The #1 thing to stop doing when suffering from anxiety is resistance because whatever we resist, persists. Resistance has many forms and in this article I’ll share the many guises resistance has.
Stop arguing with your thoughts and feelings
The number 1 problem anxiety sufferers have (I had this too for many years) is arguing with our thoughts and feelings.
The main problem we have comes from a lack of understanding. And that understanding comes from how we actually deal with negative thoughts.
It’s understandable as to why we’d argue with our thoughts. No one wants to experience unpleasant and troubling thoughts all the time.
We cannot actually stop our thoughts from coming, but we can change how we relate to them so they don’t disturb us. What pours more fuel onto the fire is retaliation to our thoughts.
This is something we do unconsciously obviously because we wouldn’t consciously choose to do something that creates more suffering. But our normal response to anxious thoughts is to fight back against them.
It’s in our nature to resist against the things which make us feel uncomfortable.
We feel that putting them right will make us feel better only to find that we get dragged away by the current of anxiety.
Work with the anxiety, rather than against it
Instead of working against the anxiety including all associated thoughts, we should really be working with it.
What I mean by working with it is flowing in the same direction as it because when we oppose the anxiety, we end up suffering a lot more. It just adds another layer on top of the suffering.
This is an analogy I like to use quite often now. Funnily enough, I came up with it the other day and it hasn’t left me.
Think of your anxiety as a tsunami. Tsunamis travel in one direction and nothing holds it back. They can travel at incredibly fast speeds. What’s the worst thing we can do when there is a current of water that strong? Swim against the current.
By swimming against the current, it’s only going to pull you in the opposite direction anyway, so you may as well float in the same direction as it.
This is what I mean by working with the anxiety instead of against it. When we fight and resist our anxiety, the energy we build through resistance hits us back because it’s really just our own efforts of struggle and resistance backfiring.
Whenever we argue with our anxious thoughts, telling ourselves that we don’t want to be having them, when we try to think our way out of them, we are giving off the impression that these thoughts are important and should be taken seriously.
Our emotional brain will decode our reaction as a sign that we’re in trouble. The alarm bells will ring causing more adrenaline to be released into our body – the fight/flight response.
This is when we are working against the anxiety. No positive change can occur when we are stuck in resistance mode.
In order to work with the anxiety, we have to give up all efforts of breaking free from anxiety. This means we need to stop arguing with our anxious thoughts. It means we have to stop fearing our anxious sensations and stop telling ourselves that we don’t want to be feeling them.
It means we need to flow in the same direction as the anxiety rather than swim against it like a helpless person caught up in a Tsunami. This is a habit that is deeply embedded into our subconscious because we have behaved this way for so long and anything we do with repetition becomes a habit.
This means that it won’t happen overnight because habits take quite a long while to be replaced. But the best time to start is now.
Here’s how to work with your anxious thoughts and feelings rather than against them.
For our anxious thoughts, we need to stop arguing back because all this does is pour more fuel onto the fire. You can’t put out a fire by using gasoline, the fire is put out using an extinguisher. Dropping the argument with our anxious thoughts will act as the fire extinguisher.
Whatever unpleasant and/or scary thought that pops up into your head, I no longer want you to argue with it. Let it be. Don’t give it anymore power and energy by trying to change it or correct that thought.
These very behaviours just give off the impression that these thoughts are problematic and more anxiety will be created to fend off that problem.
We need to show our brain through our reactions and behaviours that all is well, that we are perfectly safe. Arguing back with our thoughts is a behaviour that supports the anxiety itself, it doesn’t support our recovery.
To break that habit of resisting our anxious thoughts, we can say something to ourselves like “do nothing” or “I am allowing this thought to be here.” “I want to have these thoughts”.
The last one might sound a little nuts but you’re flowing in the same direction as the anxiety when you tell yourself that you want to be experiencing it. When you flow in the same direction as the anxiety, resistance comes to an end.
It also helps to practice catching ourselves when we are battling with our mind and then go the other way towards acceptance. When you catch yourself fighting with your thoughts, remind yourself that fighting anxiety creates more suffering.
Whatever you do, do NOT try to force yourself into a clear mind with no thoughts because that is impossible to achieve. Don’t try to force yourself to forget about your thought because paradoxical intention dictates that by trying to stop thinking our thoughts, we are more likely to think of them.
You might as a byproduct experience a clear mind by allowing and accepting your thoughts, but this clear mind that you want will never happen through arguing and thinking your way out of anxiety.
As the saying goes; “the only way out is through.”
So, give up the inner conflict with your thinking. Give yourself permission to think any thought you wish. No longer tell yourself that “this thought is okay to have” and “this thought is not okay to have” because stirs up inner conflict.
I encourage you to stop arguing with your thoughts. Just don’t do anything about them. You don’t have to put a thought right when you get a thought which bothers you.
For example, don’t correct the thought “What if I never recover?”, just do nothing about it. Let it play out until it dissipates because it will if you don’t argue back. Because when you argue back by saying something like “but I will recover!”, you are giving that unhelpful thought airtime. You are making it problematic when you argue back.
The only reason thoughts can trouble us is if we take them seriously by arguing back. When you just give them the space to to be in your mind, they will not trouble you.
It doesn’t mean we are convincing ourselves that we like these thoughts because it’s obvious that we don’t. We just know now that arguing with our thoughts causes us to fall through the trapdoor of anxiety so we decide to work with it, rather than against it.
For our anxious feelings
When it comes to our anxious feelings, it’s pretty much the same approach. No longer wish these feelings were gone. No longer try to push them away or change them.
Again, all this does is add more fuel to the fire of anxiety. Trust me and my many years of suffering from anxiety that fighting against the feelings only aggravates the anxiety.
We can try all we like to stop ourselves from feeling anxious, we can try suppression techniques, we can try to numb our feelings by taking drugs or drinking alcohol, but in the end, without dissolving the resistance which fuels the flames of the fire, the anxiety will still trouble us.
I know this doesn’t sound right but be okay with the feelings. Let them come. Invite them in if you have to. Stop telling yourself that these feelings are bad and should not be experienced. Say yes to your feelings.
Work with them, not against them. The worst thing we can do is make an enemy out of our anxiety. It’s a losing battle. In reality, we are just fighting with ourselves and we will be on the receiving end of that war.
Fighting anxiety is liking punching ourselves in the face. Fighting in the outside world against separate objects can be helpful, especially when it’s a life or death situation.
We beat ourselves up and intensify that anxiety when we fight against it because by fighting, it believes we are in danger.
It’s a never ending cycle because anxiety is designed to fight off danger, so if we are fighting anxiety, more anxiety will be released to fight of danger… it’s crazy! It’s a vicious cycle that we can break out of by giving up the fight.
Anxiety isn’t separate from us, it’s a part of us. It’s that part of us which is trying constantly to keep us protected from danger. So, why would we fight something that is trying to keep us safe?
The only reason we fight against our anxiety is because it feels so damn awful. But the feelings of discomfort should not be mistaken for danger because we are completely safe.
Giving up the fight will allow us to float on top of the waves of anxiety rather than drown. Become one with your feelings. Move in the same direction as them. As Barry Mcdonagh says, when you accept and allow your feelings, you stop rubbing against them with friction. This is friction created through resistance is what perpetuates our suffering.
This post went on longer than I intended but I trust that it has made you understand why resistance is supportive of anxiety and not of recovery.
If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment.
Until next time 😊