by John Tsilimparis Writer, Psychotherapist, Featured on A&E’s ‘OBSESSED’
Making peace with your anxiety and not fighting it is a concept used in everyday mindfulness training that was first introduced to me years ago when I was grappling with severe symptoms of anxiety. Back then, when I first heard it, I thought it was ridiculous. Others might be capable of “making peace” with their anxiety, but not me. I was terminally unique. I knew it was a futile double standard, but my anxiety was just too intense to submit to.
In addition, I firmly believed that if I ever gave up the battle and surrendered to my symptoms, a torrent of even greater anxiety would overwhelm me and I would become incapacitated. I would go crazy and lose my mind somehow. As long as I held tight to my tenuous grasp on what was left of my sanity, I thought I was safer. But I realized that the very same tenuous grasp I held fast to and the exhausting effort I put into it every day made me feel worse.
Years later, I finally discovered that in the process of mindfulness, surrender did not mean giving up or allowing me to be overtaken by anxiety. I learned that if I let go in small increments and allowed myself to be present in the anxiety for brief periods of time, I started to habituate to my symptoms. In other words, I started to see that I could indeed endure the pain. Habituation meant my brain was getting used to the fear and the fear then decreased in strength. Habituation helps to build emotional tolerance and also raises distress thresholds.
And letting go and surrendering did not mean throwing in the towel. It meant that I could instead work on my anxiety and get well by rational means. It meant that it was OK to try something different. I did not have to fight anymore. I could put my weapons down.
Consequently, the something different was simply the idea of not feeding my anxiety and giving it so much power. It meant not believing every anxious thought I entertained and also not giving every thought I had so much importance. Finally, it was the idea that for now, anxiety was a part of me and I needed to let it run its course.
One of my tasks as a psychotherapist is to help patients on their path to self-actualization. Because I believe all humans are capable of this goal, as a facilitator in their life journey, I help them remove the obstacles that get in the way such as anxiety and fear. Sometimes we have to sever the negative behaviors that have been barriers to growth. Negative behaviors that we learned from our past that we struggle to break free from because they give us the illusion of safety and security. This is not a simple task. No one likes to surrender anything.
But let’s be clear, “surrender” in this context does not mean giving up, conceding defeat or becoming complacent with the status quo. It does not mean groveling, submitting and letting others have their way with us either. It simply means I am making peace with anxiety by giving up the wretched fight but at the same time not giving up the cause. The cause to grow and not let anxiety rule me stays intact.
Surrendering via Rational Means
So, to assist in the practice of surrendering via rational means, use the following affirmations as a guide:
Surrender does not mean giving in or conceding defeat to my anxiety
Surrender does not mean groveling or submitting to my anxiety
It’s OK to feel some anxiety every now and then
It’s OK to let my guard down and trust that I can handle this
Being present with my anxiety from time to time helps build emotional tolerance
Being present with my anxiety from time to time helps raise my personal distress threshold
I don’t have to listen to what my anxiety is telling me
I don’t need to control my environment to feel safe
I will allow anxiety to run its course
I will try not to believe everything I think
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