Anxiety – Avoid or Accept?

by stuart miles

by stuart miles

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40 million adults in the United States over the age of 18 suffer from an anxiety disorder, making it the most common brain disorder in our country.

Who among us hasn’t dealt with anxiety? While experiencing anxiety certainly doesn’t mean we have an anxiety disorder, most of us know what anxiety feels like. Symptoms vary but often include sweating, racing or unwanted thoughts, palpitations, and a sense of impending doom. Some people think they’re having a heart attack or might actually believe they are dying. It’s a truly horrible sensation and many of us will do whatever we can to avoid feeling anxious.

Maybe that’s the problem.

People are not wired to be happy and carefree all of the time. If we are lucky, we feel that way some of the time, but being human means we will also experience sadness, fear, and yes, anxiety. It is important to note that while feeling anxious is unpleasant, to say the least, it is not dangerous or harmful to us. It is indeed a normal part of life. While anxiety-provoking situations have no doubt evolved over the years (perhaps we now fear a terrorist attack more than a bear attack), our body’s response has not changed.

So instead of trying to rid ourselves of anxiety, perhaps we need to just accept the fact that we will feel anxious at times. When those sensations of anxiety wash over us, we need to allow them in and not fear them or fight them. I know it’s often easier said than done, but with practice, it can be achieved.

Those with obsessive-compulsive disorder might notice a correlation between accepting anxiety and the best way to deal with obsessions. For those with OCD, obsessions are so upsetting that the person experiencing them will do anything to get rid of them. Enter compulsions, which are performed to relieve the distress caused by obsessions. But those who understand their OCD realize that trying to stop thinking about their obsessions, or warding them off with compulsions, only makes the disorder stronger in the long run.

So what is the best way to deal with OCD? Not surprisingly, the same way we should deal with anxiety. Face it head on. Proper treatment for OCD involves noticing and accepting whatever thoughts, feelings, or impulses come your way, and not engaging in compulsions. A good therapist trained in ERP therapy can help.

While we are not able to control how we feel, we can choose how we react to our feelings. Accepting them instead of avoiding them, I believe, will go a long way toward achieving good mental health.



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7 Responses to Anxiety – Avoid or Accept?

  1. parentsfriend says:

    Shared. Pain is real, fear of pain most often not. Thank you for this one.

  2. Laura says:

    I’m still trying to learn how to do this! It’s always hard to avoid the compulsion to avoid. That being said, ERP definitely helps. Finding the right therapist was a god-send.

  3. thisispaulbuckleyPaul_B says:

    Hi there – I’ve just discovered your blog (and that of Helen Barbour). I’m blown away by the quality and incisiveness of your comments, observations, and indeed guidance on OCD. The downside (for you) is that you can expect lots of feedback/comments from me everytime your blogs resonate with me – so get ready! 🙂

    This particular piece reminds me of the principles of ACT that Russ Harris describes in his book “The Happiness Trap”. The essential message of ACCEPTING good and bad thoughts, good and bad experiences etc, rather than trying to fight them – it makes perfect sense. Everytime I read about this I think “Aha, I have it now”, and yet the next time an OCD trigger comes my way off I go again engaging with the Obsessions/Compulsions.

    In my case it’s like I have a ‘risk ranking’ system in my mind, such that whenever I sense something that my OCD ranks as being a ‘real’ risk (no matter how illogical), then in that moment everything I’ve ever read or practiced about acceptance goes out the window, and off I go chasing the Ritual and the Anxiety.

    It really is very very difficult to deal with.

    • Hi Paul, Thank you for your kind words and I look forward to all of your upcoming comments :); I learn so much about OCD from my readers. I appreciate your insights here and I agree there are a lot of principles of ACT in play…..I wrote a post a while back about ERP and ACT:
      I think your comment also highlights such an important aspect of OCD – that those with the disorder understand how illogical their thinking can be, but when in the throes of OCD, it just doesn’t matter.
      Take care and thanks again for sharing!

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