Radical Acceptance – An Alternative to Anxiety

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
– Carl Rogers

Anxiety is a funny thing. The more you don’t want it and the more you try to get rid of it, the more you have it. As if to rub salt in the wound, the very ways we try to avoid anxiety (by opting out, numbing, distraction) lead to further disconnection and feeling out of control. It sucks. I know, I have done this dance with anxiety many times.  I see clients do it until their life space narrows.

What if we tried something radical and flipped the script on anxiety? What if the solution is not to get rid of anxiety but to accept it? I know this sounds weird and perhaps kind of terrible. Let’s just explore this idea for a moment. Would there be an upside to accepting anxiety? Perhaps by accepting anxious thoughts and feelings we take some of our power back and we don’t have to struggle so much.  Maybe it frees some of our energy and we can invest in other areas of our life. Try an experiment and the next time you feel anxious consider letting it be there rather than moving to get rid of it.

Ways to Practice Radical Acceptance of Anxiety:

  1. Opt in. Say yes more and choose activities consistent with your values or the person you want to be (even if you feel anxious doing them).
  2. Practice mindfulness when you feel uncomfortable physical sensations and thoughts. Notice what you are feeling without trying to change or analyze it. Notice with kindness and curiosity.
  3. Accept what you can’t change and change what you can. We really have very little control over physical sensations, emotions, and even our thoughts. Ironically the more we try to control our painful thoughts and feelings the louder they get.  However, we can control what we do with our hands and feet (e.g. our actions).
  4. Practice vulnerability. Share what you are experiencing with someone you trust and feel safe with. Trying to hide anxious feelings is often more painful than the actual experience of anxiety.  Letting someone know your fears (and humanness) can diffuse the intensity of the feelings and lead to increased connection.