5 Ways to Disarm Anxiety by Taking an Opposite Action

July 30, 2014 Greg Weber

Opposite action is a skill that helps lessen self-destructive behavior. Here's 5 ways to use opposite action with anxiety disorder.

You can disarm anxiety by taking an opposite action. Opposite action is a behavioral therapy skill that lessens the impact of self-destructive tendencies. And living with anxiety can be rife with opportunities for self destruction. Here's some ways for those of us with anxiety disorder to use opposite action for our benefit.

"You can’t think your way into right action, but you can act your way into right thinking." - Bill Wilson, from the 12-step program Alcoholics Anonymous

Take the Opposite Action When You Feel Trapped

One of the common traits of anxiety disorder is feeling trapped, unable to do the things we have to do, or the things we want to do. For us, having an impulse to do healthy things and then simply going out and doing them gets short circuited.

I'm a big believer in action-based treatment of anxiety. Not only can we not think our way into right action, we can't feel our way into it either. In other words, sitting around until we feel like doing whatever it is we should do is pretty much a non-starter.

The good news is, our feelings often change for the better once we actually start doing something. The trick, of course, is getting started.

Dialectical Behavior Skill Frees You from Anxiety Trap

I once did a 6 month intensive outpatient course of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). This type of psychotherapy was originally developed to treat people with borderline personality disorder and those struggling with self-injury issues.

DBT is a skills-based therapy. The idea is that our self-destructive thoughts, emotions, and actions can be treated successfully when we learn and practice the correct skills. One of the most useful things I learned in DBT is an emotional regulation skill called opposite action. It's a great for challenging chronic, destructive emotional patterns caused by anxiety.

How to Use Opposite Action with Anxiety Disorder

Below are 5 ways to use opposite action with some common anxiety disorder triggers:

  1. When you're at the store -- If the store's crowded and you feel the panic building, resist the urge to run out the door. Do the opposite instead: make yourself stay for at least two full minutes. You may find that being there after two minutes gets a little easier.
  2. When you're on the freeway -- My suggestion is to practice this when you don't have to get somewhere soon. Drive onto the freeway and stay in the right hand lane, going slowly enough so that you feel reasonably comfortable. Your anxiety will set in and you'll want to pull over. Resist that urge long enough to drive to the next freeway exit. Do this once a week. This builds tolerance for when you actually need to use the freeway.
  3. When you're feeling down -- Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand. Opposite action is particularly useful for getting out of the doldrums. My old DBT therapist used to say, "Greg, when you're depressed and you don't want to be, get active." She was a naturally chipper person who loved little sayings like this, to my great annoyance. But she was right. The best opposite of depression is to move, because depression is about leaden paralysis. Get up and move your body. Walk around the block. Do the dishes or vacuum. Go to the gym. Do anything for 10 minutes that gets your blood circulating. You will feel better afterwards.
  4. When you feel like lashing out -- Anger is a major part of my anxiety disorder. The frustration and constant tension make me want to take it out on people who really don't deserve it. I've also found that lashing out generally makes things worse. So, I'm learning to walk away, which is the opposite of annihilating people who tick me off. When you want to lash out, pause and take a deep breath. How important is it, really? Is it worth the added grief you'll end up causing yourself?
  5. When you feel lonely -- The isolation that comes with anxiety disorder cannot be explained to someone who hasn't experienced it themselves. You don't even feel like part of the human race. This is when we need to reach out the most and that involves risk. There's just no way around it, but the risk can be minimized if we do it in the right ways. When I'm desperately lonely, I go to the library or a coffee shop. I can be with people without having to actually deal with anyone. I'm also a member of some fabulous anxiety groups on Facebook. I find myself able to talk about things online that I probably couldn't get out in person.

It may seem like using opposite action with anxiety disorder is about suppressing our natural responses, but the truth is, anxiety often makes us react instead of respond, and those reactions are generally destructive. DBT's opposite action skill helps us redirect our impulses into more loving, less self-destructive behavior. Instead of repression, opposite action is about not making difficult situations worse. And that's a good foundation to build on for good self care.

You can find Greg on his website, Twitter, Google+, and Facebook.

APA Reference
Weber, G. (2014, July 30). 5 Ways to Disarm Anxiety by Taking an Opposite Action, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 24 from

Author: Greg Weber

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