One of the concepts that confuses people more than any other is understanding the difference between accepting and surrendering to anxiety, learning to be nonreactive to anxiety, or ignoring anxiety. Let’s talk about that today.
Lots of CONFUSION!
Many, many people get confused, and I get this question on a regular basis.
“So what you’re saying here is that I need to just ignore my anxiety?”
No, there is a difference between ignoring anxiety and learning to become truly non-reactive to anxiety. This is subtle. It’s reasonable for people to be confused especially in the early stages of the game. This is a thing that requires a fair amount of thought. It requires a bit of a change in mindset and approach. And it certainly does require practice.
Ignoring Anxiety Is PASSIVE
Ignoring anxiety is a passive approach. When you try to ignore your anxiety, you are passively trying to pretend that it is not there while you attempt to go about your day or carry out whatever task you are trying to accomplish. This is a hopeful passivity, but passivity nonetheless. Trying to pretend that anxiety isn’t there and hoping that it somehow decides to go away doesn’t work. Anxiety won’t change its mind, go away, or get bored because you are ignoring it. We need an ACTIVE approach. Learning non-reactive acknowledgement of your anxiety is an active way to make your anxiety change over time. Passively trying to ignore anxiety also ignores your ability to influence outcomes and enact change in your situation. It leaves all your power on the floor.
Ignoring Anxiety Is Like Useless “Positive Self Talk”
Trying to ignore your anxiety, when your amygdala is keenly aware of the fact that it exists, is like trying to talk yourself out of anxiety and panic. Your fear center – your lizard brain – is clearly perceiving a threat (wrong though it may be). By trying to passively and hopefully ignore your anxiety, you are trying to tell your fear center that it doesn’t see what it obviously sees. You can’t lie to it. You can’t try to fool it. It’s designed to not listen and not believe you. Ignoring anxiety is a strategy that your amygdala is just not going to endorse.
Non-Reactive Acknowledgement – An ACTIVE, Intentional, Purposeful Process
Learning to be non-reactive to your anxiety means actively turning toward the fear to see it, and acknowledge that it exists. It means understanding and accepting that the fear is there, and actually MUST be there as part of the learning process. You won’t try to pretend that anxiety isn’t there. You will go toward the anxiety and fear to acknowledge its existence and the fact that is going to come along on whatever ride you happen to be on at the moment. Be clear and purposeful in this. You must face the fact that there IS fear and and anxiety and that your job is to learn through experience that it is baseless.
Once you have actively acknowledged the presence of anxiety, you will then refuse to engage with it. No arguing with it. No reacting to it. No running from it or trying to save yourself from it. You will actively turn toward it to see it and acknowledge it, then purposefully and defiantly turn your back on anxiety. Anxiety will come along for the ride, but you will NOT let it drive the car this time.
Learning The Skill of Non-Reactive Acknowledgement With Practice
At first, everyone makes the mistake of ignoring. This is normal and expected. The first times you decide to not run, escape, or avoid, you will likely try very hard to just ignore the anxiety and fear. This is OK. When those experiences show you that you wind up OK even without running or trying to save yourself, you can begin to see anxiety and fear in a new light. You will begin to slowly accept that you may have some control in this process. Your mindset will naturally and gradually begin to turn away from passive ignoring and toward active intentional non-reactive acknowledgement. First you try to ignore, and learn the basics about the baseless nature of this fear. When you can start to see that the fear is essentially toothless, you can begin to develop true non-reactive acknowledgement of your anxiety. The process takes time. The skill must be developed and practiced. Show yourself some patience.
Acceptance. Surrender. Floating.
When you are still trying to ignore, terms like acceptance, surrender, and floating seem hard to grasp. They seem impossible to do. But when you start to chip away at the fear and unmask its toothless reality, you move toward purposeful non-reactive acknowledgement. This shift brings you into alignment with the idea of true surrender, and true acceptance. Only when you reach the point where you can acknowledge the fear of anxiety as your teacher when you practice non-reaction will you understand and embrace real surrender and acceptance. Then you can float. Until then, trying to ignore your anxiety will keep you confused and unsure of your next steps.
You can do this. You can slowly turn your mindset away from passive yet hopeful attempts to ignore, and toward an intentional, power-based, active acknowledgement of your fear. Be patient with yourself. Allow yourself to learn the lessons along the way and do not be discouraged. Every time you stand up to anxiety, even if you are trying to ignore, you will come out the other side unharmed. This will move you one step closer to the optimal approach, and to full recovery.
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Podcast Intro/Outro Music: "Afterglow" by Ben Drake (With Permission)