What Do Accepting And Letting Go of Anxiety Mean?
Christopher asked me this question about accepting and letting go of anxiety:
Hi Jodi, I have lived with anxiety for 20 years. I am 37 now and I am sick of it. My counselor says that accepting and letting go of my anxieties will help. I don't understand how.
Accepting Anxiety Seems at Odds with Letting It Go
I understand why you think it is odd to "accept" something that has been hurting you. It doesn't make sense. Logically, it seems like if you "accept' it, it means that you have to continue suffering, right? Or, "figure out how to live with it." Then, you wonder, How can I let go of something I'm supposed to accept? They contradict.
Words represent something, and sometimes they represent more than one thing. Acceptance literally means "the action of consenting to receive or undertake something offered."
Some traditional mental health professionals have talked about accepting, meaning "learn how to live with it." But there are many problems with this notion since it creates an internal conflict, causes confusion and, as I have experienced, made the anxiety symptoms worse.
Your counselor may not be talking about acceptance in this way because he mentioned letting go, as in letting go of limiting beliefs. This makes me think that he may be coming from a Buddhist/mindfulness perspective.
Acceptance, in this case, is a metaphor. Like if Anger (anxiety's evil twin) comes over, and you invite it for a cup of tea, then we are talking metaphorically. Turning anger into a "thing" or "person" changes the relationship you have with Anger: "Hello, Anger, how are you? What do you want/need from me?"
Thinking of it this way not only empowers you, but undermines the power of anger. You see, Anger, Anxiety and many other feelings that we have, get their power from judgment (beating yourself up) and from us being afraid of them. "Acceptance" in this metaphorical context, means suspending all judgment and bringing awareness in - as if you are observing it for the first time. This will give you a new perspective that may invite clarity as to what you can do next. Or, it may deflate the whole problem. (This is what I mean by it getting smaller and smaller.)
How Do We Accept and Let Go Of Anxiety?
I believe that once we stop judging and being afraid, the letting go happens automatically. Fear and judgment (also, known as fear and angst to Buddha) is why we suffer. We want to be other than we are. It actually keeps us attached to those things that hurt us. Our ego thinks we are protecting ourselves by running away from feelings, or trying to get rid of them. Sometimes when we try very hard to get rid of something, this "trying" keeps us ever more attached. This is because there is tons of judgment attached to the "trying." You can decide to let go, send yourself some self love, and then distract yourself. (This is not the same and running away and avoiding, which are done out of fear.)
To Recap: What Does Acceptance And Letting Go Mean?
1. Change the power dynamic with Anxiety. Invite it to tea. Ask questions like you know nothing about it. Allow yourself to feel it fully without any judgment or fear. Breathe until you feel settled in your body.
2. Decide if it is serving you in any way. Or if you don't need it anymore.
3. Decide to let it go and send yourself some self compassion.
4. Distract yourself.
5. Practice. When it comes back, without any judgment or fear, say cheerfully, "Hello, I knew you'd come back. It's OK, I love you. I chose not to worry about you anymore. Have a seat, I am painting right now." Go on with your life. Give it awareness, but not a lot of attention so it doesn't begin to take your energy.
Does it help explain what your counselor means? If the fear or judgment is too strong, it may take a few therapeutic conversations to unpack them enough to do this process.
I didn't forget - this article covers what I think about irrational thinking patterns: Fear of Anxiety vs Irrational Fear
How do you all understand the concept of acceptance and letting go?
Lobozzo, J. (2013, September 18). What Do Accepting And Letting Go of Anxiety Mean?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, October 5 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2013/09/what-do-accepting-and-letting-go-really-mean
Author: Jodi Lobozzo Aman, LCSW-R
I'm sorry but I still don't understand what it means to accept and let go of my anxiety. Firstly - it's not like I'm in denial about it. The reason I am looking for help with debilitating anxiety getting in the way of my ability to enjoy life is because I accept that this is a problem I need help with! But apparently that's not the right kind of acceptance.
So how do I accept anxiety the right way? For all that explanation, here as well as everywhere else, all people can tell you is "just choose to accept and just choose to let go". If I don't know how to accept and/or let go of my anxiety, "accepting and letting go is not running away or hiding from the problem, so just choose to accept your anxiety and then choose to let it go" is not a helpful explanation. It's not even really an explanation.
For example, if you asked your guitar teacher how to play a D chord, she wouldn't say "understand that a D chord is neither an E chord nor a jazz solo. If you are struggling with this, just choose to play a D chord," because that is ineffectual, to put it lightly. Instead, she would tell you and show you which fingers to place on which strings in which frets. The same is true for anything else one might want to learn how to do, even if it is almost unimaginably complex compared to a basic guitar chord. I don't understand why all anybody can do for acceptance is to say "if you don't understand how to accept anxiety, just choose to accept anxiety."
Acceptance is one of the most difficult concepts not just to understand but to put into practice. Questioning it and wondering how it works are very good things. We don't grow when things are easy.
I love your guitar metaphor. If you are learning to play a D chord and keep getting it wrong, you will know it. Of course you want to play it right. Your teacher also would want you to play it right. He or she wouldn't say, "Oh, just accept that you can't play it and play something else instead." That wouldn't work and would be both avoiding the issue and giving up. Anxiety drives our impulse (we all have this impulse) to avoid problems and give up. In the case of learning to play the guitar, anxiety over playing the chord incorrectly might cause you to avoid practicing, avoid your lessons and the teacher, and ultimately give up. The only thing you'd accept is that you "can't" play the chord. The result would be suffering.
True acceptance is different. Rather than growing increasingly frustrated at mistakes playing the D chord, being hard on yourself for it, telling yourself that you'll "never" get it/ "always" mess up, worrying about the time and money you're "wasting," questioning yourself as a musician, feeling performance anxiety, you gently release these thoughts (or whatever specific thoughts you are actually having -- these were just examples). This is where acceptance comes in. You don't accept that you're doomed to never get the D chord right. Instead, you accept the process behind it and use that to reduce your anxious thoughts and feelings about the situation. This involves noticing your anxious thoughts and emotions and then thinking about them differently. In this example, you might say, "I am struggling with this, and I don't like it. But it is a single situation. I know that music is complex and learning to play an instrument is difficult. I want to play the guitar well, so I accept that this process might be slow sometimes. I am not going to berate or bully myself because I can't play the D chord easily." (You would substitute your unique thoughts and feelings.)
To use another example, consider social anxiety, which I used to experience. I used to have all sorts of worries and negative thoughts about interacting with people, and these interfered in my life. Learning to accept my anxiety and worry was helpful because I looked at my thoughts in a new way. When I recognized and acknowledged my thoughts and accepted that I was having them, I could start living my life fully even though the anxiety was still there. I accepted that I would have self-doubt and other negative thoughts and worries, but that those things weren't necessarily true and didn't have the power to keep me from doing things with others. Then, taking action (doing things with others) and accepting that I would still have anxiety let me see that I could interact with people without disasters happening. Acceptance is one mindset that frees you to live your life even though anxiety is present. You accept that you can't play the D chord yet and that you feel anxious about it so you have the courage to keep practicing anyway.
You can probably tell from these examples that acceptance doesn't exist by itself, and it certainly isn't the only thing that helps us move past anxiety. It is just one of many tools and perspectives/attitudes that lets us break free from anxiety's grasp. It allows us to stop struggling and start living. It's the process of continuing to practice that ultimately lets us play that D chord and move onto new chords and challenges.
Hi,I have an autistic child and feel some of your issues are similar to hers. I don't know all the answers but I believe that surrounding your self with as many positive people that will help support you is a good start. If your honest with trusted people about problems you face they will guide you. Acceptance can be a good way of self help there are a lot of things in life no one can control and holding on to feelings that make you feel down,confused and frustrated can consume and dominate. You are not alone I believe everyone has these issues some more than others.
I appreciate your wise insights. For many reasons, positivity is healing and drastically improves quality of life. Acceptance (of self, others, situations, etc.) is part of that and is helpful in moving forward.
Acceptance is one of the Claire Weekes principles of recovery. She stated how recovery was based on accepting anxiety, floating past it and letting time pass. I would thoroughly recommend her books. The more you fight against anxiety the worse it gets.
Jodi have a question . Ok so I am aware of my actions That is I am judging and also doing irrational thinking patterns black and white,filtering and catasrapic too. I won half the battle! Now that I am aware and now can distract the anxiety?? So now iam done with other haf of the puzzle?Having said I have to practice?
I don't understand bring it up in your awareness as if we're observing it for the first time? Example my mind goes blank exc .I think about it all day, and I am thinking aboutit now. That is kinda confusing to me?
Part of my problem isI think I obsses about this and I give it more attention then it deserves . Correct me if I am wrong when I do this I will get more confused on what to
Do right from wrong and then it won't make any since ?
OK, new plan: just try to distract. (If you are obsessng it is hard to see with a beginner's mind. Nevermind that right now.) Just distract!
Thanks jodi I appreciate ur help
I think what u all are saying acceptance basically let the anxiety come in for example don't prejudge and say something like this day is going to be just like yesterday meaning yet another sad frustrating day?I wii never be happy? When I think it in those terms then the day will be like that? instead do the opposite of what i am thinking? be happy and go with the flow? If those circumstances arise deal with it when or if it comes? I think that is what people do that do not have anxious thoughts right ? Let It go decide if it healthy for you to think this way ( in this case it is not) Therefore let it. Go?
Ps I am prejudging the day and that is why I am having all this anxiety instead if I just went with the flow everything will be great no over thinking? In other words accept it.
Yes, I see, you are prejudging the day and are very afraid of the anxiety coming. It is the fear of it ocming that creates it. If you weren't afraid, it wouldn't come. Does that make sense?
I don't understand anything lately. I definately don't understand this. :(
You can ask me specifically what you want clarification on. <3