begin taking back your life.
Steps to Take
- Think of your end goal. What has your experience with anxiety prevented you from doing? Anxiety can get in the way of meaningful things, consider what your life would look like without avoidance.
- Use prediction to your benefit. You are already all too familiar with your anxiety symptoms; therefore, don’t get caught off guard when you notice them. Simply remind yourself “I knew I might feel this way.”
- Stay present with your uncomfortable symptoms. If you are willing to accept your symptoms they will not last as long. It’s when you are unwilling to experience them that they linger. Allowing your symptoms to remain present is uncomfortable in the short run but leads to significantly less anxiety over time.
- Allow the discomfort to pass. Anxious symptoms will not last forever. In fact, they take up less time when you are not fighting to get rid of them. Once you are willing to accept these symptoms, you will be surprised by how quickly they can pass.
Ashley Yergler is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has experience working with individuals, families, couples, and groups. Ashley earned her Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Trinity International University and is certified in PREPARE/ENRICH.
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